Back after the holiday break and don’t feel like getting back to work? Is that why you are blog surfing? Don’t worry, it’s an all too-familiar feeling albeit until a few years ago; I don’t wake upto alarm clocks anymore.
So while you’re here, I might as well narrate an incident that happened two days back at the parlour. And I promise that would be not as boring as the title of this post is. Parlour - yes, the same place where newly married husbands don’t mind driving their wives to while they catch a movie in the multiplex and still have enough time before the beautified wife emerges out; with time, the chauffeuring comes down as the husband prefers lounging on the couch on Saturdays to catch a Formula 1 race or basketball game than you know what! My trips were always far and few in a year and never lasted more than 15 minutes. After all, how long does it take to pluck a few hairs off one’s eyebrows, right? I’m glad LG’s entry has not affected that part of my life yet and I still sneak in a quarterly trip for 15 minutes. The much-needed haircuts are an annual affair, perfectly timed so that mom doesn’t see the tresses cut too short and the husband doesn’t find it too long.
One of the days this week, yours truly paid the monthly visit (frequency increases as child grows) to the same parlor of which she has been a regular customer. Choosing one requires strategic thinking in many ways - one that is no more than 1 Km far from home so that you can dash back, one that is affordable, clean and finally, one where I witness no attitude. This newly opened place was close to home and very near to where I shop for groceries, so it worked fine for me until this week’s visit. For starters, the lady at the reception was rude from the moment I entered. And then what perhaps irked me the most was guys dashing in and out of the room for no reason. Hey, this is a woman’s parlor, if you plan to have guys inside then you’re going to lose people like me. There were guys who were chatting up the girls while they were at work - threading, waxing etc. And they had no good reason to be there. Conservative you may say, but I found it odd for a well-kept and much-advertised place such as this one. Initially, I had planned a haircut but canceled on grounds of an uncomfortable environment. The lady at the reception had stepped away for a chit-chat with another dude inside a cabin while I waited to pay and leave. She merely raised her eyebrows when I told her the reason for canceling my haircut as if I was some alien conservative from a nearby village. Whatever! She randomly chose to increase the price by 10% and refused to give a bill or an explanation. Merely, said they had started collecting taxes. Fair enough, I was aware of it as they did the last time too. Instead of Rs.20 it was Rs.22. This time around, she wanted Rs.28 without a bill. Rs. 6 is not a big deal to have an argument but anything unethical even if it is 1 Re. does warrant an explanation. She just shrugged, went in, and sent the change through a helper after 5 minutes when I lost my patience. Those 10 seconds of non-spoken conversation and actions were enough to lose a loyal customer.
For an upcoming place like this, it is not the price of service you are offering to a customer that matters, it is the amount of good name you garner. Heard of word-of-mouth marketing, anyone? This place spends a substantial of money on marketing through paper ads regularly. And this happens all the time even at the biggest retail stores that spends thousands of rupees on advertising and marketing. So now I’m on an hunt for another parlor and that’s giving me sleepless nights. Seriously, no kidding
If you reached this far, I admire your patience. Now, get back to work.
Distance of time and place generally cure what they seem to aggravate; and taking leave of our friends resembles taking leave of the world, of which it has been said, that it is not death, but dying, which is terrible. ~Henry Fielding
Twelve days ago, on Dec. 12, my grandfather lost his battle to life after a prolonged period of misdiagnosed illnesses - from Alzheimer’s two years ago to brain tumor and more recently, cancer. He was 91. In a strange way, I was more relieved as he breathed his last late night on Dec. 12 with his beloved ones by his side, for he had suffered a great deal these past four months. Dad who was all set to travel that night but postponed his plans by a fortnight perhaps sensing the end was close.
The first time I got to know that thatha didn’t have long to live was in August this year. I cried miserably that day. At 90, he went about doing his daily activities meticulously getting up at 5:30 a.m. followed by a quick shower, visit to the temple, his prayers, reading newspapers etc..I find it hard to digest that until two years back, he would write letters to the editor regularly to magazines, solve crosswords, and attempt puzzles. Considering he had nearly lost his eye sight after multiple cataract operations - this was an achievement in itself speaking volumes of his perseverance.
