Monday, August 22, 2011

The one about the destination and (thankfully) not the journey

I've been meaning to write this for a while. About summer and summer vacations, as I watched my friends and co-workers, take off for their annual retreats. Somehow, I cannot come to associate july or august with summer.For me, summer, will always be those two glorious months - April & May- the mischievous siblings and of lazing out in the sun, of feeling your skin turn brown and crispy, of guarding grandma's rice crispies, drying in the sun, from crows while reading comics, of improvising ice candies from frozen rasna and yes, of a big ol family vacation to the nether region of the country.

That's the beauty of hindsight I guess, that you can reminisce about family vacations with fondness, sitting under a quilt, half way across the world. When in reality, our summer vacation plans always managed strike a deep fear in my heart, primarily due to the machinations of my mother,who was the chief architect of all our vacations and ofcourse, her ole faithful the government of India.

I can't confirm for sure, but I think my mother developed a deep, unabiding wanderlust after she went on a sabbatical to europe when I was 6 years old and visited about a dozen countries. After that she was never quite the same and every summer, something deep within her soul rebelled and we found ourselves on a "vacation" in the boondocks of the country. Her vacation rumination usually began in March, usually when we would watch the 9PM news as a family and some news article like a terror attack in Kashmir or workers strike in west bengal would trigger her wanderlust and she would announce to all of us at the dinner table that our vacation that year would be to Jammu or Darjeeling. My brother and I would look at each other and then look at the food on the plate and seriously consider the probability of death by choking because anything was preferable to my mother's idea of a vacation.

See my parents were both government employees and the government of India has this policy of reimbursing travel for vacation for its dear minions and the said minions rightfully abused this policy to the hilt, choosing the farthest possible spot on the map. And so, even though we could not afford to travel to the far corners of the country ordinarily, the government of India, aided my mother's plans like a faithful but stupid accomplice. Yes the tax payers of this fine nation were funding the trip but who cares about the tax payer, fuck 'em! So she would proceed to book train tickets to places like Sikkim (1200 KM away), which entailed travelling by train for 3 days and eating train food for 3 days and then rightfully puking the train food for 3 days. I still haven't forgiven the kitchen at Behrampur station in Orissa, for making me puke for 4 hours after eating the food cooked there.I even remember, standing over the vibrating aluminium sink in the compartment and praying to god for all this to end. Deliver me from vacations instead of evil. So you can understand why my brother and I were about as thrilled as a bunch of hostages in a bank heist as far as my mother's vacation plans were concerned.

The government reimbursement policy was valid only once every two years so in the intervening years my mother would plan outrageous road trips because, get this, the Gov of India would also reimburse fuel costs! So into the hinterlands we went, in our car, a spritely Premier Padmini, my brother and I in the back seat and my mom collecting obscure plant samples on the way to assuage her botanist soul. We once went to this place called Bharvati, in interior Karnataka where I was promised a most splendid waterfall. We travelled for two days, 8 hours everyday, where my brother and I decided to play 20 questions to kill time. Long story short he always chose some obscure cricketer and I chose some obscure african dictator and we both accused each other of cheating and my mother shushed us and put some of her obcure plant specimens in between to keep us from killing each other.There is nothing worse than sitting next to your arch nemesis and being powerless to do anything because of the intervening, annoying fronds of an ugly plant. And when we reached Bhadravati all grumpy, the waterfall turned out to be a piddly little sprinkle. Yes, road trips were as fun as a beach trip to hell.

But even if the journeys themselves sucked and I almost died (inevitably due to throwing up regularly) she did take us to magnificent places in the country. Places you would never believe could ever exist or Places so different that it didn't seem like it belonged to the Indian polity. I remember visiting an ancient 9th century Buddhist Monastery in Sikkim when I was 9 years old and feeling like my world had been turned upside down. Seeing the monks, watching Buddhism at work, it seemed so removed from the conventional India. The India that was familiar to me. Seeing the mighty Himalayas was another such experience as well. The Himalayas looked so bad ass that they seemed to say "Fuck you guys, we're here to stay." The Himalayas are majestic yes but don't believe anyone who calls them serene. That's bull. The Himalayas to me always seemed to me like a bunch of bad ass motor cyclists who invaded town and for some reason decided to stay.They could be mean if they wanted to but decided not to. But they still evoked stifled awe and fear at their bad assery.

