Thursday, August 30, 2012

Home is where the heart is

I step out of home early on Sunday mornings. Sunday is the time to buy vegetables from a nearby farmer's market. And at 6 am it seems rather early. But I have to make myself useful to mom. 

I somehow manage to get out of bed, slip into flip flops and reach the front porch. I dust my two-wheeler, roll a big jute bag and try the automatic ignition (that mostly fails. I was supposed to recharge the battery). 

As I drive I see a guy taking a leak on the street. He also manages to speak on his cell phone at the same time. What can I say - it is not a pretty sight. I need to keep an eye on the random buffaloes and stray dogs on the road. I stifle a yawn. 

It feels warm already although it is only few minutes past 6 am. I see paper boys hustling about on their bicycles. I see delivery guys carrying open cases of milk packets. I see the old folks walking, military like. I try to take a whiff of the air. It feels stuffy. I remember as a kid (during one of those hated early morning walks) the smell of fresh morning air. Unfortunately, that is a thing of the past. Now, the air is always thick, a combination of rising dust, pollution and gas. I park my vehicle at a "No Parking" zone. One of the rare times when you are sure there wont be towing activity of any kind. 

I am a noob at bargaining - I don't even try. I can already see vegetable vendors relishing the sight of me. A few extra rupees that I "giveaway" without putting up a fight. Later at home, I am (always) told - "Those 5 extra rupees could have gotten me half a bag of assorted leafy greens." And those 5 rupees over time would become big enough to buy a quarter kilogram of chicken meat. You know, the conversation amplifies like that in magnitude. I have learnt to just nod, accept my flaws and promise to try the next time.

I also have to go to a designated store to get some eggs. Apparently the eggs are the "biggest" here. Don't ask me why they would be "biggest" only there. That's what I am told to do. Never question the middle class counsel. They are almost always true.

The few trips I made to India from USA, I never stayed long enough to understand how much I had become sensitive to the environment in India. But now, after months of living in India, even after all the traffic and heat and dirt and open sewages and power cuts and a million other things that affect me on an everyday basis, this feels like home. 

Allow me to explain a bit later. But first some more insights (or rather jogging up memories of those who have already experienced the Indian lifestyle).

A service provider will never guarantee you his services even if you pay the dues and even if you pay him a tip. He will rather fix it for you if you abuse him, verbally. And after all that verbal exchange, if you offer him tea, he will happily sit and talk with you about local politics and how the petrol and food prices are affecting everyone. Yes, Indians are full of contradictions like that. 

A service technician will come (minimum of ) 4 hours later to the appointment time. And that after a swamping him with phone calls where he will tell you "baaju mein hoon madam" (I am almost there by the side of your home) and yet he has not even stepped out of wherever he exists. You rage, grumble and get angry and upset at his audacity to lie at your face, blatantly. And when he does show up, it's probably close to dinner time.

And where in the world would you find unified hatred against queue system. Jumping the lines is so common in India it exasperates me. No matter where you go, right from a 5 star restaurant to the local movie ticket counter, people always want to get ahead of you.

So does this still feel like home? Strangely, yes.

The first month I was upset. I was really really upset here. I couldn't get half my errands done here. I found everything ugly, disoriented and chaotic. My moods got so uncontrollable as if I was PMSing. I was constantly grumbling. I would look at the homeless people and children begging at the traffic lights, tugging at my jeans, prostrating at my feet - they would do anything to get a currency note from me. I would look around and find people going about their normal routine. 

Why aren't any one of us concerned? I would think to myself. Why are we so insensitive?

And yet I forget this is where I was born and brought up. That I lived in the exact same circumstances and I didn't feel necessarily this upset then. So why this change now in my belief system? And why now after months, I have become insensitive as well.

I have no clear answer to this. But what I believe happened is I made peace with a lot of things here. Indians have heard so many false promises before that they have sort of moulded themselves to fit in this confusing grid of Indian life. Those who are rich live a rich lifestyle, those who are middle class go as far as their reach can go, and those who are poor, well, they don't have the privilege of making a choice. 

The first thing I learnt after a confusing first month was to let go things that are not in my control and stop getting upset about random stuff. The second thing, if anything can be outsourced (i.e delegated), I do so immediately. There is always labor, ready to fix things for you, at a nominal price. Third, if I want to have fun, I really can have fun. It takes time and planning but it is possible.

And last, but the best part, you are in the proximity of your family and loved ones. There is nothing more calming and fulfilling than that in this world. 

