Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Some pictures from our trip to Italy last summer

Some nice views of Venice, Pisa, Florence and Sienna, during our trip to Italy last summer.

Friday, October 02, 2009

New Blog Location

I am (finally) moving to my own domain, and my own blog. Follow me at:

Saturday, February 28, 2009

On Winning the Parent Lottery

The title of this post refers to a statement from the book and the talk, "The Last Lecture", by Randy Pausch, a Computer Science professor at CMU, who had pancreatic cancer, to which he succumbed in July 2008. In his book, Randy talks about how you have don't have any control over who your parents are, and how they influence your life the most in your formative years, which in turn determines to a large extent, the shape your life takes.

Recently I read three books on stories of women oppression- "A Thousand Splendid Suns", "Not Without My Daughter" and "Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia", based in Afghanistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia respectively. All three are excellent books, and I highly recommend reading them all; especially the first one. I shudder to think what would have become of me if I were to have been born in a family/country that had no concept of women's rights whatsoever.

I feel *so* lucky to have been born and brought up in India, by excellent, very well educated parents who have been most supportive and encouraging of all my ambitions, my goals and my interests in life. I very much consider myself to have won the parent lottery, hands down.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Support SaiG for his Fund Raising for LLS

Cross posting from my other blog (Pradnya's Marathon Training Blog) to target a wider audience:

A very good friend of mine, SaiG, is training with Team in Training with the goal of running the Seattle marathon in June 2009. In addition, his goal is to raise $3900 for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. This is a cause that is extremely dear to my heart. Even today, when I hear of someone training with TNT and raising funds for LLS, it strikes a deep chord.

Please support SaiG in his mission to help fund research on leukemia, lymphoma, myeloma and hodgkin's disease, and to help support the patients of these diseases. Together, let's help fund and find cures for these terrible diseases..

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy 200th Birthday, Charles Darwin

This day today, 200 years ago, marked the arrival of Charles Darwin into this world. On this occasion, I'd like to recommend the following award winning documentary to readers: "The Genius of Charles Darwin" by Richard Dawkins. A very fascinating and very well done documentary..

Monday, February 02, 2009

On A Mission

It had been a long time since I had gone on a hike, and I had been itching for a nice time in the wilderness. This trip to the bay area seemed like a good opportunity to get some hiking done. Getting friends around here to join me turned out to be quite tough. I was therefore thinking of doing a hike alone- something I had done a long time back- almost 7 years ago. Finally, a couple of days worth of frustration, caused by a freak online stalker, pushed me over the edge on Saturday morning, and I concluded that a good hike was the only way to get over my sinking spirits.

I decided to hike up Mission Peak in Fremont- a trail I had done with a friend, about 6 years back. As I set out on the hike, I knew exactly why I was impressed with this hike the last time around. The vistas were just excellent. The elevation gain of about 2200 feet is quite obvious in the kind of scenes you see on the way up. You get a view of the entire bay area below you and the nearby mountains, as you ascend the peak. The 2.8 mile trail is a moderately difficult one, with a continuous upslope, without a single respite. The trail is entirely worth the strain on the muscles, and I'd strongly recommend it to anyone interested in hiking.

I reached the summit in about a couple of hours, and estimated that I could get down to the trailhead in about an hour. This left me plenty of time to enjoy the scenery around, to eat my packed lunch, to read a book, as well as to watch a couple of paragliders take off and glide down the hills. And to regain my lost enthusiasm..

By the time I had made it down to the trailhead, I had successfully accomplished my mission of cheering myself up. I am not certain whether this was due to the beautiful vistas, or the thrill of ascending a challenging peak, or the unique charm of a solo hike, or the contemplative nature of the hike, or the fulfillment of some not-so-obvious desire somewhere within, to assert myself as an independent woman after reading a couple of books about stories of women oppression in Afghanistan, Iran etc. The sum total of it all was that I had a wonderful time hiking up Mission Peak, alone.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Table For Two

Here's a beautiful picture by Sandip- Table For Two- Bali. Reminded me of our recent vacation to Bali. Checkout this one and some other nice pictures on his blog.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

On Reading Books v/s Reading Blogs

Manas has an excellent post about "Book-as-Blog", where he makes the case for splitting books into chapters or even smaller units, and publishing them as blogposts.

