Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Chopticks and I

I am often intrigued by the evolution of habits. Especially in cultures across the world. There are those questions that we often end up pondering over. I have a few recurring ones of my own. For example, "who would have declared jackfruit edible?". I mean the person must have been awfully hungry to open such an ugly looking fruit expecting it to be edible.
I also wonder almost after each of my encounters with Asian food over how noodles must have evolved. It is amazing how different cultures rely on different sources of carbohydrates and make them in their own way. Whether it is roti, bread, rice or noodles the basic purpose is same, to provide carbohydrates.
Or sometimes, much to my dislike, I see people happily opening oysters. Who would have first opened an oyster !! I secretly hope that there should have been a lag of a few centuries between the discovery of oysters being edible and people actually starting to relish them.
One of these persistent questions is also, "Which resident by the banks of Yangtze river would have invented chop sticks?!!". I mean, there must have been a point in the history of Asian food habits where one fine morning a plump little Chinese (or Japanese or Taiwanese) man (or woman or child) must have gone, "I am going to eat my food with these two sticks!".
Of all the things that I get tired from like explaining people what I do for a living and trying to preserve my long nails between my lab work, eating with chopsticks is one such utterly tiresome process.
What is more annoying is how Westerners follow the saying, "When in Rome do what Romans do". Most Aussies I know have a black belt in using chopsticks. I am usually the only one in the group who asks for a fork in a Chinese restaurant. But it is funny watching an Aussie insisting on using chopsticks while an Asian sometimes even completely bypassing the English language. :)
When words fail, they are comfortable pointing at pictures of coconuty Laksa soups. :)
I think this is the reason why most Asian women have perfect lean figures. You can only eat so much using chopsticks. After a while the painful effort of picking up your food with sticks must overpower hunger. That is what they should do to reduce obesity across the world. The day when an American eats a big mac with chopsticks there would be an answer to world obesity!
What also surprises me is that India with her formidable culinary arsenal of everything ranging from puran poli to kati kababs could not invent an innovative piece of cutlery! All we could think of was fingers! Although the way Indians eat using hands differs just as much as all the dialects in a single language, it is still a disappointment that the land that gave the world nothing (zero) could do nothing to revolutionize eating.
I must confess that I have fully inherited the Indian attitude. I look at food and decide how to eat it. If I can eat noodles with a fork and I already know how to use a fork, I find it taxing to try and learn a new way of eating noodles just to be a perfect Asian diner. When I see pizza for example, I automatically change over to using hands. And I must also confess that there is no greater joy in this life than eating cold fragrant curd rice with lemon pickle using nothing but your finger tips on a hot summer afternoon!!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Back to Square One

Divisive politics at its best in Maharashtra.
Politicians in India are very fortunate because when they can't get religion to work, they have languages. When politicians have a go at all the micro identities that they could manipulate, it is a sure sign of them losing their own!
Just felt like quoting Tagore on this one. I think we have to go back to square one again!

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic wars;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit; Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action - Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Ten on Ten!!

I have never really been an ardent fan of cricket. The only cricket I watched with a lot of passion was with my dad. On days when India played Pakistan, specially in the World Cup series, our household would come to a standstill. There would be no going out. We would not by any stretch of imagination think of watching anything else on television except the match. It was a beautiful time in my life. On hot summer days, day-night matches would come with ice cream as accompaniment. My dad would rush to the nearby Vadilal (a brand of ice cream that became extinct with the opening of economy) store and get slabs of it!
The atrocity of that Indian summer was alleviated by the jasmine flowers in the balcony, the ice cream and cricket!
Dad and I would follow the match right from the toss. A lanky Azaruddin standing next to a puffy Inzamam! As the coin was tossed up, I found myself doing all the little girl spells on it. The rest of the day was spent in front of the television.
These matches were played in two parts. In the conventional sense, it was divided as Indian batting and Indian fielding. For us, however, it was before Sachin and after Sachin. Sachin Tendulkar was responsible for a lot of my mood changes in those days. He would not know it I know, but just because this is all out there I should clear my heart. :)
Every time after an opening batsman went out at a sad score the little master would walk in, fiddling with his gloves and helmet. I would fall on to my knees and pray to him. The game then usually transformed to another level with every other delivery being swept across the boundary line like the ball had it all written in its destiny. In one of his "trips" Sachin would sweep over after over at an average of sixteen runs per over and sweep everyone off their feet. We lived each of those with our hearts in our hands. It was not a game. It was more like dance for me for it came as close to art as an Amjad Ali Khan on Sarod or a Jasraj reciting the Shanti Mantra in his soul-soaking voice.
Being a girl, I am not able to throw in statistics in a conversation related to cricket. Nor would I get red in the face when someone would say Sachin is overrated sipping on a coffee that they haven't paid for in Roopali.
Over the years though I have observed something similar in people who have consistently stayed on top. Be it Sachin, A.R Rahman or Rodger Federer. They don't play for us, they do whatever they do because they have been sent with that one purpose. Everything that comes as a result of what they do gets dissolved in the overwhelming presence of their art.
Kudos to Sachin! There would never be another one of his kind. :)

Sunday, November 01, 2009

United Nations of Australia

I went camping this weekend. We were a group of ten, from nine countries around the world. India, South Africa, Poland, Spain, Greece, Singapore, Germany, Iran and just to make the host country happy, Australia. :) We labeled the group as 'The UN'.
In my pre-Australia life, I never really thought of "meeting people" as a learning experience. It was always classified as "entertainment". Two years in Australia, I consider myself lucky to be in a country that is so disarmingly multicultural. Whoever thinks of Australia as a racist country should really be in Australia and find out for themselves. The climate and the culture attract a lot of people to this place, including people from European countries. So not every white person is really an Australian.
We were chatting over lunch and breakfast, cooking our own on an electric barbecue. There is a different kind of enlightenment in knowing history of a nation from the person who has been brought up in it. I had tried reading the biography of Nelson Mandela ( Long Walk to Freedom) when I was in India. However, listening to a native from Cape Town talk about his leader was a much more refreshing experience. When he talked about Mahatma Gandhi and how his principles changed the fate of South Africa, I ended up thanking the stars above our heads.
No one really teaches us proper history in schoolbooks. I found this out when I was talking to a Chinese friend and realized that he had a completely different version of the 1962 Indo-China war!
This is just politics and history. I think I should not even try to mention how much of a culinary vocabulary you can build doing these kind of excursions! Plus there is always a lot to talk about and to debate over. Usually, after the first few meetings the differences fall into their own place and the similarities emerge.
No matter where we grow up, what culture we are born in and where we stand in our accomplishments, the basic human feelings are always the same. This has been one of the biggest lessons of my life away from home and the conclusion is very simple- Friendship does not come with a passport!
We are all incomplete and so is the Universe. The things we do, our fates and the people we meet in the course of our journey complete us. In everything we do to complete ourselves we are unknowingly completing the Universe too. Although both these seem like a latent and futile aim, it does make the world a better place after all!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Great Indian Novel

I actually ordered this book following the Twitter controversy of its author Shashi Tharoor and it made me realize that there is indeed a positive side to negative publicity. :)
The Great Indian Novel is an ingenious attempt at narrating the recent Mahabharta of the Indian Freedom Struggle. Tharoor has assigned all the key characters of the Indian independence movement a Mahabharata equivalent. Dictated by Ved Vyas to Ganpathi, this novel is both satirical and equally moving. The characters are named and described so well that within lines of introducing a new character you immediately get the real people behind the character. Tharoor's Vyas seems a like a pipe-smoking-toddy-drinking old English chap but that does not stick between your teeth like an annoying bit of corn. In fact, this modern Vyas gives the whole narrative a crisp humorous style.
In the beginning I was a little cross at this humorous opening, especially when he tried to describe Mahatma Gandhi. However, as the book progresses Tharoor unfolds a deep respect for the leader in a sincere and moving description. His respect is refreshing in ways that are completely different and human to the usual rhetoric dedicated to Gandhi in Indian politics. He presents Mahatma and his work as an experiment and very carefully defines the scope of Gandhian methods. He talks extensively about the psychological effect that the Gandhian methods had on the masses, essentially making them work. This insight keeps you glued to the book although it is sprinkled here and there with long poetic interludes, something I thought did not match up to the prose.
What is remarkable is the ease with which each of Tharoor's characters fits with it's counterpart in the epic Mahabharta. Tharoor has not just classified the characters according to the epic but he has been able to translate for his readers what each of these represent psychologically.
Another aspect that comes forward in this book mostly because it is a modern take on the epic is the role of women. Tharoor's Kunti and Madri make you wonder if any of the later victories would have been possible at all without the liberties given to these women. Women in India have always enjoyed a place of power which is still evident. However the Indian woman very rarely comes out in the open about the powers she holds and it requires a careful study of every great battle to know which unsung woman hero really controlled it with her bejeweled petite hand. Sometimes, in India this passive control takes an ugly form too and makes me wonder if manipulation should be renamed as "womanipulation" for India. :)
The one woman that later came out in the open with her good and bad powers has been popularly hated all over India still for her actions. It makes you wonder if the reaction would be different had she been a man!