I use my smartphone less, I spend more time with family, I hardly watch TV, I celebrate every Indian festival, I debate local politics and government policies. I feel special because I have a decent lifestyle, I have a congenial workplace, I have delicious food, I can read Indian magazines and newspapers, I can have pickles, papad and breakfast food anytime of the day, I can talk about all things Indian without trying hard to explain. Ridiculous but true. In a way, I feel humbled, privileged and accomplished. And it feels good. Because this is what feels like home, smells like home and looks like home from the time you were born and lived here.

Of course, it is not love all the time. There is nothing romantic about poverty, corruption, scandals and other prevailing issues in India. Yes, we have an overwhelming number of problems here - something I wouldn't have acknowledged years ago, when I hadn't stayed outside of India. I think living in USA for half a decade has given me a fresh set of eyes; to take a hard look at the problems here and really focus on where I can provide value.

This is home. This is where the heart is. And this is what will matter.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The myth of the independent woman

One in two times, you must have heard that inner voice tell you -
"You are smart, fierce and working it. You are an independent woman."

That inner voice must have risen either due to modern pop culture (oh, we love our independent woman so much!) or you used to listen to Destiny's Child track a little too often in the 90's. Either way, let me tell you that is a myth.

What is an independent woman anyway? Girl in a suit and heels during the day, sexy and sassy in a pub by the night, super mom and wife at home, takes care of bills and knows how to "fit in" with the society. She never cries. She knows to cook, knit, clean, rear kids, maintain a home, organize parties just like that. She knows how to jump the hoops. She wiggles from one role to another with the extreme makeover of a reality show participant. Hail independent women - they do it all, have it all, flaunt it all.

Look at Katherine Heigl for instance in the movie Ugly Truth. She's an example of independent woman. Smart TV producer in tailored designer suits, living in a big suburban villa like home, control freak who loves keeping things clean and hunting for the sensitive and metrosexual Mr. Right with Jesus's abs. 

Congratulations, chick flicks have just spring-boarded the image of an independent woman to an all new level. They have set up, every one of the 20-something girls for failure. I mean who doesn't want to be like Katherine in Ugly Truth. She's hot, young, rich, powerful and will also get her perfect man in the end.

Only life is not a fairy tale like that. Life does not have a map with a fixed set of rules. We forget it is not an ideal perfect world out there.

Welcome to the real world where the image of an independent woman is a myth. 
No one can have it all, take it all and do it all. Even the most powerful and mean looking women in the world are vulnerable and possess weaknesses.

I have no problem with cultivating empowerment, self-confidence and equal rights in women. I have a problem with the unnecessary romanticism of the concept of "independent woman".

You know how much pressure that puts on a woman? As it is, she's dealing with making a living for herself (and others), supporting herself and her family and attempting to lead an everyday life with dignity. You want to tell her to dress a certain way, look a certain way, work a certain way so she can handle all kinds of jobs because you know, she must act like an independent woman, in the big bad world. That's not independent woman, that's an octopus (with eight hands to multitask)

Sorry, that aint gonna happen boss. She is going to be exactly like any other human on this earth. Happy, when she gets a pay raise. Sob, when she feels lonely. Lazy, when she feels like. Angry, when she's not treated with respect. Sloppy, when she wants to. Just like every other man.

Stop calling women resilient. What does that even mean btw? That she should stick up to any crap the world throws at here and still stand up smiling. That's not resilient that's losing one's self-dignity. That's being treated inferiorly. It is ok for her to breakdown. To seek help. To take someone's support. That doesn't make her weak or less independent. That makes her smart and playing her cards right.

You know what is independent? When she can do what she loves, when she can move with people she loves, when she can pick and choose her friends and activities, when she can genuinely express her feelings and doesn't have to worry about complying with your rules of a pseudo independent woman. 

A woman with passion is far more sexy than you think. The sooner you embrace that, the sooner you will win her heart.

So the next time you ask your wife, daughter, sister, female colleague to be independent, trust me, they would have felt far more happier if you didn't mention that word. Tell her instead what she means to you and why she is important to you. 

Or if you are at a loss for words, just repeat the line "You is smart, you is kind, you is important" from The Help

A little flattery always gets you a 10/10 with woman. But if you piss her off, she is going to make Minny's chocolate pie for you:

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Girl, Interrupted

Yes, I sort of liked that movie. But I am not going to talk about the movie here. However, you are free to draw parallels between the movie and the below post, as you please. You will see the connection (well, almost)

So here I am, all alone, solitary, single (well, not exactly, I am committed but not quite the official news). Now come the good parts about it. You are free to do what you like. You are free to while away your time. You are free to look silly, do silly, talk silly. You are free to lock yourself up and daydream and curse and get envious about everything and everyone. You can cry foul when things don't go your way - you know like, how I am a single girl, independent but still the society is callous to me, sort of thing)

Good parts end right there though.

