The non-secret keepers

As a kid, secrets were fun ( and mostly harmless). They involved discussions of secret crushes, observations ( I saw her eating chalk near the blackboard ew) or a book club that knew the ending of that favorite movie months before it came out. Chinese whisper was the only socially acceptable way of speaking in hushed tones into your neighbor’s ear which if done at any other time drew stinky looks and angry eyeballs from everyone else.

In the Harry Potter universe, secret keepers have a pivotal role to play. The premise of the murder of Harry’s parents by Voldemort revolves around this concept. The person entrusted with the secret of their whereabouts turned himself to the Dark Lord. As a kid reading Harry Potter books, the concept of such high level secret keeping (the sort that can lead to murder) was thrilling and novel. Peter Pettigrew, the secret keeper who was the disloyal friend that caused the murder was loathed and hated. When I revisited the books recently, the concept didn’t seem unfamiliar anymore and atleast a dozen Peter Pettigrews of the real world came to my mind. Ah, the agonies of adulthood!

To me, society functions in concentric circles of people. There is an innermost circle of the closest people in your life and grows outward. The degree of affection decreases and the level of secret keeping increases as you venture into the outer concentric circles. People move between inner and outer circles but often, in a lifetime, the inner circle remains the same. As you go through life, more people are added to each circle as one sees fit. All this is completely normal, except when one finds themselves in the outer circles all the time. I like to call these people, the non-secret keepers.

This is the group that gets the late invitations, the hesitating dinner calls, more cancellations/no-shows to a party and is often the last to hear of important news. As a result, the lives of this particular group of people who constantly flit from one outer circle to the next, is a string of surprises/bombshells. You hear news from people who moved to a new place months after they actually did or found a new job after they finish a year at them. They are the kind who hear about secret dinner parties/ movie viewing nights over lunch the next day. They are not completely ignored (whatsapp messages do count and replies do come, albeit weeks later) but not included either. This is the group that never gets to be the secret keepers, although, by now, it must be a relief to many (including me).

Jokes aside, with the penetration of social media, the fear of oversharing has led to forming these secret-keeping societies with different levels of information provided to each circle of people.  Sharing important events like buying a new house, car or landing a new job, is no longer considered the norm.  It is strange that in this era of connectivity and instantaneous global audience, people choose to form tighter offline groups in secret while providing superfluous content like memes and jokes ( and annoying Buzzfeed lists) for the outer circles to consume. More difficult, is figuring out which circle of importance you have landed on, with no prior clues whatsoever. Navigating social groups was tricky as is, with now the added complexity of secret keeping.

If you are still reading this column and are scratching your head about what my point is, here it is: I don’t think today’s society is any closer due to social media/internet than what it was 30 years ago. If anything, it is become a society of secrets. Atleast in the pre-social media days, physical distance was an actual reason to lose your spot in the inner circles. Today the mentality is different. One might be a friend on all social media platforms, but that just means you get to see favorite baby elephant videos and discover, as your “friend” did last week, if you still remain in Gryffindor. (by taking the quiz they shared, of course). As for actual relevant personal developments, good luck, my outer circle “friend”.

Secrets lead to secrets and I have had to force myself to do this as well. Maybe this is called growing up? I wish it didn’t.

 

The power of power

Chennai has off-late been battered by a host of natural calamities. If these recent annual occurrences are a result of climate-change (I suspect this to be the most probable cause) or just a coincidence and a barrage of bad luck (municipal bodies seem to believe in this explanation) are a topic for another day. What I want to describe here is how the power structure of society has seeped into every aspect of life in India, with examples of how Chennai battles its calamities. I was in Chennai during the floods of 2015. Having visited the city during summer vacations from long ago, the arid, hot and humid city with acute water shortage now being associated with flood is a rarity in itself. A combination of events and ill-luck in the visa department forced me to joyfully extend my annual pilgrimage to the city and enjoy my parents’ company for a bit longer. It all turned out to be for the best, as I realized in the days to come since November 30, 2015.

