Friday, May 07, 2021

On a temperamental music player

Like a billion other people on this planet, I've been living a nightmare for close to a month now, waking up every morning in terror, wondering what new names I'll hear today. The weekends have been the hardest, because all I have then is my constant doomscrolling. For the most part, workdays have been easier, because work is a distraction. But yesterday was tougher than usual, and I wrote a whole depressing post about it, and then decided I'm not ready to send it out into the world yet. So it's sitting in my drafts, hoping to see the light of day some months down the line.

So let's talk about something a little more cheerful, 'kay?

We gifted Baba a Bose radio/CD player for his 50th birthday. Well, I say we, but it was Mamma really. And at some point during the past decade that I've been gone, that went kaput, and they bought a new one. Except, as I discovered during my sojourn last year, this new one has a bit of a personality. 

It took me a while to realise that it wasn't my parents turning it on everyday at a very high volume, to a radio channel none of us listen to. It came on randomly everyday at the same time, all by itself, blaring loudly. If the radio happened to be on, and you were listening to a different channel, it would actually switch to whatever that infernal preset channel was. So I decided* to fix it. Since no one knew where the user manual was, I turned to Joi Baba Googlenath, and figured out how to change the alarm settings.

My parents like listening to the English music shows that still come on AIR FM Rainbow** at 12 pm and 6pm, so I went in and set alarms for it to come on everyday at those times, at a far more reasonable volume. Everyone was happy, and I actually won*** Daughter of the Year for a change.

Cut to six months later.

One of my coping mechanisms for the past month has been to have a daily call with the parents, instead of our usual 2-3 times a week. Depending on my meeting schedule (and the father's bridge calendar obvs), I call them either at 8am while making my chai, or at lunch time. And for a few days running, I was getting irritated at how rude they were being, turning on the TV at abnormally loud levels while I'm on the phone with them. 

As it turns out, they were doing no such thing. Their temperamental Bose system took advantage of my departure to change the alarm settings all by itself, and has gone back to turning on at a strange time at a strange volume on a strange channel. And since I'm not there to fix it again, my parents' new approach is to wait till a minute before it comes on, and call out to each other - "the radio's about to come on! go stand near it so you can turn it off!"

Be amused by the little things you guys, because the next time I'm home, I'm going to have to Google how to fix the damn alarm settings all over again.

* Mayyyyyybe less "decided to", and more "was prodded into"
** No, YOU try typing, saying or thinking AIR FM Rainbow without that blessed jingle playing in your head
*** versus just running unopposed

Sunday, April 11, 2021

On lockdown rituals

 A year ago, the world went into lockdown. I was in India, on what was supposed to be a ten day vacation, and what had turned into a two-week quarantine. My flights back had been cancelled, my work had gone remote, and so I had decided to stay back - for what I thought at the time would be a few weeks.

That first month, all of us started doing all these zoom calls, with different groups of friends. We caught up with more people in that one month than we had in a year. Those fizzled out after a while, when we realised this wasn't ending any time soon.

But one sustained, and has continued.

My father used to play bridge with his friends when he was in college. Over the years, he didn't keep up with the game, save during the occasional getaway they did once every few years. A couple of his friends have stayed connected to the game, at varying levels of interest. So at some point during those early zoom calls, someone suggested hey, why don't we all start playing bridge online?

So this group of 60-something men, all with varying levels of comfort with technology, sitting in different countries and continents, started playing bridge online. Four times a week, without fail. 

My mother and I watched, first with amusement, then with some consternation, as our daily schedules began to revolve around his bridge calendar. Meals, shows being binged, evening walks or drives, calls with the brother and SIL - they were all planned so that the bridge was not impacted.

A few months later, he discovered that another friend has a whole other group of online bridge players, and he asked to get in on that. So suddenly, he was playing every day, and was beginning to juggle these two groups of fellow players. The mother meanwhile started texting with the wives of his college gang, with debate over whether an intervention was required as yet.