Another unforgettable moment was when I was on an abandoned island in the Andaman & Nicobar archipelago (Yes, again a gift from Government of India). I remember walking up the stairs of an old church that was crumbling and had Ivy running all around it. When I reached the top, I saw a deer at the altar, with crumbling stained glass and a peek of the azure waters, for a background. It still is the most beautiful sight I've ever seen and I was utterly spellbound! I blinked for a second and it was gone. No it wasn't an apparition but some idiot tourist had also sneaked up behind me and had decided to take a photo, all flashes blazing. I hate moronic tourists! Of course the deer ran away, and it occurred to me that you know you're on an island when the animals behave better than the humans.

The moronicity of tourists is something I could rant about for ages. We were once on a safari in a forest in southern India and we chanced upon a Lady Elephant shepherding her baby calf. Promptly all the tourists in the Jeep got out their long telescopic lenses and started clicking photos in a mad frenzy, so much so that she started chasing our jeep in anger. And what did the adults do? they continued to click pictures!! Would you really want to incite a female elephant who looked like she had just gotten off a bad date with a poacher the previous night? But I digress..

All those road trips and train journeys were nothing short of epic. It made us the individuals -my brother and I - we are today. We changed on a fundamental thanks to those trips. We became fascinated with cultures and people different from us, we learned to revel and partake in realities that were different from our conventional lives. We learned to respect difference of opinions and to treat divergent cultures with deference.That's why we both are the travel junkie nomads that we are, making a life for ourselves in distant lands. Most of all, what it showed was how beautiful our country was and how fortunate we were to see all shades of it - the beaches, islands, mountains and desert. That in itself was priceless.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


The laundry list of "stuff" that's keeping me busy, not that anybody cares even though I'd like to envision my reader as awaiting updates with bated breadthand sitting on pins! Hey I can dream right?

1. First, got my hair straightened over the weekend.My stylist, correction, my soulmate stylist (every woman should have one, THE ONE and the ONLY ONE that GETS you and more importantly YOUR HAIR! more important to have than a spouse or boyfriend. Trust me!), err well, moving on, she suggested that I do a brazilian keratin treatment, and so without a second thought, I said sure, why not? Gosh, I can be so trusting sometimes. So she literally dabbed every strand of my hair with some concoction containing formaldehyde (!!!) and lo, behold, it is straight now! well almost..But oddly enough, this whole process made me reminisce about my childhood and growing up with curly hair. My mother or grandma would spend the sunday oiling my hair and in the process get to know what I'm upto. We bonded over hair and now here I am, more than 10 years later, not oiling my hair but putting some chemical through it. Made me a tad sad.

2. The search for the perfect bookcase is ruling my life right now. I ordered my bed, my dresser,my couch and my dining table in less than 20 mins but I took 3 days to search for the perfect bookshelf. Tells you a lot about me and my priorities no? I just couldn't find any that was worthy of my books. As a kid, I dreamed about living in an apt whose walls were adorned with books and beautiful book cases so this thing is very very important to me. Complicating matters a whole lot is that a lot of these needed to be assembled and I'm about as handy with a hammer as my finance professor was with stand up comedy. He wasn't. There are things that one should just NOT dabble in. So I finally lost patience and ordered one online. Fingers crossed, it will arrive soon and toes crossed, I'll be able to assemble it properly. Actually, I'll need more body parts crossed to accomplish the last one methinks.

3. So as things turned out, I used my signing bonus to sign up for a gym and trainer. Most women buy a prada or hermes bag but me? No, ma'am, I opt for pain and suffering. Again, more hint there on my wonderful clusterf**k of a personality. Actually, I'm really liking my training sessions. Although, I'm getting killed in every session because of all the workouts and yes I do go into the ladies room afterwards and sit on the toilet seat and cry for being a wuzzy BUT BUT, I feel much much stronger. Atleast I think I am and my trainer is awesome! as in, he gives me free relationship advice when I'm doing 3 sets of push ups. That's exactly the kind of thing you need to distract yourself from physical pain - relationships & dating woes. I lovee my gym too! its beeeautiful, very zen like and they have massive studios for dance and yoga classes and even a pool!! Best of all, no annoying kids running around or having to deal with cloying, closet-bullimic undergrads (aka The wilson gym @ Duke) only hot looking, broad shouldered men doing pushups. Sign me up baby! she said. And oh, they also had eucalyptus scented towels..after all, when it comes to gyms isn't that the top criteria? Hot men and Comforting Towels? losing weight is a lost cause anyway!

