Archive for July, 2005|Monthly archive page

Guilt or resentment – let’s flip a coin

The new apartment saga continues. When my flat mate & I moved to the new apartment, we were faced by the mother of all questions (well, at least as far as new houses / apartments go) – who gets the master bedroom?

Being two individuals who detest confrontation above all else (makes for a peaceful, if at times too full of passive-aggressive door-banging behavior), neither of us wanted to come out and say – I want it! If an outsider observed us at that time, he’d have nominated us for the Nobel Peace Prize or slammed our heads together. Both of us repeated our own versions of “You pick whatever room you want. Am OK with anything. After all we work so late – I just need a place to sleep.” At least in my head, the thinking was somewhat different, ranging from “Oh God, Oh God, please pick the smaller room’ to ‘Why don’t you say you want the bigger room. That way, I can fight for it, and try to win it fair & square!’

This happens way too often for my liking. When I was a child, I had no problems staking my claim on all sorts of things. Of late, some gosh-awful age-related gene’s gotten activated, and I have this overwhelming urge to do the ‘right thing’. Unfortunately, the old genes haven’t been completely inactivated. Result: I feel the simultaneous need to do what I know I ought to do, as well as what I truly want to do. A damn confusing state to be in.

In some cases, the goody-goody feeling you get when you do the ‘right’ thing is better than the alternative. An example would be not insisting on watching a movie when the Chithi finale (or whatever soap they now have in India) is on. Even I realize that something like the Chithi series finale is a very big deal, and butting in would be petty.

In other cases, this decision is not so easy. The whole of last week, I could talk of nothing but the Half Blood Prince to all and sundry, even when some of my audience showed visible signs of agony (the yawn suppressed for the 39th time, the urge to holler ‘Grow up, will ya? It’s only a BOOK. For CHILDREN. Just LET IT GO.’ kept under strict control, lame attempts at changing the subject, the works…) Not all of my friends are JKR fanatics, and I know that. Just chose to ignore that for a week, that’s all.

There’s nothing wrong with this state of imbalance, except that my mind expects to either receive or pay some form of compensation after the fact. When I feel that I’ve just acted ‘better than a saint would’, I automatically climb up a pedestal, and expect to be worshipped, at least by the parties involved. And life being as it is, of course, this doesn’t happen. And I go around resenting the world at large and that person in particular. When I’ve been selfish, I spend at least a week thinking up suitable ‘return gifts’ or dreading what blood-money I may be demanded to cough up…

The long and short of it – I got the bigger room. And I’m still cowering under the guilt. Why is it that I seem only capable of feeling guilt or resentment? For once, I would give anything to simply take a generous gesture at face value, be grateful, and move on. And just for kicks, I’d also like, at least once, to be generous, and not feel like a martyr.

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Karma & The Wisdom of Trees

I moved to a different apartment this week end. Given that am alive to tell the tale, I suppose it went well. I hate it – the whole process, I mean. Of course, no one loves to wrap all of their possessions in a combination of old newspapers / cardboard / plastic held together by cellophane that sticks everywhere but the places it is supposed to stick, put them in a truck, drive about for a while, and repeat the whole process in reverse. And having done that part (or most of it anyways), it still doesn’t feel like ‘home’. It helps that am so tired that when I hit the bed, I fall asleep instantly. But the day is not too far off, when the muscles will have returned to their normal limp state, and the Tylenol will wear off…

Why do human beings feel the need to move? Maybe, the bigger question is why do human beings feel the need to accumulate? Among my ‘cherished’ possessions – an envelope from a purchase made at the American Museum of Natural History (this envelope made it from New York to Delhi to Dallas in the last 2 years), clothes I didn’t know I had, tubes of toothpaste with about 0.2 grams of toothpaste, a broken shoe-rack (that cannot be mended), old magazines, and God, so much more.

I did the math this morning (when my brain got off the NyQuill I took last night to get over the cold I now have because of all the dust I’ve been inhaling) – on average, I have moved once every 2.7 years in life. And all this experience has taught me zilch. I still buy books as if I owned an ever-expanding, wood-paneled library. I cannot resist buying clothes or shoes or well, not throwing away old toothpaste, or really nice shopping bags (you know which ones – the fancy ones, with the handles & everything…they look soooo nice! How can you just throw them away??!)

Are human beings unique in this need to accumulate assorted junk? If other animals are doing it, do they just collect the stuff they ‘need’ – just like they eat only when they’re ‘hungry’? Why does a place not feel like ‘home’ unless it has, at the bare minimum, 20 things that you have absolutely no use for?

Trees are more sensible about these things. They find a spot that offers decent food & light, and say, “Well, this is it, baby. I’m putting down me roots right here!” And the more sensible trees even shed the unwanted stuff (old leaves, dried up branches, other assorted junk) once a year. None of the questions that concern us matter – is there a Wal-Mart or Kroger in the neighborhood? What about a Pizza Hut – will they deliver? How many minutes can I shave off the commute? What school district? Which floor is the apartment on? (Minor math involved for folks, like me, who only recently moved to the US – the ground floor is the first floor, the first floor is the second floor, and so on.)

According to The Economist, 40 million Americans will move house this year. 40 million – in one year! Can we imagine even 1% of that many trees moving? An evergreen from up north saying, “I think the weather’s really nice in Florida. I’m getting out of this cold.” Or a tree from Dallas going, “I’m moving to Manhattan to see some action – catch the shows, visit the museums, have a life!” Or hear the trusted Neem from India – “The opportunities in California are soooo much better! There’re hot Biotech start-ups around every corner… I could make it BIG!” No. Because trees are wise. You’ve got to admire their commitment.