It got to the point where we ended up creating a shared Google calendar, the parents and I. He faithfully goes in every week and enters his upcoming games, and we have continued planning everything else around them. Even now, being back in the US for three months, while my parents and I do try and do a call a few times a week while I'm having breakfast and they're having dinner, I check the calendar before calling him, because God forbid I call in the middle of a game.

With his college gang, a fair amount of drama has taken place of the past year of bridge. They started by having video chat on at the same time, which some people found very distracting, tried doing just audio calls for a while (some people didn't like that either), and now just do text chat apparently. Some people in his college gang seem to be a problem child, and are a source of great personal amusement to me, because they very much remind me of certain problem children the gal pals and I have had to deal with in our own time.

The father, being a diplomatic sort of chap, will never overtly bad mouth this person, even to me. But he lets drop enough hints for us to catch on when things are more cray cray than usual. I understand there was a huge brouhaha between this problem child and another friend a few weeks ago, bigger and more dramatic than usual, leading to friend leaving the group I think? And said friend has refused to play with problem child anymore, so I think they have now split into two groups, and alternate between the two who had a fight?

This morning, they called me while I was making my chai and toast, and they were prepping dinner. And the conversation began like this:

"Your gift arrived! Trust you to think of this!"

"Hain? I haven't ordered my gift yet?"

"Then who sent him this book on Bridge?"

Apparently someone has sent him a gift for his upcoming birthday, but we don't know who. So that's a puzzle we have to solve. 

For the next hour, we ate, we chatted, I rolled my eyes only a couple of times. After a while, I started hinting that we should end the call. 

"Why, are we boring you? Do you have things to do? What time is it? Oh GOSH, it's 8.30! I have bridge in half an hour! Ok bye!"

Monday, January 04, 2021

If ever there was a year to review...

The last time I did my annual flashback post, it was because Friend of the Blog Who Now Goes By a New Name I Cannot Remember had texted me on Jan 2 to ask me about it. 2020 was the kind of year where she texted me about it on December 12. 

In hindsight, not doing this post for 2019, which by my standards, was a very eventful year, but doing it for the batshit craziness that was 2020 seems in keeping with both the batshit craziness of 2020 and the complete erraticness of this blog in general. Ergo, drumroll...

1. What did you do in 2020 that you’d never done before?

I mean, where does one begin? Attended weddings and funerals virtually? Collected unemployment? Lived through a pandemic? Did not see anyone other than my parents for nearly two months (or was it three)? Made apple cider from scratch?

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I honestly don't remember if I made any last year. Of the ones I make almost every year - I did cook more, and I actually did cook more Bengali food this year. Which is to say I made four Bengali dishes, one of which I was asked to make a few more times.

Technically I wrote about the same amount I did in 2019, but most of it was on yet another blog I started, meant to be more journal-ly, and which (shocker) I didn't follow through with after less then two months.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?


4. Did anyone close to you die?


5. What places did you visit?


An overnight work trip to NYC. Then in March, the Doha and Delhi airports, two days in Kolkata, and then ten months in Gurugram.

6. What would you like to have in 2021 that you lacked in 2020?


7. What date from 2020 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

The week of March 7-13 March is pretty well etched in my brain, since it's when both the world and things in my life began to explode. As is May 25.

November 7 was pretty memorable too.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Getting through ten months of living with my parents without them killing me for being a brat.

9. What was your biggest failure?

Turning into a brat once it was clear I was back in my parents' home for the foreseeable future.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Well I had a bad fever as soon as I landed in India which led to me being quarantined for a week just in case it was anything more than just a fever. 

And then I burned my arm the day after the US elections, which was fun too.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

Listen, most of my purchases this year have been clothes so that I had things to wear beyond the ten days' worth of clothes I had brought with me.

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?

Allow me to be cheesy here and say all the frontline workers across the world who are goddamn heroes. And I absolutely include all delivery folks in that category.

