Amrikan Tales

And then, it happened- Life!

Sky-diving is one of the must-do items on my list of things to accomplish in life. But like all items on that list- I want it to be just right- with the right people, the perfect weather, knowing that this is the day! Getting a tattoo was like that- it was completely random- my closest friend was going to visit from PA, I was going through a terrible time in my life and the last thing on my mind was a tattoo! She told me that we’d get it done together and the moment she said it- I knew that I wanted one that weekend! I looked up designs online and again, when my eye fell on my design, something about it resonated with what I was looking for.. Even today, every time I look at my tattoo, it brings a smile to my face. It changed something inside of me… Maybe it was a way of knowing that I was in control even though I had no idea what the end-result was going to be…

Moving across the country has been a similar experience. The reality of it did not hit me until I had shipped all my stuff to California already and was sitting at the Rochester airport with one bag, on my way to an awesome Memorial Day reunion with my friends at NYC before heading to CA. I remember a friend texting me – “This is IT !!” I remember packing my stuff in 90 minutes flat- 90 minutes is all it took to stuff my belongings of two years in bags and boxes- and mind you, I am an organized packer! I remember saying good-bye to my advisor and for the first time, wanting to really hug him because I was so overwhelmed and happy! I remember many other very quick good-byes.. I remember walking on the RIT campus, really seeing all the buildings and sculptures, as if it were my first time once again.. Everything else is a blur…

I landed in Davis, California and went to my new apartment and in the first three hours I spent there- my new room-mate had explained her entire health history to me.. Imagine talking about everything from stomach ulcers to uterine cysts with a person you know for fifteen minutes! It was awesome because she didn’t care that I was new! 😀 First day of work at a new company was exciting- the whole razzmatazz of working in a big company etc etc! Tab woh din tha aur aaj yeh din hain.. It’s been seven weeks since the move and my darling roommate’s health history has already gotten two pages longer (kidding!), there are ten people I can call friends in this new city, I have projects that I am responsible for at work, and life has taken a successful 270-degree turn.. Somehow, through the avalanche of things that have happened in the past year, I landed up exactly where I belonged!

Sky-diving and getting inked give jitters to a lot of people- I know of so many friends who have gotten on that plane at 5000 feet, or have sat on the tattoo artist’s chair and chickened out at the last minute. It’s not about how gutsy you are actually- I’ve always believed that when something feels right, all fear goes away. You just have to jump! And trust that the instructor holding you knows what he is doing! 😛 And once the jump is over, you look back up at the sky and at the parachute on your back and sit wondering – Man, did I really do that ?!! 🙂

Somehow whenever people say life happened- it always seems to be the reason for failed ambitions or dreams gone awry. But look at it from my perspective and I say- I am so glad it did !!

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Humbled!

“Dear Suparna,

Congratulations! It has been an honor working with you on this project. Thank you for all your hard work and helping me to look smarter than I really am. I admire your skill, perseverance and unending patience with this absent-minded professor. I hope you found the experience worthwhile and I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help.
Welcome to the world of scholars!

Cheers, Jim”

When your thesis advisor gives you a gift and a card with the above message at the end of your defense, it is the most humbling feeling in the whole wide world! Here is an amazing advisor and guide, with years of experience, and who is absolutely brilliant in his field and he tells me that I made him look smart! I wanted to write a long, detailed post capturing what I went through in those 40 minutes and the feeling after. But I don’t think I can ever have words to describe it!

Two days to D-Day

This is going to be a short one, since I have very limited time for distractions right now!

So my thesis defense is in two days- on December 2, 2010. I know there are hundreds of Masters students who defend their thesis every year, but it is always special and nerve-wrecking when you know it is going to be yours!

I get weird jolts every morning as I countdown to the D-Day and I feel optimistic on one hand, that all my hard work of the past 15 months is going to pay off. But on the other hand, there is also some amount of nervous energy, which I guess is natural! I have the first draft of the written document in my hand- 100 pages that basically encapsulate all the work I have done! Actually, I should change that- all the good work I have done. No one writes about their failed experiments and failed ideas..and believe me, there were so many of those! But then, as my professor says- that is research, and only you know what you took away from all those failures!

