Friday, October 28, 2005

A Halloween Fable

A friend of mine narrated this incident to me last week and I must confess that I have not heard a gem of a story like this for a while. I wanted to share this with you as it must live through the generations. If ever your kids or grand-kids ask you about the virtues of Indian graduate students in the US, give this example. This outlines the compassion, intelligence, thoughtfulness and awareness like none other. I am but a poor raconteur, so bear with my attempt at doing it justice (it has been spiced up beyond recognition).

It was a windy evening in windy Chicago. Firmly ensconced in his sofa, Kkrish sipped his Diet Coke watching a rerun of the 70’s show. He had the two most critical aspects of his existence close to his hands. The TV remote and a bag of chips. Munching between bursts of laughter, he seemed to be at peace with the fact that he had access to his TV when all of his room-mates had not yet come home. Suckers, he thought. Slogging away at their Food Services jobs and assignments and research assistantships. Three months into the US, he had failed to get any funding or job of any sort. He wasn’t too bothered. It will all fall in place one day, he thought, cracking up at another “burn” by Ashton Kutcher.

A commercial. His eyes wandered to the calendar of Laxmi Jewelers that one of his room-mates’ mother had lovingly given. 31st October, he mumbled. He made a mental note to pay his apartment rent and credit card bills. There was a knock on the door. He got up, distributing the chip crumbs resting on his paunch evenly on the floor. He looked through the keyhole but saw no one. Strange, he thought. Hesitantly, he opened the door. Standing in front with a stupid gloating smile was a small girl of seven. Weirdly dressed, he thought. A crown on her head, a shiny pink frock and a wand with a star at the end. Wow, she is dressed like a fairy Godmother from Rapunzel. Or was it Jack and the Beanstalk? He wasn’t sure. He made another mental note to go and google it up. Back to order, he thought. He morphed his forehead to reveal a questioning look. The girl said, “Trick or treat” and held a bowl upto him. Perplexed, he looked at it. Full of chocolates. How nice, he thought. He smiled, and reached inside the apartment to place the remote. His hand freed, he did the one right thing that came to his mind. Sweet kid. I must not break her heart. After all, the day comes only once a year, he thought. What a fine country. The kids here celebrate the day just like we did in India. And people say the worst things possible about this place. He bent down and gave her the best smile he had. His hand outstretched, he took a chocolate from the bowl and said, “Happy Birthday”

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Wrap Around

Is it a fallacy to subsribe to a Blind
Faith in the strokes of the Smiling
Assassin who waits with patience for the Living
Daylights to go down and paints a Tequila
Sunrise on a multihued sky like a Picture
Perfect ending to a long Tongue
Twisting phrase that speaks of a golden morning?

This is a bizarre quick attempt at wordplay. For those who may not have a clue as to what I tried here, I have basically woven a sentence/poem/question around two worded phrases that immediately came to my mind (for eg. blind faith) such that the first word and the second word are split across lines. Read by themselves, each of them could be a sentence, give or take some correct punctuations. Something is better than nothing, especially when it comes to blog posts.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

And the story goes on

My attempt at the story-building tag after being tagged by RS. I don't have much by way of contribution. Have set it up for the next set of people. I have to confess I participated in this simply because I really liked the idea. So here's the idea. The first few blocks below are part of a thread that came to me. I am simply continuing the story below. There are details on the rules. I am tagging RTD2, SD and Ragini

He thought it would be an ordinary journey. Standing behind the pillar he watched the train snort arrogantly into the station. With each snort he was reminded of his grandfather's words "You will fail in the city and return penniless"; with every heavenward whistle, he heard his cousin, "Don't worry. Come here and I will get you a job at the construction site." Now he had a 34-hour journey to prove one of them wrong, and he expected the excitement at the end of the journey. He looked at his ticket once again: compartment S9 berth 23.

Pushing his luggage under the seat, he sat close to the window. "Papa, when will you be back?" - his four year old daughter Munni asked innocently. He stared into those soft brown eyes of the motherless kid. He held her frail palms in his, through the window. "Munni, Papa will get you a nice gudiya from the city..Say tata," his sister spoke to the kid, to avoid an emotional outburst. In a minute, the train pulled forward, and Munni's little fingers parted from between his. "I need to go..", he thought, "I have to, at least for Munni's sake.."