I think I want to be a tree in my next birth. But knowing my luck, I’ll probably be cut down & made into a damn shoe rack, and be lugged all over the place, all over again. The concept of Karma blows, doesn’t it?

When enough is enough

One situation when someone did say enough is enough. A few days ago, Hemangini Gupta, a very brave lady put her foot down, opened her mouth, and screamed. And then followed that up with a police complaint. After reading her post, I talked about it with some of my female colleagues, and it is amazing how many women have had experiences like Hemangini’s.

And the minute that something goes wrong, girls are trained to look inside themselves first – did I do anything to bring this upon myself? Girls must have eyes in the backs of their heads, my mom says. What about boys? Do they look inside of themselves? In fact, do they think at all? Even when someone tries to cheat in an exam, I would think they would spare half a thought for what happens if they get caught? When you wear a seat-belt in your car, or a helmet when riding your bike, you do it as much to avoid shelling out 500 rupees to a cop, as protect yourself. Apparently not with “eve-teasing”. Why do men who abuse / harass women (I detest the term ‘eve-teasing’ – which feels more like Rishi Kapoor chasing Neetu Singh around a tree before every one marries everyone else, and all live happily ever after) never stop to think? The answer is quite simple – the threat of getting caught is practically non-existent.

It’s not just the men who’re to blame. Our values are skewed towards apportioning at least some of the blame on the women – if someone kidnapped a girl in Delhi , raped her, and dumped her back at the same spot, the questions asked include what was the girl thinking walking around so early in the morning, what was she wearing, did she do anything to “incite” the men? And these are not questions that some ignorant chauvinist asks – these are questions that our own moms could well ask, and at times, do. Even in this day and age, movies, hell, courts would still have us believe that marrying her attacker is the ‘honorable’ thing to do for a Bharatiya Nari. Are you kidding me?

And when someone actually has the courage to report an instance of abuse, everyone from the attacker (who, thanks to the fact that he’s an impoverished idiot from Bihar, suddenly morphs into the “victim”) to rank strangers, even her own family suddenly makes the woman feel guilty. Why does she have to be the forgiving one? Do I care that this man’s future could be spoilt by a stay in the jail? Yes, indeed – I want it to be spoilt – it is a simple concept called facing the consequences of your own actions. A speedier version of Karma, if you will.

It is amazing that issues of class crop up in such cases. When she was sleeping in her berth, Hemangini was an educated, wealthy (well, wealthier than her abuser at any rate) single woman and her attacker was a poor man from one of the poorest states in India, who is out looking for a way to improve his lot. But the minute that Hemangini officially files a complaint, she’s the rich chick who’s out to bully this socially & economically disadvantaged soul? Considering that he’s from Bihar, surely, that makes him something of a victim himself! What hogwash!

Hemangini’s awful experience is a lesson to us all – women, speak up, scream when you must. And when we raise our children, and teach them that he who lies will not get a meal (my lousy translation of ‘poi sollra vaikku bhojanam kadaikkathu’), we should also teach them that harassing a woman will mean that the next meal will inside a prison.

When do you have enough?

I’ve been mulling over this ever since I watched the Premiere of Morgan Spurlock’s 30 Days. In the first episode of 30 Days, Spurlock & his fiancée live on minimum wages for a month. It’s an eye-opening experience. I have no doubts that I will not survive such a life style. The sheer physical labor (waiting tables / washing dishes / yard work) is something that my body cannot take. I sound a complete snob when I say this – but it is the truth. I can peck away at a keyboard for 14 hours, longer if need be. But ask me to use a spade for 2 hours, and my arms are sure to fall apart. And you have no health insurance if your arms do fall apart.

I felt enormously guilty about every shopping spree I’ve indulged in – buying item after utterly unneeded, unnecessary item. There are people in this world who don’t know where their next meal is coming from, and here, I’d just blown $45 on a meal for two!

After guilt, came fear. What if, someday, I did become as poor as that? How would I survive? The little voice in my head that said that you’ve spent 19 years of your life acquiring an education to ward off (well, at least a little bit) against such a possibility was resolutely ignored. I even felt angry – here was one more thing to my already long list of bad what-if’s – what if I never get a job that I genuinely love, what if I never see Florence or the Pyramids, what if I never fall in love and oh so much more…I now had to start worrying about what if I hit penury instead of pay dirt? I felt very old, and very tired.

When do you say I have enough? Because in this world, you go straight from Morgan Spurlock to the Travel section of the Sunday Times – a world that fills me with longing, and tells me that I most certainly do not have enough – not till I have holidayed in Morocco or driven through wine country in Austria… Surely, as Gecko says, “Greed is good.” Yes, I have heard ALL about happiness being inside of you. But unfortunately, I am still a very long way from internalizing those oft-heard moral tales. Besides which, if I cease to want, will I also lose the will to live? Frankly, the dream of an azure Mediterranean beach (even if this may be a good 30 years away) is the ONLY thing that helps me through a working week end (like the present one).

Balance – a concept that seems almost impossible to achieve. When do you cross the line between ambition and greed? Between being content and vegetating?

A very wise friend recently told me that a great job, the love of your life or a winning lottery ticket could well be just around the corner. Perhaps wisdom, too, is just around the corner. In the meanwhile, I’ll continue to compensate every great meal with an equally intense attack of guilt.