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and/or depressed?

I mean, I'm so sick of the two political parties that are currently governing the two countries I call home that my answer to this question almost never changes.

14. Where did most of your money go?

Well, I was furloughed for six months this year, so it's more a question of not having much money to begin with.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

The original agenda for my March visit was pretty damn exciting, none of which happened obvs.

16. What song will always remind you of 2020?

I can't think of anything.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you happier or sadder?

I honestly don't know. It's been a tough year, but it could have been so much worse. So neither, really, I think.

Whenever I have felt like things are getting too much, I've almost immediately also felt a tremendous amount of guilt. So many others had had it so much worse that whining about the relatively minor annoyances has made me just feel guilty.

18. Thinner or fatter?

Thinner. Turns out having ghar ka khana regularly, made from scratch instead of from canned or frozen goods, is good for you?

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

Improved my mind. Written.

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

Bickered. Been a brat.

21. How will you be spending Christmas?

I spent it wearing red nail polish and my Christmas earrings, sulking because I couldn't do any of my usual Christmas food and drink traditions, and drinking spiced apple cider that I made from scratch.

22. Did you fall in love in 2020?

We were in a freaking pandemic, you guys.

23. How many one-night stands?

See #22 above.

24. What was your favourite TV programme?

Technically I watched most of Schitt's Creek in 2019, but I didn't do this post last year, and I watched Season 6 in 2020, so I'm going to include this. 

Both seasons of Dead to Me were fantastic, as was Criminal (UK). I also finally got around to watching Made in Heaven, and absolutely loved it. 

Avenue 5 and Season 1 of Miracle Workers were also really funny.

25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

You know, surprisingly, I don't think so.

26. What was the best book you read?

I think I read, like, five books that weren't Nora Roberts or Lucy Parker or the Bridgerton books which were sent to me the day after Christmas and which I spent the last week of the year going through (and liked more than the show, even though the show was hilariously delicious).

AnyWAY, among those five books were the first two books by Gytha Lodge, which I raced through in less than a week, and ended up pre-ordering the third book due out this year as well.

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?

Somehow, I had only ever seen one video from the A R Rahman concert that Berklee College put on in 2014. The entire playlist was discovered somewhere at the beginning of lockdown, and I spent more than a month constantly playing it on loop.

28. What did you want and get?

Usually, my mental answer to #29 is more time in India, more time with family. That certainly happened in 2020!

29. What did you want and not get?

I dunno, freedom of movement?

30. What was your favourite film of this year?

The one good thing about 2020 is that I actually watched movies that weren't MCU releases. And so there were a lot of favourites. 

Just Mercy.

Bareilly ki Barfi (I know, I know, but I just hadn't gotten around to it)

Chintu ka Birthday. Axone. House Arrest. Choked. Raat Akeli Hain. Gunjan Saxena.


But I think Ludo and Cargo were really my top two of the year.

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I spent it in quarantine, in my old bedroom, getting to see no one other than my poor dad who had to put up with my whininess.

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Not getting furloughed. Being able to drive, even if I wasn't going anywhere.

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2020?

Go to --> find cheapest items that fit my criteria and can be returned if they don't fit --> buy

34. What kept you sane?

Knowing that if anything did happen to my family through this pandemic, I was here, with them.

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

Huge crush was developed on Varun Grover in early 2020. Pretty sure some friends muted my texts because of this.

36. What political issue stirred you the most?

December 2019/Spring of 2020 was spent fuming over the CAA in India. Summer and fall were spent obsessing over the US elections.

37. Who did you miss?

I was with the people I'm usually missing =)

38. Who was the best new person you met?

Did I even meet anyone new?

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2020.

I think this year really clarified the people who are important to me, and who I'm important to. Keeping in touch during a pandemic does that, I think

I've really, really gotten used to living alone.

