Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Kanush's Smile (2007)

There is nothing sweeter than a baby's smile and Kanush's is no different. However, the smile that I am talking of, isn't really a smile. It's what Kanush interprets to be a smile. I first told Kanush to smile when she was too young to know the meaning of that word. Therefore, she did the first thing that came to her head. She started alternately opening and closing her mouth very much like a cow chewing the cud. I howled with laughter and called the whole wide world to see her 'smile'. Big mistake. That became her smile. As she grew up she further refined her technique. She stopped alternating and instead only opened her mouth and showed her teeth. A casual bystander would think she wants her teeth brushed.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Friends from Qualcomm

Qualcomm was a wonderful workplace and I got along very well with everyone. But still, there are always a few who are closer. These guys formed my inner circle and made my days in qualcomm truly memorable.

Ganesh and I joined on the same day. We did our trainings together. We chatted a lot and got to know each other very well. The first thing I noticed about Ganesh was how much he resembled another close friend of mine .. Anand Narayanan. For both of them, when something needed to be done, there would be no dilly dallying. they'd do it at the earliest. I really admire that. Ganesh is also very very honest. I remember the time we were stopped by a cop. The job of a constable is really the last resort of a desperate man. He's not fully a cop, in that he doesn't have the authority to do anything. Not even fine a vehicle. He gets pounded by the citizens as well as by his superiors. And to top it all, the pay is pathetic. Therefore, a typical constable in India is a bitter man whose morale and ethics have long flown down the drain. All he cares for is the occasional bribe he gets from traffic stops with which he can feed his family. I've know some to accept 5 rupees (10 cents) and let people off. Anyway this cop stops us and asks for our papers. I had just sold the bike to ganesh and the papers were in the RTA office so that the names could be changed. We told him that. The cop's eyes lit up. He smelt a big one here. Maybe even a 100 bucks. Asked us to turn off the bike and park. After a few minutes he slided down as said in a conspiratory tone "You know, if you are fined it could be as much as 2000 bucks". Pat came the reply from Ganesh "Actually it's 200 .. I've checked that. If you don't believe me check the back of the ticket book. The rates are there". The poor fellow was in shock. In all his years in the department, he hadn't yet met someone who had memorized the rates for all the fines. He made a few more attempts and they failed too. Now he was mad. He wanted us to suffer. Threatened to impound our bikes. Said he dint believe us when we said the papers were in the RTA. But our Gandhi was unmoved. He said he'd rather pay the fine than pay a bribe. Said that if he gives money to the government, the citizens should get it back. Net result, the cop took our bike. We spent the day getting our papers back from the RTA, and finally, when everything was done, with all the bitterness and resentment born from having his bribe stolen from him, the cop fined us for not having a pollution certificate. We paid that fine (a hundred bucks) but we still dint pay the bribe. Naturally, Ganesh handles our finances for all our group outings.

Anand Siddharth and I are the original QIPL runners. They wanted to train for the Bombay marathon and I joined them because I love to run. We used to meet at KBR park. It has a circular trail of roughly 4kms. I still remember the runs. The feeling of being superman once the adrenalin hits after the first 2-3 kms, the rain, soaked all the way through, still running, finally tired and still running, and then it's over. They were both very very passionate about running. Maintained a blog, kept excel sheets, followed a training schedule, the works. Anand still is like that. The runner in Sid, however, was ruthlessly murdered by the massive juggernaut called marriage. He's now as fat as I am. I sympathize. Like I always maintain, before marriage, I was thin too. Despite the loss of Sid the running group has grown. Ganesh and Atul and regulars. I go whenever I can. And there are some real pros who run ultra marathons and all that. Anand and I often talk about the software lifestyle. There's no focus on fitness and health. Most people sleep late, work late, eat at odd hours and have no exercise whatsoever. Right now the average age of a software engineer is about 30-35. Soon this generation is going to age and then corporate India is going to have a huge health problem in its hands. We try to talk to people about this, but there's this thing about youth. It makes people feel they will live forever. And by the time they realise it's only an illusion, it's too late. I really really hope this does not happen to India. But somehow, whenever I think about this, I get this feeling of inevitability. We also started the Friday evening counter strike ritual in office. Counter strike is a computer game. Every Friday evening someone would start a server and eventually 10-20 people would be playing. All of us have our nicknames. Sid was 'bajrangi', I was 'mad goat', Anand was 'Bhagat paaji', ganesh changed his name every time. We became pretty good at it, but no one came even close to Sid. Bajrangi was unstoppable. Still is. My cubicle was next to the dry pantry and anyone who went for coffee could see that a game was on. Therefore, my manager told me that if I wanted to play, I should change my cubicle. I dint see what was wrong with playing after office hours, but hey, he's the boss. I played one last game. Really got into a zone in that one. Single-handedly destroyed the opposition and finally 'mad goat' went down, one last time, in a blaze of glory. We downed a few sodas, said a few words and retired that pseudonym.