I think this book is a must read for anyone following Indian politics. It gives you an idea of how Indian politics has evolved and decayed from the Gandhian"politics of the conscience" to the modern day "politics of blackmail". I don't know how effective Shashi Tharoor will be as a politician but for this book, he gets full marks. It also gives an explanation for his constant tweets. For someone who is full of so many ideas, not expressing them for a long time must be hard! :)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

This world is cruel and funny!

Has anyone of you ever had those times that make you wonder how cruel yet how funny this world is? I had one of those today. I was supposed to be at a marking day. It is one of those university tutor sessions where all tutors are put in one room with all the assignments related to the units they teach. I was tutoring a course in Sustainability this semester and we were dealing with transport, housing and waste management solutions for a small lake town called Tonle Sap in Cambodia. So we were basically marking what "first year" students (the super enlightened ones) think should be done with this small town that lives off fishing.
Needless to say they came up with some amazing solutions. Like for example, building catamarans that cost $ 1 million each ( 5 of them mind you), spending about $5000 a month (each) on maintaining them, and charging all the commuters of Tonle Sap $2 everyday to use them. Then comes the clincher. They proposed that since the average Cambodian earns less than $2 a day, according to Cambodian standards, they should pay the drivers of these ships $75 a month!!
It stuck in my head because before I went for this marking job, I was reading 'The Great Indian Novel' on the train and I was bemused by Tharoor's description of how the British redefined "taxes" in various forms in India and how easily Indians accepted it then until someone else pointed it out to them!!

We were reading pages after pages of description of the abject poverty in the region and every two hours the table at the end of the room was loaded with refreshments. So I had to actually mark work that required me to understand if my students understood the concept of subsistence living while I was munching on grapes, making myself cups of fragrant Earl Grey and enjoying them with scones! To make things even more ironical I was being paid for all the time I spent there.
It is really amusing how different kinds of people in the West (well in Australia, I should be geographically correct and call them people of the Western East) think of the East. Some of them give me a happy shock by knowing more about Ashtanga Yoga than I do ( to be honest I don't even really know what kind of Yoga I have been brought up on). Sometimes they make these emphatic statements that Hindus still burn their widows in India and change the subject before I can take full control of my fury!!
The Western woman is emancipated. It is a really cunning word. She is free to choose! She is free to do whatever she wants with her life. In the end though, they all want someone to go down on his knees and propose to them! In the end they all want to have children. They all seem to have the same motherly and feminine feelings that their not-so-free sisters in the East seem to have but unlike their sisters in the East, they cannot guarantee that their feelings would be fulfilled. Because they are all tied down by freedom that they have chosen with such dignity! Too much choice ties you down in strange ways! I feel the same when I see twenty year old kids with backpacks full of different sources of entertainment looking blank and bored.
Sitting there in that cool air conditioned room today, I felt guilty in a strange way and on my way back, getting back to the Civil Disobedience that Mahatma Gandhi launched so many years ago, I also felt strangely grateful to be reminded that there are still people in this world that live on under $2 a day!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Downloading Friends. :)

Raj's post inspired the post but this has been on my mind for a while.
Sometimes, when I am absolutely convinced I am living a loser's life, I cheer myself up using each of my places on the Internet. On a day, where all my reactions have failed and my supervisor has very candidly told me that my latest draft could be aptly described only in one word-horrible, I sit in a corner and read my own blogs.
It is a place to rejuvenate but sometimes I also become a bit schizophrenic and wonder who is the real me?
Fifty years ago, if someone said that fifty years from now people would be able to send their minds all over the earth without physically going anywhere it would have been sci-fi material. Today I have so many friends that I have never met and it does not matter one bit if I do not meet them ever! In the last few years, I have made friends at an alarming rate for the kind of person I am. There has been a steady increase in the people I actually meet and then make friends with but there has also been a rise in the number of people I have not met and I am good friends with. Fortunately for me, this is not through any of the popular social networking sites. It is through reading blogs and interacting with people who read my blogs. It has been an absolutely thrilling experience.
I am not really going to try and be humble by saying that I don't write to get noticed. I started writing as an experiment but when I realized that people like it, I was inspired to do it more often. I had been writing in the closet for a long time before I started writing publicly but I must accept that public opinion added a lot of depth, care and maturity to my writing. After the initial excitement of people liking what I write died down, I started following some blogs as well. I have met some of the most interesting people solely through their blogs. Gayatri is one of them. Now, she is almost like any of the best friends I grew up with but initially her writing inspired a lot of awe. The way her words do ballet in Marathi is truly inspiring. She has also been doing the proof reading for my Marathi blog for which I am very grateful to her. Alienknight (Dattatraya Gokhale) is another person who inspired me with poetry in the early days of my poetry blog. His art of expressing profound feeling in just a couple of lines has always made me challenge my own expression. Raj has made me laugh out loud with his Marathi blog. His style of writing always amazes me. I have grown extremely fond of his silly satire. His humor has a Puneri flavor to it and reading his posts sometimes makes you feel like you are having a goof-around time with a cutting chai on some Puneri Katta.
Mandar Gadre has been one such friend that I have not met as yet. His poetry and his photoblog are a collection of sincere and well crafted thoughts and images. Charu's photoblog has also inspired me. He is also one of those people I have met only once but know too well now. Shrirang Khandekar's photoblog is also one of the places that I respect on the Internet. I came to know of this because he was a regular in the comment box of my Marathi blog. One day I decided to track his page. I must say it was a humbling experience to realize a place like that exists!
Prasad has been one of the recent additions to this list too. His words are human and his writing never fails to move. Be it in anger or in innocence. His writings about Robindranath Tagore have revived the Banglamania in me during the last few months.
I have made friends with a lot of my followers too and I have reconnected with a few family members because they started reading my blog! My father has been my most consistent follower and this feeling always fills me up with a lot of happiness and pride. These days, my mom takes out time specially to follow my Marathi blog. So there has been a bit of family reunion in the space too.
People with families, living in their home countries might not realize how much of a solace this part of our identities gives us. Over these past two years I have known so many new people who have stepped out of their countries, their own comfort zones to try and make a place in the field of science. Most of my blog-friends are PhD students spread all over the world. Some of them are intrepid travelers. All of us are trying to come to terms with our own identities without following any prescribed ways to belong. Oddly enough, unknowingly we all want to belong somewhere. In my case, finding fellow writers and empathizing with their experiences is a way of finding my own closure. :)
Like the Bhagwad Geeta says in a somewhat weary tone, we have entered the age of hybrids. People traveling all over the world and expressing themselves from everywhere in their own language is one of the advantages of this cultural hybridization. In any case, I would really like to thank God for technology. Even though it is all man-made and designed, if you take a look at how humanity has evolved over the ages, it always makes me want to believe that it is a Divine intervention!

Saturday, October 03, 2009

PurpleMoon Turns Three!

I am awfully superstitious but somehow without any premeditation, I started writing on the third of October. Something which I would have done if I was thinking about it. :)
I think anything that adds up to three is lucky for me. So, today on the 3rd of October, as my blog turns three, it has got to be a very special day. :)
Although poor PurpleMoon has been somewhat sidelined due to my Marathi blog, it is still a place of a lot of attachment for me.
So Happy Birthday PM! May you have a long life.Less opinion and more funny stories. And may your creator never lose her mind!

