Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Seven Samurai? No.. just a tag game

Raj tagged me in this meme called 7×7 Link Award. The rules are simple.

1: Tell everyone something about yourself that nobody knows.

2: Link to a post that fits the following categories: The Most Beautiful Piece, Most Helpful Piece, Most Popular Piece, Most Controversial Piece, Most Surprisingly Successful Piece, Most Underrated Piece, Most Pride-worthy Piece.

3: Pass this on to 7 fellow bloggers.

Tell everyone something about yourself that nobody knows.

When I write numbers, especially after the decimal point, I sometimes read/write the order wrong. I discovered this a few years ago while doing my PhD and realized that it is really out of my conscious control. I would really like to know what it could be if any of my readers know!

My Most Beautiful Piece  

I personally think Conversations with the Cat is my most beautiful piece. Mostly because it was written in less than fifteen minutes and it came straight from the heart.

My Most Helpful, Popular, Surprisingly Successful Piece

Believe it or not my recipe for making Gajar Halwa has been my top post for the past four years. I guess people all over the world are really dying to make it. Makes me want to consider writing recipes as an alternative career (in addition to owning a coffee shop, a restaurant and an agony aunt forum).

My Most Controversial Piece

About three years ago I wrote a really controversial piece criticizing  Roger Federer for publicly crying after a loss. I was amply bashed and I took it in its stride. But about a year later, I realized I was just being an ass when I wrote it. So I deleted it. Of all the stages of writing that post including thinking, writing, getting criticized by my readers as well as friends and then deleting it, I think, realizing how dumb I sounded to myself just a year later was the most amusing and satisfying part.

My Most Underrated Piece

I tried writing a story about three tomatoes long ago.I feel like going back and making it a bit better every time I read it but I stop myself. I think it meant a lot to me when I wrote it. Not just the process of creating something completely imaginary, which is difficult, but also the phase I was in personally at that time in my life. So yeah! I think I love this piece more than anyone else has.

My Most Pride-worthy Piece

I wrote this post/letter for/to my dad when I was still very new in Australia. I don't agree with the categorization of this section. It is not really "pride-worthy" but it is close to my heart. 

Now the seven bloggers.
I am going to tag people who are hibernating for God knows how long! I absolutely do not buy the "I am too busy" excuse for writing because if I buy it, I am telling the world that I have a lot of time to waste (which is SO not true). 

1. Meera Rao of artbymeera : I have been following Meera for over a year. Her blog is unique because it is about art. She displays her own work but she always has a profound message. I enjoy her short write-ups as much as I enjoy her paintings. 

2. T.A. Abinandan of  Nanopolitan : Abi's blog is mostly about academia and it is very well written. I have learned a lot about being in academia through his blog before I actually stared working in academia. He is the "cool professor" that I follow. 

3. Shashank Kanade's English posts : Shashank is a PhD student in the US. I really like his posts but he does not write these days. WAKE UP SHANKY!!

4. Mandar of  Footprints  : Footprints used to be a really nice English blog that I followed too. *Sigh* 
I like Mandar's poetry a lot. He is also very good at writing detailed reviews of the stuff he reads, hears or watches. But he is SLEEPING TOO!

5. Gayatri  of Gray at I  : I am a fan of Gayatri's Marathi blog. But I read her posts in English long time ago (yeah the last one here is 2006!) and I think she could try and revive this little sleeping beauty.

6. Nandan of Viprashna : Again, I know Nandan more for his writing in Marathi but I have always enjoyed reading his contemplative posts on Viprashna. 

7. Dattatraya Gokhle of Alone with Life : I have been a fan of Alien's poetry since the time I started blogging. He is into hibernation too. But at least he is in Russia. So it kind of makes sense. :P 
Thank you Raj! This was a fun thing to do. I hope I have introduced some new blogs in the process. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

How to pick an orange

The process of buying oranges is really traumatic. I think of all the problems I have faced in my life, the dissatisfaction that is caused due to having to eat an off orange is the worst. I know I sound like I am overreacting but I am not. I have eaten enough off oranges to know that whatever I feel makes perfect sense. You know, orange is one of those devious fruits that has the ability to make you feel remarkable vulnerable and helpless. It is like a little slice of life itself. You never know if the orange you pick up at the supermarket is going to be good. There is no guarantee. And even if you take that chance, of buying something based on say, instinct (or undying hope), there is still a significant effort on your part to be made before you can consume it. Peeling an orange is not something I enjoy doing. Usually, I cook for my best friend Elodie as an exchange for getting all my oranges peeled.

