Monday, May 08, 2017

On distractions

The mother is a strong believer in the power of distraction. When the brother and I would start squabbling in the back of a car as kids, she would suddenly say excitedly:
Look at all those trees! Let's count how many we go past!
Why don't we count how many Maruti 800s we pass on the road?!
Quite a few, as it turns out, when you were driving in Delhi in the 1990s. So by the time we got bored of counting, we would have forgotten what we were fighting about, or even that we were fighting at all.

The brother and the sister-in-law visited me this past weekend, and at some point the three of us got into a heated debate over something while waiting for our desi Chinese takeout to be prepared. I can't remember what we were arguing over, but it was quite clear the three of us were not going to agree anytime soon. And suddenly my brother turns to his wife and exclaims:
Look at all those red lights! Let's count them!
His wife stared at him utterly confounded, as I burst out laughing. By the time she understood what her husband had been trying to do, an entirely different argument looked likely to erupt.

Luckily for my brother's life and marriage, our food was pronounced ready at that very opportune moment.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

We may have to prepone that

I can't remember how old I was when this happened, but at some point in my childhood, the father came home and asked me, "Did you know prepone isn't a real word?!" Shock and awe was felt.

Turns out, he was interacting with a Japanese company at the time, and in the pre-Google days, they would take to the Oxford dictionary to make sure they understand every word of English written by the Indians. The word prepone, as it happens, was not listed in the dictionary. It was a perfectly appropriate word Indians had invented, which, in the decades since that conversation with my father has in fact been added to the Oxford Dictionary. Mirriam-Webster, on the other hand, still considers it a word they're "watching." And Blogger's spellcheck clearly doesn't recognise it.


I have an American coworker who has worked in and with too many countries for his own good. He speaks Spanish fluently, and has huge German and Portuguese dictionaries sitting on his desk. He once spent several months in India on a project, and has opinions on several things about India as a result.

He sits close to my desk, and is able to hear a lot of my conversations at work, and observations about them frequently ensue (a favour I equally frequently return). He'll comment on how my voice automatically sounds more Indian if I'm talking to someone from the subcontinent, he'll chuckle at the first hint of a turn of phrase I might use that may not be native to the US (did y'all know "cribbing" is not a word Americans use?! They say grumbling, it seems), he finds it hilarious that Indian Standard Time has "that whole 30 minute thing going on" (so what if his country has half a dozen time zones, and an incomprehensible Daylight Savings thing that some states don't even follow), and he loves to talk about the words Indians have invented. Like prepone.

So this morning, I was on a conference call. I stayed on mute for the most part, but had a 30 second update to provide in the middle. As I finished my update, and went back on mute, he suddenly piped up.
You had the perfect opportunity to use the word prepone and you squandered it!
What? What did I say?
Didn't you just say you may have to move up something?
Yes, but...
Why would you not say prepone? This was the perfect time to use it and spread the use of the word!
I didn't think of...
You're becoming too American in the way you speak, that's what the problem is.
*gasp* I am not!
Maybe I am, y'all. This is very sad.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

On brooding

I have nothing to say these days.

Well, I have a lot to say, but nothing I want to put to paper - or more accurately, to the interwebs. Things are currently a bit of a shitshow personally, professionally, and in the politics I follow in two countries, and let's face it, that is pretty much the trifecta of things I tend to write about.

I suppose I could write about how I've suddenly gone from not knowing how to listen to podcasts, to listening to more than half a dozen, over the course of six months. Or I could tell you how someone I love very dearly recently told me that I "choose to build a gender bias in [my] lens," and that it's "time [I] grew out of it." Or I could finally put out that list of pet peeves that's been sitting and growing in my drafts folder for a while now.

But I'm choosing to just brood instead.

So I have nothing to say these days.

And that deserves a blog post all by itself.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Movie watching thoughts: Beauty and the Beast

I wasn't really having any thoughts while watching Beauty and the Beast last weekend. It was late, part of me couldn't believe I wanted to see this movie since the original barely made a blip on my consciousness (apart from Celine Dion's voice), and all I was really thinking was, oh hey, two movies in one month.

