Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I wonder...

Statistics show that one in every 481 forwarded chain mails, is actually good reading, and won’t threaten you if you break the chain (OK. I just made that up. But I believe that it could be true). Having grown old to mushy ‘Friendship means’ and ‘Jay Tirupathi’ mails, I have mastered the art of spotting these miscreants and clicking Shift+Del instantly. However, lately I was too bored, and happened to read one. And I think it was one in the 481.

A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.Three minutes went by and a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule.A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping continued to walk.A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.No one knew this but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars. Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston and the seats average $100.00 each. This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be:If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing some of the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing....?

These questions led to some more (I think a scan of my brain at the moment would look like the image above).

Have we really forgotten to stop and wonder at the beauty that surrounds us?
I pass a river on my way to work everyday. When was the last time I stopped to look at the waves? Or the swans? Or the mossy green river bank that has some strangely pretty shrubs? Did anyone plant them there? Did a bird drop a seed? Where did the swans come from? Where do they go at sunset? Are these questions too irrelevant or insignificant? True, answers to none of these will help me earn my next pay check or help me with my deadline, or solve my issues with my teammate, or pave my way for a promotion, or a hike. But am I so busy trying to make a living that I have stopped living?

Have we been programmed to ‘like’ things only when we are expected to ‘like’ them? Has appreciating the beauty of art, music, literature, food or nature become a ‘social status’ thing? Do we ‘like’ in order to be accepted? Do we ‘like’ in order to be perceived as intellectuals? Have we stopped ‘liking’ for our own pleasure? Do we like to ‘like’ things only when we are paying a big price for it?

Q: Food at a plush restaurant that is the latest talk of the town?
A: Like
Q: A little ‘kasundi’ with the good old spinach cooked the Bengali way?
A: Kasundi? What’s that? I like oregano on my pasta, basil in my rice and thyme in my soup.

Q: An exotic cocktail that has a tongue twister of a name, at an award-winning pub?
A: Like
Q: Nimbu paani at home?
A: Who has the time for squeezing lemons? (I thought if you could make it to the pub, you could squeeze a lemon once in a while)

Q: A Bryan Adams concert?
A: Like
Q: Bryan Adams from an old cassette (that you had complied while at school, and written down the names of the songs yourself, in childish handwriting, on the cassette cover) at home?
A: Don’t you at least have a CD? Or a CD Player? Are you stingy? Are you the boring ‘stay-at-home’ kinds?

In fact, are we ashamed to admit that we ‘like’ certain things in a certain way because we are afraid that we will be judged? Is it so difficult to own up to our little ‘favourites’? Why do we then talk about ‘accepting others for who they are…and not what they can become’? I have come across that line a zillion times…in Self-Help books on the shelves of bookstores, in philosophical chain emails that are supposed to make me feel good in the morning. If we can’t accept ourselves for who we are and what we like, who are we kidding by talking about ‘accepting others’?

How much has society…or our upbringing contributed to this strangely depressing phenomenon? Does it sprout from our same obsession with taking the traditionally safe paths? If you are not a Doctor or an Engineer, or at least a Lawyer or a Chartered Accountant, you can invest in some good quality cyanide. If you haven’t listened to Bach or can’t quote from Tagore, you can tattoo ‘I am an idiot’ on your forehead.

What if I have read enough ‘Chacha Chowdhury’ to win gold at the ‘Annual Pran Quiz’ organised by the boys of the local club during Ganesh Chaturthi? Am I not chic enough for you? What if I have never held a golf stick…but could beat you any day at kabaddi? Won’t you smile at me at the shopping centre any more?
What if I have never heard of Dostoyevsky but can name all the Govinda movies that were released or got shelved halfway through (because of the producer’s connections with some underworld don)? Am I a social shame? Most importantly, am I a shame to myself?

I wonder…

Friday, June 26, 2009

My Firsts

We all remember our firsts…some embarrass us now…some make us smile…or cry.