4. Another big to-do these days is meeting my friends and hoping they've not forgotten me after being away from Chicago for a month. For a whole month!! I helped a friend move into her apartment at evanston and also managed to have a wonderfully contentious argument with another friend over some really delicious ethiopian dinner. Aah I love my erudite friends, I feel smart just being around them. The biggest reason I miss school is not waking up everyday and going into class and being challenged to think differently. But thanks to hanging with my smart friends and co-workers, that intellectual vaccuum is rapidly ebbing. Oh I must say, that working in a tech company and talking geek feels awesome!! I even wear my tweety bird T-shirt, which says "Full of Geek," proudly to work! that's how much of a nerd I am!

So things have been rather eventful. Summer in Chicago is salubrious.Hope the weather and the Karmic Universe holds up. It would be awful if rain (or snow, chicago remember?) did stop play.

Friday, August 05, 2011

The Book Gobbler's Delish List

Just listing a bunch of books I've managed to read this year. Hoping to update this as I finish reading books. I don't get much free time, what with work starting and all, but I hope my reading list continues to burgeon and that at the end of the year, I can look at it and say, "That was not bad at all."

  1. The Lost Continent - Bill Bryson
  2. Help! - Kathryn Stockett
  3. Liar's Poker - Michael Lewis (currently reading)
  4. Kitchen Confidential - Anthony Bourdain
  5. Around the world in 80 days - Jules Verne
  6. Treasure Island - Robert L Stevenson
  7. Adventures of Sherlock Homes - Arthur Conan Doyle
  8. Dreams from my father - Barack Obama
  9. The partly cloudy patriot - Sarah Vowell
  10. We need to talk about kevin - Lionel Shriver
  11. Blue shoes & happiness (from the series, "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency") - Alexander McCall Smith
  12. Siva Purana - Ramesh Menon

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Streets that follow like a tedious argument of insidious intent

Everytime I read the opening lines of the "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock", the greatest poem ever written, I think of Cities. Nay dream of cities. I'm transported by my imagination to those half deserted streets and muttering retreats. It is like I know exactly what T.S Eliot was talking about. See, I love cities. Absolutely adore them. Everything about them infact the streets, the people, the energy and even their dark underbelly. Really. So much that my transient nightmare is to wakeup and find myself in a idyllic suburb, driving a momsmobile.

Cities behold so much promise, so much possibility - kind of like the beginning of a new relationship. You don't know how it will turn out, but the initial promise, the latent potential is intoxicating. Oh do not ask, "What is it?" Let us go and make our visit. Whenever I land in a new city, I can't wait to get my hands on the map of the city and start scoping my days. Unlike most people, I don't go around with a guide book, I simply wing it. I talk to locals, get the inside scoop on where to go, where to eat and what to see. It's not the most efficient, but instead of following a book to the T, I let the place define my experience. That is how I've found places that make the best Sangria or coconut ice cream or caipirinha and when I do find these hidden jewels, I have all the pride and self-congratulatory flush of an explorer, of finding that which was not known to me. Oh so much fun!

Every city is different obviously, but I do have my favourites. Cities that I leave with a sign and make loud avowals of being the near future. I always tend to look for a job or a possibility of a job in a city that I've love and adore, immediately after returning from the trip. I remember loving Amsterdam so much that I even looked at the possibility of taking dutch classes at school.

My first memory of how fabulous cities can be is when I visited Sydney on my first international trip. My brother, thrust a book of all the city streets and asked me to navigate! and there we went, driving through madly, past the street names and intersection and me trying to navigate and ogle at the beautiful city in wonder. It was a dreadful experience in the sense that we got lost several times, till a friendly toll booth operator pointed us in the right direction. But oh Sydney, with its darling harbour, teeming with restaurants and the beautiful opera house, gracing the shores, swan-like, more than made up for all of it. I'll always remember the people, how kind, friendly and boisterous they were.

Then there is Brussels. I was extremely sick when I visited Brussels but was determined as hell to go wandering about the city. I wanted to explore it at all costs. So I bundled up and made my way to Nord station, where I'll always remember asking for almond croissant and coffee in French. It is what I did everyday, go to Nord station, have my mini breakfast and then watch the huge board with train times and names, flipping wildy. That board mesmerized me. It promised untold adventure and mystery, if only I picked the right train. Brussels has other memory like dancing the night off in a cuban club and me blowing kisses at the pony tailed bar tender. Pony Tails are so HOT!