The QIPL math club was founded by three eccentric individuals whose managers failed miserably in their attempt to give them too much work to think about anything else. The three were Mithil Ramteke, Amit Prakash and yours truly. All of us were interested in math, but the credit for bringing us together would surely go to the 'Ponder this' link on IBM's website. If you like tricky math problems, I would certainly recommend you google this. 'Ponder this' puts
up a math puzzle in the beginning of every month. The next month the solution is provided. for the average math guy (as opposed to the genius math guy) one month is just enough time to solve the puzzles. So we ponder this for a month and sometimes get the answer. that was where the math club began. Working together is indeed the best team building exercise and we became very close. Mithil and Amit are really unique. Amil was always a geek. He used to have a chemistry lab in his house when he was a kid. A true alchemist, he dreamt of the day he could make a diamond in his lab by heating charcoal. All his calculations told him it was possible. All it takes is persistent pressure and heat .. for about 5000 years. Unfortunately, a few years down the line, he got admission into the best Engineering college in his state and his parents forced him to douse the fire in his bedroom and pursue his degree. Much like Russel crowe in ' A beautiful Mind' he has spent the rest of his days searching for the next breakthrough in mathematics, particularly number theory. Mithil was the quintessential nerd. First in class, all through 12th, then B-tech at IIT (Indian equivalent of MIT), then M-tech at IIT and then, when there was no way he could stay on in college, took up a job. But years of persistent effort twisted a nut loose in his head, and so he is never at peace. Either it's the war on Iraq or the morning coffee. But there has to be an irritant around for him to feel comfortable. When life's good, he panics. Amit and I are saved by our marriages. Our spouses would never let us reveal our true nature in public, but Mithil has no such restrictions. A free bachelor, he walks around dreamily with NERD written in block letters all over and under and around him. He spent his life's savings on the coolest laptop he could find and hides behind it foolishly believing that he's going to impress girls with it.

There are a lot of others .. Kasse, Rumit, Atul, Sushim, Srihari, Venu, Nukala etc to name a few. People I really admire. But I've never really hung out a lot with them. All these guys are unique and special. I know, that's what everyone feels about their friends. I don't pretend mine are better. But mine are the ones I like most, and so, to me, they are certainly the best.

description of pics : In the chairs are (L-R)Ganesh, Anand and Me. In front of the car are (L-R) Anand, Siddharth and Me and in the cubicle are (L-R) Mithil, me and Amit.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Man - The Monkey (1987)

My good friend Vivek got married last 13th and I went to Kerala to attend his wedding. Seeing him brought back memories of incredibly stupid antics from our childhood. This one surely takes the cake.

A bright and sunny day was spoilt by an unfair and malicious detention served cruelly on me for the trivial affair of lightly touching Laxmi on her shins. I argued my case convincingly and Sister Freda, sagely old soul that she is, accepted my explanation right away. However, she needed to work on her spellings and I could not refuse her stirring plea for help. I wrote "I wont kick girls again" three hundred times. Lunchtime was almost over by the time I taught sister to spell that and I rushed off in search of Laxmi to demonstrate the difference between a 'touch' and a 'kick' on the shins. Now Laxmi was a shade touchy about physical demonstrations and I wasn't sure she wouldn't have her friends around her to prevent me from my supreme duty of enlightening the less fortunate. I therefore when in search of my trusty aide who would handle the crowd while I do the tutoring. That was Vivek. I found him deep in thought looking down the parapet of the top floor of a two storied building.

Me: "Hey Vivek". Get over here, I need your help with something".
Vivek: "Hey Nishant, I bet you cannot stand on the top of this railing for a minute without falling?"