In come the talking aunts, girlfriends, neighbors, acquaintances, storekeepers, janitors, gym trainers and so on and so forth (without any gender bias, please feel free to count men also). You get the drift. And they all freely talk about the single most hotly debated topic in the Indian milieu - My marriage.

I mean forget the slumping economy, the surging food prices, communal violence and disturbing scale of scandals in the country. Leave all that aside. Let's focus on the most important crisis - my marriage. 

Of course, they are all just concerned about me. #sarcasm

A typical conversation even with a close friend starts with a "How are you? Long time" and jumps abruptly to "Marriage ka kya hua?". It feels like a Himesh Reshammiya song ringing in your ears all the time. "Oooooooo....marriage...oooooo". (Yes, I know you know. Just wanted to sound dramatic)

Of course, my close friend is concerned. Lets say hypothetically I do marry, ok. Then what? Will it be "Babies ka kya hua?". This is like a never ending sequel. Remember that movie Lethal Weapon? I could never keep a count of the sequels of that movie and I just gave up one day. Same thing I will do here - give up and pay no attention to any sentences with keyword "marriage". Blanket rule.

Even if I go to grocery store, the guy who checks the bill on my way out looks at me weirdly. I secretly think even he is wondering about my marriage. The other day, the bank guy asks me the same. Asks me if I have a joint account with my husband. No, I do not have a husband FYI. But I can get me a fictional husband, if you like. Anyway, I don't believe in this joint account business (yeah, I am sort of like that. A girl with a strong set of beliefs. Ok, actually, it was because of my dad. He kept saying right from when I was 4 years old - never keep a joint account, b****** will take all your money and run off. Classic. He just drilled that thought into me, didn't even wait till my puberty. So the other day as I watched Satyamev Jayate episode on domestic violence, mom goes wide-eyed and tells - "See, dad was right". Mom and dad don't have a joint account btw. Nice trusting couple there.)

I have one doubt though. People are visibly upset when they know I am not married, and happen to know my age (which btw, I will not tell you because then you will ask me about marriage). Why are they upset? Shouldn't my parents or I be the one who should be upset?

Frankly if you ask me, it is easier to file taxes being single. I don't even know what's with that dependent healthcare and joint taxes bullshit. And I am not looking forward to figuring that out. As if I have less paperwork to do.

And after all this, I go home one day and I see mom I immediately blurt out "marriage". She honestly thought I said "drainage". (Mom has a hearing problem. Too many Sun TV serials have taken a toll on her. All that yelling and drama in those serials I tell you).

Although it would be weird if mom and I wanted to play a game like that - Chalo, lets play "marriage marriage" today.  Only barbie dolls in a dulhan's dress would be missing (btw do they make that? That will make an interesting gift to someone I know).

Yet another day, I was in my "Why God, why me only?" depression mode because of some unexpected happenings. At tough times like that, I open and search for "feel good movies". (Btw, the search results for that phrase suck. And I always see two ads, no matter what the keyword search - Hangouts on YouTube and Dhanush is back with his new single. How are they relevant to my search I don't know. This is heights only :-/). Frustrated, I opened the hindi movie, Hum Aapke Hain Kaun. That movie has been my friend in the harshest of times. Only later, I realized that movie is all about marriage, baby cermonies and funeral. Irony. More depressed I got.

Thankfully, I found respite in an amusing climax scene in the movie Life in a Metro -
Konkana Sen runs to Irrfan Khan's marriage to confess that she is in love with him but the man interrupts and says "Lekin petticoat, blouse sab uske naap ka sil gaya hain. Itna late kyun bol rahi ho?” (But the wedding dress has been stitched to the bride's measurements. Why are you confessing so late?).

Even the latest library book I checked out, had an entire section dedicated to relationship and baby advice. I picked it up thinking it was a business book (They sold it as a book that applies business theories to life.  Also it had 5 star reviews on Amazon. Got pawned there. Honestly, who wouldn't be tempted to read a book whose title reads - How will you measure your life? Ok maybe not you.)

But seriously, a single Indian girl can take only so much. Enough is enough.

*Insert an imaginary picture of me standing in temple yelling at God angrily about the injustice*

Someone asked me this week about pros and cons of relocating to India after living in the US. Remind me to write this rant in my reply to that enquiry.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The power of purpose

An intern asked me a question recently (rephrased here), over lunch - "I am so confused with my options. Which team do you think I must join?"

