Indian at Heart

4 AM Miracle – Not !! :P

2:42 AM : Wake up – realize I slept off in the middle of a movie again, with the lights on and my visa documents sprawled across the bed under me – Dammit – not again!

2:44 AM : Tinge of guilt – people like me are responsible for the coal reserves depleting.. Ufff…

2:45 AM : Might as well check on the visa dates while I’m awake

2:47 AM : Yayyy !!! Showing 16th – finally! Let’s do this..

2:50 AM : Fill out details and hit Next – wait, where did Mumbai go?! Mumbai is not showing in the list of VFS centers !! Where did it go?!

2:51 AM : Re-enter info and now Mumbai showing but only 20th Dec available – what about the earlier dates!? – Kya ho raha hai yaar !!

2:55 AM : I should call the VFS people..

3:00 AM : On line with Mrs. Chattopadhyay on the VFS Hotline – No, I don’t know if her name is Mrs. Chattopadhyay, but she sounds Bonglo-bhashi.. 😛 Oh what the hell.. I like giving nicknames to people.. You know Eddy right- No? That’s my name for Edward Cullen – I think Eddy suits him better than Edward in any case.. 😛

[Random Thought 1]

Whenever I am speaking to like a customer care person in India, I never know whether to converse in Hindi or English.. I mean, there is a moment when the person says “Hello?” and I am actually thinking – do I reply with a “Hello” in the English-English accent or the Hindi-English accent?! I know they know English, but it’s this weird mentality that speaking Hindi might develop a feeling of comradeship with me and hence, maybe help me get my work done sooner! Weird, huh!

3:01 AM : I say “Hello!” with the Hindi-English accent finally.. Mrs. Chattopadhyay answers my questions, but that does not help a lot! Check VFS dates in front of her and now they show 15th open too- but no 16th and 19th! How did that happen?!

3:07 AM : Hang up the phone. Maybe I should write something.. Stare at blank screen for 10 minutes..

[Random Thought 2]

I wish I could concoct up random stories in the middle of the night- get inspiration from the rustling trees and the gushing winds and eerie moonlight and the soulful silences and allow my thoughts to flow miraculously through space and time and then, there’s one magical moment where everything comes together and a story is born.. – 4 AM miracle or whatever – but nope, doesn’t seem to be happening with me..

3:22 AM : Call up mom instead.. Crib about the stupid online system and how I should have chosen to go to Delhi instead !

[Random Thought 3]

I want to visit Delhi man – and hopefully see uncle-jis in monkey caps at weddings! 😛 

3:32 AM : Check VFS – Now showing 15th, 19th and 20th, but no 16th – Seriously! 

3:35 AM : Stare at screen again – Okay, I’m going to give this a shot – the night is beautiful and I should write.. 

So a guy in a train – mid 30’s, hot (of course!), staring out of the window, looks like the type of person who knows his destination but just for today, does not want to do the expected.. Towns swooshing by – Mellow Valley, Hicksville, Cripple Creek.. Train pulls into Reddick finally and slows down – guy contemplates getting down at the station..

[Random Thought 4]

I love the phrase “Delicious Ambiguity” – read it somewhere.. But has such a nice feel to it.. I should use that in my writing sometime..

3:45 AM : Nope, no thoughts after Reddick.. In any case, this is not a screenplay- I’m getting lost in the details! Forget it, this is not the night..

[Random Thought 5]

Remembered a conversation from a day ago where a friend told me that I was a serious person – Seriously?! I just called Edward, Eddy, – how can I be serious?! Just because I write about tanhayee and life and dreams and love and loss? That is the deep side of me, but I am fun-loving and random and crazy too..

3:52 AM : Need to be at work in 4 hours – going to be a long day – hopefully the bogie workload should level itself out with constant production, but does that make sense if we are storing sets instead? Do I need to add girder manpower to this? Should find out tomorrow..

3:56 AM : Christmas presents! I haven’t bought those yet !! So much work to do in five days..

3:55 AM : Hungry, yaar! Feel like white choc mocha.. 😦

3:56 AM : Dudeee, sleep !!

3:57 AM : Last try with VFS- anyway the center will close now, so no point trying until tomorrow!

3:58 AM : Nope, no 16th yet! Forget it, worst case- I’ll take an appointment for the 22nd, after Gau’s shaadi..

4:00 AM : Do I even post this crap I’ve been typing? Contemplate for a minute..

4:01 AM : Oh, what the hell – this could be my 4 AM non-miracle.. At least it shows I’m not serious all the time..

[Random Thought 5.1]

I am not a serious person! 😛

4:07 AM : Edit and format – (I like my articles! 😛) – and post!

4:10 AM : Laptop shut down, gudnite!

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.. 🙂

Happy Diwali !!

