Saturday, July 06, 2013

2013 Summer reading list

Two unfinished books and two other books that I have just started and look promising. Ya, that should do it for the summer. (Although I am tempted to throw in a classic in the mix - The Brothers Karamazov)

The Elephant Vanishes (Genre: Short Stories)

Thanks to S to recommending this to me. I was already floating in the Murakami world having read his two epic tales - The Wind up Bird Chronicle and 1Q84. Part fantasy, part sci-fi, part Japanese contemporary fiction and whole parts entertainment! I read them in a span of 2 weeks, mainly because I couldn't umm, put them down. This happened to me after a really long time. I don't remember when I strongly felt like this for fiction - I had stopped reading fiction and now am catapulted into the genre again, thanks to Murakami.

So I was happy (and surprised) at The Elephant Vanishes which is Murakami's collection of short stories :-) Sample one of my favorite stories from the book, on S's blog - On seeing the 100% Perfect Girl

Stephen King on Writing (Genre: Non-fiction)

Part autobiography and part advice on the craft of writing, this book is turning out to be such a required reading. With fascinating insights into his own process of writing, who else but Stephen King can pull together a powerful book on the practice and skill of writing. This one is for keeps. I am definitely grabbing my own copy soon.

A Fine Balance (Genre: Indian fiction)

I am not sure how I let this masterpiece pass me :-) I have heard too many good things about this Rohinton Mistry book. It specially interests me since I love Indian fiction spinned around historical and political events. As a kid, I have heard stories about the 1970's emergency period in India from my dad and it intrigued me. I am determined to read through this and it has been a gripping narrative so far.

The Price of Inequality (Genre: Non-fiction, Economics)

A day doesn't go by without a reference to the rising inequality in India. And after so many powerful videos made on what inequality actually means and why we should care, I wanted to read more and understand it better. Specially because India is hanging in such a dangerous balance right now, I am taking upon myself to read this book and hopefully explain/share what I learnt once I am done reading.

As one Amazon review reads: 

One sentence basically says it all: "The top 1 percent of Americans gained 93 percent of the additional income created in the country in 2010, as compared with 2009." Now think of that in terms of a party with 100 people and big pizza with 100 slices. Basically it means that one rich guy gobbles up 93 slices of pizza. The other 99 get to divvy up the other seven.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Five Things: Five B&W classics you wish you had seen!

Field tested atleast two of the five movies I am going to recommend, on my boyfriend (who is new to the B&W era). And with very satisfying results. So I am picking these five movies that will ease you to explore more B&W classics :) And this deliberate picking is across five different genres to add variety. Go!

Safety Last! (Genre: Silent Comedy)

Harold Lloyd, you beauty. The only feeling I am left with after watching this movie - can I see it again? And again? Best known for the famous clock dangling scene immortalized by Lloyd and later cloned in numerous movies (latest being Martin Scorsese's Hugo). But don't just gloss over it yet - with an incredible repertoire of gags (several clever ones in fact) and "thrill" sequences - Safety Last is the landmark movie on physical comedy, an act that has almost vanished in modern times. (See New Yorker's piece on The demise of physical comedy). This is laugh riot at its best - the pure kind of comedy, devoid of any pop culture references or vulgarity.

Watch yourself laugh out loud like a kid. My money's on this one.

And oh, Harold Lloyd glasses, anyone?:)

12 Angry Men (Genre: Courtroom Drama)

When I was a kid, one of the first classics I read was To Kill a Mocking Bird. I picked an abridged version and I fell in love with law. I day dreamed and fantasised myself as a lawyer. And then, of course, adulthood happened. 12 Angry Men is a movie shot entirely in a tiny room filled with 12 men on the jury, sweating, debating and cross-examining evidence to reach a decision on a young teenager accused of murdering his father. This movie took me back to the time when I harbored the same feeling while reading MockingBird - to pursue the passion of law. Of course, this might not be the case with you - but watch, just for the unfolding of an intelligent plot and a take at how humans are generally prejudiced.

Like the first review on IMDB says: If you ever see a Black & White movie, make it this one.

The Seven Samurai (Genre: Warrior/Samurai Action)

Seven Samurai is required viewing. Period. There is enough said about good cinema, great cinema, but very rarely you come across cinema that just cannot be remade. It makes The Magnificient Seven, Sholay and other inspired western classics look like cheap imitation. Just like the difference between a genuine Armani and a fake one. There is so much complexity involved in the story that every time I see this movie it blows my mind. Akira Kurosawa, respect. Frame after frame after frame, it is a thing of beauty. Action sequences so brilliant, I am yet to find a word that can befittingly describe it. See here for a short review I wrote on an earlier post.