 The feeling you get when you spend those seven minutes of your time carefully peeling the fruit, getting an occasional squirt of essential oils in your eyes that makes you weep and then, finding out that the orange is off is really enraging! Some oranges are downright sour. Some are downright dead (the ones that make you feel like you are eating 100 % fiber). It is easy to forgive those two kinds. But I get really mad when the orange is just past its prime. You can taste the hint of sugar it had but it is not longer there, which kind of teases you. It makes you feel like this perfect little orange was waiting for you all this while, but you only decided to pick it when it lost all its enthusiasm. The orange has sort of moved on, gone ahead without you to attain whatever fruit moksha it is destined to attend. 

I observed that Elodie always picks the good ones of the lot. So I tried to ask her if there are any rules that I should follow to get a good orange. I should tell my readers at this point that she is French. So she told me a few things (using her arms, her eyes and her shoulders more than words). Then every time I went grocery shopping with her, I realized that she changed her rules slightly. When I tried to audit her on this, she declared that picking a good orange is a combination of science and art. I usually give up when people bring me to the interface of science and art. I tried to follow her rules when I went shopping by myself but every single time, I came back home with a bunch of sad, off oranges.

Sometimes, my sadness makes me want to give up oranges all together. I don't really need them. I can do without. But then a few days later I feel as if the Universe is doing great injustice to me by depriving me of oranges. It is not so much about the orange as it is about my inability to pick a good one. Then, I let Elodie pick my oranges for me. Things were going fine for a few weeks but then this inescapable feeling of utter and total dependence started creeping into my mind. I wanted to pick my own oranges independently. After all, Elodie is not going to be there forever. There will come a time when I will have to face my own oranges, in their total and complete offness. I tried saying a quick prayer before I chose my orange and then a quick prayer again before I peeled it. But that just made me feel dependent on God. I mean, if I am unwilling to depend on a clearly visible and breathing human being, how then can I let myself depend on a faceless, formless entity (that changes its own rules in every culture and country?).

Then I decided to study the oranges at the supermarket, wondering if their carbon footprint had anything to do with their quality. A number of plausible explanations came to my mind. Maybe the Spanish people were insecure about their economy and so they plucked the oranges too soon so that they could ship them over. Maybe these premature little babies (with their giant carbon footprint) spent a bit too much time in the cold storage. Maybe that led to acceleration of ripening process when they were taken out. (As I was wondering all these things aloud, Elodie informed me that I should either see a biochemist or a psychotherapist.) So I started buying oranges from South America (hoping that their smaller footprint would help, along with the fact that South American countries are not as stressed as Spain). I always ended up buying off oranges.

Then I thought maybe something is wrong on the metaphysical level. Maybe I need to purge my mind of all this hatred and stress I have around the thought of buying oranges. Maybe just thinking more positively about the problem would make it better. So I started believing (with a fanatic certainty) that I had it in me. I had the power to pick a good orange. But my lack of confidence (owing to repeated failure) was making me fall into the same trap again and again. I cleared my mind and started a lot of positive thinking. But you know, positive thinking is really exhausting. You have to stand outside your own mind like a guard. Stopping negative thoughts from entering it. It just made me shut down and crash all the time.

So I started distracting myself with other citrus fruits.

"Grapefruit is good for weight loss! You should just have grapefruit instead. Anyway, it tastes so bad that you don't even have to worry about it being good or bad. There are blood oranges. They are easy to peel and they usually taste okay. Tangerines, tangelos, mandarins! Sky is the limit! This is just for citrus fruits. Imagine venturing out of the citrus fruit domain. Apples never disappoint (but I don't like the crunching noise I make when I eat them). There are so many other fruits!"