I silently chuckled at that question. I saw in her, myself, nearly a decade back, asking a similar question. And I wish I got the answer that I gave her - "It doesn't really matter". Of course, she didn't seem quite convinced by that answer. 

She eventually did, after I was able to spend a good 15 mins, telling what she should rather focus her energies and time on. Of course, like several of us, she will be influenced by her experiences, her peers and the people she meets and that will either steer towards or away from the advice I gave her.

And this is what I told her -

On an average, we all work towards excellence. Nobody aims for mediocrity. We want to know as we much as we can about all "good" things in the world and how to achieve them - job promotions, higher paychecks, high-flying lifestyles, fame, attention and recognition. What we don't understand is that most of them are really tangible, short-term benefits. In the long run, what matters is did you find that one thing you love and were you able to achieve it?

Briefly put - "Did you find your purpose in life?"

School and college are some of the best times to explore that question because you have all that time away from relationships, job stress, family obligations. For some, it is immediately clear.  For some others, it takes about few years. For the rest (a fairly large proportion of people), it takes an incredibly long time - during this process you have two choices:

- Give up and settle
- Don't settle and keep looking

The problem we face on an everyday basis is this - you are always working for immediate, short-term, tangible benefits. (And the question the intern posed falls in this bucket). How many times have we faced a choice between the short term and the long term? We almost always favor the former with a quick justification of "just this once". And before you realize, you have been doing this too many times (not just once).

The question(s) she must rather ask is/are - "How can I grow? Where are the learning opportunities and how can I seize them? What are some specific things I must try out? Is this what I like to do with my time? Is this what I love? Is this what I want to become?" Unfortunately, there are no clear answers to such questions. You learn, evolve and move on from one experience to another; checking each item on your infinite list of things to do towards finding your purpose. The lesson being, to try out as many things you can, to be open-minded, to stop judging, and to constantly question the purpose behind everything. 

This is the most important (and also the most difficult) thing you will ever learn - To keep your head above all trivialities in life and be focussed on finding, committing and achieving your purpose. Every time you face a choice, you ask yourself - "Is this inline with my purpose in life?"

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Is everyday a Groudhog Day?

"Happy Independence Day" is trending on Twitter. Happy Independence Day India!

However, nothing has changed. You find the same news about scams, crimes, exploitation, poverty and a million other negative things sprinkled with some Independence Day special programs on TV (like the Prime Minister's national address, parade and some patriotic songs). Tomorrow comes and we are back to the grind. Life goes on.

But I thought to myself - Lets be a little less cynical today, shall we?

So there I was standing in the shower. Another day, another epiphany. 

Remember the movie Groundhog Day? For those who haven't watched the movie (you must watch it btw), the lead protagonist Bill Murray relives a day over and over again. In the movie, that day happens to be what Americans celebrate as the Groundhog Day. Bill Murray realizes that he is not accountable for his actions since the day repeats all over again the next day. Since he wouldn't suffer the consequences of what he does, he goes about breaking the law, mistreats people, tries to seduce a woman by finding her interests and so on. After several days he realizes that he can actually use this opportunity in a good way compared to the manipulative way. He starts learning the names of people in his town, takes piano lessons and eventually wins his girl over because he has become a better man.

So why all this summary of a movie you ask?

I think the movie delivers a subtle message - 

Over the years, we have been experiencing some form of the Groundhog day. The headlines of the day may have been a little different, but the news stories are essentially the same - political turmoil, challenging economy, increased corruption, lack of governance, decelerating infrastructure, energy crisis and a plethora of such negative news. 

Most of us have become insensitive and apathetic to the situations and circumstances in India and have completely shut us off from the proceedings. This is a rather dangerous reaction from Indians. 

Things are not going to improve on their own. Like Bill Murray we have the opportunity to change our behaviors regardless of what is outside our control. We constantly complain and hope that someone else figures out a way to make India a better place. What we don't realize is little actions lead to a revolution of sorts. Yes, there is hope. Without hope there is nothing. We must hope for an India that we want her to be. And we must make those little changes in our behavior and actions and bring about positive changes in whatever we do (this can be as minimal as fulfilling the duties of your job). On a larger scale, this makes a massive difference. Don't listen to the naysayers. Haters will be haters.

Treat every day as an opportunity to give back, to make a positive dent in your community. This is the true essence of independence. Treat this as a gift, an opportunity within your reach.

Ask yourself - Are you using your freedom to do the right thing and make a positive change? Remember, it does not have to be a Groundhog day for you. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Because there is no Photoshop in Sports

Just read this article in Guardian about how female Olympic athletes are giving women a new generation of strong role models. Rightly said.