Although, this requires no review to guarantee that it will be the 3 hours of your life, well spent.

Rififi (Genre: Heist/French Noir)

Jules Dassin makes me giddy with anticipation with every movie of his. And that makes it so hard to pick a best one from his movies like The Naked City, Brute Force etc., that I would love to own them all as DVDs and keep them at arm's length for repeat viewings. Watch the 30 minute long silent heist sequence, (see below clip) the best bang for your buck. The genius of this movie is in its subtlety, execution (beautifully shot!) and low key acting. I don't know, like a beautiful mural perhaps, you can't tell what about it is so overwhelming.

Indeed, this set the path for future noir movies.

Paths of Glory (Genre: War Drama)

I don't care how much you hate B&W movies, but this is a must-see. Ok, I said that for all of the above, I know. I just couldn't resist repeating that, specially since this is Stanley Kubrick we are talking about. (I was torn between choosing Paths of Glory and The Killing, but since I already suggested a noir movie, I went with Paths of Glory). I wouldn't tell this about any other movie but for this: I don't find a single thing that can be changed in this movie to make it any better (ok, perhaps you might disagree on the ending).

Hands down, the most technically shot movie made on trench warfare in World War I! All I can say is this is no ordinary war drama. If you haven't watched this, you are doing yourself a great dishonor.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Animated Short: Head over Heels

"A husband and wife. How do you rise above your differences, when you can't agree which way is up? A marriage turned upside down, hangs in the balance..."

Head over Heels - a 2013 Oscar nominated short from the National Film and Television school that explores the relationship between a long married elderly couple who have drifted apart - illustrated by one living on the ceiling and another living on the floor  (great metaphor for the rift we create in our relationships). The couple can't agree which way is up. One day as the husband tries to rekindle the lost romance between them, they must find a way to balance the upside down and put their marriage back together.

PS: Cant seem to get enough of it, I have watched it so many times! Reminds me so much of my favorite Pixar movie - Up :)

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A field guide to spending 24 hrs at Singapore's Changi Airport

Ok fine, I cheated. I stayed about 17 hrs at the airport - that's just 7 hrs short of 24, but that's not the point right? Now you would ask me what possibly could be there at the airport that can keep you entertained for 17 hrs! Well, for starters we are talking about Changi Airport here. Not your average airport on close observation. Plus, I wouldn't be exaggerating if I say that 17 hrs still didn't seem enough time to "try out" everything Changi had to offer. So yeah, read on.

2.55 am (local time) - SLEEP!

My red eye flight lands at Terminal 3; 17 hours of layover ahead of me, I stand unperturbed. The airport didn't have any buzz; nobody at the information desk, no crowds and no air trains; save for the 24 hour joints/shops that were open. I promptly found the Snooze Lounge on Terminal 3 and plopped myself on one of the lounge chairs. I opened my laptop and killed time by browsing the Internet - a side effect of being a news junkie. It was 4 am already so I gave up, threw the valuables from my backpack into a small handbag, held it close (who knows? you gotta be careful with your stuff), pulled over my hoodie (they have the lights on, always) and dozed.

Side note: On Terminal 2 and 3, you also have transit hotels (if you seek the comfort of a bed) where you can book a block of 6 hours to take a shower, sleep, watch TV and whatever else you aim to do at a hotel. Isn't that cool? No immigration hassles as the hotels are right on the terminal.

I contemplated taking off to the transit hotels but I recommend you use the free services on the airport like the Snooze Lounge, if you are not completely wiped out. You can save Singapore $$$ to splurge on something else...and there are a lot of "something elses" in Changi, trust me.


I wake up (with the noise). The airport seems alive now. Few whispers here and there, breakfast buzz and announcements are on. I head down to the ground level and walk into the most exquisite "Powder Room" - a fancy name for a ladies toilet cum changing rooms cum vanity chairs/large mirrors to do your makeup. Too bad I didn't snap a photo here - toilets so shiny clean I could sleep on the floors. No kidding. Complete with a touch based rating system at the exit where you can rate how the toilets are. Of course I rate it a high-five! I quickly brushed, washed my face and off I went. 


I see the information desk is manned now. And I needed to do that little important thing first. Changi Airport has this special transit program for those who transit via Singapore - they basically give away 40 SGD worth of coupons that you can use anywhere on the airport on anything - food, shopping, services.  So I got my coupons and headed down to the Free Singapore Tour booth (available both on Terminal 2 and 3). More freebies I know :-)

This is a free 1.5 hour tour of Singapore that is offered to anyone who has minimum of 5 hr layover at Changi. A good thing to know is they get filled REALLY FAST! So yes, get in line there and get yourself a reservation. Sooner the better. 