All I really need in life is a couch, Wifi, and an Android device.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

Is there a song that can sum up 2020?

Thursday, May 28, 2020

What do you say? - Part 2

Several years ago, I had written about how uncomfortable I get with having offer condolences to people who have lost someone. My point back then was that me telling someone how sorry I am for their loss is invariably about me, not them.

My grandmother died four days ago. We had known this was coming, we're all so relieved her suffering is at an end, and we're all grieving. And in the midst of Lockdown 4.0, we're grieving from a distance, since we can't travel to Kolkata to participate in the rituals that come with the death of a loved one.

All week, my mother has been on the phone - informing relatives, talking to her brother and sister-in-law about what rituals we have to carry out, and receiving condolences from sundry friends and family. And invariably, as I hear her have these conversations, it seems to me like she ends up consoling the other person more than the other way around.

It's easier for me - my friends all know me well enough not to call. I texted some friends about the news, and they all texted back, asking me to call or tell them if I feel like talking. I haven't, because I don't know what to say, and they get that. But my mother, who is much nicer than me, picks up the phone, or returns calls that she hasn't been able to pick up, and talks to each and every person who wants to tell her how sorry they are for her loss. 

And I don't know how she does it.

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

Where I wonder about symbols

It's been a very difficult few months, with everything going on in India. Of the nine years since I've moved away, the distance has never felt greater than it has since December. I've started and stopped writing a number of rambling posts since then, and even the ones I've completed are still sitting in my drafts, because it hasn't felt right to publish them. But I overheard a conversation yesterday that intrigued me, and prompted this set of ramblings.

The first anti-CAA protest I went to was on a freezing morning last December, in front of the Indian Embassy. It had been organized pretty much overnight, in response to the early violence that had taken place in Jamia Milia. Maybe 20-30 people had shown up, heard a few speeches, chanted a few chants, and rolled our eyes at the embassy officials peering at us through the curtains. One of the moments that has stayed with me from that cold (very cold, and I'd forgotten my gloves) was a gentleman who was wearing a black overcoat and a saffron scarf, who spoke of reclaiming the saffron - why should this colour become associated with a movement so filled with hate and bigotry? It's a colour with beauty, with meaning far more than what it has become now, and so he was reclaiming it.

I was back at the same spot yesterday evening for another protest; fifty or so people had shown up this time. This time, as it happened, I was wearing a saffron-ish scarf, which I realised much later. But there was a conversation that took place that I overheard, and wanted to think through.

The protest was pretty much over, but most people were still there, and the crowd was trying* to sing Hum kaagaz nahi dikayenge and Hum honge kamyaab. Then someone suggested singing the national anthem. And there was immediate push back - if you sing the national anthem in front of the embassy, it'll seem like we're singing in praise of the government. And the same gentleman from last time asked why that should matter. Why should we, as Indians, give up singing a song that means something to us, because it's been turned into a symbol by those who stand for hate?

One of the most traumatic videos from the past week - and there have been so many - is the one of a group of boys, beaten, bleeding, being forced to sing the national anthem. By cops. One of them has now died I believe. Unsurprisingly, there has been no action taken against the cops who did this.

I still stand for the Indian national anthem when I hear it. I stand if I'm in a crowd, in a movie theater**, or if I'm alone in my living room watching a cricket match or the Republic Day parade. One of the most beautiful sounds in the world is 52 seconds*** of listening to a full stadium sing the anthem.

And just because the notions of what counts for nationalism and anti-nationalism no longer has anything to do with patriotism or actual love for your country shouldn't mean we give up singing this song that still means a lot to many of us.

A lot of us who have spent the last several months alternating between rage and despair are in those states because of our love for India, and because of what people are doing to India in the name of nationalism. And it's a pity when we have to stop and think about whether singing the national anthem, or showing any symbol of love or pride for our country, our religion, our culture, feels wrong because of what they've been turned into by those we're opposed to.