My fond memories with him date back to the late 80’s and early 90’s when we three grand-kids would surround him after dinner by the veranda and he would narrate ghost stories with passion - not made up ones, these were real is what he had told us then. He had lived for a few years in the midst of a huge farm earning his livelihood from the family’s agriculture business. Stories of a lady clad in white sari walking through rooms after 6 p.m. was a common sight that scared the hell out of my granny, he would say. And then as years passed by, he often narrated about his travels across Tamil Nadu with the then DIG; grandpa was with the police force in an administrative capacity until he retired in the mid-1970’s.
A self-made man - he remains an inspiration for me to this day on living a simple life. He had worked hard to get his children educated through school and college, construct a house, and more importantly bring dinner to the table with a meager salary. Sometimes, I’m told it called for cycling over 30 Kms to get a bag of rice from the village to city that could feed the family of four. I shudder at the thought now that he was over 75 when he filled air in our cycles as we got ready for school every morning; I studied at my grandparents’ for a couple of years. Some other fond memories I have of him was his passion for gardening. Coming from an agricultural family, he tended to his garden in the city house himself - the drumstick tree on an average bore about 75-100 every day in season, sometimes even 200. He had a knack for climbing the coconut tree to pluck the tender coconuts and there was something magical about the papayas that grew in the garden.
His command over the English language was one to admire. Call it the fruits of the Colonial rule or whatever but I admit I would still have to refer to the dictionary if he were to write a letter. Unfortunately, in recent years most of his letters were addressed to the Treasury Department relating to his pending pension. The reticence of the state government didn’t deter him from trying what he believed he deserved. And that perhaps remained his regret till last day for he felt he never got his due. Unbiased, very affectionate towards his family, and totally detached towards materialism is how I would remember him forever. No favorite food, and a white dhoti and shirt was all he needed for an existence…never asked for more! I wonder what it would take to get those virtues.
His last few months were the most painful as cancer spread through the body and he writhed in pain, subsequently slipping into a partial coma and reduced to a vegetable state with absolutely no food intake towards the end. (The steroids gave him a violent behavior for a brief period.) In the last month or so, he was reduced to a skeletal frame and it was very disheartening to see a man of such physical might and mental strength getting so helpless. Thatha - undoubtedly, you will always remain my favorite grandparent.
A great soul like you is no more amongst us. I hope you find peace on the other side.
December has clearly been the month for “Education”. A 2200-word piece on “Earning and Learning” describing part-time work options for students pursuing higher studies in US, UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, Ireland, and New Zealand is ready to be published in a travel magazine. In yet another assignment, I was to work on a series of 8 articles relating to US on how to choose a school for graduate and post-graduate education, how to select a major, trade schools, hot careers of 2008, online schools vs local campuses. I completed a part of it before turning down the rest for whatever reasons (read: lack of time). There’s only so much one can do in 3 hours set aside for writing every day. And I’m just done drafting another 2,300 word article on “Studying in Canada”. With an overdose on studying, my head is spinning with names of Universities, tuition fees, statistics, visa regulations, and Ivy Leagues. On the bright side, I’m glad this has been a busy month for writing. That ofcourse does not necessarily translate to a good paycheck.
Signs of recession impacting the publishing industry are all too evident now. I’m waiting to be paid for an article I wrote last December. And the number of unpaid for articles just keeps increasing month. Hopefully, it will be a fresh beginning next year and finances will get sorted out.
This New Year’s eve, http://lakshvivek.com domain turns one. I’m not the kind who sets goals, makes resolutions on New Year, so let alone writing them down. However, last year I made a mental note of buying my own domain before the years ended. This was a recurrent item in the to-do list for over 3 years. Here’s the entry I wrote after launching this blog. I bought the domain 31st Dec 2007 afternoon and launched it a few hours later well within the deadline. From my past adsense earnings, I assumed this blog would be self-sustaining. But, it’s not. Still, I went ahead and renewed my hosting space and domain for another year. This time not expecting to reap me money any more than it already has. It would be foolish to expect different results by doing what I’ve done for 5 years here. Readership continues to me meager; I feel compelled to write so “reflections” will go on.
Surprisingly, what does earn me some money on monthly basis is from unexpected quarters - Li’l General Rules and the older version of reflections that I’ve not spent a penny on except my time. This blog is hosted by Nettigritty - a provider based in Bangalore. It runs on Linux with the XS plan. I’m almost running out of space now. I’ve renewed for another year but contemplating if I should move to someone else. Their service has been great. I get response for my e-mails within minutes. Any suggestions/opinions on pricing of other equally good providers in India, please leave a comment.