But a little problem happened here - the woman sighed when she saw my visa (Japanese temporary visitor visa). She says to me, "Umm I don't know if you will be allowed to go out see the city on this visa". I roll my eyes and tell her "Of course I can, your tour is for people who don't have a transit visa. Why else would I register with you if I had a transit visa to go out to the city?". She didn't seem too pleased that I started an argument. So I just said - "Look, its ok I can explain to the immigration if they ask me, can you just get me a spot please?". She relented and gave in.

Meanwhile, a middle aged Indian couple seemed to shove me because you know that's what some of my fellow countrymen do - jump queues - I had to just let it go because I was already in an argument here. Sigh. Couldn't wait to get out of that place. So I got booked for a 2.30 pm tour (yay!), and the reporting time was 1.30 pm (so you get your immigration and other logistics done)


At this point my back started to well, hurt. My backpack was heavy with the laptop and other assortments. I found the "Left Baggage" (a paid storage place where you leave your baggage) and dropped my backpack there after retrieving my camera, wallet and passport packed into a small handbag. For 2$ I could store one piece of baggage for 24 hours. Sweet!

I felt like I could breathe now. I walked over to the money exchange counter, converted most of the leftover Japanese yen to SGD. Ready to splurge now!

10 am - NOSH!

So I am still loitering at Terminal 3 and suddenly my hunger pangs set in. It was rather late for breakfast  and I could use some heavy lunch now. Headed up to the Food Court. The first name that hit me was "Kaveri" - umm, smell of the dosas and idlis was enticing. I had to fight it off.

Because, come on, I am in Singapore now - gotta taste the local specialities no? I find my way to Prima Taste and order a Laksa La Mian, a lychee drink and a pandan chiffon cake for dessert (all local favorites). This Laksa La Mian was like an orchestra of things going on in my mouth - burst of flavor from the coconut seafood broth, fried tofu, chicken, shrimp and spicy seasoning. Just incredible! This was comfort food at its best. Just what I needed. Without a shadow of doubt, my best noodle discovery by far.

And the best part? I paid for the meal with a 20$ voucher - thanks Changi transit program. LOL.

Laksa La Mian and Lychee Sling

Pandan Chiffon Cake


If you didn't know already (from all those colorful brochures and signposts around you), Changi Airport has a whole garden trail to unleash on you. They have 7 gardens in the airport - each different from the other. Since I was still on Terminal 3, I wanted to finish this up before I head over to another terminal. And I think I could use little greenery for my tired eyes.

The place was truly a butterfly heaven. I got some good shots. Learnt a bit about butterflies and their habitat. Spent a good 20 mins here. This is a must-do at Changi.

As you exit out of the butterfly garden, on the right side is the Koi Pond (bright colored ornamental fishes). You can even feed them at designated times (9am and 4 pm). A must-see again, it was very relaxing to just gaze at fish. This place gets crowded, specially with kids :)

Koi Pond!

11.30 am - SHOWTIME

Now how can a movie nerd like me pass an opportunity like cozy movie theaters with a choice of free movies? Hell no. I gotta have it. In my giddiness to get up there and soak up a good movie - I forgot to snap a picture of this place - well, you gotta see it to believe it. It was the best movie lounge I have seen. You could totally mistaken it for a real movie theatre.

Btw, I made a quick call to Mr. boyfriend - he must think I am lost or something - while I seem to love this airport adventure, he had no idea. Haha. So I call him up to say I am alive. And then he asks me the most critical question of the day - "Have you gone to the Fish Spa yet?"

It is the most unique thing to do at Changi. And am like "Oh good timing, let me find out."

12.15 am - FISH SPA!

The friendly information desk tells me the Fish Spa is on Terminal 2. I take an air train to T2 (3 mins ride) and get distracted by other sign posts as soon I get down at T2 (a lot of gardens here apparently!) but hey Fish Spa first, I remind myself. 

It is sort of easy to get disoriented at Changi terminals - so make sure you don't go too far before realizing you are on the other end of where you are supposed to be. Always stop to check out maps or just ask information desk folks. 

A good question to ask me right now is - what the hell is a Fish Spa? Ya, so apparently a therapist popularized this concept of a fish spa - he found these small fishes (Garra Rufa or Doctor Fish) that nibble away at your feet and eat the dead cells of your skin (gosh!) to give you shiny new feet. It is kind of like pedicure. Of course I had to experience it to believe it.

