Wet restarts

It is the hurricane season and true to its word, gigantic, powerful storms have slammed the south and south-eastern United States. I am a distant observer, perched in the ash-covered, wildfire ravaged Pacific north-west, but I have had experiences of dealing with weather-related floods (twice) and an unfortunate sprinkler flooding. Watching the soggy images on TV and reading news reports makes me reminisce about my own experiences with water damage and restarting life afterwards.

It isn’t pretty. Water, the benign liquid we take for granted, is way more powerful than it looks. Anything that touches water is gone – damaged forever and needs to be discarded. As communities focus on rebuilding, these measures are easier said than done. The first time I experienced floods was in Kota, Rajasthan. Yes, flooding happened in the desert state. I am painfully oblivious to the watershed and other natural drainage systems of that area, but I can vividly recall the hysteria and panic I faced when my one bedroom rental room was threatened by floods. Our landlord who lived upstairs, rushed downstairs early morning to tell us the water was here. I was sleepy from a late-night study session and woke with the worst shock of my life. I remember stacking all my books and notes on my chair which I then put on top of my table. I remember clearing out the last three shelves of the cupboards, rolling my cotton bedding and stuffing it on top of my chair. I saw the water flow in from under the doors into the room and prayed that my bizarre contraption held its own during the flooding. Thankfully, all my prized possessions (my coaching notes and textbooks, nice clothes and bedding) could fit on top of the table which turned out to be higher than the water level. I left for upstairs in a hurry, barefoot and scared.

We spent the day watching the flood waters climb from the second floor (first in Indian terms). Roads turned into rivers, pigs swam in the muddy, dirty waters. Shocked and confused students living in houses nearby tried to salvage their possessions. After a while, it turned to fun. We watched the incessant rain and grey skies dump water into the streets that had turned into rivers. No power, no classes for the day and food was thankfully provided to us by our landlord. The day or two that followed weren’t as bad, it was the aftermath that caused the greatest grievances.

The water had caused all the wooden doors to swell up preventing them from shutting properly. Anything left on the floor or touched by the dirty waters had to be discarded. The room reeked of fungus and mold and would feel moist for months later ( I developed the worst kind of fungal cold for months afterwards). No amount of new paint or whitewashing or bathroom cleaning could remove 100% of the smell or mold. Fungus would grow in anything that touched water and was forgotten. I found fungus on clothes that barely touched the water, inside the walls, between the door frame and any notebooks that remained remotely wet. My cycle needed new wheels and chain from all the corrosion.  I don’t think my room ever recovered from the water damage. Thankfully, I left the place within 6-7 months of the event. But that was the first time I experienced flooding and the grimy, moldy aftermath of it.

My second run-in with water damage was no weather phenomenon but a man-made one. Never the one to have any  luck when it came to room-mates, I suffered the biggest setback of my graduate life when my then room-mate started a kitchen fire. I used to occupy the hall (bigger, more spacious with balcony access) with direct access to the open kitchen. The fire triggered the sprinkler system which poured water over everything I had, my books, bed, laptop, plants until there was 3-4 inches of water in my hall. I lost everything ( thankfully, my most important notes and research findings were electronically backed up) and had to navigate through the renters insurance system to recover costs. I can clearly recall my room-mate’s voice asking me to come home since there had been a “minor” incident. That was my second restart in the three short years I had spent in the USA. The first had been caused by bed-bugs. That story is for another time.

The most recent run-in with flooding happened in 2015 in India. I have blogged about the floods in Chennai – a mix of unprecedented rainfall, shoddy management, absent rescue efforts, zero communication and government conspiracy, that shocked the city. I must consider myself supremely lucky to be at home with my parents when it all unfolded, in addition to water not entering our house at all. Our apartment complex built on higher ground was marooned but the presence of mom and dad, along with 50 other families helped our small community navigate the crisis flawlessly. Yes, we saw boat-rescues, had no power for over 8 days, no internet or phone connection and had to rely on some creative recipes by mom who fed us delicious, hot meals made in the glow of 10 candles. We spent quality time together, narrating stories, hanging out in the same room burning the scented gum (sambrani) to keep mosquitoes and moisture at bay, slathering copious amounts of bug repellent and tracking our inverter charge to determine which room to sleep in. We slept on the floors (the beds were too warm), forgot what refrigerators were used for and charged our phones during the one hour power we got from the apartment’s common generators. For months, I saw trash-piles that were several feet high (not unlike those one can see in Florida and Houston) as people discarded all their belongings. The city decided ultimately to burn it all, to prevent diseases and curb the emanating stench which threw up smoke and acrid odors from all the burning materials. Recovery isn’t pretty. Not one bit.