Roads became rivers, smaller by-lanes became ponds and localities unfortunately located near local streams and rivers – Coovum and Adayar, were inundated with garbage and sewage mixed with this flood water. For once, the floods spared no one, not the rich or the wealthy or the posh localities. It hit every single one of them. People suffered, stray animals died, elderly residents were left stranded, cars and bikes submerged and went defunct and drinking water and milk were in short supply. All of this went unnoticed by the national media until the airports closed. This set of events made me realize the degree of fallacy in news reports and exposed the lack of empathy shown to the southern states in national news channels reporting from the far-north.

The interesting observation though (which warranted this post) is how the clean-up happened. The news reports that generalize and announce proudly and succinctly of how the city bounced back is far from the actuality. It was then, who lives where became important. Localities closest to the residences of the leaders of the political parties and the opposition (AIADMK and DMK) were restored overnight. Electricity, internet and commuting was no hassle at all! Ironically, the very people who caused the floods due to gross mismanagement and human complacency, had to suffer the least. Over time, localities that housed powerful politicians, film actors (in Tamil Nadu, they often are the same folks), IAS officers and hooligans closest to the political top brass were cleaned up and restored. Rest of the city, had to rely on the youth,  their swimming abilities and grit of the locals to survive until help arrived.  Everyone was mentally compiling a probable list of bigwigs living close by who had enough influence to attract the repair crews to their neighborhood. People were trying to call up their friends in political or administrative positions trying to remind them of their friendship in hopes of extracting favors in the form of manpower and supplies to help clean up, remove flood waters and hopefully, restore electricity. Our locality, a huge, popular suburb with the best city schools and the swankiest of malls, unfortunately housed none of the “powerful” people. Despite the popularity and affluence of the neighborhood, we had to wait close to 8 days to get our lives back to normal and local apartment communities kept life afloat by running generators, fumigators and trying their best to “attract” the restoration crew. I was disgusted by the role of power during such trying times. Thankfully, by the foresight and intelligence displayed by our apartment architect and builders in constructing on higher ground with no underground carparking facilities, we weren’t affected directly. Somehow, recovery and restoration doesn’t correspond to the size or population being affected. Your proximity to political bigwigs is all that matters.

The city was struck by cyclone Vardah, on December 12th 2016 (my birthday!) and suffered damage of a slightly different variety this time around. With tremendous wind gusts over 120 kmph, thousands of trees and electricity poles were downed. The pattern and timeline of restoration that followed in the city localities was exactly the same as last year.

So people looking to buy homes in Chennai, here is my two cents for you. Don’t live under the impression that your neighborhood, schools, local amenities, transportation and real-estate value is all that matters. Go around and count the number of politicians and/or IAS officers living in your area and their position in the government. If none of them can speed dial either a minister or his/her goons, you might be better off living in potholes located right under the political honchos’ nose.

From Whisky, living it up !

 

Hello all! It has been a while since I decided to write this blog on behalf of my lazy human but the last few years have been so full of adventures that I let myself settle down before I started documenting them. Of course, my travels cannot be completely penned down all at once in such a short space but I would like to use this post to highlight some of my main observations in this new country. Based on what I have seen here, I would like to give the canine community of India some pointers on how it is here across the Atlantic. So here goes:

  1. There is no garbage on the streets – This is a tough dilemma. On one hand, my walks are now very boring. I have to stare at the trees and some birds for entertainment when there are no other dogs on the street, but Chotu (my human) claims I get fewer tummy upsets so she is generally happy. If she is happy I am happy, but I remain internally conflicted. My dirt-loving Chennai bros- this country has no garbage on the streets so enjoy while you can!
  2. The food is goooood – I have had the opportunity of eating all kinds of food I never knew existed! My human actually gives me fish and chicken and I have also had duck and some pork. I suspect that last one was pure accident but I loved it! How come for so many years we were never told about all this?! All I could manage back in India was the few chicken bones strewn by the watchman after his lunch! Imagine, now I get it served in a bowl, freshly cooked and all!
  3. No stray dogs – Everyone is on a leash here. They are all so disciplined. Other humans actually ask Chotu if they can pet me! I mean I am so used to pointed fingers and whistles that this seems to be such a decent place for me. But then, you get only structured playdates. I miss my stray friends waiting for me during my walks in Chennai. There is no group barking at nights, no territorial fights and no random barking by anyone. They are all so quiet! Just like the traffic here.
  4. No stray anyone – Where are my cow friends? Chotu keeps reminding me about my calf friends who used to head-butt me and I used to dodge them. There are no cows. When I ask her about it, she shakes her head and tells me their story is very sad. Apparently, they get eaten, like vegetables. I miss meeting them and sniffing their poop. NO COW DUNG! 😦
  5. Pet Shops – Okay, now this one might make my India friends so jealous, but they have huge pet stores here where I can shop for my goodies! Chotu takes me to pick my toys but I always keep picking out these gigantic bones which she never buys. I show her these other delicious things such as bully sticks, dried up animal parts, rawhide but she smells them and puts them away in disgust! How can she not appreciate them? Then, last birthday, she finally caved in and bought me some bully sticks! Ah the joy! They also have other stuff like clothes, crates, beds and some other animals too. In India, I used to search and sniff out rats and tell my humans that they are at home. Here, they keep them as pets! So strange! Thankfully Chotu doesn’t have one. She told me she owned a hamster once and I stuck up my nose in protest. No rats/hamsters/mice at home please!
  6. Too many doctor visits – I have been enrolled in some medical plan where I have to meet the doctor TWICE a year! Can you believe it? They make me lie down and press all over. I hate it. I will pretend those visits never happen and play dead. Sometimes I doze off so nicely that I wake up only at home and Chotu is always upset with me afterwards. She tells me “Don’t play dead in front of the doctor, they will give you more medicines”. But I can’t stand it. I think she can’t deal with it too. I have seen her face whiten and she shakes sometimes when it is time for a vet-visit. We thankfully have another human boy to calm us both down. Those trips are a disaster. India friends, you guys are lucky.
  7.  Have to stay indoors except for parks – There is no concept of being tied outside. I miss that sometimes. Back home, I used to sit outside on the verandah and enjoy the birds and allow cats and birds to eat up my food (such help you guys!). Now we stay indoors all the time until we go every weekend to a park. We have a small dog and big dog park. I go to the small one. They are nice! So full of things to smell and lick. I try to be as discreet I can while licking but Chotu finds out and then I’m on the leash again. But there are so many types of dogs! Who knew? I have seen such tiny ones that look like furry rats on leashes! There are some really big ones too! Like I had never met a Leonberger (fellow German dude) before or the Bernese Mountain Dog. I’ve met guys from all over the world now. But I miss my stray friends from Chennai the most.
  8. Road trips are easy – The roads and nice and flat and I can snooze comfortably during long drives. I have had long road trips (3000 miles+) which I’ll write about soon but travel here is a breeze! Unlike India where so much braking and potholes caused me to fall or jump off the car seat every now and then, it is very smooth sailing here!
  9. I am hot stuff here – No kidding. I have been to Central Park  in NYC and literally had a crowd come and pet me. They call me “hot stuff”. I never knew that about myself until I came here. Chotu tells me I am rare here. In India, I was the most common. Hell, Spitz pups are the least expensive pup you can adopt there! They should come and see people’s reactions here. Chotu tells everyone with pride that I am “exotic”. I like that! 😀
  10. The weather is amazing – I have lived in a few parts of the US and all over India and I can say paws down that this place has the best weather for me! My fur coat grew out and I also licked snow (okay yellow snow, but still snow!). No more sitting nose-to-nose with AC ducts or dashing inside AC rooms. At home, there is AC everywhere! Outside, it is heavenly. I enjoyed the biting cold of -40 too! Chotu seemed to be in a hurry then to go indoors but I wonder why she wasn’t enjoying it like I did! Ice, snow and nice cold winds. I had good fun kicking off these annoying snow shoes and then waiting for Chotu to put them on again. She was balled up too and walking so slowly through the icy sidewalks. Fun experiences! Can’t wait for minus temperatures again! Chotu recoils in horror when I tell her I want the sub-zero walks again. No idea why. Humans, strange creatures they are.
  11. New brother – I have a younger sibling now. Yes, I am no longer the only baby. But he is okay I think. I don’t like when he sticks to Chotu a lot. He is a funny-faced guy, no nose and very short but cute as hell! He is a nice guy though, we have had our arguments, all about Chotu only, but nothing too big. He doesn’t like balls or biting anything so my stuff is secure. I’ve noticed our bowls, bedsheets and towels being used interchangebly  and am getting used to it. I tried objecting to it initially and he also did but both got a long, terribly boring lecture about sharing and caring from Chotu ( I tried yawning so much to make her stop, but of no avail!). To prevent listening to another such lecture, both of us quietly stopped complaining. Actually secretly I like the guy and don’t mind him at all, he waits during walks for me and he calls Chotu from the other room if I need any help. He even got me a bonus trip to the Tillamook creamery because he insisted I come along! Decent chap. But shh, I don’t want to sound too appreciative in case Chotu brings another one!