The humid summer breeze and the rattling train coaxed him into an uncomfortable state of drowsy consciousness. He dreamt that Munni ran away, the closer he ran to her, the farther she was, like a mirage. He woke up with a start and squinted at his watch.
"What is the time please?"
A smallish woman, a meek voice as if she was scared that her existence would annoy someone. Her only noticeable feature was her rather large, expressive eyes.

Something made him look at the woman again. He had stopped noticing women long back. Ever since Meenakshi passed away...

Four long years. His daughter’s birth. His wife’s death. Joy and sorrow in an instant. A heady cocktail. He had hardly recovered from it. He barely had a chance to. You can’t be a poor farmer in Andhra Pradesh and have time for emotional upheavals.

Life betrayed him once with the death of his wife. Life betrayed him again, three years in a row, with the failure of his crops. Every year, the debt increased and it felt like a noose tighten around him. Tightened till he could not breathe. He shivered with the memory of the night, where he took a bottle of poison in his hand …

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------(Everything below the dashed line above should be copied and pasted with every accepted tag)

This is a Story Tree and is best nurtured as follows:
1. A blogger can add only 90-100 words (not more or less) at a time
2. All previous snippets of 90-100 words need to be copied before the new set of 90-100 words are appended.
3. Each entire snippet should be linked to the respective author (and not just the first sentence or so)
4. Characters, scenes, etc. can be introduced by an author
5. Bizarre twists, sci-fi, fantasy sequences are best avoided.
6. A tag must be accepted within 7 days else the branch is a dead branch
7. After appending 90-100, the Story Tree can be passed on to at most 3 bloggers.
8. If more than 1 branch leads to a blogger, s/he is free to choose any one of them but cannot mix the snippets of the individual branches.
9. The Story Tree is best left to grow than concluded10. Please attach the image of the Story Tree below with each accepted tag (the link address can be copied and used).

Monday, October 17, 2005

Cultural Bhel-Puri

"Cultures aren't better or worse, they are just different". I remember hearing this oft-used quote by our advisor from international students services at Texas A&M. I have often thought about it. They may not be better or worse, but they are certainly layered one above the other for each individual. For example. An third-generation Italian based in New York is a New Yorker first, an American second, and Italian a distant third. A second-generation Indian kid is perhaps layered like a Cassata ice-cream (now, that's a comparison :-)) You have the Indianness sandwiched in parallel between Americanization and early adulthood. I am post-Emergency era Indian who wears his Indianness on his sleeve even as he tries the American life with kid gloves. What's your layering like? Think about it.

Speaking of multi-cultural influences, there were two polarly opposite experiences over the weekend that impressed me. One is watching Chinese and Americans playing dandia. The Gujarati community (especially on the east coast) has assimilated into the American mainstream (not just the upper middle class) like none other (yes, including Punjabis and South Indians, of all kinds), so it is nice to see the compliment being returned. I have super-impressed with the American dude even doing the complex garba moves. Way to go! On the flip-side, they ended the dandiya session with bhangda. Now, I like Punju beats (Daler Mehndi et. al) and I think that no other form of Indian music has yet seen that kind of proliferation into foreign music streams. Yet. Garba-Dandiya followed by Bhangda? Not a great mix. Come to think of it, even the garbas reflect less of the essence of Gujarati culture. Garbas are time-tested celebrations of poetry and music. But it is the dandiya that is more popular, what with Falguni Pathak's rendition of songs such as 'Pare hat soniye sadi rail gaddi aayi'. Oh no, another Punjabi song :-)

Yesterday, I had a completely contrasting music experience. The event was a concert of choral music played by the Esoterics. It was titled Iman (or Faith) and was inspired by Islam and Islamic culture. This was one in a series of such works that the group has rendered. There was one on Hinduism in the past. Choral music was an altogether new experience for me and it turned out to be a rewarding one. The basic foundations of western classical music are so different from Indian classical music. The basis of Western music is harmonization on the arrangement of notes in different octaves. Indian classical music deals with ragas, where we expand notes based on one musical pattern. Choral music as an art form is pretty powerful because given a group of singers and good instrumentation of the composition and voices, the effect produced can be very powerful and moving. The performance by the Esoterics was really good. The accompaying brochure had the lyrics in Arabic and their corresponding translation in English, which made the concert enjoyable. I look forward to hearing more of their work in the future.

Random thought to end the post. I just came back from a car wash. Wonder if someone will come up with a similar solution for humans someday. Even the laziest guys (and in lesser quantities, girls) would have no excuse to escape shower. That should make some spouses happy.