Here are some of mine:

  1. First day in school/preschool – I don’t remember this. But Ma tells me I wore a red dress with matching red hair clips. At the end of the day, I had so much fun painting, building shapes and playing in sand that I lost one of my hair clips (I had two). When I realized it was gone, I threw such a tantrum that the teachers who thought I was ‘such an angel’ all day…changed their minds and thought I was possessed.
  2. First wristwatch (my love for them shall never die) – Was a blue one with Mickey Mouse. It was just a toy, and did not tick. But I loved it nevertheless.
  3. First pocket money – I think I bought ice cream and ‘jhal chips’ in school. When the money was gone (I think it was 10 rupees), I felt my first pang of jealousy because the elder sibling/neighbour's kid got more.
  4. First poster bought for my room – A ‘Funny Quotes’ type…which started with ‘Farting is liberating.’ My parents signed me off as having bad taste.
  5. First swearing – At my dentist who pulled out a particularly strong tooth that defied alignment. I think I said ‘Faal’ …a combination of the F word and the B word (in Bengali), because his damn hands were still in my mouth!
  6. First time I came home after midnight – No, not because I was partying hard (never such luck). But because my friend had an emotional breakdown after a very bad haircut…and I had to stay by her side till she slept!!! (talk about ‘issues’ in life)
  7. First salary – Six neat 100 rupee notes, placed in an envelope. That was my fee as an English tutor of a 10 yr old brat, who I met once a week.
  8. First crush (blush) – Believe it or not…it was in class 5. And it was our ‘jamadar’s’ (sweeper’s) son. He came with his daddy everyday to collect garbage…and he also collected my shy smiles and a piece of my stupid school-girl heart (blush again). Ma still doesn’t know why I was always so keen to take the garbage bin out for the sweeper, when I showed no interest in any other housework.
  9. First cigarette – With school friends…at one of the pajama parties (sleepovers) at my best friend’s place (very typical).
  10. First date (proper) – Don’t ask me about it. It led to my marriage!!! Damn, I don’t believe that was my first…and ‘probably’ my last.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The day I felt HUGE!

There are bigger things in life…health, job, house, salary, bills, duties, global warming, global financial crisis… (can’t think of anything bigger at the moment!). But your birthday seems to be that day in the calendar when nothing is bigger than YOU. I mean…literally! Crossing the road, I felt like a Hulk…or a Dinosaur straight out of the sets of Jurassic Park (my nephew’s favorite movie at the moment, and hence the simile.) It seemed to me as if I ruled the world…I was HUGE (now, don’t spoil my moment by reminding me that I anyway am…all days of the year!).

As I climbed up the stairs to my office, wearing my new top, new earrings and new shoes (of courses I wore other pieces of attire that are necessary to cover oneself...just that they don't deserve a mention here, as they were old), I beamed. It seemed that I was on stage, and all eyes were on me (though I don’t remember seeing anybody on the stairs). That’s what birthdays do (or should do) to you. You smile all day…at others and by yourself. You feel alive, awake and energetic (even at midnight when on other days you are like a sleepy worm curled up on bed under the blanket).

This feeling, would be a material for a dark comedy or Mr. Bean-like tragedy, if others don’t encourage it. I mean, if I was to smile by myself all day, without anybody to tell me that it was OK to do so because it was my birthday….that would be quite tragic. That’s when all you special people walk into the stage (OK, not the stage, as it was all mine that day….let’s say you’ll walked in as my very special crew, without whom I would look quite like a fool on stage).

So here goes…a big THANK U to all those who visited, called, e-mailed, posted cards (how I loved them!) messaged, scrapped, sent me lovely songs (thanks R!), sent me musical e-cards (that even made my colleagues smile when I played them again and again at work), wrote on facebook. I had made it a point to change my settings on Orkut, so that my birthday did not come up as an alert (am not sure if that worked). That was to test how many of you REALLY remembered my birthday, and not relied on automated alerts! I was so happy at how many of you passed with flying colours in this test.

There were so many calls that my mobile ran out of battery (either there are too many people who love me…or my mobile needs replacement). I spoke in Bengali over the phone all day…even at work…and my lovely colleagues did not mind. In fact, I think they picked up a few Bengali words themselves. One said ‘hyan hyan’ (meaning ‘yes yes’), each time I said ‘hyan hyan’ over the phone.