So, three times being affected by water and it hasn’t become any less scary. Today, I live in a place not commonly affected by floods but as the TV showed heartbreaking images of hurricane devastation in Florida, I couldn’t help but wonder if I could evacuate at a moment’s notice like I did 13 years ago in Kota? I have furnished my home painstakingly, brick by brick and it would absolutely crush me to lose most of it to catastrophic water damage. After three restarts, can I deal with another?


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 🙂

Girl Talk: Sorrows and Joys

Sometimes, things just seem so perfect. Like when the only vegetable you have left is brussles sprouts and wonder what one can make of it and your favourite cookbook author posts a recipe using the very same vegetable. Aha, I like it. Anyway rantings apart, I recently read something about keeping your sorrows close and your joys closer and realized this was my biggest lesson of 2011(and of another blogger who I love). I feel this is a talisman that one needs to remember to survive. (This brief is for people who read just the first paragraph – so you can skip reading the rest 😀 )

The world is at its competitive best now. We are just fighting to gain that extra ounce of information or as Devdutta Pattanaik puts it – Sanatan. Because we didnt drink the elixir of contenment, we are always searching for something. Like that extra mile we want to go because someone has already been there, or that toy we want because our friend has it. Children provide the most blatant display of competitiveness and as adults we learn to mask it under the pretext of politeness, concern and nowadays just the word friendship. It is easier now than ever to look up a person and get all possible information without being in contact for 20 years or even being in contact now. It is easy to make friends, to upkeep friendships ( a hi on gtalk is so much easier compared to writing a letter, given the large-assed sloths we have been converted to).It is easier to access information about any and everything. All this media access has given us an all-encompassing ego where we pick our best photographs for the world to see, create online personalities, fake hobbies and do everything for an unknown reason. And most importantly has blurred the true meaning of friendship. We bare our hearts to these very people, since they are the support that we never get from a family but with statistics that show you are friends with the population of entire towns, you tend to wonder who is true and who isnt. Are people truly happy to hear you out? Are they smirking with inexplicable glee when you are feeling depressed. Do they secretly want you to fail so that they feel better themselves?

For women, talking is a cathartic process. I feel better when I’ve told someone what exactly is bothering me be it academically or personally. Its feels good to just share it with someone, giving it more reality and helps me cope with it when I acknowledge in e-ink or ink that the situation is real. But I wonder sometimes how much of it percolates as genuine concern and how much is just a part of everyone doing a silent jig at someone’s misfortune. I learnt multiple lessons all through, paid huge prices for my honesty but didnt seem to care because I always had a clear mind of having spoken the truth and being myself with everyone around. The same reason I kept close to a small set of people I was convinced are the true ones . But I realize time has come to change. This attitude is more harmful to me than anyone else and I’ve reformed now, to the ways of the world. I made a clear distinction of the ones who are rare and true and the countless others who are just names with a green bullet next to them.

Do not mistake me for being depressed or sad. I am infact the happiest I’ve been. (Ah, some happiness levels obviously sliding down). But this was an important lesson for me. In that sense, a very very important year as well.

New year beckons

Its that time of the year already. Busy or not, every passing year does make jaws drop. Another year! Already? 2012 is already here; the year Mayans told would be the last; the year that seemed so far away into the future. We are already well into the second decade of the 00’s and boy Ive started to realize how time has flown. I see birthdates of 1996 on facebook and people are getting hitched. People I know, I played with are suddenly married. Of course the next year will see many more but the new year isnt as comfortable as it once was. That awesome feeling of just updating the correct dates everyday in school or the party that would ring it in, the prize distribution ceremonies or the next summer vacation does not count much thesedays. But hey, whats a new year without a fresh start. Stale as my research might be there was a lot of things I learnt this year tangentially related to my work. How to oraganize, plan, think, report in a neat, impressive manner and importantly inculcate self-discipline in all spheres of life. Sounds like too much gyaan no? It is. It was a year not too spectacular in any way save the fact that this marks the first year i never set foot on Indian soil. Sad, but true. But I’m starting 2012 with a bang! India trip and whisky. hmmmmm…can i hear sniffles already?
Have fun folks and a very very happening 2012. ( In a good way of course)

People- the biggest mysteries of all

I’ve never understood people.They are a constant source of amazement to me. I’m convinced that if the entire mankind works hard enough, they can decode and accurately predict the functionality of every living being in a few years but not of humans. It is not because they are super duper intelligent alone, it is because they are the most dangerous and evil of all species living. There is only one thing I can do now to a certain extent – categorize them. If you think analytically you’ll be amazed to find how easily they can be grouped into the following categories (in my opinion).

