Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Uploading . . 20%

So today was the first Diwali after my wedding. It was also the first time I didn't wake up to the sound of firecrackers. Or the acrid smell from burnt gun powder. That day I dreaded is finally here - it's now my turn to do the American Diwali. Where making sweets, lighting lamps, wearing new clothes is only half the celebration.

As a social junkie, I'm a pretty frequent user of Facebook and Orkut. It didn't take me long to figure out IQ and desperation levels of the different profiles there. Or why I showed up right on top of somebody's fan list. Yet, for years, one thing I didn't understand was the picture- posting pattern of Indians in the US. I didn't have a damn clue till I took that painful 18 hour flight.

The first categoy of DAPONS ( Desi Album Posting On Networking Sites) is usually occupied by newly married ( 0-3 years) individuals. Couples who usually appear in public at least one restaurant table apart are often seen in a difficult and unnatural embrace. The wife's hand is usally placed in such a way that hubby's expanding tummy is covered. Husband's hand is, well, usually holding the camera cover. Also included in this category are couples who painstakingly dress up and take timed-self portraits on anniversaries and birthdays. They are, most often, celebrating the event by themselves. Single people who dress up in traditional attire and take matrimonial pictures, this is your stop.

The second category talks about locations but really, calling them all 'Patel pictures' would be so 1960. Maybe 'Sriram Pictures' or 'Ganesh Pictures'. Or even 'PavanPictures'. Besides usual suspects like the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, Times Square, Golden Gate and the White House, the scope of this category has expanded vastly. Accepted backgrounds for an entry here would include a Toyota Camry, someone else's sports car, trees in fall colours and the first batch of snow.

Pictures of the last category are unique in their composition. Most of these pictures do not include a living subject. The pictures are usually of Indian dishes made with Mom's recipe narrated over a Reliance call. The others usually include shots of the kitchen, a bare living room, the view from the balcony and the bathroom tub. Pictures of the diwali decoration and the navrathri golu also belong here.

I can think of many reasons why we post the way we do. The simplest one is probably to convey ' We are having fun. Really.'

Anyway, that's what I'm moving towards. From festivals and events where I had too much fun to remember to take pictures to a world which funnels itself through an uploaded image. Category 3, here I come.

P.S All my issues from my earlier post have been solved and settled. A ton of thanks for all your comments and emails. If any of you are stuck in similar situations as listed there, please leave me your email id. I will try to help you out and keep the karma in circulation.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Living the American 'Dream'

I've often asked people who moved to the US why they like it so much. Some people confessed that they actually didn't. But most told me that life is 'convenient'. For someone who has always had groceries delivered to the door, people around to help with every difficult thing and impromptu trips home every month, I was intrigued.

I was never a stranger to this country. I was familiar with most American terms and the general life here so I definitely knew what I was in for. However, trying to move your entire life here is quite painful. To say the least.

My travails started when I landed with a dependent visa. As per the rules here spouses of some legally employed aliens (SOSLEA) are not allowed to work. Or study. Luckily for us, we were in a special situation which would get us work authorization documents in 90 days. So I set out getting my life back in order.

I applied for jobs the day after I landed, my head still groggy from jet lag. After very carefully timed interviews, i got a fantastic job on day 91. Today is day 106. No documents yet. I have the job but can't work.

To do anything here, you need to drive. So the license. To get a license you have to get a learning permit. To get the learning permit you need a Social Security Number. The hitch? Social Security Number is not given to SOSLEA. Hmm. There is an escape route- we can go to the Social Security Office and tell them we are not eligible and ask them for a reject letter which is also accepted in lieu of the number itself.

So I went, armed with everything from wedding invitations, certificates and pictures. The sweet lady at the SSN office, considering my special situation, actually decided to give me an SSN. Yeah, that means she actually rejected my request for a reject letter. (How unlucky can you get?) Getting the SSN approved wasn't a great thing since it had in big bold letters, 'Not Valid for Employment' plus I had to wait for two whole weeks for it to arrive. Which means reading that Driver's manual again till I had Stop signs for eyes.

The path to the learning permit wasn't rosy yet. I had to get a medical test done. So depending on your medical history you have a few million tests like reflex, temperature, Blood Pressure, Urine, Breathing rate, etc. Then one fine day my sun shone bright and I got the learner's permit.

I used my Social Security number and got a bank account opened. Hurrah! I was jumping around in little circles. But hold on, no credit card as yet. Apparently you need a good credit history here to get a credit card. And that credit history is built up by, no kidding, paying credit card bills. In the hope that paying electric bills on time would help, I called up the electric company today to start an account in our new place. No prizes of guessing. I apparently can't start one that easily as I don't have the credit history. Awesome. So that's the current scene. I have no bills to pay on time because i can't get a credit card or an electricity account. And I can't get those because I have no bills paid on time.