For my friends overseas…thanks for remembering and calling (I know it’s a real effort to work out the time differences, especially those of you in the U.S.). I miss all of you…and remember how we spent our birthdays together when we were not so far away.
For those in Perth, thanks for all the cards, and cakes (planned and the surprise one), and gifts and most of all…for your company!
For those in Sydney...what can I say! Rai (3.5 yrs) wore lipstick to kiss on my birthday card and leave her 'mark'. Rio (2.5 yrs), scribbled on my card to leave some very bold pen strokes :) Ma and Didi sent me the most touching bookmarks (am hoping the books are on the way!) and Parthada chose such a beautiful card for me (these are apart from the other gifts they gave me...which I will not mention here, as I need a whole new post for all the gifts I got.)

A special thanks to Amit. For making me feel special on my red-letter day…and all days of the year.

I woke up today with a horrible Birthday hangover (no, not the alcohol). It is the hangover that you have after every special day/days/event/events/vacation…I have Durga Puja hangover, Christmas hangover, New Year hangover, Wedding Anniversary hangover, Vacation hangover, even Sick Leave hangover…you get the drift. In short, it is the feeling of going back to routine, having left behind something very special. I blinked at the cards and the left over cakes (I had 4 this year!! Yippee!)…and wished that all my future birthdays turn out to be as special as this one…and all those I love, have equally special birthdays!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

My Favourite Childhood Memories - Part 1

This is a very long post. Not recommended for people with a low amount of patience or a high amount of 'better things to do'.

Am not sure what 'age' is doing to you. To me, it is doing all that it is ‘supposed’ to do. The very predictable strand of grey hair ‘peek-a-booing’ occasionally…the skin on the neck, hands and feet are not as wrinkle-free as it used to be…the heart confesses its age when I climb the stairs…the limbs pray for a bench/seat/pedicure when I am out there shopping for hours…the ears can’t stand loud pub music anymore…the body hates hangovers and gives warning signs when I have drank too much already….the memory gives me ‘you-have-exhausted-your-allocated-memory space-please-delete-old-ones-to-make-space-for-more’ alerts.

In short, I am getting old. I don’t mind the gray hair or wrinkles, but I can’t stand the thought of letting go of my most prized possessions…my memories. So I thought I will have a memory backup on my very own blog (just like I have backups for my photos and home videos in external hard drives, CDs and online galleries). They are presently crowded up in my recycle bin, waiting to be deleted forever. This is my last chance to retrieve them.

I have already documented some of my favorite memories on Rai&Rio’s blog, here. Following are the detailed descriptions:

In the past, I was immensely ashamed of having pooped in my pants in class 1. I returned home terribly smelly with my pants full of poop. Am amazed that Ma didn’t flush me with my pants. Now I see it as a funny memory. That’s another thing age is doing...biting away pieces from my ‘Shame Bar’ every day.

As for performing the jingle ‘Washing Powder Nirma’ on stage…in front of a hundred people who were expecting me to recite ‘Baburam Shapure’ (as that was what I had been taught, told to recite, and the announcer had announced that I was going to recite)…I am so proud of myself! I felt like singing ‘Washing Powder Nirma’, and so I did. Wish I still had that confidence, spontaneity and innocence. Worth mentioning, that it stood out among the ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ , ‘Hattima Tim Tim’, ‘Humpty Dumpty’ and I was an instant hit, basking in my celebrity status for months after that performance.

I also remember hanging by the gate waiting for Baba to return from the fish market. I was such a cat then, that people said I could almost eat raw fish (though I don’t remember if I ever did). The first thing that Parul di did, when Baba returned, was to fry me the biggest piece. And I would sit in one corner of the kitchen, happily munching the bones and licking my fingers. I wonder why I am not so fond of fish anymore. I know ‘curiosity’ kills the cat. Does ‘too much fish’ also kill the cat? Does anyone know?

My fascination with diaries and stationary has come a long way. I played with bits of paper, diaries from past years that still had empty pages in them, pens of all shapes and sizes. I pretended that I was a senior bank executive (as I looked up to Mama, who indeed held such a role, and also had many diaries). I had a red plastic phone that I used to call up all my ‘customers’ and I frantically scribbled on my diary as I spoke to them on the phone (as I had seen people doing in banks). When I got bored, I became a bus conductor and tore pages from my diary to make bus tickets that I sold to the ‘passengers’. Baba never quite overcame the heartache caused by the thought that other children were doctors and teachers in their childhood games, while I was a bus conductor (he seemed to have totally forgotten that I was a very senior bank executive too!).