Because in sports, there is no photoshop to misuse and play on women's identities. In sports, it is all blood, sweat and guts. Nothing feminine about it huh? How many times as a woman have you looked at a fashion magazine and wish you had that perfect set of legs. I understand women working in the entertainment and modeling industry go under the knife or agree to malpractices like Photoshop (in fact, its quite the norm now than a malpractice). They are under immense pressure to survive in a cut-throat industry like that and have to cinch those endorsements. So the question of ethics don't mean a shit for them. Unfortunately, women tend to idolize them - which is a problem we got to solve.

In one of my previous posts, I mentioned how fairness creams promote a subtle kind of racism against dark women. This is especially true in nations like India. And this photoshopping business is another unnecessary evil. A deeper problem than the fairness cream branding. Something, I confess, has also affected my psyche. In fact, the other day, I unintentionally looked at a glossy magazine cover and told my boyfriend "Wow she looks amazing. Really tall and great abs". And then pat came the reply from him - "Thats photoshopped and that too a bad one". On a closer look, the legs had been flipped, by mistake. We had a good laugh.

But frankly, imagine what that does to a naive teenager? If I, being an adult and well-aware of such practices, can fall for this why wouldn't a 16 year old fall for the same? In fact, as a teenager, it troubled me when people branded my lack of grooming sense and different gait as tomboyish. I used quite a few swear words then (blame the cable TV invasion and subsequent influx of hollywood movies;)), in my everyday language, and even that was "tomboyish". And even that was not lady-like, I was told. I was unapologetic, of course. It however did throw me off-guard. It made me wonder if I was really unfeminine and if all those worldly qualities are required of me as a woman?

To my naysayers, I pretty much rock it when I have to buy clothes and accessories (I pick the good ones really fast) but I really don't like spending on them and neither do I take too much time to dress up because I am always found in a maximum of 2 faded jeans and old t-shirts. But that's just me. And if you are a woman who loves her shopping and high heels, more power to you. Each one is different. So don't try to brand someone based on what the fashion or movie industry dictates. 

There are several myths around women and their bodies. For example, one of the most fielded questions in a gym is - "Do weights make me bulky and will I start looking manly?". No and no. That's the most insane myth that floats around. I can frankly tell you that sort of thinking comes from parents. My own parents advised me against martial arts when I had a fascination for them in my childhood. "No they will make you unfeminine", they told me. What is this shit with "unfeminine" anyway?

Weight training only tones you and gives you a great definition and ups your metabolism if you are a woman, unlike in men where they bulk up on muscles. I have known men who did half the weight training as me and their muscles look inflated while mine remain puny, but strong.

Recently I went to one of those fancy clinics in the city where they give you all sorts of "treatments". I was there to find out about laser hair removal. Big mistake. The folks there started explaining the procedure and venture into this sort of conversation - "While you are here, why don't you get your hair fixed too? And also you can consider our skin tightening treatments...". 

I DID NOT like where that was going. If anything they needed to fix their heads. One of them went on to say "We have weight loss programs too. You are fair so you wouldn't need those skin lightening treatment" and giggled. What I was supposed to feel proud about that? (Both the consultants were women btw, so ashamed. I feel sorry for their kids). Needless to say I stormed out and swore never to go near such clinics. They got hold of my number and kept stalking me over phone until I gave them a piece of my mind. On second thoughts, I should have just delivered that dragon kick on their faces I learnt at my kickboxing class.

I mean why should the rules of the trade be different for women anyway? Why can't a woman do what she likes to do? Why do parents, boyfriends, husbands, brothers, neighbors and who ever have that authority to tell you what you should look like or how you should present yourself outside?

Can we stop this disease of a culture? 

Yes, if you are a woman and have questions you have Internet at your disposal. Research and bust those myths. And if you love to eat, eat for god's sake - this is not a lifetime weight loss program. And if you love to make mud pies, make them. Because you know what? That guy who looks macho and all brawny in your class, he probably enjoys chick flicks and loves to knit sweaters. 

Don't judge. Become your own idol.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Chasing the Monsoon

The intention of this post is to just give you an idea of A Day in the Life of an Indian Monsoon. If that doesn't interest you, you might as well chill out and listen to some rain (awesome site no?)

"Here", says my mum as she props a small plate of bite-sized vadas beside a pile of books on an old chair. My house is minimally furnished and at times like these she finds it really frustrating to find a resting place. I obediently pick it up before they either turn cold or drop from the the edge of the chair.

