Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

So there was an earthquake centered in Virginia this afternoon. The epicentre was less than 400 miles from Boston, and CNN reports that tremors were felt even across international boundaries in Toronto. I felt nothing. I had gone out for a short walk by the waterfront, as I do on most afternoons that aren't rainy, overly windy, snowy, or overly cold (and there are not a whole lot of those in Boston). When I was walking back to the office, I saw people gathered on the streets. At first I thought they were gathered around the Children's Museum, and that there was probably some special event going on over there. Then I noticed that not a lot of them were accompanied by children. And then I saw that there were people in the streets all the way to the office. Hmm... maybe they have decided to gather around and protest in order to impeach Obama. That's the first thought that came to my mind. A fairly reasonable one for someone who has been following both American and Indian news and reading bumper stickers. But then I noticed that most of these people were just checking their phones or talking on the phones and did not really look predisposed for a protest.

I ran into one of my colleagues as I turned around the corner towards my office, and he asked me, "Were you scared?"
"Huh? What just happened in here?"
And then he told me that there had been an earthquake a few minutes ago, and the security staff had evacuated the building and we were not allowed to go back in until they were finished "checking the architecture of the building."
This particular colleague hadn't felt anything either, since he had been on the ground as well. But those up on the fourth floor where I usually spend my weekdays had felt quite a shake and had had quite a scare.

Now I take only my phone and my office key card with me on my walks. I leave my wallet behind to avoid giving myself an opportunity to give in to the lure of the aromas of bakeries and ice cream stands. (On a side note, there is a pretty well known bakery one block away from my office which sometimes smells like a cinnamon explosion when I walk past it.) I saw some of my colleagues, who usually leave the office around four, standing outside the office with their bags packed up and ready to take home in case the building inspection took too long. I was a little concerned about how I would kill time if it actually did take that long. I could not go home without my train pass or any money, and I could not read my book. Oh well, we'll see.

Much productivity was lost as many buildings were evacuated throughout the political and financial capitals of the country this afternoon, but I was rather surprised later, when I realized that all of the office buildings in downtown Boston had been evacuated at the same time as each other, and yet the sidewalk was not so crowded that you had to jostle through the crowd to walk across it. There was not an overwhelming amount of noise, no pushing other people around, no panic. I can't help thinking about what it would have been like if this had happened in Delhi (or even if I had been in New York this afternoon). What if all the buildings in Connaught Place were evacuated at the same time? Would I be able to walk around without getting squashed or hurt or maybe having the straps on my handbag torn off?

This is one of the things I like about Boston. It is a city, but not a huge or overly populated city like New York or Delhi where there are people and more people everywhere you look. Just enough people to make if feel like a city and set it apart from the quieter suburbs. I was surprised an confused by the fact that all the buildings were evacuated, but there was not enough surprise and confusion on the streets to impede pedestrian or vehicular traffic. And everything was back to normal in less than half an hour, much to my relief.

"My Journey With Farrah" by Alana Stewart

This book contains the memoirs of a woman who stood by her friend for over thirty years, through thick and thin. The part of their lives that it covers, in particular, is from the time Farrah was diagnosed with cancer to the time Alana no longer found herself mentally disposed to write about it, which was only a few days before Farrah died.

Both these women were Hollywood actresses, seen more on TV than on the silver screen, but that is not of much consequence, except to raise the popularity of the book. Not so much for me, since I hadn't heard of either of them. I just read a few random pages of the book and found it to be heartfelt and touching.

The book talks about the emotional and the logistic aspects of cancer treatments, most of which were carried out in Germany for Farrah, since Alana knew of this particular clinic carrying out the latest cutting edge procedures. In the US, apparently, it takes longer to get everything approved by the FDA, before any new treatment or medication can be used on an actual patient.

Cancer treatments can be a very harrowing experience for the patient and also for those close to her, who are, in a lot of ways, going through all of it with her. This woman accompanied her best friend all the way to Germany (from California) and took care of a lot of her physical and emotional needs in a most selfless manner. She did everything she could - call the doctors, find out about newer treatments, bring food, spend quality time - to try to save her friend and keep her happy for as long as she was alive.

Farrah's cancer went through ups and downs, with doctors declaring that it was gone, then that it was back, then that it was shrinking, then out of control and growing to the size of a tennis ball, but neither Farrah nor Alana ever gave up hope. Farrah kept her strong will to live and her sense of humor through all of it.

This is a story of friendship, love, courage, selflessness - all of these are exhibited in an exemplary way. It is a story that reminds us of the value of life and tells us to savor the moments of happiness, while also giving us courage to power through the rough patches.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"A Good Indian Wife" by Anne Cherian

This is the story of a South Indian woman who has lived in a small town all her life and marries a doctor who is settled in the States but was brought up in the same small town. It walks through her journey of getting used to her new life and new situation, of discovering a new country and a new husband, and of finding out that her husband has had an American girlfriend for a long time and got into the arranged marriage mainly because his old and dying grandfather wanted to see him married to a nice Indian girl.

As the story moves on with the process of the newlyweds discovering things about each other's personalities and actually growing to like each other, it shows the immense strength of the woman's character. It is a strength that I believe a lot of women have and can harness when the need arises, and I have seen it help them get through the toughest situations.

The plot of the book does seem reminiscent of a Bollywood movie at times, but the book is well written and gives a lot of attention to the character development and thought process, which adds to its literary merit. A review on the book jacket compares Anne Cherian to Jane Austen, which, I thought, was, in some ways, very appropriate. The defining quality that I found in Austen's stories is that there was never anything extraordinary in the plot, but the narration and the way the author played with her words made the book worth reading. Anne Cherian does the same thing pretty well, though probably not quite as well as Jane Austen. Even so, this one was a worthwhile read.