My acting skills got critically acclaimed when I performed the role of Cinderella (my first time on a stage). I was so small then, that I couldn’t speak. So someone who could, spoke from the background…narrating the plight of Cinderella. I was just supposed to make some minor hand movements and smile and cry on cue. When the curtains went up, and the flash lights fell on my face…and I saw those faces in the audience (Baba with his camera in front…and Ma beaming proudly amongst her friends)…I started crying. Since that was really my ‘crying’ scene, the audience was amazed at what a natural I was! Somebody patted Ma on the back and said ‘She’ll make you proud. So small, yet none of the adult actors can cry like her.’ Only minutes later they realized that I was actually crying…because I was scared. The voice at the back had moved to happier days…and I was still crying. As the last and the only resort, the curtains dropped before time, and I was dragged out of the stage by the director. With a pained face and wounded pride, Ma took me in her arms. I wasn’t such a natural after all.

When I took my first baby steps, Ma got me a red pair of ‘paek paek’ shoes. No, that’s not the name of the shoe. I refer to them as ‘paek paek’ as that was the sound they made if someone walked in them. Wearing a red dress and the shiny new shoes, I went to the playground with Ma. I think Ma wanted to ‘show-off’ to her friends that I had started walking. Again, I failed her (and proved that ‘showing-off’ never pays). As the first step was taken, the ‘paek’ was heard…a heartbeat was missed… a screech was emitted…and a jump was taken to Ma’s arms. I was so terrified of the sound that I refused to walk for a long time after that. So, while my other friends walked and ran, I crawled and squatted.

These are some of my favorite memories. Some I vaguely remember. Some I remember quite well because I have heard people talking about it a million times (especially the ‘poop’ one, as it was a family joke). My obsession with preserving memories has manifested itself in a variety of ways…photo albums, scrap books and keep sake boxes. Read this to know more.

Like my ‘I like’ list, this post made me very happy. So I urge the ‘regulars’ (you know if you are one) to write about their Favourite Childhood Memories. Even if you are one of those rare people whose memory has been blessed with lots of space (like Google …’Over 7338.647885 megabytes (and counting) of free storage so you'll never need to delete another message.’), you will never regret writing this one.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

I like

On realizing that I am horribly pessimistic and depressed for most part of my waking hours, I decided to list the little things in life that make me happy but don’t cost as much. They are priceless.
  1. I like sitting on a window sill and reading a book, while the afternoon sun shines down on its pages.
  2. I like dipping a biscuit in tea (especially the ‘toast’ biscuits that the roadside tea stalls sold for 20 paisa) and biting off its soggy head.
  3. I like licking off Masala Maggi gravy from the plate.
  4. I like sitting on the bathroom pot and day dreaming about the cruise to Great Barrier Reef.
  5. I like colorful new pillow cases and crisp bed spreads that are free of dust mites.
  6. I like listening to Amit singing a happy song (totally off the tune, sometimes) in his shower.
  7. I like opening a juicy ‘paan’ and nibbling at the colorful sweet stuffing inside.
  8. I like the sound of the door bell and cheerful guests pouring in for the evening.
  9. I like watching people opening gift wraps and squeaking in surprise and delight.
  10. I like the waves taking away the sand beneath my feet and giving me some white foam in return.
  11. I like the smell of incense sticks that Ma lights every day after her bath.
  12. I like a sudden call from a friend who is so far away...yet so close.
  13. I like to hear Rio speaking gibberish over the phone…or Rai telling me of her birthday wish list.
  14. I like steaming ginger tea when my throat feels funny and my nose feels runny.
  15. I like waking up to the smell of fried bacon and scrambled eggs on Sundays.
  16. I like going through the family album with my sister and laughing about good old days.
  17. I like going for drives to 24-hour coffee shops in the middle of the night.
  18. I like my trips to the DVD parlors and coming back ‘loaded’.
  19. I like going through my box of ‘keep sakes’ and let the past sweep me off.
  20. I like the sound of my computer shutting down at the end of a day’s work.

This was such a gratifying exercise that I request my blog friends to do the same. Debanjana, KG, Spiderman, Shoma (and any other reader who would like to join in)…could you all come up with a similar list in your own blogs? Bigger or smaller…doesn’t matter.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


One of my habits that I am immensely proud of is that I store purchase receipts till the print vaporizes from the paper and save user manuals till the product is dead and ready for its grave.