Amsterdam will always be etched in my memory as FUN! It was my best friend's and mine grand adventure. The kind we dreamed of as 12 year olds in prim uniforms. Of partaking in the art, the gorgeous scenary with idyllic canals and of course *ahem* other "risks." It was epic not only interms of passe stuff like clubbing but it rocked interms of food, arts and ofcourse the beauty of the city itself. Its convoluted 16th century, cobbled stone back alleys, its canals and its air of being a medieval port city. I can't quite explain the vibe of amsterdam to you without doing it gross injustice. It was a city that accomodated several worlds - the blithe and the serious, the debauched and the prim, the insouciant cigarette smokers and the suited investment bankers. It was a city that always managed to surprise you with its many facets.

I'm trying to convey what Rio De Janeiro means to me but I can't. It will always be a feeling. A feeling of feeling free and without inhibition. A feeling of being in a beautiful, scenic city with breadth taking views. A physical feeling of dancing, of dancing with joy and the gut wrenching feeling of walking in the Favelas with their murals and Ak-47 toting gangsters. Rio will always be a feeling, a pulse and a cluster of memories - beaches, stumbling about the streets in a drunken haze, copious amounts of acai berry, tropical forests and ofcourse jumping of a cliff, hand-gliding over the city like a bird.

Then there will always be Mumbai. The city that started my love affair with the urban madness. Visiting frenetic Mumbai, from sleepy, carefree Bangalore was always a treat for me. It's like the city kicked in me a strange adrenaline rush. It made me purposeful and purged any trace of lackadaisical behaviour. It made me want to move. To go. Do something. To walk (with long strides). One of my favourite things to do is to walk all day in the town side of Mumbai - past colaba causeway, past all the old colonial buildings and the maritime museum. And even in all my wanderings, the industriousness never left me. This city made me want to be something, it stoked a fire and thats why it is so special and close to my heart.

I will always be a city girl. I love walking past street lights and intersections from one end to another. It energizes me and ignites a visceral feeling within me. I can't explain it, I don't think I'll ever fully understand my love for cities but I can't wait to explore other cities like Istanbul, London, Tokyo or even cape town.

Yes, fie on you suburbs

Monday, July 18, 2011

do they speak english in what?

take me you happy shiney people,
as I watch you shimmer from a distance,
you all, with your drinks and fancy conversation,
you all, with your bluster and loud laughs,
Your universe looks perfect,
It even has an outline of glitter.
Do you notice me at all?
Can I be embraced by your cocoon of familiarity?
but don't feel bad for me,
I'm occupied too, amused infact,
as I watch you, fascinated...

Friday, July 15, 2011

What I Learned in B-school

I was talking to a friend of mine, who is just about to enter B-school and I was dishing out advice by the droves. Then it hit me. Such gold quality insight needs to be documented not only to act as a symbolic ode to the entire experience but to also serve as a cautionary tale. Really, take your pick, what ever floats your boat.

What does a transformational experience consist of? Is this what Dickens was referring to when he said that it was the best of times and the worst of times? Can you distill the essence of a gigantic shift in perception and put it in bullet point format? After all, isn't the bullet point format one of the biggest learnings in B-school?

Be warned though, this post is not your back-of-the-proverbial-envelope-ROI-analysis on B-school, this post is reflection on how I acquired some life-changing skills in B-school, the enduration of mind numbing academic jargon and how I lived to tell the tale. Here it goes in bullet point format (obviously!):

What I learned in B-school

1. The importance of Night Mode setting of my camera, heck any camera settings at all:

For you see its impossible to go through B-school without documenting it on FB and adding pictures for proof. That's the first thing you learn - the night mode settings of your camera- at the first B-school party. Next you learn how to pose for said pictures. Honestly, I've learned my "photogenic" angles and the right amount of teeth that one should ideally show. I was actually camera shy before I came to B-school and now I've become extremely comfortable posing for pics. This is has undoubtedly enriched my future facebook pictures and how could anyone put a price on that?

2. The importance of beer pong, flipcup and *insert any drinking game here*:

Not having done undergrad here in the US I wanted an opportunity to get a sneak peek through my B-school experience. What they didn't tell me was B-school was undergrad times 2 if you wanted it to be. Thanks to this second coming, I learned beer pong and flip cup and tons of other drinking games. Now, I have a genuine drinking game mishap story that makes me a legit grad student and gives me a sort of "street cred" that is very important in connecting with other grad students. booyeah!

3. The importance of being a .ppt or .xlsm ninja:

I have learned that with the right presentation or excel skills, you can go from Captain Obvious to Captain Genius! I kid you NOT. I have sat through numerous presentations where the facts were plain as daylight but because of the wizardry of the presentation or excel sheet, got transformed into "critical insight." I even gave one such presentation a standing ovation myself. How can one NOT be swayed by flying boxes and arrows or pastel coloured, harmony inducing pie-charts?? you have to be positively soulless for that!