While I don't have any numbers for justifying this thought, anecdotal evidence through conversations with a lot of friends is enough to convince me that this is a great idea. I have heard so many friends complain that these days they spend most of the time reading stuff on the net, and that they dont have much time, or patience to read a book sitting down. I personally wish I had more time to just lie down and read some book (which btw I managed to do on a recent vacation). The only reading I get done these days is on a flight or train. (Hmm, here's one advantage of a long-distance relationship).

There is no doubt that reading a book online does not come anywhere close to the charm of reading a book while holding it in your hand. But then, same is the case with newspapers. And don't we all read most, or maybe all of our news online these days? Maybe books are going that way as well.

On the point of reading books in PDFs, one chapter after another, v/s reading them broken down one chapter at a time via blogposts- I think it's just due to the lack of time and the lack of attention span that we have developed, and come to accept in this Internet era. This reminded me of the article in The Atlantic, titled "Is Google Making Us Stupid", by Nicholas Carr, which talks about how the online era is actually making humans more and more stupid by giving them all the information online. Although I don't agree with most of the article, a few of the points he makes are quite valid. It is true that our reading habits have changed a lot due to the presence of the Internet, blogs and all other online stuff.

It seems to me that reading books as blogs is the way to go, especially for those that spend every single waking moment on the Internet.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

On Becoming Fearless: A Must Read For Every Woman

Recently I read the book, "On Becoming Fearless... In Love, Work, and Life", by Arianna Huffington of "The Huffington Post" fame. It is an excellent read, and I would recommend all women to read it. She talks about fearlessness as not really the absence of fear, but the ability to overcome the fear that every single one of us- man or woman- has, in some form or another. A lot of the thoughts in there resonated very well with me. However, I did not buy her arguments in some of the chapters- especially the one on god. I highly recommend reading at least some of the chapters- the ones on fearless about the body, love, work, leadership, and about changing the world.

Here's an interesting excerpt from the book, that hit spot on:
Beyond the major moments of fear in our lives, there are many other times when we sacrifice our personal truth to go along, be approved of, or just plain be "nice". Because despite all our advances, there's still a huge premium on women being "accomodating" and "team players" who don't "rock the boat". As Marlo Thomas once said, "A man has to be Joe McCarthy to be called ruthless. All a woman has to do is put you on hold."
Most girls are brought up with the "be nice" philosophy. If they are forthright or tomboyish (read: rude, daredevils), they are smirked at by everyone around. It takes a lot of courage and persistence to keep that attitude going. Even for a die-hard tomboy like me (S.E.S. junta: does that sound familiar?), there have been lots of moments when these exact fears had crept in, and I was unable to overcome those, thus forcing me to be "nice". At some point, I learned to overcome these and just adopt the screw-you attitude. Over the last few years- especially after going to the US, I have become a lot more self-confident, fearless and aggressive. In spite of that, once in a while, I do get called a "mouse"; although these occasions are quite rare these days. I do have a long way to go before I can claim to be able to overcome the fears that I have in life..

Talking about sacrificing personal truth in order to be nice- there are times when our opinions are very different from those that are being discussed on the table. Now, whether to argue tooth-and-nail about these opinions with some random Joe Schmoe, or to let go and just nod your head along, is a dilemma we face quite commonly. Most of the times I just go along with the flow, not because I want to be nice or anything, but just because I don't want to militantly argue about some random topic with someone, whose opinions I don't care much about. Now if I know that someone very well (like say Niket) and we differ in opinions, I will of course argue my heart out.

There are times though when random people say random things and you don't respond, thinking you don't care what that random person thinks; and then a couple of hours later, you realize that you do actually care about that statement, because the fact that you did not give a fitting response at that time has been bugging you a lot. This happens to me especially when the statement is made about sensitive topics like diversity, women's issues, independence etc. This, I would definitely consider as sacrificing personal truth.

Some of the other discussions on fearless about body, work etc. are also very interesting. To every woman I know- rather than worrying about "how will I look at the holiday party if I wear x y or z" or about "what will my boss think of me if I say or do x y or z", please do yourself a favor and go read the book...