Outside the slightly ajar window I see heavy rains continuing. "Yet another weekend, lost to the rains", I think to myself. The window is only slightly ajar because of mosquitoes that are unavoidable. There is a green carpet of bushes outside swaying in the wind and soaking down the rain, a crookedly parked line of motorbikes on the street, steady streams of water merging and flowing down a narrow ridge, an old abandoned rickshaw and a wayward dog finding comfort underneath it. Quite the room with a view, I have got. 

"There is going to be a powercut in 30 mins, so if you want to take a hot bath, this is it", forewarns my mother as she enters and leaves my room quickly.

Monsoons in India bring their own share of woes. Going out in the rains mean a lot of things - enduring traffic jams, making sure your phone is well-protected from the rains, dodging the water puddles, timing important errands so you don't get "caught" in the rains.

What can possibly be romantic about Indian monsoons you ask?

Yes if you are sitting in the confines of a shelter, preferably with a hot cup of chai and good company - a book or a person. Or perhaps just lying under the sheets and catching an old flick.

Rains in India seem to have what I call the "standstill" effect. They bring a lot of things to a grinding halt - whether you like it or not. You are forced to work under constraints. You are forced to "take a break" and look around you. Everything is so interconnected to the predictability of rains. 

And although I quietly mutter under my breath, I know that I didn't quite have a weekend plan either. My weekends are mostly filled with errands. So I impulsively put on my shoes and running tracks. I decide I want a jog in the park today. A park that takes atleast 45 mins to travel to. The heavy rains having stopped encourage me on this dogged pursuit. I spend a good 20 mins searching for my bike keys. I still don't find them. Undeterred I pick some of my library books I want to drop on the way and set out to do so with my friend. 

No sooner do I reach the library, it starts to pour with a vengeance. Damn it! Of course, I am not that worried because the library is probably the second best place to be stranded (after home) for me. We look around for a place to sit but some old ladies have occupied them already. We contemplate about going to a coffee shop across the street but the ominous rains seem relentless and not in a mood for a break.

As we stand there craving for something hot, from nowhere a guy walks in armed with a thermos flask of tea and small plastic cups in his pockets. We ask him for two and he promptly pours them. "6 rupees", he says. We search for some coins but he decides he is ok with a 10 rupee note. 

"Quite the angel", I tell my friend. As we sip the hot tea, we contemplate things around us. Old lady struggling to get downstairs (the library is on a building's second floor) with two kids who speak in US accent. "Must be NRI's", we tell each other. One of the kids, a tiny girl, scans the bookshelves like a pro. She decides on a book or two and leaves as her driver comes to pick up the family. 

Directly behind their SUV parked on the road, I see a poor grandmotherly lady strutting down the road, carefully avoiding the puddles, with nothing but an old plastic bag covering her head like a shower cap. On the same road, I see young guys on bikes taking a smoke and enjoying the rain nevertheless, middle aged ladies sharing an old ripped umbrella, an auto-rickshaw guy looking out for his next customer and a neighborhood bakery doubling up as the rain shelter for the day.  

No, there is nothing romantic about monsoons, if you choose to think so. And yet, there is still something contemplative about the monsoons in India. Either way, life goes on in India. 

As I walk down the street to my home, an emaciated looking boy in threadbare shorts, tries to sell me  a printed design umbrella. I ignore (as I do with beggars on the streets) and go past him to enter my home. I look back to see that he has done the same - walked across the street to try his luck with another resident. 

No sooner do I enter home, mom gives me a deft reminder - "You still have to find the lost keys to your bike". As I said, life goes on. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

The cliche of fairy tale romance

"So how do I look? Do I look like the floodlights?", I ask my boyfriend, on no particular occasion. He nods in approval. 

I was wearing a beaten-to-death jeans and an equally ancient men's t-shirt that doubled up as my nightwear. Clearly my nails weren't manicured (I have never had a manicure btw) while my boyfriend sported a set of perfectly shaped nails that could put a well-groomed girls' to shame. And yet, my boyfriend says, I look like the floodlights. 

Yes we get it - Love is blind.

But I have an itch to scratch today. Plenty of rom-coms later, I am left with a feeling that I have been set up for failure. Nothing in real life mirrors those stories of happily ever after.

No, really. As a couple, we are either running errands, strategizing commute routes, envying other couples, debating work-life balance, discussing dad's health. What ever happened to the promise of a fairy tale romance? Welcome quarter-life crisis.

Catching a movie (mostly terrible ones) is the closest thing to romance in the modern day. 