I forgot all about laxmi. Mentoring and tutoring was all fine, but this was the sort of challenge that a knight in shining armour could never back away from. You know the knight I'm talking about, he's the one who resides in 7 year olds and blocks out all reason when they need it most. The cry echoed through the corridors of my empty head .. Nishant is up to it. I ran up and on the railing in a jiffy, beaming down at the expression of shock and awe on Vivek's face. And then I looked at the other side. The drop was a good 30 feet which explained why Vivek wasn't on the railing with me. For about ten seconds I was frozen. Then a crowd gathered and started to cheer. My mojo returned and soon I was whistling a merry tune waiting the final seconds out. All of a sudden a shout "sister Freda is coming". Grateful as she would surely be to me for teaching her to spell, I still felt sure she would not appreciate this open display of shared ancestry with monkeys. And so I jumped. All would have been well if I had been facing Vivek, but as luck would have it, I was facing the outside of the building. Things happened real fast. A tree came up and I grabbed its branches, continued to hang from it and that's how Sister found me. She thought I had climbed the tree and hung from the branch and was preparing to walk off with just a frown and a sharp word. By my old nemesis Laxmi was in the crowd. This was her chance to escape from my unsolicited tutoring and she grabbed it. "Sister Freda, Sister Freda .. Nishant jumped from the top floor". I think mom broke her cane thrashing me that day.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Qualcomm (2004-present)

I have so much fun in office it's a shame I took so long to write about it. We collected some articles to contribute to the office newsletter and I've picked out the ones I liked from that.

Having the largest number of survivors from the birth of QIPL,Team DSP has made giant strides since its’ humble beginning in a nondescript shack three years ago.Ten people from this group braved the frigid temperatures of the temp facility and the unhygienic food of the first caterer and now languish in the stifling heat of building 8 and the worm infested food of our current caterer. It has been an eventful journey for these hardy pioneers who include SatyaK-the philosopher, Seshu-the silent, Amit-the Cacophonix, Adi – the failed swimmer, Ashish-the scorpio king, EEnadu Hareesh, Nishant – The lousy Blogger, Ravi-the echo canceler, SanjeevJ – the workaholic and Ganesh-the Khatarnaak. This carefree group was broken up in the name of expansion and are now forced to take frequent breaks from Dancing Singing and Partying to also do some signal processing. The architects of this sad turn of events – Iron man of DSP Sanjeev, Squadron leader Syam and Tools Master Satya, now lord over the group and ensure that the slippery scoundrel called ‘Deadline’ is never missed. Now close to 50 and headed by dancing director Dorababu, this unique and colorful outfit is characterized by being at the forefront of all non technical events and at the back rows of all technical trainings
- Contributed by Me :)

Remember The Time… (memorable moments by Ashish)

Remember the time…when QIPL was really small and we had all day outing to Celebrity Homes. In between games some of us decided to take a swimming break. Just after I dived in, I heard a huge group shouting my name…I thought they were cheering my swimming antics. J (But to my disappointment) They were pointing out to me that a fellow co-worker was bobbing in and out of the water – Adi was actually drowning! I got to him and helped him to the side and out of the pool (man he is heavy J). In any case, when I asked him why he jumped into the water in the deep end if he din’t know how to swim…he nonchallantly replied “I thought I knew how to swim!!” Till date I hven’t heard something as bizarre as this…

Remember the time…when Nishant Hariharan joined QCT…myself and Ganesh were having a conversation with him over coffee. He told us that he was going to get married in ~3 weeks or so and he wants to go to the Himalayas once before that to meditate (or prepare for the wedding? J) or else he will probably never get a chance again. How true he was…he din’t go at that time…he got married…became a father as fast as humanly possible and now only dreams about Himalayas in the few hours of sleep he manages to get.
Remember the time…Ravi Banjari was a vegetarian (who only ate chicken)…I once got some non-veg from home and he wanted to eat it. He asked me the kind of meat it was…after he took a few bites I told him that it was dog meat! He is still scared to poach on my food…

Funny Engineer Quotes (by Ganesh)

To err is human; to debug, divine.
To err is human, to forgive is Not Company Policy.
To iterate is human, to recurse, divine.

Theory is when you know everything and nothing is working. Organization is when nothing is working and everyone knows why. Practice is when everything is working and no one knows why.

"If it ain't broke, it doesn't have enough features yet."

“There are 10 types of people in the world: Those who understand binary and those who don't”

“We Pretend to Work, They Pretend to Pay”

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Kanush's first trek - Fort Bhongir (June 2007)

Things had been pretty quiet on the wheelie front(biking/backpacking group in our office). Some core members got married, some had kids, and others were just plain lazy. So Sushim proposed that we have a short trip to get things started again and to introduce the newly joined spouses/kids. Atul proposed Bhongir or Bhuvanagiri as the locals call it It is a fort that is about an hour's drive from Hyderabad. "It's a pretty boring place, a studio of some sort, the climb is about 100 meters, If we go slow we might stretch it to 10 mins", he said. I wasn't sure I was up to it. Since the Hyderabad half marathon in November last year, all I had done was lay on my back and eat enough food to shame the average african elephant. Consequently I have started to resemble one too with a good 15 kg added mostly around my tummy. However, Pratibha and Kanush needed an outing and I decided to go for it.