1. The show-off: I think this is the largest set of people I can find. From their college to their car to their shirts or tops to their shoes, everything is about telling others how wonderfully unique and expensive or exotic it is. From faking accents in two weeks of coming to a foreign country to telling loudly to the entire class how his GIRLFRIEND bought him the t-shirt he is currently sporting to the new Merc coupe he’s just bought with a down payment or counting the number of bedrooms in the house on their fingers or announcing loudly which city in an XYZ country their genius of a son has settled into, these people are everywhere. And they are obnoxious, spreading the disease to everyone around soon starting a wave of blowing-your-own-trumpet with no one really interested in anyone else with hardly a conversation between them.

2.The trackers: They need to know everything about everyone. From knowing why so-n-so is no longer dating so-n-so to which party some other person attended to which college he/she is in, which company, which job, if he/she has a gf or not, these people know every minute detail about every other person. They are the database-keepers, they maintain databases of the world’s citizens tracking every movement of every other person through whatever means they can find.

3.The hypocrites: Lo and behold! The least favourite of mine. They are the ultimate evil in my opinion, all pretense and no genuine feelings behind it. They will hold ur hand when u cry and once its done, will be the first to ensure more tears flow down ur cheeks. They fake emotions, they act all nice in front of the very same people they bitch about in the background. At the surface its all fine and dandy and only when u scrape out the sugar coating, the fungus infestation appears. Very dangerous people. The scary part is you never know who really a hypocrite is until its far too late! ( At the risk of discriminating – larger population among the female sex).

4.The use and throw: Call in need, discard if they’ve done the deed. I’m sure everyone has met such people. They act all nice, call , pretend to be really interested in you until you do what they want you to and then vanish all signs of familiarity. I once had this good friend for three-four years in high school who refused to recognize me post board exams after all my help was extracted. Another very commonly found specimen.

5. (for girls only) The hooker: No no, now dont get ideas. This is that variety that plays with emotions to get work done. Once they know your soft spot, they’ll use you to get errands done, almost faking a relationship knowing they can extract maximum work from you because you like them just a little bit more than everyone else and love to squeeze you for their work only to tell you flatly “I wouldnt believe we will work out ever if I were you”. They keep you on the hook only to throw you down crashing years later. A tad worse than the use and throw since they mess with your emotions. Its not a lie that boys can fake relationships. Its true.

6. The sharp hitter: I love these people. They are blunt, true to your face people who speak the truth at all times and behave normally to everyone. Very annoying to be with but they make the truest friends/ lovers / life-partners. These people have the least friends, but make honest dependable ones. You can be assured of a true relationship with these people. Extremely rare, like pink diamonds perhaps.

These are the classifications I could come up with. It is nice and convenient to brand people so you know exactly how to deal with them. I’ve named these groups, more classifications are welcome! 🙂

Chinese Embarassment

I celebrated my graduation with my parents in Sikkim. It was a sudden holiday planned in order to spend some quality time together away from the hassles of everyday work. It would also be a long time before our family reunites thanks to some hectic schedules in the coming months for each of us.

It is a beautiful place. Paradise of sorts. I cannot possibly string together enough superlatives of the cool locales of Sikkim having just come from a hot-as-hell place myself. It is gorgeous, with all the mountains and the clouds drifting into your hotel rooms, the fog, the rain hmmm…its a different world out there. The one day we spent in Sikkim, I insisted on going all the way upto Nathu-la (the famous pass and one of the original silk-routes bordering China (Tibet)). I had seen enough monasteries in Dharmshala and Mcleodganj to satiate my urge to see more ( Rumtek is the famous one in Gangtok). Our clearance was obtained, all the papers sought in a jiffy and we were on our way to the border.

The road was awful (almost non-existent) and the rain and clouds bore down upon us mightily. It took an unusually long time to get there, exceptionally long even by local standards but it was a breathtaking drive. We passed around 100 army trucks laden with horses, provisions, troops and other eclectic mix of things being taken to the base camps below and others trucks moving troops to the upper reaches. After a bone-shaking five hour drive we reached Nathu-La. It was spectacular!

After a 500m walk and a few steps, we saw the barbed wire between the nations that formed the border. Five chinese soldiers stood there gawking at the huge crowd. Only thing they kept asking is “Why so many people today?”. Suddenly one Indian extended his hand to an armed chinese guard standing a few feet away. The chinese soldier stubbornly turned his face away saying a brute “NO!” to the Indian. This sparked off a major chant of “Jai hind”, “Mera Desh Mahan” which snowballed into full recitals of the National Anthem. I was embarrassed. You could see muscles tighten and faces fall in the Chinese battalion. I wanted them to stop singing. I wish they did.

The lone Chinese officer asked one lady politely if there was any special occasion to draw such a huge crowd to the border. I dont know if she understood the question because she replied “We are true Indians” and chanted “Bharat Mata ki Jai” complete with the arm movements. I fled from that place. I wanted to slap that lady myself. Why incite? Why provoke?