But then Belle tried to escape from the castle, and the thoughts started tumbling out. Usual spoiler alert disclaimer, etc.
  • Mainly, I was thinking, if the horse stayed with Belle at the castle (since she had him both when she tried to escape, and when she actually did leave to go back to the village), how did Maurice get back to the village the first time, after he was let go?
  • How is it possible that as Tale as old as time started, I suddenly remembered every word, and was able to sing along?
  • I really don't remember much of the original movie, but... was Shakespeare around in it? Or guns?
  • That little squeal of delight Belle gives when she's left alone in the library is everything.
  • Dan Stevens was kind of redundant in the movie, no? I mean, literally anyone could have played him for most of it, and the 2.5 scenes it's actually him were so... blah.
  • Although that's not completely fair. He was pretty good in the rest of the movie. The scene where he's getting ready for the dance and ranting about how he just blurted out asking her to a dance was quite cute.
  • All that brouhaha over "OMG first gay characters in Disney movies! This is sacrilege!" for... that? 
  • Oh, Belle is an inventor in this version of the movie. That's cool, I guess. Did we actually see any of that other than the laundry trick, and her knowing what tool her father needed before he asked for it?
  • I couldn't understand the passage of time in the movie. I always thought the curse was one of those that lasts centuries, and time stands still, and no one ages etc. But if the staff at the castle had family in the village, then the curse couldn't have lasted that long? So how long was it, really?
  • I definitely couldn't understand the enchantress' deal. She lived in the village, and no one liked her? She suddenly randomly shows up in two scenes, but without explanation or anything? Meh.
  • Did we really need that reaction from Cogsworth to the woman who comes and hugs him at the end, who I assume is his wife? I mean, she was mean throughout the movie, but really? The Beast gets a sad backstory for being heartless etc., but she was just mean, period? It kinda, sorta annoyed me.
  • Part of me continues to be as big a fan of Celine Dion as I was back in my teens. Which is why, even though Ariana Grande and John Legend do a perfectly competent job of reprising Tale as Old as Time, they really don't come close to the original version by Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson. And I did make my cousin stay back for the credits so I could listen to How does a moment last forever.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Movie watching thoughts: Lion

I finally saw Lion last night, which brings the number of movies nominated for an Oscar this year that I have seen up to two (well, five if you count Fantastic Beasts and the two animated movies). Which is still higher than my score in most years.

The only other movies I've seen this year are Dangal and Hidden Figures, and since I never quite got around to writing the post I wanted to write about those two, here are, in no particular order, my thoughts on Lion.** There may or may not be spoilers. So y'know, proceed with caution etc.

  • The first 45 minutes of the movie are heartbreaking. There is no other word for it. I have so much more I want to say and think through about that part of the movie, but I don't know how to put any of it into words.
  • Sunny Pawar is the most adorable kid I've seen in a movie in a very long time. I wanted to just grab him up in a hug, and I don't even like kids for the most part.
  • How gorgeous were even the glimpses of the countryside from the train windows? And @dailyoverview should post practically every overhead shot of India.
  • Even the more sinister parts of Kolkata are so beautiful.
  • I miss trains. I miss trains in India. I miss India.
  • It's mark of how cynical I've become that as soon as Noor and Saroo started talking, my first thought was, why is she being so nice to him?
  • When I saw the names of Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Deepti Naval pop up in the credits at the beginning of the movie, I sorta expected them to show up for longer than a scene each.
  • Was I the only one who didn't get the logic behind Saroo's adoption? Mrs. Sood told him she wanted to ensure no child who shouldn't be in the orphanage is there. Saroo has a family somewhere, they can't find his family, so they found him a new family? Shouldn't the effort to find a new family be focused on children who have no family at all? Not that Saroo shouldn't have been considered (for lack of a better word) too, but the way that conversation played out just seemed weird.
  • Was there a heartbreaking line than "aapne sachi meri ammi ko dhoonda?"
  • All the families I know who have adopted children from a different country have travelled to that country. So it seemed a little strange that the Brierleys didn't.
  • Speaking of which, the woman who escorted first Saroo, and then Mantosh, to Australia - is that a full time job for some people?
  • What was going on with Dev Patel's hair during the second half of the movie? I was alternating between being horrified, fascinated and jealous of those curls.
  • I wish we could have seen more of Mantosh's backstory and life in general.
  • I have now seen two or three movies with Rooney Mara in them, and I still don't recognise her if I happen to see her in a photo or anything.
  • Those were not jalebis in Saroo's friend's kitchen, you guys (was she given a name?). Those were amritis (or imartis).
  • Speaking of jalebis, I fully expected Saroo to stop and buy some when he walked through that market area on his return to Khandwa.
  • This is probably my urban dweller privilege speaking, but is it really possible that Ganesh Talai had not changed at all in 25 years? 
  • The friend I was talking to at lunch today about the movie expressed amazement that I did not break down crying in the first half of the movie. Given my track record, I was actually equally amazed. I will freely admit that I did break down during the reunion scene at the end.
  • I will also admit to gasping out loud when I read about what happened to Guddu.
  • I did not see the twist about Saroo's name coming. I remember thinking it was weird that his biological mother was saying it wrong in the reunion scene, and then going "huh" when it was revealed that his name was actually... Sheru.
**Man, I write long sentences. I need a Toby Ziegler in my life.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Avoidance mode