So, at this point if you are still loitering (like me) and cannot find this place it is because this spa is invisibly tucked away behind a huge Starbucks. I make my way and pay 22$ for the 20 min session (20$ voucher + 2$ of my own) with the fishes. A smiling guy leads me inside, hands me a towel and water to wash my feet. I pull up my jeans to my knees and I go right in. Make sure you tell him if you prefer warm water or cold water (they provide both). And then like magic the fishes huddle towards my feet, nibbling away. It tickles me for a good few seconds, haha. And then I get over the sensation.

It was well, unique. I  kept zooming in on them with my camera lens to see if they umm, really eat away at my skin? And boy they do! It was so amusing. I sat there for a good 30 mins (although it was 20 min only...hey, nobody was checking on me right?), until the guy came in (still smiling) to give me some green tea:) Ok, I guess that was a sign to wrap up. What a polite way of doing it. Alright so I wash my feet again and clean them dry (I do see little things peeling out of the gaps between my toes. Nicely done fishes!).


Pop quiz - what is Singapore famous for? Gardens of course. Orchids to be precise. Heading to the other side of T2, is the most intricate setting of Orchids, replete with colors and a few Koi Fish in the pond. Definitely a photo-op if you are with the loved ones. As for me, I took a whole load of photos here until I was satisfied that I captured the colors well:)

Then I walked over (right beside the Orchid Garden) to the Woodblock printing zone. Picked up a white sheet and red crayons and went about tracing Changi's exterior - since I was so much in love with Changi now. I folded the sheet and put it in my bag to carry home (my own souvenir from this place - how cool is that?)

1.30 pm - TOUR STARTS!

By now I forgot to keep track of time and as I was lost in the art installations (such as this tea pot), the adjoining air train station bolted me into reality.

Oh gosh, it was the tour reporting time! So I jumped into an air train, got back to T3's Singapore Tour booth, just in time. Phew. They led us (a group of about 20) to T2 where we went through immigration and popped into a bus. The tour guide (a woman in her 40's) picked up the mic, introduced herself and gave us a full blown account of Singapore's history and culture as the driver zipped us into the city. A paltry 20 min ride and we are already at the famous Fullerton Road. Neat! 

So we have a 20 min photo stop here we are told; so we can have our fill of the Great Merlion statue and the Marina Bay Sands overview.

After this, we are drifted to the Chinatown area. I was amused to find the oldest Hindu temple located in the heart of Chinatown. I am told that Singaporeans are the most harmonious when it comes to respecting other religions. How neat! We are dropped back by 4 pm at T2.

4 pm - NOSH! 

This time I gave in to my Indian cravings - so I headed straight to Kaveri in T2 Food Court., for a masala fix. Ordered a Ragi masala dosa and a masala chai - for 9$ in all - not bad. I looked around to find all the airport authorities of Indian origin dining here, so this place seemed legit. Good. The ragi dosa was decent and the chai was an instant hit, given how tiredness started catching up with me. A quick call to boyfriend and dad and debated if I should pick up a Vodka or stick with some premium wine from DFS.


Ya, by now you must know I hunt down for food pretty hard. LOL. But a must-do at Changi is to try out the Kueh Lapis and Pineapple tarts at Bengawan Solo at T2. I sampled their desserts (they give out free food samples) and settled for a slice of their classic Lapis cake. I contemplated about buying home this cake and then let go as I felt it was too steep a price (26$) for a tiny portion of the cake. They also have other regular fares like cookies, muffins, nuts etc. But the pineapple tarts and lapis are a definite must-try (you can buy a slice or a tart for yourself but I made the most of the free food sample and they didnt seem to mind. Wink, wink.)

Sunflower Garden

Hexagonia Garden (great architecture!)

Cactus Garden


And then I had to get some liquor shopping done. I usually don't spend more than 10 mins at a DFS shop since I decide beforehand what I want. This time though I couldn't decide on a red wine and I struck a conversation with one of their salesmen. About 30 mins later I picked up a medium bodied Pinot Noir, made in New Zealand (45$) and a 3-pack Tiger Beer (a cheap 5$) 

I hopped over to the Discover Singapore shop and got a Merlion statue for 10$ and two Tiger balms for 10$ (they smelled real nice, haha) 


No way in hell am I missing a free massage. And since my baggage was at T3, I hopped back there. The free foot massage machines are installed at T3 (these are right below the Snooze Lounge). You simply power them on, stick your feet in and the machines do their thing. They got like 4 ways of massaging your feet and you can adjust the heat and vibration modes. It really works!