Do me a favour please. If any of you come across the 100 odd people who called me everyday in Mumbai offering free credit cards let them know how much I miss them.

Disclaimer: I do like the country and it's people, the opportunities, the places and Food network. Sometimes I just wish they would be easier on us, the ones who came off the boat a little later.

Friday, May 02, 2008

How's married life?

I've had so many people ask me this in the recent past that I've thought of throwing the enquirer from the balcony, over and over again, much like in Jodhaa Akbar. Honestly, it's not about the question itself - I have myself unflinchingly used this as a conversation starter with newly weds several times. What annoys me is that -you are only allowed two answers - 'great' and 'good'. No one wants to stop and hear even a syllable more than that. That's probably because my audience is either the much-married-well-meaning-aunt- who-doesn't-really-care or the Don't-talk-to-me-about-marriage-I'm-too-cool-for-it-friend.

It's not the easiest thing in the world to explain how marriage makes you feel. But there definitely is a difference. Something that can still be felt even if you strip off the years you have known the person, the languages you speak, the Gods you believe in (or don’t), the food you eat or the person you are. Companionship.

When your teachers asked you to pick a partner for lab, when your professor told you to pick a team mate for project work, has there ever been a slightest doubt of fear in your head?
I have had it. All the time. Oh, God. Will she work with me? I hope he's not already taken. God, please please, don't let me end up with that girl. That guy is lazier than me, please, not him. Sometimes, if you are lucky you end up working with a person you like, good vibes, good chemistry, good results. You then team up for a couple of projects and there is a certain security - when the next project is announced you only look back at the person and smile, amidst the noisy deal making. The small joy of knowing you have a great team-mate without having to clamor for it, without having to worry about being there before someone else does.

Marriage is like that. It's like finding that perfect activity partner for life. There's someone to split those calorie heavy molten lava chocolate cakes. Someone to bring you home safely when you are many a happy drink down. There's no sitting alone on the roller coaster cars anymore. There's someone to yell at the driver to stop when you are busy retching on a highway. Heck, now there's even an excuse to order that ultra heavy Death by Chocolate. And yes, all of the above works both ways.

It's a pretty cool thing if you think about it. This one's there for good and can't complain about how s/he hates to work with you. (Even if s/he does, it doesn't really matter, they are under contract for life). So there, that's how it feels. Really. I would recommend it. For even if you have to sit through Iron Man, you know you won't miss 'Sex and the City'!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Maid of Honour

Leaning on our refrigerator in my newspaper column-sized kitchen, I stared intently at my maid. There was a continuous jet of water from one of the taps and she was swiftly passing soaped vessels under them. Once the assortment of steel, melamine and ceramic had had their express showers, from where she stood, she expertly threw each of them into their designated storing places.

Wait a minute. Isn’t she supposed to wipe them dry before you do that? Not like I remember what mom used to do. A quick memory access does not yield too many image results. Now accessing science section. I’m pretty sure the water remains helps in breeding of dangerous microorganisms. I look around for a dish cloth. 1 found. Only I, a classified female with a colour vocabulary of 435686543779, can’t figure what shade it originally is.

I dash inside my slightly bigger Happy-Birthday-Sonia-ad size room while mentally constructing signs to explain the phenomenon to the aforementioned only-Telugu-speaking help. My head deeply buried between some aging clothes, I’m searching for that elusive piece of unwanted cloth.

‘Mein jaa rahi hoon, madam’. *Bang*. I’m leaving for the day.

‘Whaat? Wait! Hey!!!’


Lakshmi walked into our lives quite by chance. Our ex-maid Latha had barely been working for a month when she wanted to go back to her village for a short vacation. So she entrusted Lakshmi with the 10–day job and lied to her (Ref: Our cook) about how much we were paying so that she could pocket a neat margin. As luck would have it Latha didn't turn up for several weeks. By then we had given Lakshmi all the specific household instructions and had also begun a crash course in Telugu basics to communicate her.

Then one day Latha landed at my door. (Of course the whole conversation was in Hindi, or what I thought was Hindi)

‘I’m coming from the 1st’

‘No, I think it’s better Lakshmi comes. She’s knows everything now, she does her job well and we don't have the time to train you again’.

‘But I only told her to come for 10 days while I was away’

‘You didn't come back in 10 days. You didn’t even come back in a month. ‘

‘She wont come’

‘She will. We’ve spoken to her’

‘She doesn’t know Hindi.’

‘Neither do I’ (Didn't you get that with my smart gender assigning throughout this conversation?)

Her pupils became one tiny spot in the horizon and i could see her nerves throbbing. She stepped back. Her whole body was shaking now. I grabbed the pillow next to me and was ran some defensive moves in my head. Will she hit me? Will she spit at me?

She turned in a huff and ran down the stairs. That was the last I saw of her.