I've gone into avoidance mode on the internet. I'm on twitter these days mainly for the puppy photos (and the Twitter app is very nice about always showing those to me at the top of the "In case you missed it" section), or to complain about the nonstop work travel I've been doing since the beginning of the year, or just whine about life in general.

In real life, however, the debates and the discussions continue. When you live in Texas, you really can't get away from them. It helps that my immediate work team has views similar to me - at least overtly. But there are some who clam up when some of these topics come up, and you know they quite possibly disagree with you.

Then there are those - some coworkers, some former classmates - who are more inclined to share their views, and you listen to them, and you try to see their point of view, and you do your best to not roll your eyes in front of them, or jump in with explanations on how they're wrong to feel the way they do.

Because a, who are you to say you're right and they're wrong (even though you are and they kinda, sorta are), and b, you didn't have a vote in this election, and they did. Sure, they wasted their vote by writing in names, instead of taking a stand, but they had a vote.

I think the people who infuriate me the most are those who tell me they take the stand they do because they believe in conservative fiscal policies, and "don't really care about the social stuff". Which is the exact opposite of the way I see things. I mean, sure, part of that is because most things related to the economy go over my head, but GAH. Because these are also the people telling me they agree with "one or two things" Trump has said/done, but of course he's crazy/scary.

It also annoys me that I'm usually so flabbergasted by this last line that I always, always forget to ask what they actually agree with.

So yeah, I'm avoiding the online world for the most part. I'm listening to podcasts instead, and watching a lot of late night TV, because at least there, I'm shown some way to laugh at all the craziness.


Thursday, January 05, 2017

The year in recap: 2016

If the theme for 2015 was primarily the brother’s wedding, 2016 was simply about travel. And a whole lot of investment in the US elections. That’s really it.
The professional life was good, but the question of what’s next is beginning to rear its ugly head. The personal life was pretty even-keeled. Time was spent with family, some time was spent with friends back home. Some friends who I hadn’t met in absolutely ages were caught up with. Friends here became parents, which changes the tone of your social life quite dramatically. Two friends informed me within a month of each other that they were getting divorces. Did I say even-keeled?
Oh, well.

1. What did you do in 2016 that you’d never done before?
Went on a vacation that was longer than a weekend, and wasn’t with or to family. And only when I was packing for this trip did it occur to me that in three decades, I had never actually done this.

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Some, yes. Some, partially. Some, no.
I haven’t actually put into words any intentions for 2017, but I probably should at some point.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Hah. Yes. We went 3 for 3 on this one. My social circle these days consists almost entirely of new mothers.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

5. What places did you visit?
Ooh. My favourite question every year.
SF (twice), LA, Las Vegas, Boston (thrice), Missisipi, San Antonio (twice, thrice if you count 20 miutes of transit time at the airport), Asheville, Portland (OR), Alabama, WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER (Orlando), Austin.
Colombia, Japan, England.
Delhi and Kolkata.
This was a fantastic year, travel-wise.

6. What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2016?
Career progression.

7. What date from 2016 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
But the most depressing day of the year? November 8.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Meh. The amount of travel I managed to pack in?

9. What was your biggest failure?
I gained back all the weight I had lost in 2015. Seriously. Someone throw a rock at me.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
I had a really bad attack of the viral in July, and knicked myself on old rusted metal in October (which also meant I had to get a tetanus booster). Otherwise, no.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Bought some furniture this year that I had been thinking about for a while… that, I guess?

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and/or depressed?
Umm, did you track any of the US election cycle?

14. Where did most of your money go?
Travel. Apartment stuff – only half of which was needed, really.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
I had goosebumps the day Hillary Clinton accepted the Democratic nomination.