Need I explain? But FWIW, the security was lightening fast (what a relief!). If you have visited HongKong airport, you know how much of a nightmare it is to wait for security (an hour easily in line).


Yeah, you would think 17 hrs was enough to cover them right? Wrong. So I missed some really cool things like the Game Center (they have an uber cool setup rife with Xbox, Wii and a bunch of game DVDs to go with). I also missed out on the Slide and an Aviation Gallery both at T3, but in public areas (so you need immigration to get to them). I guess there is always a next time. Btw, if you want to ride down the slide, keep a purchase receipt (minimum 10$) from any of your shopping/eating from the airport. This serves as your ticket to the slide. 

This is one airport you wished you got stranded.

So long Changi. You treated me well :-)

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Brief lapses of friendship

Sometime you meet people, you become more than just acquaintances and then you move further apart. And that's that. End of story.

Some days I wonder where X is and what X is doing? You wonder what it meant to spend so much time with X only to end it all abruptly, one day. Once such notable Miss X was a roommate I had for couple of months while I worked in New York.

After being burnt one too many times, I simply avoided going beyond anything than a courteous relationship with roommates. This was simply a code of conduct I established for myself. I didn't want to fiercely associate or disassociate with roommates. Roommates are like passengers, they come and they go - I would repeat to myself.

So it was really somewhat unlike me, when I broke this rule one summer. 

X was a short, dark and chubby girl from Jharkand and was on a one year work assignment at New York City. At the time I was part of a rather strange living arrangement (not strange for those who lived in NY/NJ area) - Each room in a high-rise apartment was separately rented out by the owner, so you essentially pay by the room. It will not be an understatement to say the owner made heaps of money off us. But we couldn't be bothered - we couldn't afford to pay for the entire apartment by ourselves and also signing a long term lease was such a hassle. So this arrangement worked out well for both sides. Except for the tiny little hitch - we would end up having to live with random roommates like passengers on a train. They come and they go and we had no say on who or how our roommates would be like. The only decisive factor was of course, they would be of the same gender i.e females only.

Oh and one more thing, I had paid the top dollar for my room since it had the best view (so the rent was not split equally). What was I thinking? That I would sit by the window all day, sipping mojitos and watching the sailboats and cruise ships? Although I could've potentially done that. Needless to say, I never did.

On a pretty day, it would look like this from my bedroom window

One fine day X dropped in to survey our apartment (one of the girls had moved out of her room and two other girls lived in a double bedroom in the same apartment). She would potentially become the fourth member of the household. The next day she decided to move in - four suitcases in all. That night she promptly walked into my room and asked me to help her out with the curtains.

I was in the middle of a conversation (more like a fight) with my boyfriend over the phone. At the time, I was in a long distance relationship and we were having our turbulent times. And it was also late in the night.

For a split second I contemplated reminding her to knock on my door before barging in unceremoniously. But as you could guess, I was neither in the mood nor had the energy for another drama. "Ok, I gotta go now; call you in a bit", I hung up on my boyfriend.

"Sorry, I am too short. I can't reach even when I use the chair", she said, pointing to the tall chair near the windows.

Hmm, it wouldn't have hurt to sleep without curtains for one night. Right?

But I didn't tell her that. I simply went and helped her with the curtains. "Thank you", she said. By which time, I was already storming out of the room and didn't even turn around to acknowledge that I heard her. This time it seemed I was too eager to establish my rules of disengagement quite early on. No time to lose, I thought to myself.

The next morning (I used to get up as early as 5.30 am everyday to get a head start to work) I swinged into my usual routine - Cooked up eggs for breakfast, made coffee and packed my lunch box. I stuffed my work shoes into a spare bag, wore my sneakers (extremely mismatched with my formal trousers and white blouse) and grabbed my trench coat to head out to work. 

"Good Morning", she cheered after me.

"Ya, umm, morning", I said, undecided. I didn't think much of it the rest of the day. And it completely missed me I had a new roommate. New roommate meant having to put up with another eccentric personality and having to wrap my schedule around theirs - when do they take bath? when do they cook in the kitchen? which rack in the fridge is theirs? which one is a vegetarian? who is going to take the garbage out? And on and on...

It was like chaos in my calm, organized world. As evening dawned, so did the realization that I had to "figure it out" with the new roommate. One could argue that maybe I was giving this too much thought than required. But years of living with random roommates had built up this anxiety in me. That evening, I came back and as usual hung my coat and changed into my dirty pink pajamas (that I didn't like to wash. I loved it dirty and crumpled like that for no reason). 