The day before we started we decided that Pratibha would carry the kid all the way till the climb and I'll do the climb and descent with the kid and she'll take over after that. The morning of the trip, when we started out, we decided that I'll take care of the kid throughout and she'll carry the backpack. Eventually I carried the kid and the backpack. I really need to work on my bargaining skills. The drive was very pleasant. Started off at roundabout 7 and by 8 we were close to the fort. In continuation of a long standing wheelie tradition, we tucked into the local cuisine at the dirtiest roadside eatery we could find and, as usual, it tasted great. 10 mins from there and we were at the base of a hill we needed to trek to reach the fort. 10 mins .. Atul had said. Pratibha, Anita and Neetu had sandals. Chandini had her floaters on. Sushim and I were carrying infants and the 'hill' was a good 400 meters high. Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay wouldn't have made it up in 10 mins. Point to be noted, scratch Atul from the planning committee next time. Our spirits couldn't stay low for long though. The weather was perfect. Cloudy, so the sun wasn't out, and windy. Anand offered to carry my backpack and we set off. Kanush certainly dint appreciate being carried on a fine trail like that and she showed her displeasure by pulling my ears and kicking my neck. I finally gave in and put her on the ground. Bad move, In a few minutes I was huffing and puffing trying to keep up. "This stretch is risky dear, here, let me pick you up" I said as I grabbed her. She saw right through my ploy and started howling but I dint care. I had lost a lot of races but I had never lost to an 18 month old toddler and if I could help it I wasn't going to let that happen. We stopped for loads of pictures ( And a good 40 minutes later we were at the top. By then I had already run out of strong words to throw at Atul and even if I had any I was wheezing too much to be able to talk. Pratibha, thankfully was in the same state. So she could not make fun of me. The view from the top was magnificent. Green all round. The breeze was strong and rejuvenating. I forgot my aches and pains and whines and moans in an instant. The fort looked no bigger than a 2 bed apartment. It must have been a poor king who built that. But it was picturesque. Kanush and Pahi (sushim's and Neetu's kid) stole the show with cute poses and Kanush even did a little dance for everyone. Soon it was time to leave. Neetu had spotted a resort on the way and we decided to stop there for lunch. The menu was in a top secret code that few could decipher. We had 'plan non' (figured out that to be plain nan), polka (phulka) and what not. It was a varied spread on offer. There was rabbit, quail, goose. Sighting a rat on the rafters, the waiter offered to even cook that for us. We, however had had our adventures for the day and we chose just the regular items. We tucked in for all we were worth, cleaned out the whole kitchen and returned home, a happy, tired group. Sonu has now firmly bitten the trekking bug and I cant be happier about that. As for Kanush, next time, her mother will hold her .. and the backpack too.
Kanush is currently giving me a fine tutorial on the behavior of toddlers. She walks comfortably and all books on child rearing that I have filled my house with are of the unanimous opinion that I should now leave her to explore the world on her own. To do that we take all dangerous objects out of a room, fill it with toys, and leave her to play in it. A month back I left Kanush in an empty room with nothing but toys and a 15cm tall foot stool on which she sits. I had barely stepped out when I heard a 'thump' sound. I turned round to see Kanush on her hands, feet in the air. I started clapping and saw visions of a Nadia Comeneci coming out of my own home. My first instinct was to run for the camera to take a pic, but the thought of her mother, with the kitchen knife in hand, asking me how our baby ended up on her head, wasn't very enticing. Kanush had stood on the stool to see out of the window and had walked straight off it. Fortunately for her she had flung her hands out and she catapulted up to do a handstand. I rushed in and grabbed her legs before she could fall. She liked it a lot, wanted to do it again, even started crying when I took away the stool. Another time we ran into a dog that was barking madly. Everyone was running away from it and I too badly wanted to do the same, but unfortunately my daughter was running straight at it screaming 'bow bow' in an excited high pitched voice. She had never seen a dog that close. The poor fellow, scared by her antics, ran away and so she was saved.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Bees (1992)

It was sometime in 7th grade that I was taught the modus operandi of honey bees. The bee stings .. and then the bee dies. I found that hilarious. I think I even asked the teacher if that qualifies to make it the stupidest animal on earth. I found out, painfully, a couple of weeks later that it's not a bad means of self defense.