The other day, we bought flowers as a wedding gift for a friend. That was the closest I have been to "smelling roses". Pun intended, btw. "You never bought me flowers", I try to take a dig at my boyfriend, winking at him. "Do you even know how they look, like, put together nicely? They have this way of arranging and wrapping them, they cut the ribbons with their fingers...", he goes on to explain me.

The florist girl interrupts - "Which roses you want? Bolo." And I stare back blankly. Frozen. My boyfriend is quick to respond "Red ones, a few yellows in between. Actually, whatever you think fit." I look at him suspiciously. Umm ok, he knows more than me about flowers, so what. But they never showed me this side of things in the rom-coms I watched.

#betrayed (yet again)

"Daisies are the friendliest flowers", I say to him, as the florist gets to work. "From the movie You've Got Mail", I add quickly sounding triumphant at my knowledge of rom-coms. He seems, not strangely, unimpressed. 

What? No chivalry?

I am not bowed down by this apparent lack of chivalry in my relationship. I decided I will give back to the world, you know, a bit of chivalry, a bit of courteousness and a bit of old-fashioned charm. I am all for giving back. Needless to say, that didn't work either. Holding one of the double doors at a local hospital got me strange stares from people. An old woman gave me a confused look "Isn't she a little too young or unconventional to be a doorman?".

"Anna, you forgot the (bike) stand" or "Boss, indicator lights are on" are the closest calls of courteousness I have experienced on Indian roads. Yes, Indians are like that, full of contradictions.

Hmm, this whole thing needs some serious research. (Puts on my imaginary thinking hat)

I mean seriously, I could tell my boyfriend that sometimes he sings horribly while he thinks he sounds like Udit Narayan. But I wasn't taught like that you know. My parents fed me a healthy dose of rom-coms. And then he is always telling me Brahmi, Balaiah, Senthil, Vivek jokes and spamming me with Mashable and Techcrunch links from his Google Reader. This is the limit only.

Where is the romance? I want romance. (Refer below video at 2:50 for perspective)

Maybe I will shake him up today and say "I am a fine lady - treat me like one." Although I need to dress like one. Hmm, scratch that. Too much work. 

Of course, unlike ladies, I will agree this trend is partly my fault. I clearly haven't prepared him to a life of chivalry. Spoiled him rotten from the day I offered to split our bills to standing in the queues for filing his taxes or buying movie tickets for both to carrying his jacket. But a lady can take only so much no?

I think I will surprise him today by asking flowers. No, I will have to then think of what to do with those flowers then. Too much stress. Maybe I will shop a lot with his credit card. Hmm, no patience with trial room lines, unresponsive sales people and having to choose..Too much decision making. Stressful again. Maybe I will order the priciest dish in the priciest restaurant? But, but, but I like only food at those "all you can eat" and cheap dhaba and tiffin centre like places. 

Uff, so tough this is.

Ooh, what is this. New mail from boyfriend. Another (predictably) Techcrunch link:

No, I am not even making that up. A few weeks earlier, we were discussing the trivia behind naming a mobile app (related to couples) as Avocado. Ok since you have read this blog so far I shall share the trivia with you. Avocados grow in pairs, hence the "fundoo" name for the app. The closest to romantic discussion we have had in months. This is not even funny anymore. Hmm. 

But really an API, an entire toolkit for all apps geared towards couples? A platform for couples? I wouldn't have imagined that in 2001 when I was writing my first Hello World program in C language.

Ok, in that case, I am declaring an open forum for romance related counsel. This will be like Oprah Winfrey of Indian Romance Counseling. I will have grassroot workers go to schools teaching the basics of chivalry to young men. I will write software to push notifications on your mobile phones, so you can read unsolicited rom advice crowdsourced from all of web, while you are doing important things like laundry or playing Angry Birds. (Yes, you can thank me later) And I shall open source the API too (remember I believe in giving back?)

Posting this soon before boyfriend requests censorship. Once its out on the Internet, there is no looking back.

New mail (with some video link) from boyfriend reads in the subject: "wot are these suits? they are flyin off gennnnn". Labeling it as "Unread and Important".

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Did something cool today?

You know what's cool? Doing.

Doing is everything.

Not an idea, nor a thought.

Doing is what matters.
Doing is believing.
Doing is experiencing.
Doing is living.

I think for a long time now I have been in quite a funk. Personal stress, remote working, time mismanagement and a host of other things. You know what that does to you right? Puts you in a "restless" zone. Yeah, you don't want to belong there.

I am someone who constantly whines, talks the talk, bounces ideas and sees them sit and gather dust. And so are many others (no kidding, even you?). In an earlier post, I aimed (but failed an embarrassing number of times) to adopt what I called the Daily Sabbatical.