The moon took refuge under a thick cover of clouds tonight but that didn’t deter my spirits; standing in the cramped utility space, I stuck my neck out in an awkward position with LG over my shoulder to get a glimpse of the semi-circle, pristine white body up there. Post-dinner it has become an unsaid tradition of taking a walk to see the moon with LG on the stroller so much so that our neighbors have come to acknowledge it as our “moon-light walk”. With the temperatures dipping slightly for winter, there’s a chill in the air; our night walks have gradually come down as a precautionary measure for I don’t want LG to be sick child on his own birthday- which is just a week away.
Winter is not significant enough to be called as a season on its own in Bangalore; alright mercury levels dip a bit and the sun sets early and rises late but other than that it’s all normal. But December brings with it a depressing feeling; it’s quiet, dark, cold, and eerily silent. I don’t know if it’s just me but I can’t wait for the New Year to set in and get over with the last month of the year.
There was one winter that I loved. Thinking about that December gives me gooseflesh - the winter in Chicago, for days I waited to see the first snow, to feel it in my palms, to see it covering the colorful shrubs lining up the streets of Magnificent Mile, to see the lake freeze, to be dressed in layers of clothing and yet step out cheerfully every morning, to see the fireworks light up the Chicago night sky every Wednesday and Saturday, to go ice skating and fall over and over again and still not give up - everything about that winter seemed perfect. I’d never seen or felt snow before so it was a novel experience. The first night when it snowed, I frantically called up all the people I knew who were awake and rushed down onto the streets to feel snow and watch the kids (very few that lived Downtown) make a snowman.
This winter is quiet, very quiet indeed. I have tons of work to complete before the 25th and the weather isn’t making it any easier. The silence is haunting, so I’ve finally taken to listening to loud music over and over again on youtube while working. It’s addictive and very little work gets done. Let’s not talk about taste, for now- damn promos and watching TV!
If you are wondering how the three title words are related, then don’t worry because there’s no mystery in there; all I could think of at this time of the day were single unrelated words. It’s Friday night and I would have loved to gorge on a cheese Pizza topped with jalapenos, black olives, mushrooms, corn, and the other regulars. The thought of a newly opened pizza outlet about 250 meters from where I live doesn’t help much. Pune and Bangalore are contrasts in every aspect of the daily life. I waited a good seven months before I could feast on a Pizza - one of my favorite foods - in Pune because I was pregnant with LG and couldn’t make it to the city. Can you believe it meant an hour’s drive to visit the nearest Domino’s or Pizza Hut and home delivery was virtually unheard of until about six months back? In Bangalore, there are two outlets within half a kilometer.
Sleep. Now food and sleep are two things I value very much in life; I can’t decide which one comes first but today I will go with sleep. Or maybe food on second thoughts. I can describe to the minutest detail the layout of our bedroom, the speck of dust adorning the fan blades, and the globe shape formed by orange hues from the night lamp’s reflection; no big deal if you spend hours night after night staring into these objects, right? For years, I went to bed to 10:00 p.m. and woke up by 6:30 p.m. - yea, I was one of those humans that required a minimum of 8 hours sleep to be sane the next morning. It all changed once Li’l General came into our lives. To match his night-time milk schedule, my bedtime shifted by an hour. Of late, with work keeping me up late nights, the mind is too alert by the time I land in bed while the body craves for some good sleep. I’ve been struggling to get a balance between the two. Committing to more work this month isn’t helping either. So, I guess blogging will be a bit slow until I finish my projects before Santa arrives. Yes, the Santa Claus countdown has begun. V plans to visit us for a few days later this month. Yay! For now, I’m totally sleep-deprived and “sleep” tops my wish list for next year (I have the right to change it tomorrow, if I get a good night’s sleep today ). Talking of wish lists, do you have one or believe in one?
“I don’t know”, was my reflex response for years when faced with an uncomfortable question or one that required any thinking. I realized this was a safe answer that didn’t encourage a conversation, offered a temporary relief from making a life-binding decision, and one that led to no confrontation or further discussion on controversial issues. Issues, not the kind to decide if Rangarajan will a better successor to PC, but the ones closer home that we are familiar with like “Should I have my delivery here or at my mom’s?” or “Do I keep my job or quit?” or “Where do we spend Diwali - your parents’ or mine?”; the solutions to these which most often are elusive are far more consequential than Rangarajan taking over the reins of the already battered economy.
And then, it all changed one day. After that fateful wedding in 2002. For a few more years, I hung on tightly to the “I don’t know” rule. It didn’t take long for V to see through my scheming. Over the years, he has prodded me in his very outspoken way to find answers to the unknown; he has encouraged me to openly admit when I DO know the hard answers. To his credit, I rarely take solace in the unknown.
