Coddled much?

Disclaimer: All opinions here are purely mine and I am open to discussing them with you over a cup of coffee. Any offense taken is not intended and is the perspective of the reader alone 😀

How thick skinned are you to criticism? How much of direct taunting, chiding or blunt opinions can you handle? I recently had an experience where a 16 year old took offense because I asked him/her to “read my previous email completely and answer my questions before replying”. This statement merely seemed to be a task to work on and something to improve on next time to me. But then I was told that this was very harsh. I recalled my mental state when I was 16 and chuckled. This statement seems so mild compared to what we are told in Indian schools/ homes to push us to succeed. I was called an idiot on a daily basis. The funniest part is, I didn’t seem to get hurt, but merely accepted my fault or argued back and moved on. My brain cells then went a little bit deeper and thought, why are we so cautious about dealing with school kids? Has the internet scared us all? Is the slightest rap on the shoulder now considered bullying? If so, how do you tell any youngster (in school/ early college) anything?

Indian upbringing was a different story in an admittedly different era. We had no phones, no internet and our time was spent in the company of classmates, friends and family. We got teased, had arguments and learnt to resolve issues between ourselves. Our playtime forced us to form teams, live up to expectations of the team mates or suffer the consequences of skipping turns of being the unfortunate soul to retrieve the ball from a strict neighbor. Almost everyone never complained to elders and any such person who brought their mom/dad to intervene in our affairs was cold shouldered. Today, it is perfectly okay to go off complaining, accusing and utilizing the system to meet our goals. The abuse of the protection provided to us today is leading to certain consequences that weren’t considered in the first place.

Internet bullying is awful and a heinous crime. I am in complete agreement. Today we live in fear of divulging the slightest information for fear of mishandling or wrongful misdoings. Especially in tweens or young adults who are new and headily experiencing the good and bad of the cyber era, our fear is justified. But is telling anyone they should do better also hurt as much? Does that immediately count as being a bully? How much coddling do you need to give youngsters to prevent them from being completely spoilt? I believe in calling spade a spade and enforcing this as early as possible. Accepting the fact that not everything you do is perfect and any criticism is actually opening an avenue for improvement is key for success later in life. I have seen kids these days who are applauded for the most mundane things, things that are basic human behaviour/skills. There is a fine line between encouraging one to do better and just coddling someone so much that they can no longer take a no. It worries me that we are moving to the latter. Graduation parties are another pet peeve. Do you deserve a 50 person, huge bash at a gaming arcade with catered food for completing sixth grade? Why celebrate an achievement of a normal human being to be recognized as of average caliber?  It also adds to the feeling of over achievement when in reality it isn’t.

I believe this toughness is slowly going out of people. The acceptance of failure or the acknowledgement that improvement is possible is suddenly not inculcated in a person when they grow up. They have to be tuned to these opinions. After all, we as people are work in progress. We are slowly learning, tumbling, fumbling through life. Growing up, when internet penetration in our daily lives was not as much, those boundaries seemed sufficient. Now,we need to also define what is acceptable and not just what isn’t. Slowly, the younger generation will turn out to be even more spoilt and unapologetic – just because you never told them a no.

Think about it. Meanwhile, let me go apologize to a 16 year old for telling them to read my instructions completely.

A fine balance

It is often said that this generation lacks manners. Elders complain about being ignored by the Whatsapping, Snapchatting generation and insist that good, polite behavior is rarely found these days. Ever since I joined the workforce i.e. the real world after the bubble of graduate school, however, I have been in a quandary. Direct communication, blunt evaluations and straight talk is encouraged. It helps solve problems, evaluate situations and once such an expectation is communicated, life becomes easier. It is a non-bureaucratic formula that eliminates the red-tape and fosters an almost peer relationship among the working team. In my limited experience in the corporate world, this seems to work really well. It took a little bit of time to adjust, given how accustomed we are to drafting our responses to seniors with utmost care and the tendency to immediately accept the ideas/suggestions given by those senior to us in the workplace.
But it is a tricky transition to personal relationships. Once you step out of your corporate zone, those rules seldom reply. I am not debating the minimum necessity of decency, manners or polite talk. However, the tendency to be blunt and direct lingers on. I have always suffered from the habit of being a bit too frank and direct, much to the chagrin of those around me. It then gets tricky, how direct is too direct? Do you start taking offense of blunt opinions? I think achieving this balance is the most tricky of all on a daily basis. To add to the woes, there is the technological burden – what to do if your friend has “Seen” your messages and not responded? Do you terminate friendships once you see the double blue tick marks but no responses for a day? Can a question like – why haven’t you responded since yesterday, break relationships?
Or maybe it is easier to shut up and nod your head. Alas, sometimes, that too is mistaken for something else. For a straight-talking, less densely brained Sagittarian, striking a fine balance between politeness, directness and incisiveness is the hardest task of all!!

Faux friends

The other day, I was asked if so-and-so was my friend. I casually replied,”Nah, Facebook friend only.” The nature of that friendship was immediately clear. It got me thinking, has Facebook introduced that mezzanine level of friendship where the person is neither forgotten nor in touch? Have we introduced that intermediate where we never let anyone fade from our lives, but are too uncomfortable really talking to them?