Friday, September 25, 2009


I came across this new website, the brainchild of a close friend and his buddies. A selfless little place in a selfish world just to pool in money for young kids in need. It is a place where people who want to help can interact with institutions that can take them to the kids in need. More details can be found on the website.
Wishing them good luck and hoping that it really helps!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Ms.Idle Whiskers

I am fully aware that anyone who wakes up at 5 AM on a Sunday morning is not considered normal by human beings. However, desperate times call for desperate measures and I had to wake up at that ungodly hour today to finish a few reactions in the lab. I personally find that I start becoming more and more stupid after 4 in the afternoon. So I have to use all my time before that to work. Otherwise I make mistakes that are irreversible or just get me into a mortifying gloom for the rest of the day and I hate repenting.
So I woke up at the break of dawn today. I was pottering around the house trying to make breakfast (there hasn't been even a single time in my life when I have been able to make one whole omelet. Somehow on the frying pan I always work in fractions. In the end I have scrambled eggs), when I heard an almost human knock and scratch on the door. When I opened, I realized that it was Ms.Cat demanding to be let in. I had to obey.
She came in running on her overweight paws and stood right next to her bowl and looked at me with a face that seemed to say, "You are just as slow even first thing in the morning aren't you?".
So I dutifully fed her and began to pack my bags to leave.In the meanwhile she sprawled on the carpet and began observing me with her wise owl-like face.
Cat : Where are you going?
Me : Work. You are going to get out of this house in another three and a half minutes.
Cat : Jeez! It is Sunday. Why do you have to go to work on a Sunday and that too at 6?!!
Me : Well, my religious texts say that you are born a human after many births. I guess it is more like a consolation for having cats like you.
Cat : See, your problem is that you (all humans) really think of yourselves as important. Even cats could write a similar text if they want. Where a kind, forgiving and unselfish cat refuses to kill an army of rats in front of him. Then a wise and cat meows him the essence of cat life. Urges him to stop grieving and do his duty as a cat. We just don't bother!
Me : God! You are not just arrogant and lazy but also blasphemous! I don't want to listen to your philosophy. I have things to do.
Cat : Why do you think that the things you have to do are going to make so much of a difference? I mean how do you matter to the world. I would say you matter a lot to your parents and a few close friends. You matter to me, mostly when the other girl who's much nicer to me than you, is not around. But from a global, like you say holistic point of view, do you really matter that much?
Me : (Damn! She is right!) Yes I do. I matter to myself. What I do makes me happy. That is all I ask!
Cat : This is what all those texts fill you up with. These are all borrowed thoughts. You have been told to find happiness within yourself. You know that in theory but you think that pretending to be practicing it will one day make you get there. So you pretend that waking up at dawn and smelling through one nostril would make you like the one that your Man-god told you he likes.
Me : What?!! What smelling?
Cat : The thing you do every morning where you close one nostril and then the other and keep doing it. I have recommended that to the list of "Humans are stupid" videos that Cat Rock
channel telecasts every Monday morning.
Me : Have I ever asked you these kind of probing questions about your life? Why do you have to make my morning so difficult? You ate your food. Now bugger off!
Cat : Well eventually I will. But before that, since I eat your food and I cannot stoop down to the level of a Dog and lick your feet, wagging my tail, I would like to barter some knowledge with you. Just out of genuine goodwill for once. Tell me how you define life?
Me : Something that you don't have.
Cat : Well, I would like to ignore that sarcastic comment. It mostly springs out of jealousy. To me, life is the time between being born and being dead. Two things you do not have any control over. It is like a waiting room. So in my view one should spend it doing minimum and just waiting. Catching a mouse or two every now and again but returning back to being idle whenever possible. It will pass on its own. Without any turbulence.
Me: Yeah, why not! When you have an idiot like me to demand food from and give these pointless lectures your life will sure have no turbulence at all!
Cat: This anger is not at me. It is actually directed at yourself. You would like to sprawl on this mat like me and doze off until the rats in the walls invite you to sharpen your nails. You mask your jealousy in virtue. Everybody has a loafer inside them. Get it out for once!
Me: Yeah okay. I will do that next Sunday. Now please leave this place.
Cat: Certainly. After you!
Me: No. Get out NOW.

Drags her fat paws out and sprawls on the lawn.

I must admit that the little creature has definitely done some thinking. I wish I could exchange lives with her sometimes. So much for taking oneself seriously!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Setting the world a-twitter

Once again, one of those (boring) IMO (In My Opinion) blogs. Not that my opinion really matters, as I have said over and over again, but whenever I can I like to dispense my opinion just because I have it! Something that my city (Pune) taught me. :)
So the inspiration is this. I was actually really happy that Shashi Tharoor was a part of our fresh cabinet. I even started following him on Twitter but like most, I gave up Tweeting after an initial entusiasm of about three weeks.
In one of its own T-shirt quotes Twitter says that it is ' The messaging system we didn't know we needed until we had it'. At the end of my three weeks of tweeting I came to agree with it, and also ended up dwelling on it.
Why does a politician need to update people around the globe about who he is having dinner with? For that matter why does anyone have to update the whole world about what they are doing every single moment of the day?
They say that they do it for political transperancy but the amount of truly unnecessary information that they send out through tweeting does more harm than the amount of good their transperancy does. No one really needs updates from politicians all the time. At least not about how they feel in their daily meetings and what they think about the austerity drive.
I think healthy tweeting would really help resolve a lot of issues regarding politicians being absent from the common people but India is a little cosmos within herself. Although we are all hooked on to the net all the time, we still use tongue-twisters like austerity-drive to describe cost cuts in cabinet travels. When I first read that word in the Times Of India I could not help but laugh. It took me straight to the English translation of the Bhagwad Geeta, where a austerity is a wise man's lifestyle. :)
I don't think the technological evolution has really affected the Indian values to a great extent. We still respect a certain formality of conduct in leaders. So a Kevin Rudd can possibly get away with tweeting about his steak but a Shashi Tharoor still has to pay heavily for it.
I also think it dilutes rhetoric. Not that it is essential but the beauty of a well-designed and drafted speech is far beyond tweeting every hour from every corner of the world. There has to be a certain gap between thinking and expressing. IMO (again!!) it is one of the most important steps of expressing your thoughts in any form, whether written, verbal or even artistic. That time between thinking over something and then saying it is the most crucial time in the process of expression and I think Twitter (or Facebook for some) really robs you of that time. That is why speeches by the likes of Winston Churchill and Mahatma Gandhi are still compiled and sold in the printed form.
I am not technophobic but I am weary of all these information blasters that the world is coming up with!
I love the concept of an e-book although I personally prefer a nice paperback in my purse, but audio-books just depress me to the core. They rob you of the pleasure of reading words and converting them into pictures in your brain right there. If you come to think of it, it is a very complicated process and that is why book lovers would never part with that privilege.
These days every one spends a lot of time and money on getting entertained. Even then there are a lot of people who get bored very easily. The real reason behind this is that we spend lesser time processing information in our own (private and hard-copy) heads and more time assimilating and dispensing it. :)
Just like my opinions I guess. So the (pointless) conclusion of this post is that you are more than likely to ruffle some Indian peacock feathers if you plan to set the world a-twitter. No matter how suave, tech-savvy and bright you are. In India you do what Indians do. :)

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Too Good To Be True

I am listing out all the Too-Good-To-Be-Trues (TGTBT) so that people can faithfully walk along their (self) prescribed paths without wanting to strangle their destinies.

1. Being able to go to the gym five days a week and have complete control over your calorie intake at the same time. There hasn't been a single week in my life with that kind of statistics and I am pretty sure there will never be, unless ofcourse I am stranded on an island with orchards with only a gym on it for a week.

2. Having a day where you don't forget to do something. I have stopped worrying about this. There have been days when I have packed my bag the night before, put my clothes out for the next day on the couch, my lunch all packed in the fridge, my papers in the bag only to realize after stepping out on the bus-stop that I have forgotten my cellphone in my bed. Actually, today is one of those days. On such days instead of cursing myself, I feel happy that my all-pervading-all-encompassing supervisor would not be able to call me to ask, "Where are you??!! Haven't seen you today!!" when I am sitting and reading in the room next to his!

3. Not having a single coffee in a day. This is now beyond even my conscious control. I mechanically make myself coffee every morning without even realizing that I am doing it!

4. Not a single person in your life complains to you about something or someone else. I have tried to stop people from doing it in the past, quite unsuccessfully and I consciously stop myself from complaining about things but having a day where no one you talk to complains to you about something is just too good to be true.

5.Walking into your supervisor's office the morning after you have sent him your first-final draft and hearing the words, "Fantastic. Send it right away!". Anyone doing a PhD will know how many "final" drafts you have to write before anything even gets remotely close to the word final!