The day began like every other day in my life. The sun rose in the east, I was tortured in the badminton camp, I was late for school, I served detention. You know .. every other day in my life. And then, before I knew it, it was evening and I was on my trusty bicycle pedalling to the badminton camp again. There was a colony of honeybees on a lamp post just outside the stadium. It had been there since the stone age and the bees had never troubled anyone. I used to be very nervous around the hive, but ever since that wonderfully enlightening lecture on bees in my science class, I never gave the hive a second glance. So I parked my bike and was just thinking to myself that it's a particularly cloudy day when the first bee stung me. That was no cloud above me. Someone had thrown a stone on the hive and I was right below it. "No problem I told myself, It's me, superior mammal, against some asinine dodos out to commit suicide". I quickly recollected the second sentence of my science teacher. " If you are attacked by bees, cover your face and freeze, they wont see you and they will pass by you". Freeze I did, with an expression of serene confidence, for about half a minute. That's when the next bee stung me. I guess that one was retarded even by bee standards, and so it drove straight into me, even though I had used my brilliant mammalian brains and beaten the system. I jerked in pain and the onslaught began in earnest. The stings were coming thick and fast and I knew that I had come a poor second in this battle of wits. Screaming in pain and fear I ran for dear life and plunged, fully clothed, into a nearby swimming pool. I stayed underwater for a full 4 minutes ( that's still a personal best for me) before I surfaced. Once out, I ran into the changing room and closed all the doors.

Darkness fell before I had the courage to venture out. I hit the road as fast as I could and sprinted home. At first no one would open the door for me. It took me half an hour to convince my parents that I had not kidnapped their son, in fact, I was their son .. just with a swollen face and a bruised ego. Ever since I have had a healthy respect for all animals. Bees, ants .. they're all smart .. it doesn't matter what the book says.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Shanku (1990-1999)

Shanku and chakki came to our house when they were a month old, mongrels picked up by the fisher woman who had heard that we were looking for a dog. She said that their great grandparents were Alsatians. They were tiny puppies and mom put them in a couple of shoe boxes. Later she found a bigger box where they could both be together. I loved them. Everyday, when I came back from school, I used to run to the box, where they would already be whining and rolling around in anticipation. Days passed and soon they were both old enough to be tied outside. Chakki was soon given away as we could not keep two dogs. That left shanku and me. We spent all out free time together. Roaming the neighbourhood, climbing walls, chasing cats, even picking fights with the odd dog that ventured our way. Mom said he was a mirror image of me. I took that as a compliment though I doubt if he liked the comparison. As time passed it became quite apparent that there was no trace of Alsatian in his blood. Oh!! he was aggressive, very aggressive, but only when he was sure that aggression would not be reciprocated. Walk in well dressed looking nervously around for a dog, and shanku would bring the house down with his barking, not to mention his wide legged stance and bared teeth, a true gladiator in the Colosseum. But walk in in rags with a stick in one hand and a stone in the other, and there would be no sign of a dog in the vicinity. In his whole entire life he never bit anyone. He was too scared they would bite back.

As Shanku grew, he became even more of a gentleman. He made his peace with all the dogs in the neighbourhood, never got into fights, found a mate, settled down and started a family. Watching him I learnt one of the most basic lessons in life. The key to contentment does not lie in fat paychecks or fancy cars. It lies in our heart. In our attitude to life and the challenges it throws at us. Shanku was happy, and he dint even have a kennel of his own. He used to lie in our porch on rainy days and out in the garden if the sun was out. He used to drink water from puddles and scavenge for food when we took off for vacations. But he was happy. Happy because he could chase butterflies. Happy because he could see me come home from school everyday. Happy because he was always thrown tit bits while we sat round the dining table. And finally happy because he had a partner to share his life with. His wants were few and he had what he wanted. So he was happy. I have seen that same happiness in another place. There is a home for rehabilitated street children here in Hyderabad. It's name is Ashirvaad and I have been there a couple of times. This place is run wholly on contributions from good Samaritans and very often they have to run from pillar to post for basic amenities. About ninety kids sleep in a single room on bunk beds stacked one on top of the other. But look at their faces and you see a happiness not seen in our daily life. They are thankful for what they have and they believe they are blessed to have this opportunity to pull themselves out of their past. I help these kids whenever I can but I feel no sympathy. They don't need it. They are genuinely happy and that cannot be said for everyone else I see around me.