That’s it for now, I have to start my evening routine. I will tell you all the story about my coast-to-coast road trip next. Got to go wait for Chotu, it is nearly time for her to come home!

I miss festivals

It has been so long since I celebrated Diwali or any other puja at home, I’ve forgotten what it is like. It has been more than 10 years. I felt a pang of nostalgia and sadness hit me like a train when I saw a Diwali ad before a youtube video. Another Diwali gone by, another season of celebrations I missed. Sometimes I wonder why? Why do I punish myself by being away from people I love the most and missing everything that makes life memorable. 10 years. Actually no…it is 11. Crap.
The feels.

Guilty as charged!

I’ve ignored this space for so long, I’m surprised the folks at wordpress still kept this alive! (Bless them). So, long story short, this year so far has been pretty big. I landed job offers, published papers, wrote my dissertation, defended it, wrapped up my Atlanta settlement, got my family over for commencement, got a truck load of pics and fancy dresses (for the same), moved to Buffalo, bought a car, settled in and wait for it… got Whisky to stay with me (which was the best graduation gift ever!)!
So, I’m ready for the new innings as not-a-student. I’m still a pretty new not-a-student ( I hate being called – grown up, working woman blah blah) and I’m loving it so far.
But this post aint about Buffalo (that one is in the works) or the immeasurable joy of not asking anyone for rides anymore. This one is for Texas, where everything is bigger and badass.
I experienced the joys of being a chemical engineer and visited an actual, functioning, refinery. (I think 10 years of training as one should suffice. )Those things are just insanely huge and complex. First few hours, the intricate network of pipes that are hundreds of kilometers long, wrapped around each other, emerging from some of the biggest crackers and distillation units amazed me. It is like intricate zardosi except done by drafters and probably some of the best engineers the world has ever seen! The second thing that got to me was that these things work, and not just work, they function almost as per design. Now that is something I’m still grappling with. Unless modeled to perfection and designed so accurately, there is no way that reactors and reformers who work with energy levels equaling that of atomic bombs everyday, can function so accurately without dramatic events unfolding on a daily basis! Motivates me to turn into a perfectionist next time I’m designing one of these babies.

No, I’m not turning into a plant engineer. I am here to do research and the opportunity to see these engineering marvels up close has revived the sedated engineer in me. It is a tough life no doubt. But this is a completely different world, far from the swanky glass and wood buildings, cubicles, cafeterias that serve hundreds of cuisines, bustling restaurants, health conscious bicyclists, runners, dog-walkers and discussions on the viral memes or videos. This is full of pick-up trucks, dirt roads, Texan barbecue restaurants serving a host of animals slathered in homemade sauce, tattooed burly men in steel toed shoes and overalls (I wore them too btw and contrary to popular opinion (the few that exist) the overalls actually help in the scorching heat) and folks who can pinpoint the exact malfunctioning valve among a million just be looking at a single number. It ain’t desert like though, it is actually very green and crisscrossed by a number of estuaries and the town sits prettily right next to the port. It looks spectacular at night. Oh, did I mention the breeze at 150 ft late at night? It is gorgeous. Just like the sea breeze on a cool November evening in Chennai. You can see the bridges, the port lights, the tankers waiting to fill up the liquid gold and the horizon dotted with flares from all the refineries lined up on the Gulf of Mexico.
Of course, life ain’t easy for anyone here. The work is interesting but physically taxing, sometimes the antics of the plant are frustrating and the accents are mentally taxing to process. But this was my glimpse into the reality of my models, the stuff I’ve studied and researched on a computer for half a decade – and it is nothing like I ever worked on. It is different and in a league of its own. It is like waking up from the cozy virtual computer controlled lives and looking at the places where things are actually made and being shocked into reality.
I liked it. I don’t know yet if I’m coming back. But it is nice to sit high off the ground, listening to country music on the radio in steel shoes and a hard hat and watch the million flickering lights of one of the largest refineries in the world.