Surely You're Joking, My Dear Mom

I can write tons of blogposts about conversations between son-in-law (read: Niket) and mother-in-law (read: my mom). Here's an unforgettable gem.

MIL: I was reading "Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman!" the other day. Very nice book. Richard Feynman very much reminded me of you.

SIL: (Thinking: Oh dear FSM, this statement is worse than that made by any of my students. How am I supposed to respond to this?) Aloud: Aai, do you realize that you are comparing me to one of the world's most renowned, Nobel-prize winning physicist, who is an excellent teacher and researcher. There is no way I can live up to that image.

MIL: I meant, his experiences with teaching, research, students etc reminded me of your experiences...

When I heard about this conversation, my first reaction was- exactly why did she think about N? Was it really because of his teaching, research, students etc., or was it because of his (I meant Feynman's) fondness for topless bars? ;-)

This is the typical blind admiration that is usually reserved by parents for their sons or daughters; or these days- for their sons-in-law or daughters-in-law. I can almost imagine the conversation between my mom and some other two MILs.

Random MIL-1: My SIL is so great that he has now become the President of the Friendship Cricket Club.
Random MIL-2: My SIL is so great, so great, that he has now become the President of this big company in the US.
Subject MIL (my mom): My SIL is sooo great, that he will some day win the Nobel prize!

My mom sure has a lot of expectations from my dear husband. FSM help him!

Don't Be Dismayed At Goodbyes

When I visited the US this time around, I was pleasantly surprised to find that one of my friends from grad school had moved to the bay area. It had been three months since he joined, and I had no clue about it. In fact, it was about two years since we had last met, and I had lost touch with him for the most part. We had a few email exchanges in the last few years, and I knew when he had graduated etc. But I am not the kind of person who will keep in touch with people once they/I move on. He does keep in touch with people, but you need to be a single female for him to do that. And I don't fall in that category ;-)

We decided to meet up for dinner. And it was almost as if the two years in between had not passed at all. We did catch up on what happened during that time, but otherwise it was just the same. Our rapport was the same, I was just as comfortable talking to him about a lot of things, and so was he. It was almost as if we picked up the thread from where we had left a couple of years back. I was thrilled.

This is not the first time this has happened. It's been the case with other friends as well; at least the ones that I am really close to. You tend to form new friends, new ties when you move to a new place, and that leaves lesser and lesser time to maintain the old friendships. Plus phone conversations are not really as informal as meeting up and chatting in person. One of the worries I had, when I moved from the US to India, was that I will lose contact with friends in the US. Thanks to my frequent trips, that has not been the case so far. But I am now sure that even if the trips are not as frequent, and even if I am not really in touch with good friends on a regular basis, when I do happen to meet them, it will be just the same.

I was reminded of a quote by Richard Bach, that I had read a long time back, that seems quite apt (although I don't subscribe to the "after lifetimes" part, and in fact a lot of his philosophy):
Don't be dismayed by good-byes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Middle Link

Here's an awesome statement made by my husband's friend, who is a young, eligible bachelor, not particularly interested in getting married right away, and whose parents tried introducing him to a young eligible girl. He met with her a few times and they both decided things were going nowhere.

His concluding statement to his parents was: "You guys want a daughter-in-law. That girl wants parents-in-law. I am just the middle link in this requirement. Why bother me.."

Now that's an interesting perspective on arranging a marriage!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sampoorna Woman: Follow Up

Here's a follow up to my earlier post about the "Sampoorna Woman" track on PANIIT. If you go to the site now, it has been changed to: "For The Family". I am unable to retrieve the original cached page. In summary, the track has been now changed to be less disgraceful to women. It is termed as being for the family, and everyone is welcome to attend. They got rid of the "sampoorna woman" term. Although the core activities of the track are almost the same, they have now invited everyone to attend the main sessions. This was a welcome change from what the track was in its original form.

However, change does not happen by itself. You've got to fight for it. After writing my previous blogpost, I would have just given up and walked away, furious with the PANIIT organizers, furious with everyone involved, and more importantly, enraged with society. Luckily for me, I have an extremely supportive husband, who thought it was important to pursue this topic further.

