Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Just An Afterthought

Just to add to this post a little.

I've seen a whole bunch of movies where a heroine, or, much less frequently, a hero who is about to get married suddenly has this realization that she or he is getting into the wrong deal and escapes from the wedding venue in search of true love. Or in search of a more independent life. I used to find that kind of thing rather exciting, rather romantic. Now I can't help mulling over the amount of money that would go to waste in such an event. After experiencing first hand how much it costs to host a wedding, I can't help thinking about the kind of financial setback the bride's parents or the couple themselves (in the Hollywood movies) would face for nothing. I mean, hey, why can't you figure out your love life and career before you book a venue for your wedding?

I guess that kind of excitement and drama is ruined for me now. Oh well, I'd seen too much of it anyway.

Thank You, Jeeves

I'd wanted to read something by Wodehouse for a while now, and I finally got around to it. His writing has some of the best subtle and not-so-subtle humour I've ever read. The way he plays with his words and sentences is just wonderful. And, of course, I must mention, the character that is Jeeves is a man of culture and intelligence whom I found to be rather endearing at times.

The book is full of crazy people and crazy incidents, and a few normal folks caught in the middle of it all. Something like a Charlie Chaplin movie or a Walter Matthau comedy of errors. Or a Mr Bean episode. Well, you get the idea. It belongs in the Classic British Comedy Hall of Fame. Check it out if you're in the mood for something light and loony.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Just A Thought

Here in the States, getting married is very different and, in some ways, very similar to getting married in India. We go out and invite our cousin's friend's neighbour and what have you when we get married. We invite everybody in the neighbourhood where we live. Or in the neighbourhood where we grew up. These people, on the other hand, invite people they're close to. People who actually mean something to them. I wonder why we do that, really. Why do we invite distant friends and relatives to weddings, people whom we see only at other weddings where we politely say hello and goodbye to each other and move on?

I've seen a few Hollywood movies and TV shows in which people get married in a gathering of fifty people or so. I've also come across a few where people get drunk and married in Las Vegas without actually knowing what they were doing. Well, of course, the ones who know what they are doing do sometimes take a year to plan everything out and make sure that it's just the way they want it to be. I'm not too sure if a What Happens In Vegas-style wedding is actually possible, but I'm sure they wouldn't let you do that in India.

But you know, It's not such a bad idea to just decide to get married and get married within a week or so, with just close friends and family as witnesses. I mean, all the time we spend planning everything out and getting all worked up over it could be better spent elsewhere. And all the money we spend on it could definitely be put to much better use. Just a thought, with due respect to other people's desires to host lavish ceremonies.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Food, Family, Fun

This is an approximate transcript of a conversation I had with my family in India recently.

Me: So what are you up to these days?
My brother: I give mom food ideas. I find new and interesting recipes online and make her try them out.
Mom: I tried out this recipe for egg paranthas. They turned out really well. You should try it out too. Oh, wait, but you'll have to knead atta for that.
Me: But, mom, I do that all the time. I make decent chapatis. Every day.
(Stunned silence, arising from the fact that I never did anything of the sort while I was in India and she never expected me to try to learn.)

A couple of months earlier, my husband told my mother that I had made aloo paranthas for him. She knew that he was only kidding. But since then, she gets a bit of a shock each time I tell her I tried out something and it turned out well. She finds it all a little difficult to believe. Truth be told, so do I. But I love surprising my husband with all the dishes that he likes. Or with something new and experimental, to which I sometimes add my own touches.

But you know what I miss? I miss the element of surprise in finding out what is on the table for dinner or for lunch. My rajma tastes a lot like my mom's, but it's not the same thing when you know that it's sitting in a bag in one of the cabinets and you can cook it whenever you want. It's entirely different if you come home from work and smell the aroma coming from the kitchen. Some of my friends from the office lunch group would recall how much I enjoyed the fruit custard in the cafeteria. My eyes would light up at the sight of it. It was the only dessert I would always eat. I would hardly eat anything else on the fruit custard days. It's not the same thing when I have custard powder in my kitchen and make it myself every other week.