Feels nice to know that at least there is a list of things that is certain, if not the most pleasant!! :)

Sunday, August 02, 2009


Recently I have been sleep deprived for two reasons. The first being my obsessive compulsive habit of getting up early and the second, my dreams. Sometimes I think when I sleep, my sleeping body is haunted by the ghost of some long dead script writer. I dream a perfect sequence of logical events. Moreover I remember it all in the morning and I am worried how much of a story it really is!!
In my latest dream, I dreamt that my grandparent's had installed an escalator in their house so that they don't have to climb a narrow flight of stairs. However, when I tried to operate it it got knotted up and turned into an electromagnet that went out of control. Soon, the neighbour's cars were all seen stuck to the escalator. While this was playing in my head one part of my mind was busy thinking whether an escalator could really turn into an electromagnet.
In another one of the recent ones, I dreamt that I wanted to get my nose pierced. I went into this really busy "Indian Market" nearby that had a piercing place run by Indian women that looked like witches. I asked how much they charged for a nose pierce. They said that they would pierce it and wait for two weeks for me to get a blood test. If I am infected, they would not charge me any money!! Very kind of them I presume. At least I would be happy about a free piercing job just before I die of AIDS!!
About two weeks ago, I dreamt that I was going to die in two days. It was a Friday in my dream and I was living with this old Aussie couple. They told me that the cemetery is closed over the weekend and because I would be dying on a Sunday, they did not want to keep me in the house till it opened again! So the good old chap insisted that they take me to the cemetery and bury me on the Friday itself to get it out of the way! Since I was going to die anyway, I might as well die in my own coffin! While all this was happening in my dream, I was constantly wondering if I should be buried or cremated. Finally I felt sad for the old couple and agreed to get myself buried before I die. When we reached the cemetery however, I got "checked" for the "symptoms of death" by a doctor who told me I was not going to die for a long time to come. The Aussie old man then refused to take me back in his car as he had not "prepared" himself  for the eventuality that I live. So I had to hitch-hike my way back to Brisbane. 
All of this could suggest that I am stressed. What amuses me however is the detail of thought that goes into it. How can a sleeping mind make up things like that? Although I often wake up tired from these kind of dreams, it is also very hard to control them especially when they have such macabre humor attached to them.
I slept like a log on Saturday night and woke up Sunday morning after thirteen hours of non-stop sleep. I must thank Hypnos and maybe pray that Morpheus takes over less often. :)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Rakhi Ka Swayamwar

If the committee that wrote the Indian scriptures had a better foresight, they would have included "Rakhi ka Swayamwar" as a confirmatory test for Kali Yuga. In Satya Yuga, we had the beautiful, innocent and extremely cultured daughter of Janaka being married off to the brave Lord Rama. In the age of the male demon (as Wiki puts it) we see an item girl organizing her own Swayamwar with a popularity seeking T.V channel. What more, we see all of us following it with gusto.
Let me confess with a little bit of shame and a little bit of pride that I actually enjoy watching Rakhi ka Swayamwar. I say shame, because if I wasn't watching it and somebody described it to me, I would be revolted to the core of my conscience. I say pride because I have been able to analyze well why I like watching it and put it behind me.
I envy people who lap up popularity. I use that word because that is exactly how I feel. Not that I cannot do it but I am too scared of the consequences. I heard people saying, "WHO will pass through trials and tribulations to marry someone like RAKHI SAWANT?" There were a lot of eager candidates though!
Most of us started watching it as a freak show. Something below average morals (if there is such an average) and dignity. Each episode presents yesterday's skimpily clad item girl in exceedingly beautiful clothes. With all my honesty, for the first time in all these days I gave Rakhi's looks a serious thought. Apart from certain inherent features that she probably cannot help (or does not want to redesign) she is a very beautiful woman.
The way she puts her point across comes as heartfelt and honest expression. Although hilarious sometimes it does have a shred of soul-searching hidden in it.
I think we like watching it because we like watching loudmouths. We are unconsciously living their lives because we cannot live them ourselves. However, in doing that we also expect them to fail just the way they rose up publicly, so that we can make peace with the inner voices that seem to remind us of our morals.
This is just a stream of thought that I caught in my head. Does not mean that if there are no consequences, I would go ahead and do it!
I would not say that this is Kali Yuga though. I think this is the age of absolute personal freedom. In a land like India that was eclipsed with the caste system for hundreds of years we suddenly have some serious turmoil. The recent ruling about homosexuality is one of the positive outcomes of this expression of freedom. It has also lifted off the stigma associated with the fear to act against immoral behaviour. It is a little bit ironic that to be comfortable as a victim in a society, sometimes you need to wait for the morality of the society itself to weaken! The age of absolute personal freedom has somehow also given us the ability to overrule the morals that have been laid down upon us. However, for some the journey ends at that point itself. Ideally it should go on. When we reject something that has been mass-dictated to us, we should also evolve to make our own personal morals. That would really make this age come of age.
For me, Rakhi ka Swayamwar is the negative extreme of this expression of personal freedom. The funny side of it is though that if you have not made enough time to tell your kids stories from the Ramayana, they are going to associate the word "Swayamwar" with Ms.Sawant before they do it with good old Seeta. :)
So I guess it is time for toddler parents to bring out those epics and turn them into bed-time stories again. :)

Monday, July 13, 2009

White Tiger

I bought this book on Saturday morning and I finished it Monday afternoon. Last year's Booker winner "White Tiger" by Arvinda Adiga is just as riveting as Shantaram or  A Fine Balance. It is the story of a driver who works for the son of a rich landlord in the corrupt regions of India around the river Ganga. What struck me is the beautiful narrative of the usually overlooked species on the streets of India- the Driver. It is an enriching account of all the little things these people are in the habit of doing. The way they observe and sometimes even emulate their masters. The way they use all the time they have to spend waiting for their masters to come back from their meetings, shopping sprees or romantic interludes. These little character details make the depressing story a lot more real and even funny. There is also an "Rushdiesh" influence which only ends up complimenting the style.

The story is not anything new. It is the story of a country bumpkin who does everything it takes morally, immorally to make his own space in a country full of people. It is the way it is written that deserves all the praise. Really depressing truths about India and Indian politics have been presented from the eyes of a pragmatic little driver who just wants to make his own life. He never gets shaken from the corruption and the recklessness. He gets used to it and moves ahead. In the end, however turns around and surprises everyone by expressing his own sensitive side that seems never to reflect in his early life.
Adiga's  use of metaphors as well as his plots sometimes melting into poetry reminds you of Rushdie. 

When I finished reading it, I felt the vast difference between the way two people might think of India. How the rich landlord's son, being driven in a Honda City looks at his own life and his country and how the driver who takes him around looks at his own is poles apart! Although they spend all their waking moments being together in the same car. It gradually dawns on you that "class" is the new "caste" in India. The rift between the corrupt rich, the rich and the vast poor is getting bigger everyday. However even in this depressing jungle insignificant drivers are being turned into entrepreneurs every day. At what costs is known best only to those who do it!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Conversations with the Cat

My neighbour's cat is now "our" cat. My flatmate and I have a joint account in loving the fluffy, grey cat that lives with us now. I am a complete cat person.
A man-dog relationship has moments where the dog could say, " What! You come home, I wag my tail and you don't even care! You are always worried about your boss or your wife. When are you going to stop treating me like a doormat!!"
In a man-cat relationship however the basis of any interaction is where the cat says, "Listen up smart guy. If you don't care I don't care either. In fact you should not expect me to care even when you care, okay? I care when I want to care."
This cat is extremely selfish. She has an open order of preference for the two of us. So when Danielle is at home, Ms.Cat would walk all over me and not notice me. When Danielle is at work and I am home she has to get along. So sometimes we have the following conversation.
Cat: Meow!
I open the fridge and pour out a whole mug of milk just for myself.
Cat: (Rubbing herself all over the couch and my legs) Meeeeow! *batting eyelashes*
Me: I get it! What do you want? Food?
As I walk towards her bowl she gurgles a meow in her throat that sounds like a cat relief from a sore throat. She puts her entire head into the bowl before I can put any food in it. So I have to wait for common sense to dawn on her before I let her eat anything.
After eating she comes back to the couch and stares at me with a face that seems to say,
Cat: Can I cuddle with you now for a bit?
Me: Now that you don't have Danielle you are just using me aren't you?
Cat: Yes. Is that wrong? Never mind. Can I jump on now and sit in your lap?
Me: Ah well. I don't have much of a choice do I?
Cat: (Jumps on) No.
Then she starts purring and it seems to resonate with my heartbeats. When she is sitting on your lap you cannot even go to the bathroom without upsetting her and getting an ungrateful hiss when you try to pick her up.
Some nights she sneaks into my room if I have left the door ajar and sits on my stomach as I sleep, directly looking at my face. It takes me a while to realize that there is about four or five kilos extra weight on the quilt. Then I pull my conscience out of the dream (in which I am usually extinguishing fires I made in the lab or dying) and when I open my eyes, I look straight into the two green gooseberries that seem to shine in the dark. This is what is really unfortunate about being me. You wake up from a nightmare to get the scare of your life with a fat cat sitting on your stomach staring at you!
She can take all the liberties she wants but if you turn excessively cuddly and try to give her a tummy rub, she would not hesitate to bite you. Even if you were the one who fed her about twenty seconds ago. Most of the times, they do not love you. They are just using you. However on those rare occasions when they elevate you to the next level and express their love by licking you with their sandpapery tongue, the feeling is priceless. It is like finding true love in a real world.
Some days she brings a dead rat and leaves it right outside the door as a "present" for us. Some days she just lies with her belly up surrendering herself to me. Some days she sits in the sun curled up into a grey ball while I am rushing out of the house, making me realize the futility of all my efforts.
There is no loyalty. There is no guarantee that you will be together for as long as the creature lives. There is also a fear that just the way she migrated from next door and moved in with you, she would find someone better again. However, every day as I get down from the bus thinking about a whole heap of other thoughts and find her waiting outside to be let in, I secretly thank God that we are still together!
I guess that is why I am a cat person. :)