I don't know how the conversation yesterday ended, because I left soon after. But I hope they ended up singing the national anthem.

*I say trying because tbh you guys, these weren't the best renditions I've heard. Points to us for trying though?

**I stand, but I do absolutely think forcing people to stand for the anthem before a movie, especially when they're navigating holding popcorn and drinks is one of the stupidest ideas in the world.

***I also just remembered that I ranted 13 years ago about how they created a much longer version of the anthem and I did not like it at all. I stand by my position.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

On the fear of loss

If I think about my favourite Bollywood movies from the last several years, there are two that stand out - Piku and Kapoor & Sons.

I've only watched Kapoor & Sons once, in the theatre, with friends. And I'm fairly certain I sobbed through a good chunk of the second half. I've never gone back to watch it a second time, for some reason, despite loving it so much. I've watched clips a few times, and it's on my watchlist on Amazon, but I've never gone back to it.

Piku, on the other hand, I watch at least twice a year, if not more. Once, when I need something playing on Netflix as I potter around the apartment, at least once when my parents come to visit and we can't agree on anything else to watch together, and potentially again, a day or two later so my mother can see the second half because she fell asleep halfway through the previous time.

There's a scene in Kapoor and Sons where one of the protagonists sulkily tells his brother that their parents have always loved him more, seen him as perfect, while he himself can do ever do anything right in their eyes. His brother tells him not to be silly, all parents love their children equally. This line is followed by a beat of silence where the two look at each other, and both burst out laughing, because you know that's just not true.

There's a scene in Piku where a get together of family and friends is taking place, to honour a woman who dies before the movie begins. The protagonist places a bottle of ghee on the table, Jharna ghee to be precise. The first time I saw this movie, the week after it released, in a theatre full of Bengalis who had all flocked to take advantage of the 50% discount offered by that theatre for Indian movies on Wednesdays, the lady in front of me and I simultaneously exclaimed out loud during this scene, "Jharna ghee!"

There's another scene in Kapoor & Sons that is described far more eloquently by Raja Sen in his review of the movie - the family drama that goes on while in the backdrop a plumber works diligently to try and fix the pipes. [UPDATE: Shakun Batra, the director of the movie, did this delightful video that was shared with me after I published this post, on how this scene was constructed.]

Years ago, when my parents were building their first home, they would... disagree on how certain things should look. It took them a while to realize that when the contractor would excuse himself for a cigarette break every few minutes he would time it just when he could sense a storm brewing, and would step out so my parents could come to a decision before he returned.

The protagonist of Piku spends half the movie yelling at her father, out of sheer concern and exasperation at his behaviour. But minutes after squabbling with him, she laughs and starts singing a Bengali song with him.

A while ago, when my parents were visiting, we were driving home one evening, and my mother was munching on the snacks I keep in the car for my evening commute. I found myself turning to her at one point, and saying exasperatedly, "Will you stop eating so much? You won't be able to eat dinner if you snack so much now."

After watching Piku, as we walked out of the theatre, I was commenting that almost every character in the movie reminded me of someone I know. There are pieces of people I know and love in almost every character in the movie. A friend, who at the time was months away from his wedding, to a Bengali girl, sheepishly admitted his future father-in-law was quite similar to the father in the movie.

Both Kapoor & Sons and Piku struck chords with me, more than any other movies in recent years that I can think of. There are daily lives and tiny anecdotes that shine through these movies and remind me of episodes from my family in the past. There are moments that make you smile, then sniffle, and then potentially start sobbing your heart out, but only because you know someone who's gone through something similar.

And both movies showcase the fear, and the reality, of losing a parent.

This is one of those posts that has been sitting in my Drafts for a few years now. Every few months, I pull it open, reread it, tweak it a bit, save it, and then close it again.

When I first started writing this, a couple of articles had gone viral on my timeline. Rohit Brijnath had written a heart wrenching piece on parents' mortality, and the constant fear those of us who live a world away from our parents learn to live with. And then Jai Arjun Singh had responded with a piece that reminded me it's not that much easier to watch it happen in front of you, either.