On the way back down I kept thinking about this incessant show of uncalled-for patriotism that we Indians seem to have in plenty. Only if they showed this concern and care for our country when they spit on the road, use the roads/rails as public toilets or damage/misuse public property, perhaps India would already be a superpower.

Now that was a Chinese embarrassment!

My Vote of Thanks

I’ve been waiting for this day and week forever. Somehow, no matter what your enthusiasm in the beginning might have been like, you begin to crave for the end pretty early. This is a customary goodbye post (for me to read and reminisce later) and a mute pondering over the notable absence of prolonged interest in almost everything we take up.

My first two month internship was (to be succinct) a total disaster. I did get a decent project (which amusingly was more core than my six-month project). But everything else was pretty awful curriculum wise. Stuck in a dorm full of nurses with their weird timings and case discussions “ Oh he began to ooze pus and blood and then the doctor suggested…” and my desperate effects to take out the gory images from my head by going under a pillow or maybe my excellent in charge who used to yell and get irritated as and when the mercury rose are a few of things I’ve given up trying to forget. I do also remember the good things like starting my weekend early Thursday morning which continued well into Tuesdays or watching the rain from my top-bunk with the whole city getting washed in front of me. Ah, this post has clearly diverted from where it began.

That was 50 days. This was half a year. A fortnight into the intern, my interest began to wane hitting rock bottom by March. Somehow, whatever I had thought of it (which in itself was very pathetic owing to the vivid experiences of my batch mates who completed it earlier) was still much better than what it had become. It was then the lure of the end began to sink in. As April ended (rather slowly) my thoughts focused on this particular week. No matter what other activities you take up, reading, running, gymming, blogging, the fact that you had to spend your entire day in the office trying to keep your spirits up was taxing in itself. I’ve been trying to be optimistic and enjoy every little thing here (which I eventually did), but nothing makes me happier than the sweet glorious end. Maybe it is the impatience or curiosity of young blood that craves to be interested, tested, challenged all the time. Once, you straitjacket it into a routine, the interest takes a beating. (Or maybe it’s just me who wants new stuff to do or think all the time!)

Pune is a nice place. Chinchwad is exactly the opposite of nice, whatever it is. Anything you find remotely pleasing in Pune is missing in Chinchwad. It is crowded, stupid, creepy, dirty, smelly and in short simply disgusting. Pune is nice. It is pretty, calm and quiet. (Not the traffic though). I somehow never find the right adjectives for this place. It doesn’t surprise me or come across as having anything spectacular, but makes you feel good when you are a part of it. I like the fact that this place has the maximum concentration of bookshops; a very huge student population which makes you feel you are living in some giant residential campus, is hep and well-dressed and speaks a language not too difficult to grasp. If I would have lived in the proper city, I might have missed it like crazy. But thanks to Chinchwad, the pain of separation is rather less. I am happy to have gotten a chance to live here. But seriously, bye-bye Pune, enough for one time!

The only person I’ll miss is Sonali. I’ve no words of gratitude to the heavens to have given me her as a fellow intern. Firstly, I would have been rendered completely insane for want of sensible female company. (The male company…err…Umm…The less said, the better.) Secondly, she is a wonderful person. Always enthusiastic about everything, she is a far cry from the choosy, picky people who have a problem with almost anything. For the first time, we both could go and gorge on anything we wanted to, go anywhere, anytime, not fuss about anything, comment and talk about any thing, anyone and most importantly, I got a chance to glimpse her campus life on the inside and ponder over how different the culture at the two campuses are. You saved my life these six months Sonali and I can’t thank you enough for that.

To an extent, I’ll miss my cubicle. The chair whose cushions are now contoured perfectly to fit my bottom, the desk drawers who secretly stored my apples, peanuts, cheese, magazines, ipod and saved my life during the day, my familiar keyboard and huge 19 inch desktop monitor which makes me feel I’m sitting inside the program and lastly, my cubicle mates. They were awfully nice people who never questioned me about what I was doing even though being suspicious of my huge pdf documents (e-books) or smiling though my sessions of juggling multiple chat-windows and wiki-pages. They always appreciated my work and helped me understand their products and bore my silly questioning. They gave me generous helpings of birthday cakes, Temple prasadam, sweets, namkeens and guided me on where and how to go to places. Sweethearts indeed.

Maybe I should stop thanking now otherwise I’d even start thanking my breakfast cereal! But overall, it was an experience of a lifetime. I complete my Bachelors with this stint in Pune. Graduation! Yipppeeee!

Tata Pune, Tata BITS, Tata Thermax! Muah.

(PS: Gangtok is the destination to celebrate the completion! Nathu La, here I come! 😀 :D)