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Don't ask me what I think about it

I have been blogging on my Marathi Blog for the past month or so. That is one of the reasons why I am missing in action here. The other is the gradually creeping fear that has finally got me of turning into a news analyst. As a result of my highly unproductive PhD life, I end up reading a lot of (unnecessary) news on the Internet. Owing to the fact that my own life is as dry as the vacuum dried pulp I make, the writer in me is forced to express opinions on things that are no way related to my life. I tried giving unsolicited advice to my close friends and as a result I have very few left now but making comments about news is very easy. There is always a vast majority that agrees with you if you manage to sit on the fence without poking yourself on the wrong spot. Eventually the majority that agrees with you ends up fighting with almost an equal number that doesn't and you do not have to involve yourself anymore. Soon, you are known as a person who opines in every plastic bag available everywhere in the world. Old men throw your name into the conversation when they want to raise the volume of the group loud enough not to let anyone hear the nasty one they are letting go under the table. Young men look up to you because they think that you have acquired all this knowledge through years of experience. All of this only when you are of the formidable kinds. With the way I am going I would end up being just a benign one. So I kind of realized there is no point.
I am turning twenty six this month. I have kind of decided to spend the next quarter of my life not having an opinion about anything. I am going to slowly deopionionate myself. This year I was going to decaffeinate myself but then I realized that an opinion is much more lethal than a coffee. So I guess coffee would have to wait to get out of my life. However, I might show much severe withdrawal symptoms from not having an opinion than I would from not having a coffee. In the long run however it will all be good. :)
In my supervisor's opinion I have not by any stretch of imagination done enough work to appease the Gods of PhD. So I guess not expressing unwanted opinion is more of a necessity than an effort. :D

Monday, June 08, 2009

How not to get attacked in Australia-an insider's view. :)

To everyone who is worried about me, I am absolutely fine. I had stopped myself from writing anything about the recent 'attacks on Indians in Australia' only because I did not want to make a controversial post all over again and hurt nationalist and patriotic sentiments. 
However, the hype that Indian media created over all of this was extremely annoying. It is funny when newspaper people are ready with editorials like "Australia-paradise lost?" in less than twenty four hours after the reports. More hilarious are the opinions expressed under them!
I read one such reply to an edit page in some newspaper where the commentator called himself an "ex-Indian" and criticised the 'disgusting' behaviour of Indian immigrants in Australia.
Why are Indians being attacked in Australia? 
This question has a lot of words missing. Let me put it in all its perspectives.
Why are Indian males being attacked in Australia?
Why are North Indian males being attacked in Australia?
Why are North Indian males being attacked in Melbourne?
Why are North Indian males travelling late at night being attacked?
Why are North Indian males travelling late being attacked on train stations in Australia?
Let me answer these questions in the reverse order now.
Train stations are not the safest places in Australia. Or anywhere in any big city in the world. Even Australians do not travel late at night. The average Aussie who depends on public transport gets home well before six in the evening. They follow a European work routine from 7:30 AM to 4:30 PM. Women do not travel at night at all. The only people you find on the train after six is students working part time or just gallivanting around the place!
The most recent attack happened at 1:20 AM on a Sunday night. Australia is a weekend to weekend culture. Most of the nocturnal attackers on weekends belong to the group that believes in drinking themselves to oblivion starting Friday night and then going on until Monday morning. Unlike in India where the younger generation does not give in to these kind of temptations in their teens, it is very common in Australia. So on weekends, especially late at nights the trains are full of people who have no money and want more alcohol. So anyone who gets off the train and looks like they might have money is an easy target irrespective of where they come from. 
Although Melbourne is a one of the most culturally diverse cities of Australia it is also known for its hippie and junkie population. To an average Indian sitting in India watching "Aaj Tak" this detail is almost never conveyed. Trying to expect cultural compassion from someone who is just looking for his next joint of Marijuana is going a bit far ahead in my opinion. So the easiest way of not getting attacked is not travel at two in the morning when you know you do not live in a safe neighbourhood.
I do not know what it is with North Indians and fearlessness but here whenever I am stuck in the lab late and returning home, it is like travelling on a train in Punjab. My own Punjabi neighbours often return home at 2 in the morning (with their cellphones singing loud Punjabi songs much to our annoyance). Maybe it is safe to travel at night in North India (which I still doubt considering that no one travels after eight at night in Delhi) but anywhere in the world be it New York, Mumbai, Delhi, Sydney, London or Melbourne, travelling at that hour is making yourself vulnerable.
The last question has a simple answer. Women (of any nationality) seldom travel that late or alone. Even before all this hype began, I resheduled all my experiments in a way that I can be out of the lab while it is still light outside. As winter set it, I changed my summer schedule from 8 AM-7PM  to  7 AM through 5 PM and this was not because I am an Indian living in Australia!
I do not deny that racism could be a part of these attacks but it is not fair to take that one point and advertise it all over a nation of 1 billion people. There are a lot of other factors that contribute to these kind of attacks and mostly it is being at the wrong place at a wrong time. Moreover, when someone is beating you up at two in the morning for not having money they could steal, you cannot control what kind of (racist) foul language they use. I am pretty sure they have special swear words for white people too!
It has caused a lot of anxiety to people who have their children studying in Australia and it also gives a wrong message to the world. 
Throughout my stay in Australia I have met a lot of full-blooded Australians who not only accept Indian people but also appreciate Indian culture. I have met Australians who have spent years learning Yogasanas in Pune and know the Bhagwat Geeta much better than I do. I have met strangers on trains who have made it a point to stay in the same compartment as me just to protect me from other 'suspicious' looking people. I have met Australian bus drivers who got out of the bus just to check if I am getting down on the right stop because it was late in the evening. 
Just a couple of days ago, in the wake of these attacks as my flatmate Riju went to get a takeaway dinner, an Australian came up to her and apologised for the problem and even offered to buy her dinner as a gesture!
In a steak loving nation, "vegetarian" Aussies may be in the minority, but so are the thugs! 
If  I ever fall prey to racism myself, in a situation that can have no other intention, I will fight it with all my strength. However, labelling something that could have a lot of other motivations as Racism is just creating more of it. 

Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Incurable Nerd

I recently installed a website traffic tracking widget on two of  my blogs. It was amusing to see how many "flags" I got in a day. More than that, I actually knew who it was! So thrilled I was to see this happening that I started hitting my own page every half an hour. When I left I used to leave the "Australian" flag on my site confirming that I am the geek who goes back to her own website again and again. I tried the traditional way first. I used to immerse myself in lab work and forget that I even have a blog. Then at the end of a long, well-utilized day, I would check the "traffic" on my website. However, as everyone knows you can only have (at the most) three well utilized days a week. Anymore utilization beyond that and my head starts buzzing and I feel that the whole Universe is closing in on me. 
I confided about this recent anomaly in my behaviour to a very good friend and he said that he could give me any flag I wished to have on my website that very moment. My first demand was Paris and I got it in two minutes. Then I made up my mind about Colombo. I got it before I could remember what the Srilankan flag looked like! 
My friend stopped pretending to be a magician and told me that I could change my own location by using the "options" on the widget. That was enough.
In the past two hours I have been to Switzerland, Zambia and Kazakhstan!! So whenever I have nothing better to do, I change the country on my traffic widget and visit my own blog. So if anyone of you notices weird countries on my page you know who that is!! :)
I don't know what the point of this post is. I think it vaguely expresses the joy I feel in having this new nothing to do. Or maybe I am really ashamed of the sheer childishness of my actions and want to make up by owning up. Or maybe I am just losing it as a writer (if I ever had it that is) and using this space to write things that do not make sense. 
In any case, as all of you get busy writing me off as a blogger, I would like to go to Mozambique. 

PS: Please do not change your locations. That would really make my widget useless :(

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Vagabond

Give to me the life I love,
Let the lave go by me,
Give the jolly heaven above
And the byway nigh me.
Bed in the bush with stars to see,
Bread I dip in the river -
There's the life for a man like me,
There's the life for ever.

Let the blow fall soon or late,
Let what will be o'er me;
Give the face of earth around
And the road before me.
Wealth I seek not, hope nor love,
Nor a friend to know me;
All I seek, the heaven above
And the road below me.

Or let autumn fall on me
Where afield I linger,
Silencing the bird on tree,
Biting the blue finger.
White as meal the frosty field -
Warm the fireside haven -
Not to autumn will I yield,
Not to winter even!

Let the blow fall soon or late,
Let what will be o'er me;
Give the face of earth around,
And the road before me.
Wealth I ask not, hope nor love,
Nor a friend to know me;
All I ask, the heaven above
And the road below me. 