A few weeks ago, someone shared a website called See Your Folks, that asks you to enter your parents' ages, and how often you see them a year. It then throws up a stark number on just how many times you have left in this lifetime to see them. I may or may not reacted somewhat... emotionally to this site, and ended up doing a bit of a twitter rant about it.

The last tweet in that rant was posted almost four hours later, after a two hour marathon call with the parents. They weren't told about this site, but given at least one of them stalks me on Twitter and follows this blog, it's possible she knew, or will know when she wakes up in a few hours.

(Chill, Ma, I'm not stressing. I'm just rambling. And trying to distract myself from these impeachment hearings I've been watching for the past week (and mayyyybe from some of the daughterly stress I've felt after the last couple of This is Us episodes).)

But to end this post on a sufficiently emotional note, here are two songs I had on loop after I spiraled about that stoopid site, for your listening pleasure.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

On getting emotionally invested in the job

I started a new job just over six months ago. And it's a great job - it's still in the space I'm passionate about, adjacent to what I used to do and loved doing, but different enough that I'm learning and getting to do entirely new things, in a new but adjacent industry.

But when you change jobs after five years, turns out it's a lot weirder than I had expected. By the time I left my previous job, I was pretty much the historian of the team. I knew how everything worked, I knew why things worked the way they did, I knew why certain decisions had been taken, and I knew my products inside out - especially since I launched some of them during my time there. In this job, I had to learn everything from scratch - the products, the company, the industry, the history and context, and even the mundane, like how the blessed printers work*.

My new coworkers have been incredibly patient though, and I suppose it helped that my boss and my boss's boss both joined within the last year too. I was told early on to be patient with myself, and to expect it to take six months to ramp up. And I had known coming into this role that it was going to be a somewhat ambiguous role, given that it didn't exist before I came in. But even though I was getting positive feedback, I still found myself getting antsy by the three-month mark - that I wasn't doing enough, or that I didn't know enough.

The other thing that was bothering me was that I didn't feel emotionally invested enough in the job, which is something I've always needed in a job, or even project, to be any good at it. I was still paying more attention to news from my old industry. I was still smiling at call outs to my old products, not my new team's products. And I was having major FOMO when I heard my team mates talk about their projects - because they do what I used to do, and I miss those specific types of projects sometimes.

But most of all, I was not getting worked up about anything to do with the job. I wasn't rolling my eyes at anything. I wasn't having to grin sheepishly because people could look at my face and know what I was thinking, because I wasn't thinking anything mean about anyone.

In short, I was stressing about not stressing about my job.

I whined about this to a couple of people - my father just laughed, and my friend D politely asked if this could be a sign of maturity. I laughed at her question, because really, have you met me?

And then, about a month ago, I realised I was feeling more confident about what I was doing. I was speaking up more. I was responding to questions more easily. And then came the flipping of the switch - I was on a conference call with someone I have most definitely formed opinions about, and I realised I was rolling my eyes as this person was speaking.

And let's just say the eye rolling has not stopped since. And I was in a meeting earlier this week, where someone said something, I nodded and said "you bet", and they looked at my face and burst out laughing. So I think the facial expressions have started as well.

And so, while I'm not entirely sure I'm still fully ramped up or emotionally invested, I know I'm getting there. And I think I'm going to continue to live up to my reputation of being a champion eye roller**.

*Why I can't get my default setting to be two-sided printing is beyond me, and it is also driving me crazy that I'm the only person here who uses that setting. Stop killing more trees than you have to, people.

** It continues to both baffle and amuse me that friends from different walks of life, who have never met and possibly don't even know of each other's existence, send me whatever eye-rolling related memes they come across, because apparently anyone who loves associates these memes with me. This is not unwarranted, sure, but it is strange.