For now, I just hope everything goes fine on Thursday… It is one hour that I want to go by as peacefully as possible.. 🙂

Wish me luck, dear readers! 🙂

Notes

  1. Exactly a month from today, I will be in India !!! I cannot wait! I know I am luckier than most students because I have got the chance to go to India every Christmas since I arrived in the US- but this time’s trip is more valued because for the first time, I have a crazy, maddening urge to see my parents. I saw my mom six months ago during her trip here, but I think I have never missed her more. So much has happened in the past two months and I think we as a family, have been trying to get over things just through conversations over the telephone. I really really need to feel my parents’ physical presence and support around me.
  2. Point 1 brings me to my second point- It’s funny how you realize the value of every friend and family member when times get a little difficult. In the past two months, I have been at my communicative best with my friends, some of whom I haven’t spoken to in over 3 years- got in touch with so many of them, and it sure feels good! I intend to keep it that way.. 🙂
  3. I have also realized how some people can get so superficial- people you thought you could bank on at any time of day. This has been one of my biggest lessons since coming to the US, but I think this warrants a separate post.
  4. Three weeks from today, I will be done with my thesis defense! D-O-N-E !!! Yesterday, my thesis advisor asked me how it felt. I told him I couldn’t believe it was over! O-V-E-R !! Work that have been doing since March 2009 is finally coming to an end!
  5. Before I rejoice over point 4, one of the biggest things I need to do in the next three weeks is write my document and funnily enough, this time writing isn’t coming easily to me! I think I should seriously consider Gauri’s advice of treating it like an 8 hour job and just getting it done with, once and for all!
  6. Even though things didn’t go as planned on some fronts of my life recently, there are still so many other things that have gone way better than I thought they would. I am a person who believes in signs and if the signs of the past few weeks are anything to go by- then I am grateful and thankful to God. I know things are changing for the better! I can feel it. Amen.
  7. I also believe in jinxes- which is why I hate people telling me that I am lucky or constantly talking about any minor successes or good things that come my way! It scares me. I know it is paranoia, but I have had some experiences which have made me believe in these things.
  8. I am so tired of living alone- I think that has made the past few months a lot worse than they should have been. I cannot wait to live with some people and have a social life again… 😛
  9. Another thing that is funny is how you realize so many things about yourself in times of adversity. Even things that were glaringly obvious in the past, but you never chose to pay attention to them. I seriously think that if we really believe in this, getting over difficult times becomes a lot easier.
  10. I have been off Facebook for three weeks now- for multiple reasons which I do not wish to get into. But I don’t miss it now at all! I did have withdrawal symptoms for the initial few days (sigh!), but now I am happy to be away from all social networking stuff! It gives me more time to do productive things. I think I’ll be back though, just because it’s a good way to keep in touch with some school friends living in other countries- maybe after 3-4 months.

Back to some thesis writing now.. 🙂

There’s a Stranger in my House

I’m about to enter the last lap of my life as a grad student in an American university, and in addition to that, I’m about to turn the BIG 25 very soon (in less than a week, actually.. :P), so as a result, I’m in a very contemplative mood for the past few days.. No, it’s not the whole “quarter-life crisis” brouhaha, thankfully! I don’t really care too much about that.. It’s more the finishing up of my Masters that is playing on my mind. It’s like the end of an era! 😀

If you are a student studying in a university away from home, a quintessential part of your life are your hostel/dorm/apartment and in effect, your roommates. And especially if you’re studying in a different country, one could go so far as to say that your roommates are like your family away from home. I’ve always wanted to live in a hostel environment. When I was applying for undergrad programs, I was ready to even study in godforsaken parts of Maharashtra just so that I could get the opportunity to experience life away from home! Unfortunately, my mom didn’t think too highly of my ideas and that plan was tucked away in some corner of my mind. So when I decided to apply to the US for grad studies, one of the major motivating factors for me was living with roommates! Of course, those were the days I wore those beautiful rose-tinted glasses.. It was going to be awesome, I thought- living with strangers, adjusting to their whims and fancies, disputes, making up- all the works. Little did I know that the reality would be far faaarrr from beautiful.. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some great roomies- but now, eighteen months and eight roommates later, I know that living with strangers is not all hunky dory.