Over the years, I also became somewhat of a kitchen nazi - I always insisted on the kitchen to be pristine clean. I had gotten into the habit of cooking every day and a smelly, unorganized kitchen would turn me off. I was, by no means, a cleanliness freak however. You could catch me with a pile of new and old laundry sitting on my bed, while I sat on the the same bed working away on my laptop. And that wouldn't frazzle me one bit. Even the bathroom being dirty was ok, but with the kitchen it was different - one dirty plate or abandoned spoon in sight was enough to drive me nuts.

So as I slowly walked to the kitchen in my pajamas, I was embracing myself for a mess. However, things caught me off guard. Surprisingly, in a good way.

There she was. X, stirring some curry and making a cup of tea. And the sight around her took me by surprise. Everything was in its place, she had wiped and dried clean every tiny hint of yellow (i.e turmeric) or a speck of rice grain there could be. Spoons, pots, pans, cups and plates in their designated places. It was a rare sight - in short a miracle.

"Hey, do you want a cup of tea? I also have rusk biscuits to go with them", she said.

"Umm sure", I heard myself say. 

What am I doing?! I am not supposed to be friendly with her. Damn it. The next thing you know she will exercise her privilege over your stuff.

"I don't think you take too much sugar. From the looks of you, you seem to be on a diet", she chuckled.

"No I am not on a diet. I just strictly exercise everyday. There is a difference."

"I see", she said nodding.

"So who are the two other girls? I didn't meet them"

"I don't know. I think one works in a bank and other is in insurance or something"

"Ok. Are we going to share that bathroom?", she asked pointing to the one that was visible from the kitchen.


"I saw you leave at 7 am this morning. I usually get up much later than that. So I don't think we need to sort out our bath timing"

"Yes". I let out a sigh of relief. "Also, please take out the garbage when it is full. We don't have a schedule for that because sometimes it just gets messy to wait", I said curtly.

"Of course, I will", she said.

We spoke for a good 15 mins after that and she had switched off her stove, fixed her dinner plate and left.

The next few days went uneventfully. One rare day I had taken off from work. I was tired and it was raining all day and I didn't have much of willpower to come out of my sheets, so I called in sick. I pretty much lay around in the home in my dirty pink pajamas and tried to catch up on some reading and fix myself a hearty lunch. This was in fact, a day I had fantasized - To laze around in my pajamas on a work day.

That rainy day - the view from my room overlooking the Hudson River - often turned into an ominous Armageddon like movie set.

That day, I realized X got back pretty early from work - 4 pm, the clock showed. I was pretty disappointed that such a day I fantasized had to end so early.

"What is it, half a day for you?", I asked sarcastically.

"No. I come back at this time"

"Really?" I couldn't contain my jealousy.

"Yes. I really have no work. I pretty much just surf the Internet all day. They are yet to assign me on a project"


"Say, do you want to take a walk outside?", she asked me.

I stood transfixed. Like someone had just held me at gun point. It was awkward to take a long pause like that to decide on a simple thing as this.

"Dont worry the weather is better now. And it wont be long, I swear", she said

"Sure. Lets go", I gave in.

So we had a cup of tea and headed out. We did spend a long time, on the contrary. She spoke of how her parents didn't want her to go overseas because they thought she had to get married soon and this work assignment would get in the way. She went on about the kind of guys she talked to everyday on phone, on her mother's insistence, who was trying to set her up with some guy. She just opened up. Like in one single night!

Although we were wide apart in our likes and dislikes and in personalities and the kind of topics we would discuss elsewhere, we sat that night on the benches, by the waterfront overlooking the Manhattan skyline, discussing the anatomy of "arranged marriages", family pressures, homesickness, dreadful work hours and other such inane topics that would bother a non-resident Indian. 

It was unbelievable, we were so different from each other and yet we had things in common, things we agreed upon. In her grievances, I found my willingness to talk and lend a ear, patiently.

"You know, there was this guy from IIT once whom I spoke to. He had this sarcastic tone to his voice all the time. It was annoying. Like an air of dominance. If I didn't pick his call on the first ring, he would ask me if I was so busy to even pick his call. And this when I have barely even spoken to him like 3 times so far.", she said

"What a jerk! Why didn't you just ask him to f*** off?", I asked

"Ya, I did. In my own way. I think I had had enough. So after his call, I rang my mom and told her can you call them right now and say I rejected this proposal? See, I wanted to humiliate him more. A simple   f*** off wouldn't have caused him so much pain as an official rejection."

"He must think what just hit him. How could you even reject him?"

We laughed together.