First there was tennis. I felt like Roger Federer (there's no price to pay for imagining you are greatest, is there?). Then carrying bats to and fro from work and all the monsoon rage in my hometown killed it.

Then there was - "I will read one book per weekend" deal. I pretty much made the cut, actually. Kind of proud. But not quite sealed it. My reading challenge this year is 40 books (At the current rate, I am 10 books behind)

2012 Reading Challenge

2012 Reading Challenge
Manju has read 19 books toward her goal of 50 books.

Then there was - "I will try to be happy and cheery faced everyday". Was I?

*Crickets chirping*

Then there was - "I want to dance". I spoke to a really nice, energetic co-worker about it and he suggested I should teach a class. I thought that was ridiculous at first. I searched and waited if someone offered something similar at work. Of course, my co-worker was up in my face all the time about it (thank you!). I grumbled, whined, lamented, complained,..

**insert every one of those abundant excuse-abiding adjectives here**

..until I relented and taught a Bollywood dance class today.

Yes, me, taught a dance class. Ok, it wasn't pro. It was cool though. I met some cool people. We all danced and had fun.

But that was the idea though. To have fun everyday. To surprise myself everyday. To see what I can do everyday - same things differently or new things experimentally.

I love how easy it is to do than talk about something (yes I mean when I say that). I already feel better. This "doing" thing sounds like fun to me.

So did something cool today?

Friday, August 03, 2012

The Tao of Running

3 years ago, one late evening on a lonely road winding down to the Fenway Park, I stood, breathing heavily. Surrounded by thick greenery, historic Museum of Fine Arts, a group of teenagers playing ball in a distant field and the crisp cool air of a typical August day that was turning cloudy. 

"This is shit", I thought to myself.

2009 was my first foray into anything that could be remotely associated to running. I was definitely tending towards becoming overweight. I was beyond myself. I wanted to gym like everyone else. I wanted to cut down on food like everyone else. I ached to become active.

And I chose running.

Few jogs down the beaten path and it left me gasping for breath. It was more like grunting. 

I put my hands on my knees and bent down, breathing as if my life depended on it.

I looked around and there was no one. And the dark clouds looked ominous. I was living in a dingy apartment in Boston, with 4 other girls and their own set of problems they came with. I hated my life. What was I doing here?

I continued to jog again. And stopped right after 30 seconds.

"This is shit", I thought to myself again.

2009 and nobody wants to even give me a job offer. Even at those rockstar internships I had. They all liked my work but it was the year of recession. Recruitments froze everywhere. And yet here I was thinking about running, as if that's going to change my life.

I suddenly ground to a halt when a bunch of geese(?) cut into my path. 

"Stupid birds", I thought to myself.

As they took their own time, I took my temporary break, hands on my hips and beads of sweat forming on my forehead.

"This can't be right, I should be focussing on job interviews", I thought to myself. "What am I doing here, trying to run like this, as if this is going to change my life"

"Please don't rain, please don't rain", I let out silent prayers. 

After a good 10 minutes, I tried to run again. This time out of necessity to avoid the rain. And I ran till my apartment. By then I had gotten wet. 

The rains didn't stop for me. And neither will your life.

Today I can run a 5K like a breeze. 10K no problem. 20K, I wouldn't exactly die either.

I think running taught me an important lesson. Sometimes in life, you have to do things without purpose. There is always pressure on you to do well at work, relationships, business, career. A hundred reasons crop up in your puny brain, resisting change. Excuses that you will make for not going at "outside routine". That little voice in your head is angry and confused and afraid. But keep at it. Keep cheating your brain to believe that this is not a drain on your time. That this is not going to affect anything else in your life. That this is just for fun. 

This is something that you want to do, carelessly. No pressures. No expectations. No nothing.

I now know what runners mean when they say "runners high" or "feeling the wind in your face".

To this date, I don't have a race target or goal time. I always always run for fun. I run because I love how the endorphins break down my worries or stress from trivial things in my life. I love to listen to my own breathing sometime - in out, in out, in out - and with the sweat dripping on the back of my neck,  when I tie my long hair into a bun, the cool air that feels like I am on top of a snow capped mountain. I love how it throws hiccups at me - toenail injuries, side stitches, tired legs - and they feel like small victories instead of problems.

These are not imaginary feelings. This is the real deal, in flesh and blood. When you slowly realize that dormant strength in you - as you morph from someone who moves at a glacial pace to someone who runs like the gazelle, carefree and happy - with the spring of your feet and the belief in your head.

And that, my friends, that feeling right there is what I mean when I say I love running.

Dedicated to all of those who told me and still tell me that running is boring