Happy Diwali to all my amazing friends and readers of this blog! Wishing you a year full of lights, prosperity, happiness and success.. :-):-)

Diwali is my most favorite festival of all time. Not that I don’t like other festivals, but there are some occasions that resonate more joy than others- Diwali is one of them for me. Like I know Ganesh Chaturthi is a big deal in Maharashtra, but some how it has never been a very big deal in my family because we never kept Ganpati at home. I like Dussera too, but somehow the excuse to light lamps and Lakshmi Pujan and everything just make Diwali a lot more festive for me! Surprisingly again, while most people like Diwali for the faaral, it was again never a big thing in my family. My grandmother would make some faraal type items, but my mom was always so busy around this time of year that she had time to only make one sweet or something like that.. And to be frank, that was completely fine with all of us in my family. We still had such a good time getting together and celebrating!

Obviously, such days make me miss my family even more. It’s funny how every family has these peculiar stories associated with certain traditions or days. My family is not very ritualistic- I mean, my grandparents are, but my parents’ generation downwards is ritualistic to an extent. We do all that is needed to be done, but suitably modify it to our comfort level- which I think is a good sign of evolution. My extended family consists of 14 people in all- 8 adults and 6 children- which is quite okay compared to those Big Indian Family standards! So, every Diwali day, we all gather at my grandparents’ house for the aarti.. And we’re talking like 5 AM! Of course, even though we all stay within a 3 mile radius, we always end up getting late to reach their place and eventually can start the aarti only by 6 AM or so! At home, mom is yelling at my sister and me to put on a bindi and some jewelery, which we never want to do! My grandfather gets agitated coz we’re all late, but eventually everyone gathers around the small little devghar they have and start singing the bhajans (which I don’t think any of us cousins know! :P) Finally, about an hour later, we’re done with everything. We all ask for out elders’ blessings and the usual hugs and wishes follow! 😀

Then, we have another ceremony where the women in the family are supposed to perform aarti for all the men and then the men do the same for the women. Now, I don’t know what this part of the ritual is called and why it is done, but it’s always nice for the women coz that’s when they get loads of cash as a Diwali gift! 😛 This is again a hilarious ceremony. First and foremost, out of the 7 men in the family, 3 are kids (my cousins), so getting them to gather in the living room is one big task! Meanwhile my grandmother is bustling around the kitchen getting the puja ki thali ready, coz frankly speaking, she’s the only one who does this ceremony with all seriousness! So finally, the aarti begins. Now in India, when performing the aarti, you are supposed to sing a hymn or song too. We, being from Karnataka, sing a Kannada song- which again only my grandmother knows the lyrics too! But this is the song she’s been singing for centuries now, so we (my mom, aunts, sister) kinda know the distorted Kannada words and the rhythm- so we just sing along with her, basically messing it up more than required! And of course, this is accompanied by a lot of laughter and very amused expressions on the men’s faces, demanding a more sincere aarti from the womenfolk! 😛

So anyway, the aarti is done, the thali is full of money and now it’s time for the men to repeat the same thing for us. This part of the ceremony is a lot funnier because well, the guys don’t know what they’re supposed to do! And my grandfather cannot participate actively because he cannot stand for long without support. So he sits on his “throne” in the living room, presiding over the function and giving out instructions to the others. The men mess up the aarti song even more and apply huge tikas on our foreheads with their giant hands and it’s all one big laughter riot! Finally, the ceremony is complete and everyone heads to the dining room to eat the faraal my grandmother has laid out on the table.

It’s funny that this is the part of Diwali I miss a lot because to be frank, it is just something we do because our grandparents want us too- none of us understand the significance of it all! But still, it is one of those unique family bonding things- it makes us all come together at 6 AM on a weekend morning and laugh and be merry! And frankly speaking, even though we stay so close by, it is only occasions like these which cause the 14 of us to gather under one roof..

At nights, we are all in our separate houses, getting ready for the Lakshmi Pujan- my mom gets out all the jewelery and does the prep work. The actual puja is pretty short- maybe 30 minutes at the most. The beautiful star shaped aakashkandil is burning outside our house. Finally, my sister and I go outside and light lamps around the whole house- in the windows, at the doorstep. The whole housing community is filled with such pretty lamps and lanterns- truly like the festival of lights! We have never burst firecrackers during Diwali because it’s harmful to the environment and is a waste of money. And most importantly, we have a cat who gets petrified of crackers, so we’d never make it worse for him! And that is it- we all just spend the evening chatting or watching a movie or taking family pictures!

Sometimes I wonder what will happen when my grandparents are gone- will we all meet again on Diwali morning for the aarti? Will all of us even be in the same city/country- coz I’ve already missed two Diwalis now! I guess my mom will carry forward the tradition coz after my grandmother, she seems to be most inclined towards these rituals. And besides, I think when you grow up watching these rituals, then you gravitate towards them without realizing it. Like for example, my mom always says that you’re not supposed to leave your house dark and empty on the night of Lakshmi Pujan and so on instinct, I refused to go out with my friends last night coz the idea of leaving my apartment empty was unacceptable to me. It has become a part of my belief system now- regardless of whether it’s true or not..