Receipts come in handy when we want to exchange something (which is one in every two purchases). As for user manuals, Amit thinks I don’t have the heart to throw them away because I am a Technical Writer, and I occasionally copy their style and format. I have tried to explain to him that all Technical Writers do not write user manuals, and I for one, have nothing to copy from them.

I actually save them so that I can check facts and procedures from time to time. For example, when I accidentally switch off the microwave main power, I lose the clock settings on it. So I go back to my carefully saved manual and set the time again. Though it seems like it would be an easier option to ask Amit to do it…trust me, it’s not. On an exceptionally rare day, he may oblige me after my 171st ‘Can you pleeeeeeeeeeaaasss set the clock on the microwave?’ But I don’t take chances.

It’s a pity that marriages don’t come with receipts or manuals. And I must admit that I would definitely have referenced them if they existed. I often think that life would have been so much simpler if there was a manual with these troubleshooting procedures:
  • ‘How to switch off your partner’s snoring’

  • ‘What to do when your partner fumes’

  • ‘How to make your partner love others channels apart from Sports’

  • ‘5 ways to make your partner perform better in household chores’

  • ‘3 emergency steps to cool off an angry partner’

  • ‘How to avoid overheating in a conversation relating to in-laws or savings’

  • ‘How to recover a lost connection’

  • ’10 easy ways to keep your partner happy and ticking’

  • ‘5 ways to make your partner stop smoking and discarding the ash on a favorite piece of china’

  • ‘How to make your partner share the remote control’

  • ‘What to do when your partner does not talk for hours’

  • ‘How to program some regular tasks (like taking the bin out and cleaning the garage) into your partner’s memory’

  • ‘How to make your partner choose sensible gifts’

  • ‘When to call for professional help’
Considering that there is a huge market for such a manual, I am quite keen to take up this project. However, I am aware that my resume is not very promising for the job (2.5 years of marriage, 1 husband, no boyfriends (past or present), no affairs or flings, few childhood crushes that led to nothing but a few diary entries). But I am confident that I can create a very talented resource pool if my friends are willing to join me in this venture and contribute to this mammoth task.

So here is my job ad for the venture...click to enlarge.

Friday, June 5, 2009


In the rush and frenzy of daily life, we have embraced all the time-saving, hassle-free, low-maintenance options that are available in the marketplace.

We have substituted a traditional three-course breakfast consisting of puri, bhaji and laddu OR idli, dosa, sambhar (and the different kinds of chuntneys that go with them) with muesli bars…or worse still, supplementary capsules that promise that you will live healthily ever after even if you don’t eat a single morsel of food all through the day.

We no longer need to remember phone numbers and dial them. We just need to find a name from the mobile phonebook and press the Call button. Worse still, we send texts with vowels missing and consonants replaced to make words shorter.

We don’t go outdoors for a game of tennis anymore. We have Wii!

We have long forgotten the use of a pen and paper.

We never exercise that part of the brain that could handle numbers. We got the calculator instead.

We ‘type’ emails…never ‘write’ letters. I so loved KG’s post on this.

We cut our hair short. Saves time, shampoo, conditioner and money spent on hair accessories.

We have given up trying to sleep or shit, if we face difficulty in either. We take a sleeping pill or a laxative, respectively.

We don't travel that much. We have National Geographic.

We call friends over for a pizza party. Never for a four-course meal party (at least I don’t).

We ignore calls if the mobile flashes ‘Mummy calling..’. We have Mother’s Day instead, to make up for it.

We don't read novels anymore. We read and write blogs...crisp, short, and a stress-relieving exercise at lunch time (as is this one).

We have tutors to help our toddlers finish their day-care homework (maybe coloring a duck yellow). We return home too late to see the toddler or the duck awake.

We have mixers and grinders, and toasters, and sandwich makers, and rice cookers, and egg beaters, and cake whippers, and vegetable steamers, and coffee makers. But we still don’t have time to cook, eat or entertain.

We have wrinkle-free shirts that don’t need ironing.

We ‘catch up’ over coffee, because we lose touch with people who matter.

We use a deo when we don’t have time for a bath…and a chewing gum when we forget to brush (it amazes me that people have stuck to the time-consuming, effort-needing act of chewing a gum…it should have been wiped out from the planet long time back, considering how we don’t like doing other long-drawn things).

These shortcuts are a life savior. What I can’t figure out is….where are they taking us?