Planning your meals yourself is good in that you make the things you like, and you make them the way you like them. But it's not the same kind of fun, is it?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Richard Feynman poses a very interesting question in his book that I just read. He asks another scientist to define what is "real." The other guy says that an experience is real if it can be reproduced. Feynman then goes on to talk about reproducing hallucinations. He says that if one thinks about a particular subject before going into a mental state that invokes hallucinations (There's a whole process to it. You have to read it for yourself to know more about it.) then the hallucination will be related to that subject. And you can do it multiple times. That makes the hallucination "real."

There was this movie called 15 Park Avenue that dealt with schizophrenia. The doctor in that movie told a patient's sister that the schizophrenics' world is as real to them as ours is to us. Their reality is what they perceive, ours is what we perceive. Doesn't each of us imagine things that don't actually exist? It's perfectly normal to imagine that someone you fancy could want you as well, while knowing fully well that the odds of that happening are rock bottom. What Konkona imagined in that movie was basically an exaggerated version of that. We're all a little bit like her, a little crazy.

I still don't have an answer to what I started out with - what is reality? Any ideas, anyone?

The Big Bang Theory

There's this sitcom on CBS called The Big Bang Theory that I've been watching for a while now. I absolutely loved the first two seasons. I missed the last couple of episodes of the second season in the midst of the everything that was going on with the wedding and the move to the States, but they released the DVD recently and I rented it out from Netflix and caught up with what I'd missed. I watched it with my husband and he had an absolutely wonderful time too!

So the third season's season premiere was this Monday, and this time I actually had the opportunity to watch it on regular TV. But you know what? This episode didn't quite live up to the expectations set by its predecessors.

For those who are unfamiliar with this, the show is about a bunch of highly intelligent physicists who are in their element with Star Trek and Batman but at a complete loss when it comes to interacting with women or just being social with non-geniuses. But over the course of the show, they've gradually learnt about all that stuff from their female friend who lives across the hall. It kind of takes away the USP of the show. For me, at least. I mean, of course, it was the only way to go, but it kind of takes away the innocent charm of the whole thing.

Don't get me wrong. It's not hopelessly ruined for me. I just liked it better in its initial stages.

Oh, by the way, in case you missed the closing credits, the theme song is sung by a group who call themselves Barenaked Ladies. That's quite a name, I must say! It's a pretty interesting song. Check it out on youtube. This is the full version, not just the snippet that plays on the show.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Surely You're Joking, Mr Feynman!

I'd wanted to read Richard Feynman's book for a long while and it got sidelined for various reasons. So I finally got around to it recently, and it was nothing like anything I've ever read before.

Feynman was a very interesting person indeed. Or, as the byline of the book title reads, a very curious character. He was a professor of Physics who taught students, worked on the atomic bomb, figured out how to open safes, and did a whole lot of other interesting things. He had some remarkable ideas on what science is all about and how it should be taught. Ideas that a lot of people of his time often failed to appreciate. He toured lots of places within the United States and all over the world, delivering lectures and experiencing different cultures. The way he talks about the shortcomings of the way science was taught in Brazil at the time is quite enlightening. The problems with their education system that he talks about are exaggerated versions of the problems quite often seen in India.

He seemed to have a strong interest in studying sleep, dreams, hallucinations and out-of-body experiences. Some of his encounters with these things are quite interesting.

He doesn't talk exclusively about scientific research, though. He talks of his life outside of work as well, which includes learning to pick up girls in bars and learning to draw and play drums and other instruments.

This book does make one revise their definition of science and scientific research a little. It makes you look at the world around you differently. It makes you want to explore it further, to get to know it better.

If you have even a slightly scientific bent of mind, and haven't read this one so far, you definitely should.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Life With A Non-Geek

I've read any number of articles and stories about women who say that their husbands or boyfriends are too geeky and more interested in their gadgets than their women. Well, in our case, it's kind of the other way around. I'm supposedly the geek in the house. Or so my husband claims. He says that I am a bit of a geek. I think he's slightly technologically challenged.

Come to think of it, he's probably the first guy I've known closely who didn't know any programming. All my male friends from school whom I'm in touch with are software engineers, except perhaps Gullu, who was also an engineer to begin with, and then went on to do an MBA. In my tenure as a developer in India, I met some really geeky guys. Of course, by then, it seemed to be the normal thing for guys to be, since I'd been living with the Chairperson of the Geeks' Hall of Fame for a while. In class eleven and twelve, I'd come across some weird science fiction writing guys who would skip all classes other than computer science and go sit in the computer lab in the school.