The most astonishing part of all this is the things it teaches you about yourself. I always thought I was a very accommodating person; and I definitely am. But I am a lot more aware of my threshold levels now. Like for example, on some days, even a badly-made bed with a crumpled bedsheet is enough for my fuse to blow! The funniest thing happened last week- I have this mattress in the living room of my apartment- my friend’s actually- which is like my seat. Yes, I am very Sheldon about my seat- I hate it if anyone sits there when I want to, and I can get pretty cranky about it. And unbelievable as it may sound, I actually sulked for an hour last week because my roommate moved my laptop and MATLAB book to another chair and sat on my seat- MY seat! I was just thinking about it a few days ago and couldn’t help but laugh at myself! Why did I have to make such a big deal about it !! But see, that’s me apparently! 😛

Anyway don’t start getting wrong ideas about me- I also realized in the course of this “adventure”, that I am a very nice person too (like I didn’t know that already.. Lol). I can be very considerate, and put aside my differences with you, if I know you’re going through a hard time. And I will also go for a walk in the snow with you and talk about the weather- if I know that’s what is going to make you feel better. :P:P

Well, this is probably going to be the last set of roommates I am going to live with, but I only hope and pray that if I have more roomies in store for me- let them please be nice and fun-loving! I’ve outlived my bad-roomie karma! 🙂 And well, I should be thankful to all the ones I have lived with- all the self-awareness wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for you! And one other thing- living with guys is easier than living with girls- a fact I always knew, but now firmly believe !! 🙂

The good part of a rainy summer..

I spent a good part of the last post cursing the unpredictable Rochester weather and the boring summer. But to think on the positive side, there are two advantages of this weather too- Firstly, I am cooking a lot nowadays. Well, that is a good thing because those who know me decently well know that until about a year ago, I couldn’t make anything except tea, coffee and fried egg. Because I was coming to the US and had to live here with strangers, my mom forcefully taught me to cook a few simple dishes. But I was always like a fish out of water in the kitchen; cooking was always an ordeal! Moving into a house with three guys as roommates and no coursework gave me the time and desire to at least attempt to develop my expertise in the kitchen. And wonder of wonders, I discovered that cooking could be quite enjoyable! And what’s more, I could actually be good at it !! 🙂 Besides, it’s a known fact that there’s no better way to lift your spirits than good food! So the past few days have seen me make pretty successful attempts at Ragda Patties, Gobi Manchurian, Thalipeeth, Indian Chinese, North Indian fare and many other dishes that I otherwise would have stayed 10 feet away from. Of course, it’s not that I cook fancy stuff everyday but now I’ve reached a stage where if I have to rake up a meal for 5-6 people, I at least don’t get all nervous and jittery at the thought of it. And that is definitely something my mom and I are proud of!

I think now is a good time to mention a few people I credit this new-found skill to. Of course, a major source of ideas and recipes is my mom. I think we spend at least 10-15 minutes discussing what I cooked and what she cooked everyday! Apart from that, I also vehemently hunt around for good food blogs nowadays and this has been quite a revelation actually! I cannot believe the number of Indian women settled in various parts of the US who are actively running food blogs. Now these are all young, working, married women who have kids and a husband and maybe even in-laws to look after. And I don’t even know if they earn any sort of revenue from these blogs, apart from probably Adsense. But in spite of that, they regularly write about the food they cooked, add some pretty yummy pictures and conduct events to encourage fellow bloggers to come up with innovative recipes. Quite a strong network they have out there! Of course, you can always tell if the author is someone from the US when she uses cilantro instead of coriander and cayenne pepper instead of red chili powder !! 😉 While I do wish to thank all of them for their contributions, there are some who I am particularly fond of:

1) Naina’s recipes: Naina is actually my neighbor from Pune who has lived in Rochester for seven years and moved to Seattle just a few months ago. She has some pretty innovative recipes. I have yet to try out her authentic Italian fare though.
2) Aayi’s recipes: Now this is one incredible lady. She writes about the most complex stuff as well as the most mundane, every-day recipes. The thing I like best about her is that she cooks a lot of Konkani fare which is pretty simple and easy on the tastebuds too- afterall, who wants heavy, fat-enriched food everyday!
3) Manjula’s Kitchen: I guess most students in the US know about her website. She puts up videos of her recipes and though her website is not very exhaustive, it’s good for some of the North Indian dishes.
4) Hooked On Heat: I love her site mainly for the amazing tempting pictures she puts up! And she also has some very interesting recipes.