It is a strange dilemma for me. I’m routinely aware of very intimate details of people’s lives splashed across my news feed. Weddings, honeymoons, babies, new jobs, relocations – events in life that were previously restricted to family and close friends are now visible to me, an acquaintance from over 10 years ago, someone who they now know very little about. I “like” these posts too, congratulating them and wishing them the best, secretly hoping they don’t have 3057 likes and 465 comments to follow ruining my news feed for days. I am comfortable letting my likes and comments drown in the ocean of well wishers prompting a “Thanks everyone” from the poster than individual replies enquiring about every one. But I am uncomfortable having a personal conversation with most of them. My enquiry about personal details that they had shared for everyone to see, will most certainly earn me the tag of a “Facebook creep” . Time slowly fades memories too, making it harder for me to recognize people in photographs. I am left wondering as to who in that picture is my friend and why it is appearing on my wall. It is not that I pay close attention to my feed either. Many times, I just glaze over information with my very tiny attention span unaware of what I have just read. If that shrinking of attention span is because of Facebook or not, is another blog post.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against Facebook. If anything, I enjoy my time on it. It has been tough to keep in touch with friends from college and it is getting progressively harder given the responsibilities and challenges that life keeps throwing our way (or I’m getting lazier). I was able to reconnect with some people who I hadn’t spoken to since my 8th birthday but that thrill of connection lasted perhaps for a week. Our worlds are now so different that it almost feels intrusive to look at their wedding and honeymoon pictures. We are technically “friends”, but are we really? Friendships in the past, evolved with time. The closest of them stayed while the weaker links faded away, leading to newer relationships that morphed with changes in personality and circumstance. Facebook makes sure no one ever goes away. Is that necessarily advantageous? Are we really “connected”?

This stalking experience that Facebook provides me everyday has its benefits too. I have seen pictures from every part of the globe, learnt so many things from people’s travels (unknown to them of course), seen beautiful pictures of weddings, peeked inside parties of big corporations, updated my travel list, gotten inspired to paint, cook (thanks to people’s diligent posting of meal pictures), study further, figure out the best restaurants in town, read some amazing articles, watch hilarious videos and read funny messages and tweets without a single conversation with anyone. It is a colorful, vibrant version of google reader for me, a one-stop shop for all information juicy, controversial, informative and educational. But of my 900 friends on Facebook (and counting), I doubt the number of people who will remember where I am now or what I do (without checking my profile page of course) would cross 20. The rest are people who could walk past me without realizing we were “friends” on Facebook. (On purpose or otherwise, I ‘m not too sure).

But then again if it wasn’t for my Facebook friends, my blog view stats wouldn’t be so nice, would they? 😀

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 🙂

Why this Kolaveri ??

My facebook posts are largely divided over the “Lungi Dance” song in the movie “Chennai Express”. While some find the movie insulting the south-Indians, some truly enjoy it. I personally find the songs and the lyrics crass more than demeaning. Off-late, SRK seems to be gravitating towards the southern half of the country, embracing names and food habits in his movies. While his intentions might be( let me assume for a second that he hasn’t totally lost it) to widen his demographic of fans, his characters come off as mocking the southern culture. Though I haven’t watched Ra-one ( hey hey, I’m a SRK fan but not a crazy one), I know there was quite a racket about eating noodles with curd. South-Indian or not, I have eaten noodles with curd at home and I loved it. So I wonder sometimes why some people find it offensive or very madarasi.

Bollywood depicts stereotypes from the north all the time. They depict idiotic characters, terrible movies ( Kamaal Khan anyone?), mock fat punjabi aunties, make stereotypical teary maa characters, give surnames that span 60% of the Ganges plains ( Aggrawal, Gupta, Kapoor, Talwar, etc.etc.), make all christians Briganzas, all biharis Rajpal Yadav, all UP gangsta’s rustic and so on. I wonder why a specific south Indian film irks sentiments and anger? The outpouring of emotions shown by itself elevates the film to a level it clearly doesn’t belong to.( And gives the wrong idea of stardom to SRK and encourages him to keep making crap. Sigh*)
(What about that disaster called Aiyaa? Why didnt all the Maharashtrians absolutely demolish the film maker then? Do we all think that people are as insane as Rani Mukherjee in that movie? Then why the spotlight on this one? )
My point here is that watch it like a movie. It is as far removed from reality as Justin Beiber’s songs are from music. And I ask, what is the shame if tamilians are shown as idli-loving? Idlis are so healthy, they are served in all 7-star hotels. Sambhar is devoured with gusto by everyone I have heard of. Skin-color? You got to be kidding me! English is heavily accented? Everyone in India speaks accented English given we never learn the British phonetics in school. We wear sarees and bindis and jhumkis? One just needs to see T-nagar’s silk and gold shops to understand the craze. ( Nalli and GRT have branches in Delhi too) plus everyone looks good in gorgeous silks! If SRK is bowing to Rajnikanth, isn’t that a sign of things to come? (Who has a fan-base in Japan??) So what if they think we eat coconuts with everything. Even Rujuta Diwekar ( if you don’t know her by now , you either 1. Live under a rock 2. Never watch or read anything remotely bollywood 3. Are not diet conscious) endorses coconuts due to their high glycemic index and encourages eating local food. I don’t understand why the anger. If the movie makers are mocking us for their habits, then they don’t have the cultural depth to understand us. If they are respecting us but getting it all wrong, shouldn’t we embrace them and correct their mistakes? In any case, I never flinch when I’m stereotyped for anything. I just laugh it off. We are just so culturally diverse that it takes a full movie to portray us. If they are mocking our differences, well, we should be the bigger person and laugh at their shallowness.
In any case, the movie will atleast educate the masses about the diversity of our country. Getting angered by the Chennai express movie is like getting upset when a foreigner thinks Slumdog-Millionaire is what India is all about.
It is only a movie!

Watch out for this space while I add lungi dance to my gym playlist… 😀

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.