Additionally, in this case, I was lucky to have a supportive colleague who realized the ridiculousness of the whole thing and who had the tenacity to follow up the matter with the concerned folks. He pointed out that as a sponsor company, we should engage in a dialogue with the organizers, and highlight the wrong attitude of the track in question. After some back and forth between the organizers, and our HR folks (who were very persistent themselves), the outcome was quite positive, as seen in the final changed version.

It helps to work in a company which understands its women employees and fights for their issues; it helps to have supportive, persistent colleagues; and it definitely helps to have an extremely understanding and encouraging husband. However, note to self for future cases like this one- despite the luxury of such a wonderful support structure, I should be the one fighting for change myself, rather than relying on others to fight the issues for me.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Sampoorna Woman: WTF

The PANIIT 2008 Global Conference's program designed "Especially for Spouses" highlights the height of obnoxiously obsolete thoughts in the midst of technological progress. In a world that's taking huge strides forward in terms of making the workplace a bit less cold for women, the so-called highly educated minds, who choose to inspire, innovate and transform, have actually chosen to transform back over a century in time.

There are tons of things I can point out that are wrong with this program. I'll write about a few over here:

1) The program starts by saying it is designed "especially for spouses". You think- whew, at least they said spouses, not wives. Wait, you thought too soon. The very next sentence is:
The theme for the spouses' track in this year's PANIIT is "Sampoorna" - programs meant for the complete woman, who is able to perfectly balance her personal, professional and public personality.

What about the female IIT alumni? Are their husbands supposed to be encouraged to be a "complete woman" as well? Hmm, maybe! Or maybe these people are finally accepting homosexuality with open arms!

2) The "Sampoorna" woman is such an archaic thought that I need to first sit down and think what it can possibly mean. Well, by the PANIIT definition, the "sampoorna" or "complete" woman should be able to perfectly balance her personal, professional and public personality. Huh? What's wrong with these "stalwarts of technological advancement"?

If a woman has an excellent professional and public personality, there's bound to be a compromise on the personal life. Does such a compromise make her an "incomplete woman"? And of course, a man in the same situation is always a "complete man". What the hell!

3) The program includes activities like visits to dakshin chitra, cholamandal artists' village, kalakshetra (all famous for their arts, crafts, music, dance), as well as some shopping for jewellery, silk and handicrafts. There are also some workshops for mehendi, cooking, dandia etc.

Really! Is that all they think a "sampoorna woman" should be exposed to? Well, how about a tour of the campus facilities- the library, the labs, the departments, the sports facilities, the swimming pool? How about a tour of leading research institutes in Chennai, like the IMSC, Cancer Institute etc. How about a few demos that were recently showcased at Shaastra 2008 in IIT-M, like the NUS robotics show, the defence tanks, the vertical take off and landing? What about talks by Nobel laureates? What about talks by leading industrialists and researchers and academics? Oh wait, I forgot. Maybe these are reserved only for the "complete man"???

4) The eminent women invited as chief guests for the program are- hold your breath- Hema Malini and Shilpa Shetty. They will speak on how to be a "complete woman". What! Are these the only leading women that they can think of? How about inviting leading women researchers, scientists, doctors, businesswomen? Oh no, I forgot. They are not "complete women" anyway!

5) The program included a "Mystic Trail" track, which has since been taken off from the website. The cached page on Google describes this track as:
In the afternoon our Mystic Trail will take you through some of India's most well known practices such as Astrology, Palmistry, Gemology, Nadi and Kili Josiyam. The entire trail will be set in the IIT Campus, giving the participants an opportunity to get a first hand experience of some of India's most occult practices and beliefs.
I just cannot absorb the fact that the alumni of IIT, which supposedly gets the "cream layer" of the country's brightest minds, actually believe in and encourage these "occult practices and beliefs". And on the very premises of one of the most prestigious educational institutes in the country! Seriously- Astrology! Palmistry! On campus? WTF!

Wake up, people! The world has moved far ahead of you. It will take eons for you to catch up. Please make some use of your "bright brains" and of the education that has been imparted on you. Please think!