Robert Louis Stevenson

Just remembered this poem from a long time ago. :)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Three Cups of Tea

What can we do as human beings?
If anyone of us is pondering over this question, this book might give you the answer. This is the story of Greg Mortenson, an American climber who embarked upon a different mission after his unsuccessful attempt at the world's second highest peak K2. He is the founder director of the Central Asia Institute (CAI), which has built schools in Pakistan's and Afghanistan's remote hilly areas. Their emphasis is also on educating more girls as in these areas, girls are more or less likely to stay home than go into the bigger cities in search of jobs like boys. When educated girls stay home, they become community leaders and pass on what they have learned. Moreover, just because the founder is an American these schools do not make "young Americans" in Afghanistan. The curriculum includes a healthy mix of subjects with nothing that could be labeled "anti-Islamic" but far away from any kind of extremism.
When I write down this information, I can sum it up in a paragraph. However "Three Cups of Tea" co-authored by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin is a book that makes you introspect. With every new chapter I read, I realized the potential of just one man to change the lives of so many people.
This is not a story of a rich and famous man who does not know what to do with his money. Greg was almost broke in the early years of the conception and execution of this idea. On his way back from K2, laden with disappointment at himself, he got lost into the small village of Korphe at the foothills in Baltistan,Pakistan. After a speedy recovery from K2 assaults under the care of the village head of Korphe, Greg spent some time understanding their culture. He was shocked to see the little kids of Korphe learning their lessons on the frosty ground with sticks on an open ground. They had no school. The teacher came from another town twice a week and the children were essentially left on their own during his absence.
This led Greg to make a spontaneous promise to the people of Korphe and he came back again and again with whatever money he could gather in America to give them the school that he promised.
To let his mission proceed peacefully, Greg became one with the culture. He learnt Urdu and Pashto. On one of his detours he was held hostage by the Taliban for a week. In a country where Americans are misunderstood with just one look at their passports, Greg had to cross many language and religion barriers to prove that he had peaceful intentions. In the end, his attempts were generously rewarded, even by the members of extremist groups.
This book also gives you a lesson in sustainable development. Local cultures and local people are the biggest agents of bringing about any change in a society. Impatience and hurry have no room in civilizations that have stood the test of tall mountains and hostile weather. This book also gives us an insight into what Greg learned from the Balti people.
All along it is also peppered with the magnificent descriptions of the tall mountains that surround this area of the Earth. Extracts from texts previously written about them and each chapter comes with an old Islamic adage just below the title or even something said to Greg by a common villager that is full of wisdom!
More than anything else, it brings forward the power of "the religion of goodwill" that is understood by followers of all religions.
For me, this book was a lesson in charity. Charity is not something you put off until you earn enough to donate and not be bothered. This man's struggle taught me that the willingness to help less fortunate transcends the boundaries of personal comfort. For months, Greg lived in his car to put together some money for his school. On his way back to Baltistan, he sold his car off and pitched in that money into the school funds. Fortunately he met a wealthy physicist Dr.Jean Hoerni who sent him $12000 with a note saying,"Don't screw up". :)
Dr. Hoerni left a million dollars for CAI but this was when the first school was built and running.
Whatever is written about America as a political force in Afghanistan is wiped away from your mind with every new page of this book. By the end you realize that in this "real world" it is not selfishness and ruthlessness that you need to survive. Kind hearted, sensitive and even outright impulsive attempts at making this world better still work wonders. What you need is just the patience to see them through!

You can help here.
Remember, even $10 is a lot of money for children living in these areas!

Why ponder thus the future to foresee
and jade thy brain to vain perplexity?
Cast off thy care, leave Allah's plans to him
He formed them all without consulting thee
Omar Khayyam, The Rubaiyat

Monday, May 18, 2009

Congratulations India!

I don't know if all of my readers are happy with the results of the recent Loksabha polls but I am!
Apart from the fact that this win has given India the much needed stability it also says a lot about our leader Dr. Manmohan Singh. Amidst the constant accusations from the opposition for being "the weakest Prime Minister" India has ever had, Dr.Singh has been a silent leader. India's foreign policy showed a significant improvement over the last five years. India has not made a lot of unnecessary "noise" as it did when she was in the hands of the NDA alliance. She has impalpably grown, sometimes even at a GDP of 9% and forged relations with all the world leaders.
The Congress (or now the UPA) may have been accused of dynastic politics but the one good thing about this alliance is their adherence to the "secular" and (almost) "non-aligned" image that India made for herself post independence. Add to that the plethora of "scholar-leaders" that they offer including the PM himself. It is also heartening to know that people like Shashi Tharoor have decided to get their hands dirty by stepping onto the shop-floor with Congress. However, it is a great responsibility and I hope that they shoulder it well.
The biggest task any leader does for his followers, consciously or unconsciously, is giving them an identity. Fortunately (or unfortunately) in India, there are a lot of "two minute noodle" identities available for politicians to stick on the foreheads of their followers. Just being a Brahmin in India has so many variations! You could be a "Chitpavan" from Maharashtra or an "Iyengar" from the south. Every group has hundreds of different rivulets of people joining it from all sides. So it is very easy for politicians who don't do their homework everyday and just want to make some quick scores before the exam to label the people of India on religious grounds.
India is finally casting off her religious labels. In a recent study it was found out that amongst the G20 countries, only two are growing at positive rates. China at 6.5% a year and India following at 5%. Considering that India is still a fully working democracy, this growth rate is speaks volumes about us. So when Indians are making their own "Indian" identity, I don't think there is any need anymore to think "religiously"! :)

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Silly Mistakes

How does something that is perfectly plausible in your head end up being so outrageously stupid in reality?
Today I put an overhead stirrer in a carefully acidified solution to collect the precipitate and forgot to check the rpm knob before I started it! I have little holes in my lab coat now and I have to do it all over again. Obviously considering the chain of events, it should not even be stated that it took me two days to make that solution!
I wish I remembered it more often how forgetful I am. In order to minimize my trauma, I have almost reduced myself to a no-woman. I do not have a big hand bag that contains about half the universe in it. I do not wear make-up lest I forget to wear it one day and scare the wits out of my friends. I am even willing to give up my cell phone so that I do not regret forgetting it somewhere!
The good thing about being forgetful is that you forget that you forget and then you don't nag yourself about being forgetful. :)

Saturday, April 25, 2009


I think the "Miss Universe" pageant is the limit of  lack of hope and imagination for human kind.
What is the difference between "Miss World" and "Miss Universe"? 
By crowning someone "Miss Universe" every single year we are potentially making the following absurd assumptions
1. That there is a lack of hot aliens in our and the neighboring galaxies. I mean I am sure that if they are more advanced than us, the alien women might be watching these competitions every year and going, "Yeah right. This is the new Ms.Universe. How can you even qualify in the preliminaries with two eyes!!"
2. That beauty is more of a seasonal, annual phenomenon usually enhanced with fake eye-lashes and fake attitude. 
3.That the difference between being the most beautiful woman in the whole world or the Universe is an "answer" that seems to please everyone in the room but not make much sense. 
4. Beauty is as profound and as deep as the Pacific but nonetheless there is a cut-off limit for weight and height.
Think about how much limits these pageants put on our imagination! How depressing it is for all those men out there to know that the Earth is all they have got. If they have to choose the most beautiful woman in the entire Universe seven continents is all they have. I mean what about Venus? Maybe somewhere far away in the frigid cold on Pluto there could be a bunch of astonishingly beautiful women! 
Then again, how do you compare a beautiful curvaceous beauty from Africa to a lanky American? Beauty is as relative as the word itself gets. I walk down the streets of Brisbane and I am bamboozled everyday at how hard it must be for God to keep female beauty so unique and fresh over all these billion years! There is no face on the street or no body in a train that is similar to other, each with her own aura and the little cloud of thoughts that rest on top of her head like her own tiara. Little bejeweled fingers that go in and out of bags to find cellphones and long eyelashes that stare out of the train windows in anticipation!
I recently read a report about the controversy over the Miss USA pageant this year. An openly homosexual judge asked one of the finalists if her state should legalize gay marriage. She answered that she believes that marriage should only happen between a man and a woman. She was given the runner up position and criticized for speaking out against gay marriage. The judge then went out and used explicit language against her! 
I agree that the world is progressing in attitude and I am one of those too. However that should not make us give up respect for the conservative. Letting others believe what they want to is I guess the first sign of being open-minded! 
If a beauty is finally being honest enough to say what she really thinks (instead of the usual 'world peace') should she be publicly humiliated for expressing her personal opinion? 
I don't know about Ms.Universe or Ms.World, I personally think that every human being is beautiful in their own unique way and I totally stand up for Alien Rights. :)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

India Polling!