Shanku's death was very sudden. We had never put a collar around his neck as everyone in the colony knew him. And he was harmless, so no one had any reason to wish him ill. One day people from the pound came down to our colony looking for stray dogs. In Trivandrum the pound does not capture dogs alive. They inject them with poison and load the corpses onto a small cart to dispose of them later. Shanku had never seen a pound cart before. So he genially walked up to it and checked it out. Seeing all the dead dogs he started barking and they caught and injected him. By the time they realised he was a pet dog, it was too late. Mom was called and he died with his head in mom's lap and licking her hand. I came from college and was told what happened. I told myself that he was a good dog and all dogs go to heaven. So he was in a better place. We buried him in our backyard. I missed him terribly, still do. He was my brother, my friend, my guardian, my teacher. But he had to go someday, and I know he wouldn't ever want me to be sad.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

For want of a dustbin (2004)

My first job after I graduated from MS was in a small start up company in Hyderabad called Danlaw. The DSP group in that had all of six people and two of them worked in another office. As can be expected, we bonded into a close knit unit. Within a month of my joining, one person left for USA and that left three of us in office. Ritesh, Madhubabu and yours truly. We did everything together, coding, lunch, even the short tea breaks. Our boss was Reddy, a singular individual. If he needed anything done, he would call an engineer up to his office, describe what needs to be done in 5 minutes, and spend the next two hours explaining the social and economic situation of India and specifically the state of Andra pradesh. The poor engineer would take a good half an hour to recover from this mauling and come back to his senses, by when it would be time for lunch. After lunch he would have two tasks at hand. The first is to get the task done and the second is to crouch under his seat or jump out of the window whenever Reddy sir is in the vicinity. If he fails to do so his punishment would be another two hours with Sir discussing the art of living and the key to a happy and prosperous future. Whatever the case, sir would expect the task to be done at 6, failing which the engineer would be subject to another two hour lecture on the values of time management and punctuality.

That bitter pill called experience taught us that 3 O clock in the afternoon is when Reddy sir becomes restless and comes looking for a lamb to slaughter with his words and we got into the habit of taking a long tea break at close to 3 ' O clock. So there we were, Madhu, Ritesh and me, at the terrace one day, looking down at the road below, talking about how good we had become at time management and punctuality by taking this half hour break. I was the first to finish my tea and I looked around for a dustbin. Dint see one, but I did see a dustbin down below on the other side of the road. Confidence personified, I wrapped up the tea bag in the tea cup (to give it some weight) and threw the tea bag right across the road into the bin. Next came Madhu. He asked me where I threw my cup and I pointed to the bin. He looked unsure "Will it go that far?" "Dude, I just threw my cup" "Alright then! here goes" .. and he threw the cup. But the cup dint fly, it only floated. He had forgotten to wrap the tea bag. A strong wind would have brought the cup right back to us .. but where is wind when you need it .. where is anything when you need it. Darn you Murphy .. I'll get you one day. All three of us leaned over the parapet to see where the glass would land. There was a poor innocent soul down below. Well dressed, tie, polished boots, the works. He had parked his bike and was intent on adjusting his dress and hair, fixing up any minor glitches. Looked really chic too. The glass landed upside down on his head with the last drops falling on his shirt. Madhu and I disappeared in a flash but Ritesh was still there, frozen, a foolish grin pasted on his face. I don't know what followed, as Madhu and I ran straight into Reddy sir and got a fitting punishment for the next two hours. I will however say that, since that day, whenever we went up for tea, Ritesh would bring a small plastic bag with him for us to keep our cups .. just in case there was no dustbin around.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Achan's Shashtipoorthi (Feb 2007)

The sixtieth birthday of an individual is called a shashtipoorthi and is a very important ceremony for hindus. On this day the person's children offer prayers for the well being of their parents and the parents get married again. This of course assumes that the parents are still together .. something that is not guaranteed in modern times. I will however excuse the learned sages on this point as, while throwing a few beads and looking at stars might give them a glimpse into the next few years, a few millennia is a long time to look ahead (the oldest veda was written at roughly 1200 BC).

This year was my father's shashtipoorthi. Father's actual birth date is a matter of huge debate in our family. What we know for sure is that he was born sometime in the year that India won her independence. He was born in a joint family with over a hundred members and keeping track of a hundred birthdays is no small matter. Moreover if they start celebrating birthdays, they would end up celebrating everyday. So he grew up never knowing what a birthday was. It was on the 10th of Feb 1951 that dad was sent to enrol in school. They asked him his birthday. He dint know what a birthday was and With all the wisdom of a four year old mind, he assumed that 'birthday' was the same as 'today' and so he said his birthday was feb 10th. Thus his birthday became feb 10th.