Ps: Happy Birthday India. Have a good one!

Yes, I’m back in business. Follow this space for more 🙂

My stay in India a.k.a the bay area

I am back! After a humungous hiatus. Predominantly because so many things happened in the last few months that I was so exhausted to even type..especially after coding for some 10 hours straight everyday. I am in California for the last couple of months and intend to stay here a little while longer. I had the fortune of experiencing work-life for a little while with the reassurance that I’d get back to my good ol’ grad school routine. Though I must add, this has been a great experience too!
For the first time ever, I experienced how much joy great room-mates can be. Really. After having been through the most nightmarish experiences anyone could possibly face, one must applaud the bravery associated with the decision to live with multiple people again. I must tell you, it was totally worth the one-last-time try. Also, real-estate prices and the fact that a million dollars buy you only a few hundred square feet of living space here, play a vital role in deciding on the room-mate agreement. I got lucky. But again, I atleast got the chance to live this way. The second biggest factor was that I met the college junta. Thanks to being such a compact campus, I knew folks in every department and the skewed engineering college sex ratio ensured everyone had heard of me. Multiple meetups, fun trips, birthday parties and dinners followed. Such bliss. I was transported back to Goa multiple times and many times mistook the restaurant tables for that cement bench outside Nescafe.
Now, let me me tell you why I felt I live in India. Because it is India. There must be a million Indian restaurants catering to every possible variation and combination of Indian food that can ever exist; because every mile has atleast 3-4 Indian grocery shops where you get podis, masalas and mixes which you don’t in India; because every second person is Indian; because you can enter a restaurant and understand every conversation; because Indian is not foreign here; because the most popular restaurant is Madras Cafe; because every house down the road from my apartment is owned by an Indian; because you see salwar kameez and saris on the road; because you can go to Komala Vilas for breakfast, Saravana Bhavan for lunch and snack at Aachi Appakadai; because you can pick what you want to eat and go to that specific restaurant rather than do it the other way around;because you can listen to hindi and tamil radio in your car; because this is India. Really. It is not my first visit to this area. But the one 6 years ago was my first trip abroad and I was too busy gawking at the clean roads and organized traffic and vast spaces and jumbo sized everything to pay attention to these aspects of life here. I must say it is falsely comforting.
I say falsely because in my mind this kind/routine of life is only in India and that is associated with the comforts of home, parents, whisky, my room and everything else back home. To speak in hindi everyday, meet almost only Indians everyday, buy packets of moru-molaga from Indian store or bargain for vegetables hits a very deep comfort spot and it is disconcerting to replicate that life elsewhere. I find it strange that I live like at home so far away from home. I still cannot wrap my head around that. Home was home, life at work or grad-school was vastly different and that was the entire excitement of going back home. I don’t know if I love it or not, if I’d actually like to replicate my lifestyle, but my disposition being so temporary, I’m soaking in everything right now.
This place is truly the tech-hub of the world.I have not seen such a gathering of tech enthusiasts from all over the world. (That is for political correctedness, it is mainly from south-Asia). It is amusing to see an apple ring-tone go off and the entire elevator pull out their iphones to check. This is the place where dress-code is absent, coming to work at noon is totally acceptable and white earbuds handing from your neck is a part of daily attire. Oh yea and wi-fi or internet connection comes before water in the list of amenities. This is the land where travelling 10 miles on a highway can take upto an hour and the folks who carpool consider themselves as superior beings from the hundreds of folks stuck in mile-long traffic lines.
That said, the californian weather is fantabulous. Did I mention I am totally bowled over by SF? That will be another post in itself, but the city is enchanting. I love big cities. Suburbia is nice and clean and very posh at times, but the absence of the holloi polloi of the city makes even 10pm seem like 3am. It is not a valid complaint I know since everything is better in the suburbs but there is something intangible that is amiss.
It was a great experience overall and the best part is, it is still not over. The hype about this place is plausible, because every paati back home is as familiar with names like Sunnyvale or San Jose as Adayar and Mylapore. I must say that my vocabulary has become almost binary with all that coding and logic writing everyday. I am trying to resurrect it and the next post hopefully, will be much better.