I guess for now, I thank God for all those wonderful memories! This has been a very quiet Diwali for me- I went to school in the morning (wore a salwar kameez after months, which was enjoyable!), got a small box of sweets from an Indian store, did a quick Lakshmi Puja in the evening and then lit a whole bunch of scented tealight candles all over my room. I had a long conversation with my family and got to speak to a childhood friend who I had not spoken to for more than 15 years and chatted with a few other friends online. I was happy and content. This is Diwali, just the way I like it! 🙂

An Independence Day Thought

Writing a post on India and patriotism on Independence Day is one of the most cliched things to do. It’s like- the whole of blogosphere is gonna do it, so I might as well go with the flow and give my two-pence on Independence and the greatness of my country. Like anyone cares about what I think India should do to become the next super power !! 😛

Anyway, this is not going to be one of those posts. I am not one of the people who have great, earth-shattering ideas about what is wrong with the Indian governance or the Indian mindset. I admit it publicly on this blog today- I have not voted even once. And I am NOT proud of it. Every time elections approached, I’d think to myself- I should register myself and my family at least this year, but I was too lazy to stand in those long queues and complete those forms. I am also not one of those people who keeps myself up-to-date with the Budget or Elections or any such thing that actually affects my country. Like any second Indian on the road, I have ideas about what the Government should do to eradicate poverty or improve the economic condition, but like every Indian on the road, I don’t know what to do with those ideas. In short, I can call myself a passive patriot.

Why call myself a patriot at all, you may ask then?

Because, I do love India. I love everything it symbolizes- the cricket, the festivals, the heat, the crowded streets, the films, the food, the mix of culture and urbanization…everything. I am one of those people who stands even if I hear the National Anthem being played in the colony next to mine during jhandavandan on Independence or Republic Day. I am one of those people who would have genuinely become an IAF Officer had I been an inch taller and I would be the proudest person in the world if tomorrow, my son or daughter decide to join the Indian Army. I felt immense grief when Kalpana Chawla died aboard Columbia and when India lost the 2003 World Cup to Australia. I also felt immense pride when A.R. Rahman won the Oscars or when TATA Motors developed the one-lakh car. These may seem trivial things, but for me, they symbolize my Indianness. They are my ways of expressing my love and respect for my country.

Every second engineering graduate in India is probably pursing a Masters in some university in the US. I’ve seen so many brilliant seniors I had in COEP complete their MS here, get a job in one of the US companies, get married and settle down with a nice apartment with a Honda/Toyota in their garage. They come to India once in two years, children with American accents in tow, and throw one big party in the “hall” of some fancy restaurant- one place to meet all relatives and friends kinda thing. And that’s it! Fifteen days later, they’re back to a Starbucks every morning and using toilet paper !! 😛 PD’s brother-in-law has been in the US for around 10-12 years and believe me, every time he visits his hometown, he stocks up on mineral water bottles because he is scared that he’ll catch an infection if he drinks the municipality water! Imagine that !!! And though it’s too early to say, I am 95% sure that’s gonna be me in a few years’ time. I’m not complaining, I came here out of choice- I wanted to experience the educational system and the life here. But what starts out as an experience of a few years becomes a never-ending fight to build bank balances and fulfilling desires. And then, we don’t have the guts to get out of the comfort zone.

Life in India is hard- no doubt about it. To do anything noteworthy, you have to fight the corruption and the red-tape and the reservations and the entire system. Even getting a seat into one of the top universities in India like the IITs or the IIMs is one big fight- it requires years of perseverance, determination and hardwork. Let’s face it, apart from universities like say Stanford or MIT, doing a Masters in any other US university is hardly comparable to surviving an IIT/IIM/ISB/NID/NSD/FTII etc. And then comes the part about getting a good job and surviving the initial “donkey-work” years to actually get the chance to make a difference. Only someone with true love for his country and a burning desire to contribute to its progress can happily live through all of that. With the current recession that’s hit the whole world, a common joke among Indian grad students is that they are intelligent, hardworking, qualified folks who are willing to work for less and that is their USP. And while this is only said in good humor, I often think to myself- why do we do this to ourselves?! Why don’t we accept that we are equally competent to our American counterparts and hence don’t deserve any less?! The professors I meet here think very highly of Indian students- they know we have the brains and the ability to work very hard. But the only thing we lack is the confidence that we are good and the ability to sell ourselves to the world! I remember this one time, I was reading the resume of one of my American friends and he had actually mentioned the job he did as a lab assistant helping students take printouts as “work experience”. I thought it was kinda silly- what skill is involved in that?! But he told me employers appreciate it coz it shows you’ve had experience in customer service, troubleshooting and people-skills! Any work is good work! Imagine that !!

I just read all I’ve typed in the lines above and I realize that there’s not much coherence to this post. But I guess all I’m trying to say is- maybe it’s time we start taking our Indianness seriously. Maybe it’s time we learn to be proud of our roots and our capabilities and our strengths. And learn to declare that proudly to the world instead of waiting for them to find out on their own! And once we learn to do that for ourselves, we can hopefully develop the confidence to get into the system and actually change it- fight the poverty, decrease the corruption, not rely on reservations to get a good education.. And hopefully that will be the day this brain drain will stop. People will not think twice before returning to their country. And they will shake out of their complacence and at least attempt to elect the right government to lead the country. And that will mark the beginning of true progress.

Jai Hind !!