16. What song will always remind you of 2016?
Uh… Fight song?

17. Compared to this time last year, are you happier or sadder?
A bit of both, I think. It’s been a pretty even-keeled year.

18. Thinner or fatter?
Fatter. See #9.

19. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Saved money.

20. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Spent money.

21. How will you be spending Christmas?
I had a very nice introverted weekend of not doing anything, and catching up on Shonda Rhimes’ shows, thank you very much.

22. Did you fall in love in 2016?
Does Seth Meyers count?

23. How many one-night stands?
My mother reads this blog, people.

24. What was your favourite TV programme?
The Good Place and This is Us. I keep watching Designated Survivor because of the twists, but it’s trying too hard.

25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
Surprisingly, no.

26. What was the best book you read?
Considering I read just 7 books that I could actually admit to on Goodreads, I really don’t feel qualified to answer that question.

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Nothing, really. I did however remember how much I love Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy because the Mirzya soundtrack has been played on loop for the last couple of months.

28. What did you want and get?
Both the Japan trip and the Orlando trip were something I’d been wanting to do for ages, and they finally happened.

29. What did you want and not get?
See #6.

30. What was your favourite film of this year?
Kapoor & Sons. Jungle Book.

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
31. my parents were visiting, and we flew to Boston to spend the weekend with the brother. ‘twas nice :)

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
A different result on November 8.

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2016?

34. What kept you sane?
I’m not sure I stayed sane this year, to be honest…

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
See #22

36. What political issue stirred you the most?
See #13

37. Who did you miss?
The gal pals, this year.

38. Who was the best new person you met?
I honestly can’t think of a single person I met in 2016 who could qualify for this.

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2016.
I’m me. I’m an introvert who finds it incredibly hard to be with people, and that’s an issue for some people. But that’s who I am.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
Ik nadi thi, dono kinaare thaam ke behti thi, ik nadi thi…

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Not just me, 'kay?

The day after I posted my little story about business ventures I used to think would be an excellent idea, I woke up to an email from S saying "Ermm I love you but you know you're weird no?" So obviously I need to share more things that continue to validate this sentiment.

One of the more embarrassing things I don't like to admit to people is that in the five years I've lived in Amreeka, I can't always tell, at first glance, if a person is South Asian or Hispanic. I'll see someone, think they're one of the two, and then when they start speaking realise they're the other.


I was once at a restaurant, with a friend who also happens to be from Delhi. There was a family at a nearby table, and when they left, I asked my friend where he thought they were from. He couldn't tell either. So it's not just me.

AnyWAY. So last week, I was on a flight for a quick overnight work trip. I had the window seat, and an elderly Indian couple came and took the seats next to me. I knew they were Indian, because, well, they were speaking to each other in Hindi. I didn't converse with them through the first three-fourths of the flight - the lady next to me slept through most of it, and the only interaction I had with her husband who in the aisle seat was showing him wordlessly how to open the tray table when I noticed he was struggling with it.

Then, as we began to approach the descent to New York, the lady - who had woken up by this point - said something, and I thought she was talking to me, so I took off my earphones and turned to her. Turns out she wasn't actually talking to me but just commenting on how pretty the view of NYC from the window was, but in all of this confusion, she decided to start chatting with me.

And there went the rest of my flight.
Where are you from?
But originally?
Wait, you are Indian?!?
Arre, we thought you are Spanish! We would have chatted with you throughout the flight if we had known!
Erm, okay then.

So anyway, it's not just me, 'kay?

Monday, December 12, 2016

Where we share a few anecdotes about this whole demonetization thing

I was rushing to an offsite meeting, when a news alert popped up on my phone, saying Modiji was about to give a live news conference. I texted the family, in case they wanted to watch. I walked into the meeting room, put my stuff down, and since we were still waiting for one or two people, figured I'll go get myself a cup of tea. As I was walking out of the room, another news alert popped up on my phone, making me gasp out loud, and making everyone in the room to turn and stare at me questioningly. Turned out, Modiji had just announced all 500 and 1000 rupee notes were illegal tender, effective in three hours.

The parents were staying with me in Amreeka at the time. They landed back in Delhi a week after the sky fell on all our heads, and decided they should try and exchange some money at the airport, because who knew what the situation outside would be. When I called them, some 4-5 hours later, thinking they'd be home by then, they were still waiting in queues, because of the four currency exchange counters at Delhi's International Arrivals area, one was open. But what infuriated the father the most? This counter, that was operated by a public sector bank, was giving an exchange rate 10% worse than what the exchange rate actually was.