Nahi nahi, abhi nahi, abhi karo intezaar!

As cliche as that sounds I really really don’t want to (yet!) Will somebody listen? With the frequency of the M-word hitting record levels, I can only pretend to be momentarily deaf and continue conversations as though that question never came up. I usually discuss Nolan or Joss Whedon to distract that unsuspecting maami and scare her off permanently! They usually point fingers at me later to their teenage children/grandchildren and mutter “Thats why you should not do a PhD”.
Bah, I know marriage season is peaking now. My facebook is a marriage/engagement album ( no baby pictures yet, whew) and my time on the social networking site is spent usually Ctrl+Ving “Congratulations! Here is wishing you the best life has to offer!” ( If someone noticed, all my congratulatory messages are the same. #extremelaziness). Why is it that once you complete college at a mere 21 you are suddenly thrust into marriage spotlight? I mean is there some day when I’ll get up and be all ready to take on all those responsibilities? How does 25 suddenly make you mature enough to be committed for life? Married? Make you start “saving” for a future or living with someone? What has to change people? For me, nothing has! I still wake up, go to school (really!) and do homework. Okay, I do hang out on Fridays, earn my own buck and buy groceries. I hate the baggage that marriage brings along. Firstly, it is all so serious, entrenched in culture, hundreds of commitments, such a brouhaha about the whole thing. Indian culture is obsessed with shaadis. Now I cringe at the thought of attending one, not because it is not fun, but I fear the home-backlash. Wait, don’t get me wrong. I am not anti-marriage. I believe in it and everything but how do people agree to get married? Is it some pixie dust that falls on you and you are like ‘Okay! I’m all set. Chalo I am all ready to be a husband/wife’ I believe in relationships, in love and that you need someone in life to share your troubles, take you shopping to pacify your anger, clean the dishes, fold half the laundry and yes, most importantly fight. But what if you are not ready to sacrifice what you have right now? Absolute freedom to eat microwaved food, buy concert tickets for half your salary, drink juice directly out of cartons, browse reddit endlessly, wear clothes out of the dryer, play loud music and dance or just sit in a corner and read all day without anyone disturbing and other heavenly pleasures! I am not ready to give up what I have. And hey, do not counter me by arguing that marriage doesn’t change anything. I know it does. I have seen it happen. People are more orderly, hang out with more “couples”, eat dinner at home, save money, thinking a gazillion times before going anywhere,buying anything. I don’t want that now and from my perspective I don’t want that ever. But that second statement, I have hopes that I will retract for sure. (pixie-dust)
Indian society is a scumbag. Going by the insanity that happened in Guwahati most recently, I don’t think we give women any respect. Or the marriage market is all as rigged as the US elections, only this time by the panditjis, wedding-planners, gold-shops and trousseau designers. It might be a sham to make it as economically profitable and ensure no one ever comes out unscathed. Why don’t they allow women to make such life decisions? I am not saying we should embrace the West wholly and invite our parents to our weddings yet, but atleast let the person choose if he/she is ready to make compromises and succumb to the marital status?
Its the first time in 20 odd years that we are actually totally free. No schools or coaching or exams, no pressure of jobs (if you have one already), we can chart out our careers and have the financial freedom to pursue our hobbies, passions, music. We have dreamt about these years when we slogged through those entrance-exams, endless coaching classes, job-interview and its still never truly tension-free.
I know the real truth. The Indian society does not like happy people. At all.

PS: Spare the comments if you claim that you are totally happy and that parents are not on your case yet. You are the few lucky people and I do not want to know who you are. Bah.