 But my mind always comes back to oranges.  I really want to be able to pick a good one and just for one fleeting day, a single fleeting moment, believe that I can pick and enjoy a good orange, all by myself. :)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Behind Elaine Benes

I happened to watch an episode of "Inside The Actors Studio" with Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Julia played Elaine in the first-of-its-kind show Seinfeld. I have been a Seinfeld fan for years. It is one of those shows that I have never really grown out of (I have not just grown out of  Friends, I have also developed a serious aversion to the series). One of the reasons why this show is timeless is because it is true to its tagline -- it is a show about "nothing". And Elaine is the quintessential 'dude's girl' in this show. If we had to do a serious psychoanalysis of her character, we could say that she represented the 'liberated' woman of the West. But that would be a sad way to put it.

My admiration for Elaine has never waned. In fact, it increases with every repeat. Her character and her stories have philosophical undertones (see the video). I like it how in a really casual train conversation, the writers bring forth the entire liberal revolution. Elaine is at the center of this change and she is not always comfortable with it. But her frequent outbursts of fury are hilarious. I think I like her more because I have an Elaine inside me too. The only difference is that I can't express my frustration and fury as openly as her. :)

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

It will certainly get better

A few weeks ago, I watched an exclusive interview with Dharun Ravi on ABC. As many of you might be aware, Dharun has been convicted on multiple counts, the more serious being that of bias intimidation -- a conviction that could land him in jail for up to ten years. This is a  tragic tale of two college freshmen at Rutgers, with diametrically opposite personalities. What is perhaps worth pondering over from this story is the extent to which social media has tightened its grip around young people today. The trial was built entirely on the digital footprints these kids left behind during their first few weeks as roommates. What makes me sad, is knowing that neither tried to talk to the other face to face. If this had happened twenty years ago, it would have been hard to believe that someone could get bullied or intimidated without having any direct contact with his bully.

As Ian Parker explains in this meticulously written New Yorker article (The story of a suicide), this conviction can be interpreted as 'a state’s admirably muscular response to the abusive treatment of a vulnerable young man or as an attempt to criminalize teen-age odiousness by using statutes aimed at people more easily recognizable as hate-mongers and perverts.'

Dharun was offered a plea deal twice before he faced the jury. If he had taken this deal, he would have been excused from serving a jail term and a possible deportation to India, only under the condition that he accepted that his actions were motivated by a hatred towards homosexuals. This twenty year old declined the plea deal twice 'on principle'. In his interview, he candidly accepts that he was stupid and self-absorbed. Some of his peers describe him as somewhat of a jerk. But he did this two years ago, when he was barely out of high school and certainly not out of his teenage years.

This is not the first time that twitter has got someone into trouble. One of the most remarkable things about being alive right now is that movements and revolutions can follow you into your own legitimate social Universe. You don't have to go to a march to express solidarity with a cause that is close to your heart. You can do it on Twitter or Facebook. There are pages dedicated to Tyler Clementi that put the entire responsibility of Tyler's suicide on Dharun's twenty year old shoulders. And there are pages, albeit less popular, that urge people to reflect on Dharun's situation. The pro-Clementi group wants to use this trial as an example and a message to the young generation that they must be aware of what they say, especially when they say it online.  
This case also challenges the traditional image of bullies we have. It brings forth an entirely new trap that people are falling victims to -- the social media. It is an extension of the good old fashioned "what others say about you" syndrome that has driven so many human achievements and failures. It has taken a new dimension on the Internet where people constantly judge you by your pictures, the websites you visit, the email accounts you use, the friends you have and the music you listen to. There is a new layer of coolness attached to teenagers today. They have a real world personality and an online personality.

What made me reflect after watching this interview was that a twenty year old kid faces the camera with a stoic expression and says that he would never regret not taking the plea deal. That taking it would mean accepting that he hates homosexuals. And he'd rather go to jail than live with that all his life. I would not have been able to take this stand if I were in his shoes. I would probably have chickened out and taken the plea deal. Of course, I am not saying that what he did was right.But if I retropolate (am I inventing words?) the amount of world exposure and experience I have now to when I was twenty, I would have definitely been shattered by this. In the face of such an exaggerated media hatred where some people went on record accusing Dharun of 'outing' Tyler by posting a video of him having sex online, I would have crumbled. Irrespective of what punishment he is given, I think this young man deserves credit for facing the consequences of his actions with remarkable calm (at least in public). Especially considering this was his first tryst with the real world.
Whatever the outcome, for going through this honestly, Dharun, I am sure it will get better.