And now, suddenly, I'm the one who knows more about setting up a wireless router. I'm the one who reads books on Physics and Mathematics and watches The Big Bang Theory. It's a different feeling. It's sometimes fun, sometimes rather odd. It's a new adventure.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Song Of The Week: A Rediscovery

Ever since I heard Tune Jo Na Kaha, I have come to like Mohit Chauhan's voice more than ever before. So I was digging out some of his older works, like Boondain and Guncha, when I ran into Ek Meetha Marz from Welcome To Sajjanpur. I actually never had the opportunity to watch this movie properly until quite recently. This song beautifully tells the whole story of the letter writer's life, his heart's desires, his hopes and his dreams. He is flirting with a married woman, but there is a certain innocence, an endearing quality to the whole episode. And the song tells it all. Tells it like it is. It's beautiful.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Why do we find it so difficult to accept people who are a little different from our own selves? Why do a lot of straight people not try to understand that gay people are just as normal as they are? Why do Hindus think that Muslims are after their lives and vice versa? Or Indians and Pakistanis, for that matter. People find it difficult to accept a marriage between two people from different cultural backgrounds. And that's not just in India.

My husband was telling me about the few Pakistanis he has come across during his stay here in the States. He's been on friendly terms with them, as have his other Indian friends. He also visited Pakistan for a short while, and he didn't make any friends there. The same people who would not talk cordially if they met in India or in Pakistan, become friends when they meet here. Is there actually that big a difference between the people themselves, or is it just about opening your minds a little?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Scary World

I happened to be browsing through the Teens section of a Barnes & Noble and I noticed something slightly disturbing. Horror stories seem to be so very popular with these kids these days. So much of the stuff is about vampires and zombies and the likes of them. My husband was similarly horrified when he was passing by a comic book store. It's unnerving, the stuff that kids read these days. What became of the good old Disney comics? Why don't people want to read Pride and Prejudice any more, instead of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? I tell you, if that book was anywhere in my house, I wouldn't be able to sleep at night.

I have actually always found the whole idea of horror movies and books rather repulsive, but this stuff for kids and young adults? I'm not sure if that's good stuff for kids to grow up on. Interestingly, that horrifying book cover was right next to the Parenting and Childcare books.

Well, that's just my opinion. I would want to keep my kids away from this sort of thing. But well, to each her own.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Of Teachers And Teaching

My husband often tells me that I should have been a teacher, that I should have taught Mathematics or English Literature or something. Well, he is mostly kidding about that.

I don't really think I could have done that. Because I don't have the kind of patience that it takes. I get bugged if someone asks me the same question twice.

I had a lecturer in college who once told us something very essential to teaching. She said that when she taught us, she needed to forget that she had a PhD in Group Theory and that she knew so much about it. She had to think like we were thinking. She had to think that she knew only as much as an undergraduate student, and talk at that level.

Another one of my lecturers said that teaching was great because you were always in the company of young people, so you always stayed young. You had all these people around you who helped you come up with new and fresh ideas.

The philosophy in our college was that there are no teachers and no students. There are Senior Members and Junior Members of College. Everybody learns something from everybody else. It is actually true, of course, that when you try to teach somebody something, you learn a little something yourself, as I have learnt during my random experiences tutoring my brother or my friends, and mentoring my juniors in the workplace. Different people have different approaches to the same thing. And the "teacher's" approach may not always be the best. It's just that, sometimes the teacher will accept this, sometimes they won't. I really respect the ones who do.

Teaching is not just a skill, it's an art and a science. It's an art that people develop gradually with time and experience, not through PhDs and BEds and NETs. It's a science that improves with experimentation.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

On Teacher's Day

Okay, I know this post got a little delayed but, well, these days, my weekends are reserved for my husband and my household chores.

I was just thinking about some of the teachers I've had. I wrote a post about my college lecturers and professors a while age and there's not much I want to add about them. But there are some other people I want to talk about.

My mother. She taught me to read, got me into the habit of reading on an almost daily basis. I was a bit of a brat who refused to go to school and she would patiently take me to school and wait around and make sure I was okay.