It so happened that dad and mom were visiting us in feb this year and so we decided to conduct father's shashtipoorti here in Hyderabad. The first thing was to get a priest. Sonu and I went down to a nearby temple and spoke to the person there. He was quite knowledgeable and after agreeing to hire him we had a very pleasant conversation fixing up the time. It was as follows.

priest : The best time to conduct prayers is from 4 to 6
Me : Wow, that's very convenient .. I thought it would be sometime in the morning.
priest : (giving me a strange look) .. It is in the morning
Me : What!! ... w . w .. why!!!!
priest : It's bhrama muhurtham .. when all the gods are out of heaven and roaming around in our world. If they see us offering prayers at this time, we will get twice the blessing
Me : No no no no no .. half the blessing should be more than enough.
Sonu : (pulling me away from there) "So that's settled, Nishant will come to the temple at 3 and pick you up.

I now understand why all hindu rituals have to start at wee hours of the morning. Someday I am going to do intense meditation, get an audience with the gods and ask them to move their sight seeing to a better time. To top it all I had to pick up the priest an hour before 4. With the bath taking and getting ready I decided it would be better to fore go sleep for the night. Dad and mom too had come round to the same view and we sat up on the night of feb 9th all set to not sleep at all. Talked and talked about my childhood and dad's childhood and mom's childhood. They say that you can talk and talk about these things. They are wrong. By midnight we were all out of stories. At 2:30 sonu woke me up and said I was snoring too loudly and the baby was waking up because of that. I would have muttered a few curses .. but what if any of the gods were out early .. not that I am scared of them .. heh heh!! I pulled myself out of bed, took a bath and went and picked up the priests.

They had already arranged all the stuff and at the dot of 4 they started the ceremony. I think we need to employ more priests in government offices. Since it was almost a redo of the wedding ceremony, both dad and mom had to sit. Seeing mom struggle to fold her legs under her I could see that it wasn't my fault I wasn't flexible. No sir .. it isn't the fault of the overeating sedentary lifestyle of mine. It isn't because I don't stretch or run .. it's the genes. When I get to heaven I'm going to get a good lawyer and I am going to sue my ancestors. two assumptions here ..1) I can find a lawyer in heaven 2) I go to heaven. As time progressed mom's discomfort grew and grew. Her face started to take on comic expressions. Just when she thought she couldn't do it anymore they asked mom and dad to get up. The ceremony was on in full swing. they had lit a fire and invoked all the gods and goddesses and after having offered prayers to please them dad and mom were to get married in their presence. One of the rituals was to pour a pot of water over the couple's head. The water was kept out the previous night and it was a particularly cold night. I could see dad and mom freeze as the water was poured. Mom later told me that the water even numbed the pain in her knees. Note to myself .. if I have a shashtipoorthi .. there will be no water pouring stuff. They exchanged garlands and dad gave mom a kiss too to top it off. The priest sat down and explained the significance of all the rituals he had done to us. It was a really nice feeling sitting there and listening to the person talk. Finally I dropped him back and dad and mom went over and visited the temple to close out the ceremony.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Have Nothing At All (Aug 2001 - Dec 2001)

Indian students in USA can be broadly divided into three. The 'haves', the 'have nots' and the 'have nothing at alls'. The haves, better known as American Born Confused Desis (ABCDs), come to college in flashy cars, hang around in funky malls and give the rest of us a preview of what our kids would be like if we stay on in US. Most of them are wonderful people. Very funny, very balanced, and often extremely brilliant. Cant help but admire them. But then there are 'the others'. What do I say!! They look upon us as the scum of the earth. They call us PIGS (Poor Indian Graduate Students) and they think that the ultimate dream of all of us is to get a foot into their 'cool' circle of friends. Someday I'm going to ask one of these asinines if he realises that his parents were also 'PIGS' like us.