From what I hear (again thanks to my cook), Latha went and confronted Lakshmi the next day. She told Lakshmi that she is not to work with us anymore and that we have asked Latha to resume her services right away. Luckily for us, Lakshmi had the sense to pay no heed and turn up to work the next day. I’m still trying to figure out in what language they communicated.

Actually,it’s not their fault. Because all we do is compare all our help to our ex Man Friday.

Shankar was almost part of the house we moved into. He would sweep, mop, wash clothes and dishes. He would dust all the furniture and make our beds. He would pay all our bills, buy all our groceries and even fix fused bulbs. He would supervise the carpenter or plumber who came in and would even whip us an occasional omelette if we were too lazy. We couldn’t imagine life without him, he was truly heaven sent. Till the day he vanished into thin air. With my room mate’s phone. And the charger.

Well, I’m glad I don't have to bother about such issues a few weeks from now. For I’m moving to the *promised* land. Where I have to do all above mentioned things myself. Including the work of the carpenter and the plumber.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Guilt trips and stolen thunder

I saw an amazing movie last weekend. An engaging movie is always a rare occurrence, yet Reservation Road was truly different. For it actually made me think - beyond the Intermission food choices, the post-movie options and other 'loo'ming decisions.

This is the story in short. Dwight is a single dad with visitation rights to his son Lucas. One fateful night, driving back from a game with his son, Dwight runs over 10-year old Josh, killing him instantly. Dwight hesitates for a mere second, before leaving a bereaved Ethan weeping over his son's body. What follows is an amazing portrayal of suffering, of guilt and pain, with some unwavering and true-to-life performances from the cast.

It led me to think - how much guilt can a person handle?

Frankly, if I were in Dwight's position I would have definitely considered, at least for a whole hour, the option of hiding the whole thing away. Of acting like it never happened and then beginning to believe in it. After all, it is the option of free life over no life. If you can ignore the guilt. If only.

How much hidden guilt can a person live with? When does it start hurting? How big should a sin be to actually matter? What counts?
Lying to your parents? Stealing a good -looking pen? How about reading your best friend's diary?
Fine. Let's go by the global rule that no one should be harmed in the process or as a result of it. Then, does stealing office stationary count? How about poisoning (God forbid) your neighbour's pet. Or ruining someone's chances at an interview? Really, where does one draw the line. And then, when you decide to stash those memories away, does one ever feel like letting it go? To someone, to anyone?

While this was merely a mind stirring thought, the wonderful piece of cinema had more in store. Ethan is slowly eaten away at the lack of response from the Police. With just one clue, they hang on, make a few inquiries and are ready to throw the towel in without, according to Ethan and most of us, any substantial effort.

For heaven's sake, that's America. One thing they've managed to get right is the Policing. Or so we thought. They would be glad to know they have good company in their fellow compatriots here.

A couple of months ago, at my wedding, an uninvited guest took off with my mom's handbag. It contained gifts of gold and cash worth a fair bit. For hours the whole wedding party were immersed in all kinds of basic investigation, rummaging through wedding gifts, asking people, calling the misplaced phone, drawing out suspects, going through videos, etc. Wasn't much use. A complaint was duly filed at the nearest police station. "Forget about it" - public voice.

The next day we scanned the hundreds of pictures that were collectively taken and watched the video for the millionth time, drawing out at least 23 different suspects among the eleven of us family members (aged 8 to 80). I must admit that it was quite some fun, turning into prime investigators, coming up with hypotheses to why the lift operator could have teamed up with the priest in the master plot to steal the bride's gold. There were some hilarious moments too, like when the whole family was lined up in front of the video, ready to take a picture of the stolen handbag to give as evidence. Hardly a few minutes later, the stolen bag was found under a coconut tree in the porch. Without the valuables, of course. The perpetrator had been just a few metres away from us, inside our premises, dropping off the bag, all while I was busy clicking pictures of a TV screen.

Anyway, like the tech-savvy new age family we are, we scanned the hall's CCTV videos and got a long shot of the culprit. (Of course, he was not part of the elite 23 suspects circle). So we took the bag and the video clips to the police with a brief description of what the guy looked like. Well, I must say they weren't too happy with our efforts. They told us they would like a clearer, close up shot, preferably in white background with his eyes no less than 12 mm away from the top of the picture.

While the rest of moved away from the scene of crime after the holidays ran out, my supermom was still on the trail. No one messes with her. She unearthed more videos and actually worked with some visual graphic professionals to get this shot of the culprit.

Now that we got the police got the matrimonial picture they wanted, they still aren't ready to move their well-fed behinds. We are now working on getting his current and permanent addresses, PAN card number, family tree, current salary and job description, bank account details, besides a well written accurate horoscope.

If you do see him anywhere, please buy him a ticket for Reservation Road. I will reimburse you and even buy you a free ticket. He should know my pepper spray is still unused and so are my karate skills.

For the larger sin, mister, was stealing my wedding thunder.