Friday, October 14, 2005


T'is the season of punny villanious blog titles. Also the season of centuries. I complete 100 posts with this one. This is a funny feeling. This occassion calls for me to say soemthing profound. Here goes. I like blogging but I have to wonder if it is a hobby that I am losing interest in. The frequency of my blogging has decreased, the number of people reading my blogs has decreased and better blogs are popping up all over the place that make me feel like I should be in the audience. Don't worry. I am only half-joking. At least about the last part. Yes, I read extensively. But no, I wouldn't stop writing because someone writes more enjoyable matter. Reinvention is the name of the game. Perhaps I need to write in Hindi as suggested (I wonder if I am prepared for the pains of typing) or simply explore other facets of my writing (perhaps about my job, which might just drive the last four five people coming here too). That is the problem with directionless journeys. You are always going in the right direction and always heading the wrong way too.

However, 100 posts are 99 more than the first one and I believe that is a achievement worth celebrating. I have made a conscious efforts to have content in the posts. No one-liners. Real articles, poems, observations, photographs. That makes for a successful experiment for me, given that I wanted to get back in touch with my writing abilities.

I took this chance to go back and read some of my posts and thought I'd list out a few of them. I have not listed my poems or the ghazals I translated in here (I liked them all), but these are some others that I quickly summed up. Feel free to comment/add/delete from the list. The blog may not be of the people, or by the people, but in some measure, is definitely for the people. This is the best I could do in 10 minutes of flipping through the links, so bear with me.

First post:

Some posts that I enjoyed writing:

Popular ones (don't comment on how few these are):

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


No. I am not talking of a Bihari pronounciation of our favorite he-who-must-not-be-named. I am referring to the all-encompassing, rollback-pricing, melting-pottish, China-venturing Walmart. As a graduate student venturing initially into the US, Walmart was a haven for cheap shopping, be it groceries or bicycles. How do they manage it? Well, Walmart caters to the lowest common denominator. They run their business on volume and single-handedly would have wiped out the mom-and-pop stores all across the US. I think their brilliance also lies in the fact that they have everything. I mean, everything. If isn't available in Walmart, you will be hard pressed to find it elsewhere. Last I heard, Walmart is proliferating (?) in China. Can you beat that? The largest consumer market possible (I would imagine bigger than the Indian middle class too) being treated to a chain of stores that can take care of all their needs.

Now to the drawbacks. At the risk of sounding elitist, there is a bottom percentage of the populace (financially) that they cater to. Their quality sucks once you look for it (which you don't necessarily as graduate students). Off late, I have also realised that they aren't very popular among their employees either (hence the evil title). Some material that I came across that don't necessarily think too highly of Walmart
1. Wal-Mart: The Facts
2. Walmart and Capitalism
3. WakeUpWalmart

Corporations have social responsibilities, especially the large ones. The first one is to treat their employees well. The second is to treat the community well. The third is to look beyond just profits. In our company, there is a streak of philanthrophy that is unmatched on a per-capita basis("evil empire" notwithstanding). Once you inculcate that kind of culture around you, it becomes norm rather than a exception. Perhaps its easy for me to say given the average salary may be four times that of a Walmart employee. But the least they could do is to provide fair working conditions for their workers. Of course, some of these things are being debated in a court of law, and may not be completely true. But there is generally no smoke without fire. Should I stop buying from Walmart? Oh, why not? Its 20 miles away anyway!

P.S> A side note. I have not experienced as much road rage as I have navigating a trolley in the crowded aisles of Walmart. I absolutely hate it when people plonk themselves and their trollies in the middle of the aisle lost in thought about what to buy. Hello, there is barely place for two carts to pass side by side. Can you not move to the side? Then there are those abandoners who just leave their trolleys in between and go on a treasure hunt. Maybe matter for another post, but this is very relevant in the context of Walmart.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Forever Perfect

Punch me, I bleed
Follow me, I mislead
Trust me, I can break your heart
Love me, while I scorn you
Heed me, and my unsound advice
Hold me, watch me leave you alone
Forgive me, I err
Believe in me, as I can’t
Shed tears, on the crystal frame
That sheilds, a happy picture
And remember, with all my faults
I am still perfect
For you

P.S> This is a response to a tag that Curbside Prophet came up with. To pick a word and write a poem that contains it. I asked her for a word and Crystal was what she gave me. Not my best work, but I do believe the usage of the word is not forced. Most people I know have been tagged, so I am not passing it around.