My grandmother. I don't think I would have been able to scrape through my Hindi and Sanskrit exams if it wasn't for her. Or be good at Mathematics. She helped me out with all the subjects that she was capable of teaching, and she did it every day after school.

My class eight Mathematics teacher, Mrs Renuka Mahani. She was the one who ignited the spark in me that took me all the way to an undergraduate degree in Mathematics. She had her own ways of teaching, different from the rest of the teachers I'd come across. She got all her ideas through, and made me want to study.

My class eight English teacher, Mrs Sonia Chhabra. She did the same things with English Literature. We had our own English textbooks, which Mr Lewis compiled, but she taught them in a way that I liked. I still remember her reciting Mark Antony's speech to us and getting us all excited about Sherlock Holmes mysteries. It was lovely.

There are actually others I may want to write about as well, but I will save them for a future post.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Changing Seasons

In this part of the world, the leaves have begun to change colour and the temperature has been hovering around fifty in the mornings. That's about ten on the Celsius scale. Last week, I told my brother that things were getting chilly, and he remarked, "But it's only August!"

Apparently, Labor Day marks the official end of summer. That means that summer is officially just about gone. The weather is beginning to behave like it does in early November in Delhi, with chilly mornings and evenings and pleasant days, a beautiful time to go out on weekends but a time when you start wishing that you didn't have to get out of bed and go to work so early in the morning. A time when I keep telling myself to drink warm milk in the morning, but end up drinking it cold most days anyway. A time when I would need a light jacket or sweatshirt when coming back from the gym in the morning. Well, right now, I have the option of going to the gym later in the day.

Of course, I knew that winter here was going to be very different from winter in Delhi. I just didn't know winter would drop by this early in the year! Anyway, I'm looking forward to making snowmen right outside my house!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Disastrous Beginnings To Good Things

Quite often, I've met with fiasco when trying out something new. For instance, the first day of my job back in Noida, I took a chartered bus that a friend of mine had told me about. It found itself stuck in a bad traffic jam and took a diversion which turned out to be even worse. It took us through rickety bridges that I never before (or after) saw in my life.

Then there was the first time I drove myself to work. I didn't tell too many people about this, but that morning, I missed a turn and had to take a U-turn and go about three extra kilometres in the process. That was quite okay, but the second time I drove on that particular road, a cab driver driving a Maruti Omni hit my front bumper from the left side. I chose not to stop and argue with him, because I knew that no good would come out of it anyway.

After that, I would drive to work every now and then, but not on a regular basis. Later, when I began to drive every other day, we got stuck in a horrible chakka jam the first morning I drove my car, and we were there till a little past noon. Okay, that was not really my fault. I had warned the other members of my carpool and suggested that we start out a little earlier that morning, but they didn't believe me.

I drove to work regularly for a long time after that, carpooling with different people. An old friend of mine, whom I'd known for about eight and a half years then, joined us at the beginning of this year. Her arrival was greeted by one or the other of my car tyres getting punctured on three days in one single week.

When my husband and I were boarding our flight to the United States, the X-Ray scanners at the Indira Gandhi airport broke down and they checked everyone's luggage manually, delaying the flight by an hour, making us miss our connecting flight from Newark to Boston.

I've come to take such things in my stride, and I no longer think of them as setbacks. I think of them as a signal that something really good is about to happen. That things are about to look up. And, quite often, they do. I had some wonderful times in my three years at my job. I learnt to drive myself to and from work with the greatest ease, so much so that I did it on an impulse the week after I left, just to see my friends. I like being here with my husband. It's the loveliest place I've ever lived in.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Embracing Change

You know how, at some point of time or the other, we've all had the feeling when we wished things didn't have to change? All of us sometimes wish that our best friend in primary school didn't have to move to another city, or our most helpful colleague didn't have to switch jobs, or our kids didn't have to grow up and leave us to be on their own. We like familiarity, we like things the way they are, and we wish we didn't have to move on.

But you know what? Just because a change is throwing you out of your comfortable cocoon into a less familiar world, doesn't mean that the change is a bad thing for you. Things have to change. People have to change. That's the only way each of us can grow and become the people we were meant to be. That's the only way we can get more our of life.