"He was so much of a Maa ka Laadla. My mother approves everything for me, he tells me. I wouldn't have much of a future with a man who cant take his own decisions."

I nodded in agreement. That night we headed back after the supposedly short walk that stretched to 4 hours.

On one of those walks by the waterfront. (Seriously, I have nothing but grainy pictures like these)

For a few weeks after that, I would head back from office anticipating "short walks" with her. Like some sort of renewed enthusiasm had been infused into me now. I had strangely taken a liking to our conversations and somehow I felt I could really talk and be friends with her. I started subconsciously craving for these long conversations. I would wrap up my work as fast as I could, head out and catch the first subway home in frenzied anticipation. It was ridiculous.

We shared cups of tea. Sometimes when I couldn't sleep I would knock on her door and we would continue our conversations over late night snacks. As if we had to catch up on episodes of one big soap opera. It was incredible, really. This went on for a brief period of 3-4 months.

And then the day had come when I had move out. It happened quite suddenly and without warning. I had decided to move out of New York. I told her about it, one night as we were prepping dinner. 

"You know Vinay Pathak, the actor from Bheja Fry?", she asked me, glossing over the topic of my leaving.

"Ya of course, I love his movies"

"He is my distant cousin. We grew up in the same village. He was like a big brother to us. He was this guy who loved only theatre, films and writing. His family pretty much gave up on him because he wasn't interested in pursuing anything else."

"Oh wow"

"Ya, but he is the same as he is in movies today. Simple and full of gags - such a talented guy. He really could make anyone laugh with his tales." 

I listened silently.

"When are you leaving?", she asked me, suddenly switching tracks.

"I am undecided at the moment. It is up to me. But I think it will be two weeks."

"Oh, that is quick."

"Yes, I had no idea",  I added suddenly feeling guilty that I never once hinted her on my intention of leaving.

"Oh well. I hope you get to work on something nice, something you love. And you and your boyfriend get married soon and can move in together. You will not have to put up with random roommates any more. It is not really all that pleasant to live like this. I admire you for that. You are so much of a self-made person. I enjoyed our walks together"

I blinked. I had never heard someone speak so many good things about me in a single breath. For few seconds I had an overwhelming feeling. But I shrugged instead and said "No big deal. You get used to situations. But it was really a bright spot to meet you, like this. Randomly I mean. I hope we meet each other again sometime."

And just like that our brief lapse of friendship ended. The last day when I left for my flight, I forgot my credit card at the apartment. It came to me a week later to my new address in a Fedex post. She told me not to bother paying for the shipment and wished me good luck.

I wonder where she is today and if she found her soulmate. And if we will ever cross our paths and be able to talk just like the old times.

Friday, June 14, 2013

What I am reading this weekend

My Pocket reading queue needs a summer cleaning. So what better way than to systemically get my reading done on weekends - archive the good ones for re-reads and toss out the bad. And along the way, I can suggest the cherry-picked ones for you to read :-)

How to give a killer presentation - by Chris Anderson, curator of TED. If you want to read one single useful article this week, make it this. Packed with all the TED goodness and more importantly timeless advice on pimping your presentation skills.

The scientific 7 minute workout - featured in New York Times wellness section. I try to clock in a similar routine, 30 mins each, three times a week. I stopped using weight machines since 2009 and only do free weight exercises. This is all you need to get a lean, fit body with super endurance and kicking metabolism (I guess nobody listens until something goes viral :)) Give it a shot!

The importance of quick and dirty - by Jason Fried of 37Signals. This is a brief article on how the speed of iteration beats the quality of iteration in software development. Something I talked about in an earlier blog on The Simple Rules to Winning Dogfights

Dear Leader Dreams of Sushi - featured in GQ; a gripping story of a Japanese chef who served North Korea's dictator Kim Jong-il. This almost read like a contemporary fiction replete with power, women, threats, secrets and other royal extravagance. Must read.

Are coders worth it? - a well-written piece in Aeon magazine. I always get asked this question by my parents - "Why are programmers paid so much?" and this article is the answer to it or rather part of the answer to it.

Brotherly Love - by Jhumpa Lahiri in The New Yorker's summer fiction issue, on two brothers growing up in the 1960's Calcutta, India; an excerpt from her forthcoming novel "The LowLand"

What are you reading this weekend?

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Men need to talk more about women's issues

I am not on a feminist agenda. In fact, I don't even have an agenda. For a dreadfully long time I have observed and what I am going to talk about is an opinion I have formed based on these observations (and experiences).