A friend who has just had her second baby while the first one is just out of the toddler years asked me, “How do I know what I want to do?” The state of managing two young children needs no elaborate description. The frustration for a career woman to be holed up inside a home changing diapers, making baby food, taking them for a walk on a stroller and putting up with tantrums is something that has to be seen; often it takes no more than 5 minutes for them to breakdown on a comforting shoulder. Domesticity is not bliss in these moments. To work or not to work seems like a life-altering decision something that you are bound for life. One’s ability to see past the you two years of a child’s initial years of dependence on a parent is totally blinded. This friend is torn between the parental guilt of not being able to raise her kids on her own and going back to work full-time. I asked her a few questions and predictably answers to most were a shrug or an “I don’t know.”
Do you know what you want to do? I have been faced with this numerous times in my life. Not once did I know what I really wanted to do. However, I always knew what I didn’t want to do and that just made it easier. She asked me how I got to doing what I do right now. It wasn’t easy. I did a few odd things over the last two years before I started enjoying writing. For instance, it was SEO consulting for the two months after I quit working at Cognizant and before delivering my son Li’l General. When I didn’t have enough time to market my SEO skills, I turned to freelance coding for a while. Finally, I settled on stock trading that I still continue to do. Stock trading for a 5% monthly return on investment doesn’t demand 8 hours a day. With a few more hours to spare, I took up freelance writing. As I look back, it was my need to be satisfied monetarily and do something creative with the option of blowing it into a full fledged career later on.
There’s nothing like a dream job. If you love the work you do in the field you are passionate about, in an environment that’s great to be in with money enough to fill your coffers, then count yourself lucky. Else, take this career advice - keep passion and the job that pays you enough separate.
No decision is binding for life. Understand your priorities : passion or money? Then use the elimination rule. Sooner than later, you’ll know what it is you want to do.
I couldn’t think of a better title for this post but this says it all - 25,869 words in 30 days. November is traditionally recognised in writing circles as the National Novel Writing Month - an event that brings together professional and amateur writers from around the world challenging them to write a novel of no less than 50,000 words. The goal is to write every day so that in the end one would be done with a 175-page novel. The concept of NaNoWriMo has in recent years been extended to blogging giving rise to the concept of NaBloPoMo - National Blog Posting Month. NaBloPoMo requires bloggers to post atleast once every single day for 30 days in November including weekends, and holidays. I didn’t register for this year’s event but was keen on attempting it. Any regular blogger would know it takes a lot of discipline, perseverance, and undying enthusiasm to blog day after day and to keep the ideas churning. I set myself a target of writing 30 posts every day on my other blog Li’l General Rules. Today, on the last day of November, the number of posts clocked stand at 26, falling short of my goal by 4 posts. But I’m glad on having attempted it and coming so close which instills me with the confidence and energy to try again next year.
This November has been a significant month when it comes to writing. Between this blog, Li’l General Rules and my daily writing projects, I’ve written over 25,869 words - the highest ever for a month since I started writing about a year ago.
“Where are you from?” is a simple question that doesn’t warrant any thinking; it’s akin to asking “What’s your name?” Unless one is an absent-minded professor, the reply should be a reflex reaction. However, of late I find people respond to the place of their origin with a “It’s slightly complicated” or an evasive “Umm..” followed by what they think is appropriate at the moment after due consideration. I’m with the group that chooses a place per convenience. Weird? Well, let’s see as I draw the picture for you.
Born in Southern Tamil Nadu. Studied in places across Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Bahrain. Parents living outside India intending to settle in a different town where neither have roots nor were raised. I’ve worked in Bangalore, Pune, and Chicago not necessarily in the same order. Married to a Bengali who was born and raised in Punjab and speaks Punjabi, Hindi at home. I currently live in Bangalore. So when people ask me where I am from, I answer “Bangalore” though I’ve never lived in the city continuously for more than four years. The fact that we own an apartment here brings that affinity for the place. Wonder what people with multiple apartments in different cities would say? After all, real estate is no judging factor to be rooted to a location for an identity.