- Written by a Proud-to-be-Non-Sampoorna-Woman (who managed to complete the blogpost without dying of cerebral aneurysm)

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

It's a Feature, Not a Bug

This statement was hilarious, considering the context that it was made in. Here's a snippet of a conversation between me (P), my sister S, and my husband N. S lives in the US and had called us over the weekend.

S: Hey, how are you guys doing.
P: Fine. We are just about done cooking dinner. We'll eat now. Can I call you later, or actually, maybe over the week.
S: You guys are always busy. You don't have time to talk to me these days.
N: Weekends are the only time we are together. We are not together over the week, like you and your husband.
S: That's your (N and P) fault, not mine.
N: That's a feature, not a bug!

S, N and I just burst out laughing. It was an awesome statement in a completely different context.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Contrasting Scenes at Two Train Stations

A couple of years ago, on our way back to the bay area from Salt Lake City by Amtrak, our train- the California Zephyr- was delayed by about 3 hours. We were stuck at the station, with about 25-30 other passengers, and one station master. There was pin drop silence in the waiting room, as everyone was sitting quietly, either dozing off or reading, or just starting into thin air.

I was reading the book, "Collected Fiction" by Ruskin Bond, where he was describing a scene at a train station in India. It was a beautiful description, one that brought vivid memories of buzzing train stations to mind. What a sharp contrast it was, to the scene that I was experiencing on that cold night in Salt Lake City. Here's the excerpt that I was reading, from the short story, "The Last Tonga Ride", by Ruskin Bond:

"'Do not worry about the train, it never leaves on time, and no one expects it to. If it left at nine o'clock, everyone would miss it.'

Bansi was right. We arrived at the station at five minutes past nine, and rushed on to the platform, only to find that the train had not yet arrived.

The platform was crowded with people waiting to catch the same train or to meet people arriving on it. Ayah was there already, standing guard over a pile of miscellaneous luggage. We sat down on our boxes and became part of the platform life at an Indian railway station.

Moving among piles of bedding and luggage were sweating, cursing coolies; vendors of magazines, sweetmeats, tea and betel-leaf preparations; also stray dogs, stray people and sometimes a stray station-master. The cries of the vendors mixed with the general clamour of the station and the shunting of a steam engine in the yards. 'Tea, hot tea!' Sweets, papads, hot stuff, cold drinks, toothpowder, pictures of film stars, bananas, balloons, wooden toys, clay images of the gods. The platform had become a bazaar.


The station bell clanged, and in the distance there appeared a big, puffing steam engine, painted green and gold and black. A stray dog with a lifetime's experience of trains, darted away across the railway lines. As the train came alongside the platform, doors opened, window shutters fell, faces appeared in the openings, and even before the train had come to a stop, people were trying to get in or out.

For a few moments there was chaos. The crowd surged backward and forward. No one could get out. No one could get in. A hundrend people were leaving the train, two hundred were getting into it. No one wanted to give way.

The problem was solved by a man climbing out of a window. Others followed his example and the pressure at the doors eased and people started squeezing into their compartments.

Grandmother had taken the precaution of reserving berths in a first-class compartment, and assisted by Bansi and half-a-dozen coolies, we were soon inside with all our luggage. A whistle blasted and we were off! Bansi had to jump from the running train.

Our train finally arrived at 2:00 am. All passengers queued up at the doors and boarded the train wordlessly, in single file. After 15 minutes, the train took off, leaving the sole station master behind at the platform.

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Tale of Two Monkeys

I don't know what's with monkeys and me these days. They seem to be displaying this special affinity towards me all of a sudden. Two incidents within a span of two weeks is a bit too much for me to take.

A couple of weeks back, I had invited a few colleagues for dinner at my place. While N and I were cooking in the kitchen, I suddenly saw a monkey standing right at the door of the kitchen. We were trapped in the kitchen, with no exit route. With no prior experience at handling monkeys, I was completely psyched off. N, on the other hand, had encountered monkeys entering his office and trying to steal things. He started making some loud sounds with a pan and ladle, and managed to drive the monkey off. On the way out, the monkey managed to spoil the cucumber that we had grated for raita, and made a mess in the entire dining room.