When I was in high school, I used to take the public transport from school to home and back. The school itself is located in a city - the regular kind, bustling with activity. I am talking about the 90's here. One day, as I was walking down the road (like a lot of other school kids in bunches) towards the bus stop, two men, on a scooter came and grabbed by breasts, for a split second. They raced away with a sneer on their face. 

For a moment, I was shocked. Then confused. Then shamed.

In an instant, my dignity was broken to pieces. And yet this was just one of the numerous (it bothers me to tell I cant even count) such incidents I have encountered in my life as a woman in India. I chose not to talk about this to my parents, boyfriend, friends or anyone I am close to. Well, flash news, groping is an everyday state of affairs in India - we just shrug about it and get on with our lives.

And nearly 15 years after that incident, I see this problem aggravating and spilling into other forms - savage rapes, brutal assaults and much more. Which makes this incident that I narrated seem so trivial. Every woman in India has gone through some form of abuse. Get me one woman who has not and I will tell you she has been phenomenally lucky. That would be a miracle.

I am not playing the victim card here. Hell no. There is something more deeper that has been nagging me for years. And that is the apparent apathy of men (and women) towards violence, assault and abuse targeted at women. 

About 6 months ago, I happened to have a conversation with few of my male co-workers. They were contemplating about taking an offer to relocate to the United States. And hotly debating the pros and cons of such a move. The discussion steered towards "safety" and their conclusion was that USA is less safer than India.

This made me roll my eyes, for obvious reasons. And since I have lived for a considerable time there, I was curious to listen to their side of the argument.

"Why do you think USA is less safe?", I asked

"Well, there is nothing like mugging or gun violence in India. I feel we are more in harmony here and have good family values", a co-worker said.

"OK. I give it to you. Mugging in certain neighborhoods and unpredictable gun deaths are on the rise. But tell me how much of an opportunity you have had to walk at nights here, in the city?", I said

"I have been to plenty of deserted places in the city and nothing bad ever happened", he replies

"You mean you zipped across in your bike or car? That doesn't count. There is a far lesser probability of being vulnerable if you are inside a car with your windows rolled. That is not an anatomy of a mugging or any physical assault", I replied. 

"Also tell me if you have gone to these places you are talking about with a woman companion and you felt that comfortable?", I add

"Well, women's thing is a separate issue".

The conversation stopped for me there. I blinked at him. It took me a good few seconds to understand what he meant by women's issues are separate issues. I am appalled at not just the indifference but how little men seem to know about the women in their lives. And this is what nags me to no end. 

And in a broader sense, this is reflective of not just women's issues but also other issues in society. Why does it suddenly become a gender issue when it is focussed on a particular section of the society? The same happens to, for example, the LGBT community. I recently happened to watch a Telugu movie in a cinema hall that had repetitive, tasteless jokes on gays. Hey, I love humor but I can smell an offensive/racist remark when I hear one! And yet there we were, sitting in a modern multiplex, with people from qualified and educated backgrounds not feeling the least bit offended or perturbed. On the contrary, they had a good laugh on jokes that kept targeting the gays.

So it brings me to the critical question again - why didn't the audience feel offended? Simply because they tend to compartmentalize the issue as a gay issue. 

A lot of Indians need to start having an opinion on things. I am bothered when educated Indians look at the media and newspapers reporting rapes and then pass a useless remark like "Too bad" or "This is so sad". I bet you wouldn't be just sad if it were some family member, would you?

I am not asking us to take to heart everything we see and hear. But at the same time I am appalled at how many Indian men have no clue. No clue at all the kind of things their female counterparts have to face on an everyday basis. 

So I ask every Indian man - "Have you ever considered asking your mother/daughter/wife/sister what she felt like walking down the road? Or if she ever had any such problems of abuse?". I bet you didn't even think of asking them that. And why would you? Its a woman's issue not a man's. 

For the countless times I have been told by my dad to be careful, "cover" myself appropriately, not to go out in the dark, ignore the nasty comments on road, I would have wanted him to instead ask me - "I am sure it must be hard, but can you tell me what sort of things you have/had to go through in public? I want to know."

If only.

You know that's all I ask - a patient listening and understanding from the men in my life. And why wouldn't I have a right to that? That is what family stands for. We pride about our culture and family values, what use are they for if you cannot even spare some time to get awareness and understanding of your own family's safety and well-being?

We live in an incredibly dangerous India. Where women have to go through humiliation on a routine basis and worse yet, be the victim of more serious forms of abuse. And then come home, only to be on the receiving end for more unsolicited advice from men in their family. 

This is not a feminist movement it is called "Stand up for your the women in your life" movement.