The have nots are Indian students, albeit one rung up on the hierarchy because they have a scholarship. Some of them deserve it by virtue of their brains, some get it through sheer hard work, and some are just plain lucky. But however they get it, once they get it, they are worshipped. Every semester they is a crowd of new students around every one of them receiving tips on the fine art of 'obtaining a scholarship'. Among scholarships an RA (research assistantship) is the holy grail. If you get one, you are pretty much set throughout your MS. Usually the research you do will be sufficient to get you a couple of publications before you get out, an easy ticket to a job. Slightly less coveted is the TA (teaching assistantship). Here, you assist a professor with his lectures, grade homeworks, take labs, and help students with any doubts on the subject. It is a fun job for those who like teaching. You meet so many different people. I lost a lot of my prejudices about Americans after I became a TA. The big bonus of a scholarship, in addition to the paycheck, is the fact that your semester's fees gets waived. This could be as high as $20000 (It was $5000 in my university). This leaves you with enough money to buy a used car, rent out some furniture, get a PlayStation, and indulge in some creature comforts. A decent life.

The 'have nothing at alls' bring up the rear end of the hierarchy. They would have run from pillar to post from the day they land, to the last day scholarships are handed out. Discouraged and demoralised, they would, in one stroke, exhaust whatever money they bring from India to pay tuition fees for the semester. They then take up whatever hourly job they get on campus to make ends meet. If this is not enough, they also need to get a scholarship for the next semester or it is back to India. To this end, they volunteer to take up a little work without pay from any willing professor (there are many unscrupulous ones waiting for these students) and also study hard to ensure straight As and a grade point average of 4 for the semester. It is a miserable life that allows no more than 4 or 5 hours of sleep at one go and at least one night a week when one doesn't sleep at all. How do I know? .. I was a 'have nothing at all' for my first semester.

I landed in US in August 2001. I couldn't get in touch with any senior, so three of us newbies shacked up in the cheapest two bedroom apartment we could find. Vidyasagar, Meghraj and me. We were a study in contrast. Vidya wanted to live life king size. He got a scholarship the day after he landed. The next day he took us to Walmart and bought everything we could ever need. From toilet paper to a microwave oven .. everything. Meghraj and my eyes popped out. We sat him down and explained our dire financial situation to him. "Dont worry macha!! did I ask for the money? .. you pay when you have it .. till then I'll pay". Magnanimous guy .. but a little less magnanimous and a little more parsimonious was what we were looking for. And so we talked on until we had tempered his enthusiasm and talked him out making walmart a second home. The last day for fee waiver had dawned and Meghraj and I were still unlucky. There was this one scholarship in another department. It was a toss up between the two of us. The person told us that unless one of us stepped down he would have to put off the decision to the next day. With hounds on our tail, we knew we couldn't wait. Meghu's need was greater than mine and I backed out.

So D-day passed and I was on this side of the line. Time to look for a job. Meghraj still needed a little more money and so he too joined me on the job search boat. We tried the cafeteria first, but they had already hired everyone for the semester. That left the cleaning jobs for the stadiums. Person in charge was an old man called Mike who had a reputation of being a grouch. After a brief search Meghraj and I managed to find his office. Wasn't the most pleasant sight. It had 666 nailed on the door and the room was full of pictures of spiders and other insects. In the middle of it sat Mike, in all his glory. "You guys looking for a job? Go talk to Mary, fill out the forms and report for work at the basketball courts after the next game .. get out! " We got out, and it dint feel a second too soon. We filled out the forms and left.
Games were usually on Friday, so that Friday we reported for work at 8:00 0 clock in the evening. There were two people in charge, Mike and his beautiful assistant Rebecca. We warmed to Rebecca instantly. She spoke softly, asked us about India and was really sweet to everyone. "I'll need two people to come with me and mop the Concord." Meghraj and I shot out of our seats as volunteers. The rest of you join me to clean the courts and the bleechers", said Mike. Two birds with one stone. Mike out of the way and we work together. So we followed Rebecca to the Concord. She showed us what to do and left. We put in steady work for a couple of hours and completed mopping the Concord. We were tired. Just as we were about to sit down, Rebecca popped out from thin air. "You guys done? Great, come with me to the next section". We could see Mike and his boys from where we were. Mike was really good to them. To begin with he worked with them, so he knew when to stop. Every 45 mins he gave them a break and often he got them hot dogs or something similar to eat. Our tummies were making funny sounds. Rebecca dint seem to notice. She took us to the next section, showed us what to do, and took off. This went on for the whole night. Mike and his men made merry while Meghraj and I toiled and toiled till our hands were ready to drop from our shoulders. I worked on the courts for the whole semester, but never again did I work for Rebecca. It was Mike or no one. The next semester I landed a TA and said an emotional farewell to life as a 'have nothing at all'.
P.S : That picture was taken in the department building at 3 O clock in the morning. We were just about done with homeworks and were winding down with a game of cards.