Has anyone been following the election campaigns back home?
Apart from the usual mud slinging and a bit of Gandhi Vs Gandhi, there are two really positive things that I noticed.
The first one is the candidacy of Ms. Meera Sanyal from South Mumbai. It is very heartening to see a banker give up her secure job and jump into politics. What is more reassuring is the fact that she knows she is the odd one out in a jungle of corruption yet is confident that she will win!
Another is Shashi Tharoor contesting from Kerala. He could have easily got into the Upper House (Rajya Sabha) through the Congress. However he chooses to be chosen by the people. Kudos!!
Politics everywhere is just as dirty but when explorers and travelers choose to turn to politics, it helps clear the detachment towards politics that people seem to be engulfed with! India is one of her kind when it comes to choosing leaders.
With 714 million registered voters, a total of 35 states and union territories, each having its own language, and 543 constituencies all over the nation it looks like a big elephant getting ready to salute his new king! There are 1055 political parties in India. I was trying to count just the communist parties the other day off the top of my head and I was surprised at how many communist flavors we have back home![1]
It is not just about numbers. The median age of my motherland is 25.1 years! That is just as old as me (actually a bit younger to be honest).[2]
So it is not just the world's largest democracy it is also one of the young countries of the world! All the dramas included, it is not such a bad place to be in! When the world's biggest (and working) democracy goes to polls, we must not forget that it is also the place for the world's biggest film industry! =)
Good Luck India!

PS: Thanks Gaya for this!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sleepless Note

Before I get really busy again I have to make a note.
I met Viju Kaka again when I was in India this time. 
On the day I was scheduled to fly back to Brisbane, he came to see me with a big chocolate and his digi-digi. :) We went for a short ride before I got into the car! 

Just like my childhood memories, the pragmatic firing of his Enfield is still the same. The feeling you get even when you are a passenger is just as refreshing. So to all the guys who are (unnecessarily) passionate about bikes, I understand you! 

Another someone interesting I met was Vrinda Moushi, my mother's childhood friend. I had been in touch with her for a long time before I met her. It was funny looking at aai turn into a schoolgirl again with her!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Awareness and Knowledge

Today, I was on the bus with a couple of friends from Uni. They were talking about the word "aware". It got me thinking. Almost every language I have been exposed to uses the phrases "to know" and "to be aware" differently. There is a very beautiful difference. 
Knowledge wears a grey suit. 
Awareness has wings. :)

You can easily replace one with the other. Like you can say "I am aware of that" instead of "I know". However, when you are really aware, you know but you cannot explain how it makes you feel. When you are aware you know that knowledge is not everything. That there is a certain degree of levitation associated even with ordinary life. 
Like knowing that water droplets run over a lotus leaf like mercury but then taking one on off on the tip of your index finger and feeling it!
Knowing that you breathe all the time in order to survive but closing your eyes and trying to follow your breath in and out of your lungs. 
It could be knowledge and sensitivity together. It could be knowing with a flexible mind. More so a flexible ego. Better still, a flexible, knowing mind full of compassion. Is that awareness? 

It is an evasive, ethereal word. 
How would a Westerner react to "अहम् ब्रम्हास्मि।"?
If you translate it literally, it would be considered an expression of an inflated ego but I think it is closest to how we can explain awareness. 
That is what separates scholars from enlightened ones. The fact that they are aware of the God within them!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


I guess having an opinion on everything is the first sign of getting old. :(
Ten years ago I hardly had an opinion on anything and I had a constant feeling of being empty.
Ten years since then I struggled hard to have an opinion. I still feel empty and I make much more noise!
Opinions are overrated. They have a range of validity and when someone gets too stiff on their own, life turns around and pokes them in the eyeball. It is one thing having an opinion and another being taken seriously. As a twenty five year old, I try to make as much sense with my own life as possible but I also feel like attaching a disclaimer with my opinions. Most of my thoughts about various situations have changed drastically over the past two or three years. So if my own life goes at the same pace, I may not agree with my twenty five year old thoughts when say, I am twenty seven.
So is it really worth asking for my opinion and then getting into a fight with me?
Another annoying thing about opinions is that they make a fluid medium to get into a pointless debate and when confronted to express your opinion it is really difficult to refuse to express it or lie. This makes it increasingly difficult to look forward to a chilled out beer with no heated conversation about religion!
They are very good if they are free of emotions. However on certain occasions, people just want to strangle you for having an opinion that does not match with their own.
The most beautiful aspect of opinions is that everyone else can be wrong! =)

Thursday, March 12, 2009


मी मराठीत लिहू शकते! 
मॅक (अाणी मंदार गद्रे) यांचे अाभार! 

चालक शिकत अाहे. तरी  चू.भू.द्या.घ्या.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Intrepid Worrier. :)

I thought of having lunch with my flatmate Riju today. She was supposed to be in the university all day. I called her to ask her if we could meet but she did not answer. I called her back in half an hour and still no answer. Then the obsessive-compulsive-neurotic hormone was activated inside me and I kept calling her every fifteen minutes. With every unanswered call, I made up a better scenario in my head. Initially I assumed that she left her cellphone at home. It was a good assumption. However then it seemed really impossible that someone like Riju would ever forget something like her phone at home. Then my creativity kicked in as well and by the end of hour three I was sure that our house had been broken into and she had been tied to the chair while they swept through the house.
My miserable thoughts were interrupted by a loud ring. She was absolutely fine but had forgotten to get her phone off the silent mode.
I don't like to worry. No one does I guess but every time I am in a situation where a very simple reason makes perfect sense, I end up refusing to accept it and waste a lot of my time worrying about multiple impossible outcomes.
It runs in my family though. So sometimes when I worry a lot about why I worry, I blame it on my mother's side. My grandfather used to be a freedom fighter in the struggle for Mother India's independence. However he is a better "worrier" than a "warrior"!
I went to the U.S when I was fifteen years old, all by myself. My parents and my grandfather put me on a plane in Mumbai and returned to Pune. However my mom and my grandfather turned into a mixed doubles team on their way back. They used to throw these "worry balls" at my dad and he tried to play them both all alone. My mom thought instead of getting down at the Hong Kong airport, I would mistake Bangkok for Hong Kong and get down there instead while the plane waits for an hour (although my ticket screamed aloud of my next destination). She made baba call up the Hong Kong airport to make sure I had reached.
My dad was taking his momentary shaving solace in the bathroom (because that is the only activity my mom could not join him with and annoy him) when my grandfather entered the bathroom and locked the door from inside. My dad was prepared to get hit in the head but my grandfather bowled him over with his question and left him speechless for a while. "What if Saee's aunt does not come to get her at San Francisco at all?". To which my dad calmly replied,
"She has a return ticket. The Cathay Pacific staff would promptly put her back on to the next flight to Mumbai". When I (finally) reached and called them, my dad was almost in tears from being free of two worry maniacs.
I am the third generation of victims of unreasonable fears in my family. If you look at it from your ground state, the worries that take up most of your healthy, productive work-time are extremely ridiculous. When I am not in it, I can give a three hour sermon on peace of mind. When I am in it, I jut turn into this scary psychopath. Sometimes, the things that I imagine about my close ones are right out of a crime scene. Even as a child, if my mom did not come back home at a certain time, I used to think that the Sikh terrorists kidnapped her (yeah, they were really big in the eighties when Indira Gandhi was assassinated). Once I even told my neighbor that I am scared that Longawal kidnapped my mom and he almost had an attack of asthma laughing!
My dad's genes might have made me a little bit less of a neurotic though. He always told my mom, "Worry is intrest paid on trouble before it is due". Even as a five year old I knew that my dad would say that line at least thrice a week to her but as a twenty-five year old, I still find it hard to apply it to my thoughts when I get worried about silly things.
Every now and then though, there comes a cool summer evening where you stroll by the river and think to yourself, "Right now, there is nothing in this world that I should be worried about. It will all fall into place".
I wish my life had a little more of those evenings though!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Reader

I watched this movie starring Kate Winslet this weekend and I was moved, perhaps after a very long time. It is about a middle aged Nazi guard (Kate) who ends up having a very short affair with a fifteen year old boy. She is square, rough and almost insensitive under normal circumstances and he is romantic and well read. In between the time they spend together, she makes him read to her because she is illiterate. The story unfolds into an unexpected plot (which I am not going to reveal here) and circumstances bring them face to face at a later stage. She is a wasted old woman and he is a tired middle aged man. However even though the story starts with a steamy love affair, it brews itself into a situation that all bibliophiles out there would appreciate with all their heart!
The beauty of this movie is not just in the story but also in the way it is made. Her acting never lets you come to a point where you can label her actions as right or wrong and in her square, illiterate, impatient and insensitive way, she manages to make you admire her even though the story demands the exact opposite from you. She has been rightfully rewarded with an Academy award today. :)
There is a radius of conditioning around all of us. Within that radius, we learn to call something right or wrong. Moral or immoral. Fair and unfair. Laws sometimes take care of all our myopic concerns in great details but they do not necessarily lead to justice all the time. Beyond that radius which varies country to country and culture to culture, there is a vast expanse of individual volition. Where all laws and regulations seem insufficient. This movie takes you to that realm of thought. 
I would really like everyone to watch it! =)
PS: Raj I hope this makes you happy. :)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A world free of status messages. :)