4. The importance of having a .ppt or.xlsm ninja in your team if you are not one yourself:

You have no idea what a boon it is to have a .ppt or .xlsm ninja in your team do you? Not only does it mean better grades, it also means that you don't have to spend arduous hours trying to come with half decent slides or models and honestly, deep down you know the team is going to end up using the ninja's slides or models anyway! what you do learn however is to play to to your
strengths. While you're effusive in your praise for your teammate's skills and encourage him to spend the night finishing that ppt or assignment, you can get back to honing your own skills in playing angry birds. Hey man, if that's not a simulation of a life and death situation, I don't know what is!

5. The importance of NOT having a .ppt or .xlsm ninja in your team if you are not one yourself:

This ofcourse means that you are terribly F@&*ed. The meetings are long and contentious,
everybody thinks they are the expert, the white board is filled with drawings and bullet points and you're no closer to the answer than when you started 13 hours ago. The worst is when teams with ninjas, walk by your team room and tell you that they finished the meeting for the case in 60 secs. The best thing to do if you're ever in such a situation, is to have a big list of funny youtube videos to cut the tension. Atleast your team will call you a "fascilitator" or "harmonizer" and let you off the hook when it its time to grade each other.

6. The importance of prayer when you're getting assigned to teams:

See bullets 4 & 5 to fully comprehend this point and yes, while praying, specifically ask for .ppt or .xlsm ninja. I'm serious!

7. The importance of following American sports:

I cannot stress this enough! This will come back to you when you're in that dreaded circle, surrounding a recruiter, trying desperately to land a job. When everyone is talking NFL or college basketball stats, you looking clueless and feeling like you landed in the planet of "What the hell are they talking about??" will NOT help you get a job. You should do what I did and get an american classmate to explain the rules of football (not soccer), basketball or even lacrosse. And then when everybody is talking about Tom Brady, you will not get the urge to ask "Who is this Tom Brady guy? is he a sports dude or something?"

8. The importance of "Depends..":

Yes, "depends.." gets a lot of flack and a lot of b-school students themselves deride this term but for me there is no greater colloquial term that celebrates the state of ambiguity as much. It connotes that, while you have no clue or opinion on the question being asked, you're also willing to say whatever it takes to get on the favourable side of the person asking the question. This
type of ambidextrous approach actually makes you sound erudite! don't ever under estimate the power of "depends." I did and look what happened in my internship, where they asked me if they should invest in a product or not, and instead of invoking this powerful ass-saver, I actually gave them my opinion and did not get the job.

9. The importance of free food in (literally) enriching your B-school experience:

As a starved B-school student, I admit to unintentionally attending lectures run by obscure clubs simply because of the free salad, pizza or burrito on offer. This is exactly how I became interested in the Net impact club and social entrepreneurship. Say what you will about the net impact club but they sure do have the classiest, freshest free food for all their events.

10 The importance of theme parties:

Before coming to the US, I solemnly swear that I had never ever been to a theme party. It was only after attending my first theme party - the 80s party, that I realized the social importance of dressing up in a weird costume and its correlation to making friends. Apparently, the more absurdly you dressed, the more friends you made or rather the more interesting you became to people. Case in point my second Halloween party. For this one, I truly embraced the ethos of
Halloween and dressed up as "Salad Dressing" - in a slinky black dress with vegetable cut-outs. I actually got asked out on a date at the party. SCORE!

11. The importance of having a high alcohol tolerance:

B-school literally is one big party with classes as interludes. True. This fact alone accounts for why other grad students don't really consider us to be truly grad students. We have smart phones, drive expensive cars, live in upscale apartments and drink copious amounts of alcohol. No tales of spending 4 sleepless nights in the library, just stories of cranberry vodka and lady gaga on repeat. Its very hard to not give in to the peer pressure and not party and drink. In term 4 of the last year, afternoon drinking and golfing became the norm, which accounts for why I got hit by golf balls when I ran on the trail surrounding the golf course.

and lastly,

12. The importance of owning a PC:

Yes, this is a shameless plug for my current employers but it is also the truth. Your life will be a living hell if Excel doesn't run on your laptop. So wisen up and use a PC!!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

experimenting.. .

writing a post using a stylus tablet! This is seriously cool!!
I guess this will do what my mother couldn't. ...improve my handwriting!!