Last week, while we were on vacation in Bali, we visited the Uluwatu temple. The temple is very beautiful, on top of a cliff right next to the ocean. There were tons of monkeys around there. We were quite careful to secure our belongings. However, the monkeys were smarter than us. Just as my attention got diverted while watching one of the tourists feed some nuts to a monkey, another monkey sneaked up behind me and snatched off my eye-glasses. Thankfully it did not scratch my eyes or face. The bananas and nuts that we offered to the monkey were not enough for it to give the glasses back to us. It just ran off down the cliff into the trees. I was left vision-less for the rest of the day, and am down to wearing contact lenses for a week now.

The positive side of the whole thing is that now I am all set for the next monkey onslaught!

Friday, May 02, 2008

Adoption by Same-Sex Couples

This weekend I landed on youtube after a very long time. The first video that I immediately felt like watching was one that I had seen quite a long time back. It's a wonderful video that just stays on in your heart.

In the video, the adopted son of a gay couple sings this song about how proud he is of his parents, and about the love and care that they shower on him. He sings to an audience of a bunch of school kids. The song is really beautiful. And the response from the kids is amazing.

Watch the video at: Kinderen voor Kinderen song

Not surprisingly, this video is from the Netherlands. Currently adoption of children by same-sex couples is legal in less than 15 countries, the Netherlands being one of them. I very much am in support of legalizing it, and I really wish more countries were in favor as well.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

N's Experiences in India

Since I have not yet managed to write any posts about my experiences in India, I'll take the easy way out for now and link to a few posts that N has written about his experiences back here.

What a waste of resources
More Culture Shock

Super-Efficient Banking

Monday, January 21, 2008

Martin Luther King: I Have A Dream

I had written this post on Martin Luther King day, but never got around to posting it. Although the blog was supposed to be specific to India move/experiences, it was too difficult to resist putting up this post. So here goes.


Every time I hear Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech, it cuts straight through the heart. If this doesn't bring tears to your eyes, I doubt anything else will...


Return to India...

I'll start off this blog by quoting what I had typed up about about 4 months back (8th Sept, to be precise), on the way from San Francisco to Chennai via Singapore...

The decision has been made. And the time to act on the decision has finally arrived. N and I are moving to India- for good. This is after 8 and 9 years of stay in the US for N and I respectively.

I am sure that the "reverse adjustment" is going to be a challenging one, even more so than the challenges when we moved to the US. Time will tell whether we are able to make the adjustments fine enough.

Over the last few months, I have had numerous conversations with friends who have been toying with the idea of moving back to India. Some have reached a conclusion, and others have not. A few of them suggested that I write my experiences down in a blog; that's the reason this blog exists.

The point of this blog is to pen down a few of my thoughts and experiences as N and I make the move to India. These are just personal experiences/opinions that my friends have asked me to share on a blog. These are not meant to serve as anything more than an example of the kinds of things one might need to think about when making the move to India.

I owe a lot of these tips to three friends of mine who moved to India 1-3 years before I did. Two of them- V and D, a couple that I knew from my grad school in the US- moved three years back to Hyderabad. V has a blog that I gleaned some of the pointers below from. Another friend, M, whom I have known since my high school/junior college, moved about a year back to Bombay (Thane). He had also given us some suggestions on email and phone, that I am adding to this blog. A few other experiences, that I have heard from other friends that have moved to Madras, Bangalore, Hyderabad etc, will also appear once in a while.

Whether the decision to move back is the right one or not- only time will tell. I believe that all decisions are always for the good. They either turn out to be the right ones, or they turn out to be not-so-good ones, that just make you stronger by teaching you to face some realities in life. We shall see!

The bottomline is, I am very much looking forward to my move to India. India, here I come!

I have put in the above note verbatim, without editing a single word. Those were words written on a very important flight in my life, hence they shall stay un-edited!

However, on further thought, I would like to mention that apart from the moving to India topic, I would also like to write about my different experiences in India in general, especially after having gotten used to life in the US. A colleague of mine from the US has been asking me to write such posts, and so it shall be.

In summary, here are some accounts of my journey back in India.