As a kid, I used to be genuinely amused why aai got really angry after my dad's mother made a comment that was in no way related to her. Something like, "Mrs. X is a really good mother. She gave up her job to raise her kids", made my mother cry her eyes out for hours together. As I was growing up, I gradually began to understand this method of indirect communication among human females. It was used a lot on my mother's side too, especially by her aunts and my own grandmother. Although on their side it got a bit more arcane and you had to know a lot of Sanskrit to know that you had just been insulted. In my late teenage years I also found myself deciphering these kind of comments for my mother and complicating our lives for no reason at all. I guess it is a part of honing a woman's instincts so that she gets to control the competition around her. 
These days, just like gossip and love, this kind of communication has made its way to the virtual world. These kind of cryptic messages are posted as status updates on the famous social networking website Facebook. It is a sheer treat reading a Facebook page in between (unsuccessful) experiments and I must thank all the girls for this Ektakapoorization of Facebook (FB). One day as I open my FB account I find the following status message conversation.

Madhuri Dixit  "is angry that some women flirt with other girls' boyfriends"

..half an hour later..

Manisha Koirala "thinks that other girls should know how to keep their boyfriends to themselves"

..two hours later..

Madhuri Dixit  "is shocked that a certain girl defends her actions instead of apologizing for them"

..half an hour later

Manisha Koirala "feels that girls should stop accusing others and accept that they are themselves insecure"

This goes on for ages. Peppered with comments from other girls who have committed similar (but milder) crimes and just check to see if the writer is aiming at them. Once they are sure it is not them they pipe in with their own versions on jealousy and insecurity! 

Back in India we used to have a deluge of cold wars even between best friends. In my group of four best gal-pals, I am pretty sure there have been plenty combinations of back-biting and jealousy under the label of  "right" and "wrong". In fact it is one of the only factorial that I can really work out. I learnt permutations and combinations putting all the women into groups of sister-in-laws Vs daughter-in-laws. It is a lot easier to visualize. 
This time when I went back to India, I went out with one of my core group girls. When she started referring to one year old hazy statements, I decided to destroy all my bastions. Over a cup of hot cappuccino in Cafe Coffee Day, I let out the ultimate truth about female friendships 
( I am sure there was a halo around me just for two minutes). In a group, there ARE no secrets. I told her that I had forgotten who my real ally was and that in the long run it does not matter. All of us have compromised equal amounts of principles and we are even. :)
It worked!  Although I do not know if I should be happy about it. 

I have been jealous myself and found jealousy really stifling. I am sure our common guy friends enjoyed these wars with just as much relish as I enjoy these FB status messages. I am not really sure if I am over it as yet, but I am positive that none of us would ever get so creative as these ardent Facebookies to express our anger. :D
It is a journey after all. There is enough "man" in a woman to be able to slap another one of her kind on the back and go for a beer. There is also enough "woman" in a man sometimes that makes him sit at the bar for hours talking about his boss's steamy affair with his secretary. The challenge is to get it to balance and even that is very dynamic! 

However, I would really like it if the world was without status messages. :)
Any opinions? :)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I was sitting in the lab today waiting for a reaction and I made a caterpillar from magnetic stirrer bars. Took me way back when I was three years old and over at my grandparent's for summer vacations. One morning I woke up with an itchy back. I walked straight out into the kitchen and when my ajji saw it, she diagnosed it as a caterpillar squish. It was the first time in my life I had heard about caterpillars and the fact that in my grandparent's house, these kind of pillars just fall from the thatched roof during summers. 
Then it turned into an obsession. Most of my holidays there after were spent hunting for caterpillars. Green, red,black,brown and even blonde. Sometimes my cousin and I would come back with a matchbox for my grandmother that was full of caterpillars neatly arranged next to each other! Someone also told us that if you feed them mulberry leaves they turn into butterflies. So we tried to set up the butterfly-fication experiment for our poor guinea caterpillars. Each matchbox had our hostage caterpillar and a mulberry leaf. :)
Since we had raspberry vine and mulberry tree growing out in the front yard it was very easy. 
One day went by and there was still no sign of butterfly. With our four and five year old patience glands, it was really difficult to carry on with our experiment beyond five days. There was severe grandparental pressure too, that came from some sort of humanitarian approach. At the end of four days we had a martyr. So we decided to stop the experiment because ajji told us that God would not like it. 
All along that summer, we used to get caterpillar bombs from the roof all the time. I remember waking up after several afternoon naps with caterpillar hair stuck to my neck or my back. Ajji used to rub marigold leaves on it to calm us down. The green ones were the worst. It was like getting stung by a bee. 
On days when the hot summer evening would unfold into something that fermented my thoughts, I used to use the caterpillar sting to get rid of all my four-year-old anxieties. :)
At others, I used to observe my caterpillar-squish-mark with great pride.  

It seems like a really long time now but it feels like it was yesterday. I went to meet my cousin at her in-laws house this time when I went to Kolhapur. She was dressed in a sari with a big "mangalsutra" around her neck. All day she told me how she manages her new house and what her husband likes the best from all her inherited recipes. I was still coming to terms though with not trying to look at her as the girl in our caterpillar experiments. 
I guess the reason why we revisit these kind of memories is because it is boring living in a world where there are very few "first times" left. Nothing I do now matches the joy of looking at a hairy worm and finding out that it is called a caterpillar. Of knowing that it is the raw-material for butterflies! 

Monday, January 26, 2009

Dedicated to my cup of coffee

On one of those "adamant teenage evenings", when I was pestering aai to give in to one of my expensive demands, she put me up for a really funny challenge. She asked me to write down a hundred reasons why it would complete my otherwise whiny,cranky and incomplete life. (I should thank her for her patience with my growing up moods).
I went into my room. She must have thought I was too lazy and that such a big thinking task would make me give up my demand. I came back an hour later with a bit of paper with my "hundred reasons". She was amused. She folded the paper and said,"This is not dissatisfaction, this is creativity applied in the wrong direction". She smiled and true to her word (as always) let me have what I wanted.
So many times, we find ourselves defending our bad habits. Overweight people are always overworked. Smokers are always stressed. Alcoholics are always depressed. Extremists always oppressed!
Moving along, I have a list of reasons why I defend my cup of flat white every morning. I have this internal dialogue every day as I am about to get off the bus or the train.

Me: Come on! Do it today. Just have the courage to walk past that coffee shop without faltering or halting to smell the beans.
Devil Me: You woke up at 5:30 today. It is going to be a long day, with the gym and so much reading!
Me: But you should not depend on coffee! You should be strong enough to face your day without it. You are young and you get enough exercise. You should be up and about without this stupid habit!
Devil Me: You make sense. Let me meditate about all that you said over a cup of coffee.
Me: You are a weak person. Just accept it. You need caffeine reinforcements to stay happy and enthusiastic. If they pull out this coffee-brown mask off your face you would just be a complaining pain in the neck.
Devil Me : Whoa! You are the good mind aren't you? You should inspire me by saying good things. Don't use this sinister blackmailing on me!
Me: Okay. Think about all the money you'd save! 3.50 per cup multiplied by 5 - a week! Then multiply that by 4!! You could save so much!!
Devil Me: I really need a coffee to get all those multiplications done. We will do it over a cup of coffee today and if I am convinced I will quit from tomorrow onwards.
Me: I assure you, once you walk past that coffee shop without buying one you will be free. It is your coffee-moksha. This is how we get trapped in worldly things that drag us down from the true path of liberation! There is sheer happiness within you. Just be strong and wake up to it! It is high time. All the coffee shop owners around the Uni know you by your first name!!!
Devil Me: It is NOT the coffee. It is my eyes.
Me: Okay now is the moment. You are just hundred meters away from the kiosk. Take a deep breath. Think about how much you would gain by not giving into this temptation. "Yes we can"!! We can do it. Just have faith.
Devil Me: Had you not been nagging me so much all this while, I would have been able to give it a pass. Now I am stressed. All these romantic ideas of a coffee-free future that seem to clash with my hectic reality have usurped my energy. I need a kick now. So I am switching you off until I finish this piping hot cup of mocha.
Me: Wait!! You can't do that!! This is cowardice...*mmfffffmmm*..let me go! *mmfff* *sigh*

I guess I should listen to the sane one more often. This could be one of those little holes in my character that could turn into something that cannot ever be patched! :)
Gee! I am stressed. Time for a coffee!!