I landed in Delhi a few days later. Now, I have been a huge fan of credit cards since I started my first job, and realised that using a credit card meant I could a, earn some interest by leaving money in my bank account till it was time to pay my card bill (because Indian banks actually give you some interest), and b, I could earn reward points for all card purchases. So for me, using my credit card wherever I possibly could was a no-brainer for the one week I spent in India. And my parents are also in the incredibly privileged position of being able to decide whether they want to go to Mother Dairy and pay cash, or to the grocery store in the market and pay a little more for milk and vegetables, but be able to pay by card. But that doesn't work everywhere. You still need cash to deal with the autowallas, or the electrician repairing your iron, or the sweets shop you've been having pani puri at for decades.

And there was, quite simply, no cash.

Our neighbourhood market has branches of three different banks, and ATMs of at least another half dozen. On any given day, only one bank would have cash available in their branch and/or ATM. And you knew which one had by cash by seeing the mile long queue that would be outside. We went everyday to check, and only one day did the father manage to withdraw some cash - and only because on that particular day, the bank that had cash had opened a separate senior citizens' line, and he now qualifies for those.

If a bank didn't have cash, they also had no clue when they would have cash. They didn't know when they would receive any.

My parents and I were fortunate enough to be able to choose to use other forms of payment to a large extent. My grandmother? Not so much. She lives alone in Kolkata, and I was able to go see her for a day this time. She hasn't used a bank account in decades, and is almost entirely dependent on the cash her children give her. And so her entire savings suddenly turned worthless, till one of her children could come and swap it out for her. The woman who takes care of her is in an even worse position - she has no bank account, no ID proof to open a bank account, and therefore she has no clue what to do now.

Look, I think it's fairly obvious to anyone who knows me at all, or y'know, reads any of my rants, that I am not, have never been, and never will be a fan of Modiji or the party he belongs to. I was devastated in 2014 when he became PM, but there was also a part of me that wanted to be proven wrong about him, that he would be good for India. Simply because being right wouldn't help anyone, would it now?

When this demonetization thingummy was first announced, I thought it might be a good thing. Black money and corruption is a serious issue in India, and if this was the best way to tackle things, I was all for it. But in the weeks since, talking to people, reading various viewpoints, and quite simply, seeing how this has been implemented is leaving me completely disinclined to believe this will do any long-term good.

I can understand trying to keep this policy shift a secret till you're ready to go, so the people you're after could genuinely be taken unaware. And I'm not going to get into whether certain business houses were kept in the loop in the weeks leading up to this, because meh. But how do you not realise just how cash you would need to replace for the the average person trying to lead their lives? And plan for it accordingly? And when you realise you haven't planned things out correctly, is it really that hard to come out and admit you messed up? Instead, we have a PM who refuses to come to Parliament to listen to the Opposition, a Finance Minister who keeps repeating this is how we'll go after black money, and an RBI governor who basically came out and said something to the effect that only dishonest people were facing trouble in this new world. Yes, because every single person in Gurgaon who had no cash because the damn banks have no cash is dishonest. Thanks, you guys.

What's been equally exasperating is the way things keep shifting on you. First they said they'd accept old notes at government run hospitals and petrol pumps till December 15, then they said this only applied to the 500-rupee notes, not the 1000-rupee notes. Then on December 1, they announced this would be only till December 2, not the 15th.

What a complete shit show.

I am told things are marginally better in the week since I came back from India, but not completely. I honestly don't know how long this shortage of cash is going to continue; I do think anyone who thinks it's a matter of weeks, rather than months, is being overly optimistic.

But I would be happy to be wrong about this.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

On audio cassettes and lipsticks

I'm going to say something that I've never admitted to anyone, and I need you to not laugh at this. Seriously.

So when I was a kid, I used to listen to most of my music through audio cassettes, like most Indian kids did in the 90s did. Only, I'd keep dropping them - much like I do with my phone these days - and breaking the cassette covers. SO I used to think that it would be an excellent idea to grow up and start a company that made spare covers for audio cassettes.*

I said don't laugh.

AnyWAY. Can someone do something like this for lipsticks? Various brands, but Revlon in particular? My lipstick covers keep breaking (I can't figure out how), and then I can't carry them in my jeans pockets.


*I also considered jute bags at one point. No idea why. Probably the more lasting idea though.