Okay, now enough of food stuff !! 😛 The second good thing about having to stay at home because of a rainy Rochester summer is that I get to watch a lot of movies nowadays !! You already know how fond I am of movies, but the funny thing is that until now, I have seen a lot of Hindi films but have somehow missed out on some of the most famous of English movies! And PD is a major fan of all Hollywood flicks. So we invariably end up hunting for movies on IMDB, download them and watch them. Add to that, one of our professors gave us his old TV and we bought an S-Video cable last week, so now we hook up our laptops to the TV too! Imagine what a heavenly combo that is- good food and a good movie !! :):)

The past few weeks of movie-watching have made me realize how much I’ve have missed out on all these years! There are some pretty incredible movies out there, which can haunt you for days on end! And you can always tell if I’ve liked a movie depending on whether I’m awake or not at the end of it! What happens is this- we usually see these movies in the night while having dinner and I am already pretty tired coz of school the whole day. So it is only a really good and gripping movie that manages to keep me awake all through it! 😛 Like I saw Shawshank Redemption (yup, I was seeing it for the first time! :P) till 2 am but it was alllll worth it! That movie is one of the most incredible movies I’ve ever seen. That’s the best thing about Hollywood flicks actually- they don’t glorify the “hero”; he’s not some brilliant chap who set out to do great things. He’s just an ordinary guy who made the most of the cards he was dealt with! And the whole movie is just about capturing his experiences and thoughts- and that’s what make them such extraordinary movies!

Of course, what blows you away is the expertise of the film-makers and technicians- they delve into such intricacies of their film’s characters, it’s almost as if they’re living each of their lives! Like take a movie like Wall-E– the story of this film is so painfully simple but you look at the animation and you actually feel for Wall-E and Eve. You don’t think of them as just cartoon characters. Same goes for Cars– I don’t know about you, but I found the idea of making a delighfully cute film about a racing car lost in a small village where he finds the true meaning of friendship to be pretty innovative. Talking about innovation, I saw Memento today and I have no words for a movie like that! I haven’t seen Ghajini so I’m not going to compare the two. But I do believe that even a master like Aamir Khan would not have been able to capture the true essence of the film. This is probably why Murudagoss had to resort to making the hero seem like a violent, angry guy seeking revenge. Memento is hardly what you can call violent! That is another thing about Hollywood films- everything is so understated in them. Most of the emotions the characters are going through- pain, grief, joy, guilt, pride, jealousy- are either explicit because of the dialogues and screenplay, or are left to the viewer’s imagination. Unfortunately Indian films resort to very strong display of emotions, everything is very in-your-face and that sometimes does little to excite the viewer or make him think. But I guess that has more to do with the way we are- we tend to be more gregarious and loud than the Americans and so this behavior is reflected in our movies too. (Interesting view on it here by my friend Ketaki).

Of course, I don’t love all the movies I see. Like, I saw The Hangover the other day and it is the dumbest, ickiest movie I have ever seen. Why would anyone make a movie like that!?!

So anyway, going by the trend, I’m looking forward to loads of yummy dishes being cooked at home and even better movies being watched.. 🙂 And that sure does make it a wonderful summer! 🙂 Oh and by the way, I saw Harry Potter in the theater last week and it somehow was such a letdown! I think what is happening is- people’s expectations of the movie have risen so far that the directors are finding it hard to live up to it! I was specially expecting a good movie from David Yates, given that he did a fantastic job of the previous movie. But this somehow just didn’t have that magical touch. I can’t pinpoint to exactly what it was, but that awesome feeling you get after watching an HP movie was missing! I honestly hope the last two are brilliant- otherwise it would be a wayyy too disappointing end to the series…

It’s done !!!! :):)

Who would’ve thought that less than 24 hours after writing the previous post, I’d have bought a car !!! :):):)

Yup, it’s finally done !! We now have a 1999 Nissan Altima that will be ours on Friday, July 10, 2009 !! :):) It doesn’t have a sunroof (sob sob :(() but it is awesome all the same.. 🙂

We saw it yesterday, liked it, showed it to the mechanic this morning, he okayed it except for a few glitches here and there (expected of a 10-year old car). The dealer is going to fix them in any case, so hopefully no issues there. Once all that is done, we’ll do the registration on Friday and drive it home.. 🙂 (Will post some pictures then..)

I know I’m putting in a lot of smileys while writing this, and I am really really happy too, but there is this weird tension at the back of my mind- did we make the right decision? should we have looked at other cars? or maybe thought a bit more? I think these are valid apprehensions- after all, this is the first BIG thing I am buying! A CAR for cryin’ out loud !! That’s HUGE! Add to that, I’m buying it on my own, without my parents. They left the decision completely to us coz after all, we were the ones test driving the cars and we were going to use it ultimately! It feels a little scary to be given that kind of responsibility! But I guess it had to begin some time..

I can only hope and pray that I’ve made the right choice…. Until then, no more looking up postings on Craigslist and Cars.com, no more calling dealers and weird car owners, no more fixing appointments and looking up directions on Google Maps! Gosh, life is sure gonna feel empty! :):);)