A few weeks ago, a lady (let’s call her Ms. S) at met had a similar story to narrate. Her father was in the armed forces which in turn implied she had schooling in more number of schools than there were grades to study in (sometimes one grade in more than one school). The “Indian Identity” was not uncommon to folks from the Armed Forces and with parents in transferrable jobs such as those in banks. But to majority civilians when job-hopping was considered a big career mistake, it was a strange feeling until a few years ago to not have a place that you could call home. It’s an increasingly wide-spread phenomenon. Every second person you meet in India’s metros today are like Ms.S and I. Our kids in that sense will have more Indian-ness in them. And for all you know, they might just start calling themselves an Indian instead of a Bangalorean or a Delhite.
Regionalism is still pretty much intact in tier-2 and tier-3 towns of India. The cosmo experience has its own advantages. With the stay in every city, you take away some aspects of it that change your lives permanently. Pune, how-much ever I detested initially, always made me feel good for its community living. I regret spending the festive season in Bangalore. Be it dahi-handi during Krishna Jayanthi or pandals during Navratri and Ganesh Chaturthi, the city came alive taking in Puneites and outsiders alike in its festivities with an open embrace. My best Holi moments were in Pune. Bangalore, for all its claim of a blend of traditional outlook and modernity of a cosmopolitan, has that inherent aloofness, a cold feeling that’s difficult to describe.
Living across cities opens a wide array of culinary choices. I find it rather interesting at the ease with which we have sabudana khichdi one day, idli the next, paratha, and pohe the following days. Until a few years ago, we would have been discouraged to welcome Maharashtrian or Bangalorean food home out of a lack of understanding. What was restricted to experimentation in restaurants has entered our kitchens now.
Where you live transforms one in ways that’s difficult to comprehend at times. Sometimes it’s beyond reasoning. It was only natural for V to have immense faith in visiting Harmandir Sahib every time he was in Amritsar because that’s what he believed in during his growing up years. He may not live there anymore but that doesn’t shake the faith you’ve harbored all your life.
So, where are you from? A straightforward answer would indeed arouse my curiosity in you
“Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticize me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you. Encourage me, and I will not forget you.” - William Arthur Ward
I’ve made peace with myself, finally. Criticism and comparison has plagued me all my life. My best critics were at home: my family - brother in particular. My parents were very sparse in their words when it came to appreciation for fear of letting success get to my head, as I understand their intentions better now. But in their own subtle ways they encouraged us by rewarding with simple gifts that I wish I had treasured. They were more attached to the trophies we won as kids - my mom going to the extent of polishing those brass and bronze statues every year. Sometimes it amazes me as to how these objects have made through our years of moving across cities and countries so much so that the hand-written note on the bottom of every prize citing the year and the name of competition is still intact. My mother would get me an audio cassette of the latest Hindi releases of my choice every time I stood first in class. I recall getting Aashiqui and Dil cassettes in the consecutive months. My brother always reaped the benefits of my hard work, in a way So mom would be never like, “Great or Good job.” but more of the sort, “You’ve got to aim for 100 in the next term or finish this year with an overall first”. The bar was always raised higher pushing me to achieve the next best. In a way, it motivated me to take challenges I would never have dreamed of.
My dad of all, has been very proud of me all along. He has never missed an awards function in which I was due to receive a prize. The most vivid one in my memory is that of the Independence Day in 5th grade when I received 5 prizes. It was raining cats and dogs and the school had erected a make-shift tent under which hundred odd students and parents had assembled. Dad kept scuttling back and forth to receive the prizes on my behalf as a bunch of we students were stranded at the other end of the school getting ready for a skit (which was eventually canceled) unable to reach the venue due to the downpour. He counts that among one of his proudest moments. Appreciative of kids in front of others while absolute silence and no acknowledgement to us has been his stand all these years until recently. While mom maintains a dignified silence talking absolutely nothing about her kids to others, which I consider cool because it takes a lot to be that way. With LG around, I know what it takes to keep mum about your child.
Constructive criticism is good. It’s finding fault for every action that can get to one’s nerves - something I’ve never been subjected to. The greatest compliment in all these years that nearly moved me to tears came recently. It was from Dad a few weeks ago when he said he was proud of what I did now. This is HUGE. Encouraged by the words, I read the mail over and over again pinching myself to believe it wasn’t a dream. It was for REAL. I love what I do now, to write. Nothing has made him more happier than to see my name in print. I’ve reached the stage where I don’t look for validation of everything I do. Writing is a path of self-discovery for me; it’s not a full-fledged career yet because the “C” factor is missing. Confidence of making a living from writing will come once I start f believing in the written word and devote more time than the current 2-hours-a-day.
Do you have a critic at home?