Archive for the ‘My life’ Category

Relaxing massage, anyone?

The last couple of days were spent in a Pennsylvanian resort, part of my team’s annual “retreat”.  I wasn’t looking forward to it. A curmudgeon since birth, I don’t do ‘groups’. And memories of past retreats did nothing to cheer me up. The last one involved a group of fifty or more people divvied up into groups, literally running up and down another resort, in hunt of some lame treasure. We didn’t want to run, but since at least one boss-type individual was in each team, we had to demonstrate suitable levels of enthusiasm. 

This retreat ended up being closer to its definition. Each of us was allowed to pick an “activity” in advance. Choices included horse-back riding (which ended up being mule-back riding, or ass-back riding, depending on whether or not you signed up for it), shooting, fly-fishing, and an hour at the spa. I chose the one activity that involved the least amount of exertion, and the least amount of company – a massage. In these days of hedonism, it is embarrassing to admit this – I’d never had a massage. When the lady asked me when my last massage had been, I felt not unlike being at a doctor’s. There, I usually answer questions that begin with “do you have a history of …?” or “when was the last time you …?” with a raised eyebrow. It works like a charm. On the off-chance that the person asking the question fails to notice the color of my skin, the raised eye-brow makes them look up my name from a chart, the sheer un-pronounceability of which lets these inquirers know that not only are they being perfectly silly in asking me these questions, but they are potentially offending my spiritual and cultural sensibilities. 

But as I said, this usually unbeatable cultural advantage didn’t seem to help with my massage-situation. One is expected to “pamper” oneself these days, no matter what part of the world you hail from. My idea of pampering myself consists of washing my face with some fancy soap I purchased a few months ago. But my gut told me that this wouldn’t satisfy the massage-lady. So I bit the bullet, and told her the shameful truth. She was nice about it. And proceeded with a smile to torture me for the next hour. From my sole experience of this er, relaxing activity, a massage has three essential components: 80% is excruciating torture, 10% is serious concentration at not giggling, and 10% of feeling taken care of that almost makes up for the remaining 90% of un-fun-ness. 

I suppose I could’ve told her she was hurting me, but am always confused about whether it’s OK protest.  Whether a dentist or a masseuse, by my understanding, the contract by default involves a certain amount of pain. Doesn’t complaining about it make you something of a sissy, or worse a drama queen? And there’s also the “it’s good for you” sort of pain – the idea that present agony is going to save you untold future agony… all hogwash, if you ask me – because all they’re saying is that you’ll be in pain no matter what. But even the pain, I could take. It was the not-giggling part that was the toughest. Once the thought entered my head that giggling would be unwelcome (c’mon! one is supposed to be “relaxing”, soaking in vague mood music, breathing in aromatic oils – giggling does NOT belong in this environment), everything felt ticklish. But, determined as I was to survive this version of the comfy chair, I gnashed my teeth and thought of community banks. 

At the end of the hour, I emerged, feeling and looking like an oily rag. People waiting for their own massage commented on how relaxed I looked. I was too tired to protest that having used up all of my energy in trying not to scream or giggle or both, the slacker look was all I was capable of. Instead, I nodded along and let it be known that I felt wonderful. 

After a shower, I felt somewhat human again. I took out my book, sat in a swing by a lake, and spent the rest of the afternoon there. A couple of colleagues attempted to fish nearby. I watched in horror as these two cut some poor earth worm into little bits and hooked it on to their rod. They didn’t catch anything, and essentially spent the afternoon feeding the fish in that lake little bits of worm. I got up and walked around a bit, in an attempt to soak in more nature. A dyed in the wool city-girl, I can’t help thinking that nature’s a bit overrated. Sure, it’s pretty and peaceful (if you call replacing honks with cheeps and other scary noises as peace), but there seems to be nothing but dead pieces of assorted beings all over. Bits of worm left over from my colleagues’ ill-fated fishing expedition, a pair of claws from what I assume used to be a crab, discarded by some predator… In fact, I saw more partial creatures than I did whole ones. Whenever am away from a city, I ask myself if I’d be happy living in this valley or that neck of woods… and the answer is what it always has been – yes, but for no more than a few weeks at the most.

Dinner consisted of a whole baked potato, some sour cream and some ice-cream (there was lobster and chicken and beef, but what good was that to me?) Thankfully the massage had so tired me out that I fell asleep at 10:30, something I haven’t done this whole year, if not longer. The next day, we had a two-hour session on ‘time management’, at the end of which we concluded that none of the advice the nice lady gave was going to be practical. After the session, a few colleagues and I walked for a couple of miles to go see a water-fall, and then it was time to get on the bus to get back to the city. 

We’ll pay for this little retreat, when we get back to work on Monday, as work’s been piling up since Wednesday. But Monday’s still 24 hours away. Hopefully, that’s enough time for my body to recover from my relaxing getaway… At least the next time I’m asked when my last massage was, I’ll have an answer.

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Super, ladder, boyfriend, husband or bar stool?

I got back earlier this week from a short trip home. Obviously, I haven’t been sleeping too well. Last night, the jet lag was aided and abetted by the smoke alarm. It is apparently running low on battery. It was beeping its sad beeps when I got home from work. Over 24 hours later, it continues to beep. Only, I no longer think of it in such sympathetic terms. It’s a tale of so many twists and turns, not to mention frustration that it could almost qualify for an episode or two of a Tamil day time soap. I’ll try to keep it simple:

This smoke alarm (henceforth referred to as ‘Spawn of Satan’ or ‘Evil device’) is fixed to the ceiling of my apartment. Personally, I possess neither the height nor the mechanical equipment necessary to reach said Evil device. Naturally, I called the Building Super (henceforth also referred to as Satan’s Lieutenant or Blot Upon Apartment-dwelling Humanity). He expressed regret and conveyed the impossibility of visiting my apartment before the next morning (closer to noon, really). Since I cannot afford to take a day off simply to cater to the whims of assorted Spawns of Satan, I asked him if there’s any way I could leave my apartment key with him. This Blot Upon whatnot suggested that I leave the key near the mail box, assuring me that this is a super secret spot only he knows about, and is hence perfectly safe.

Around noon today, he calls me to tell me that there’s no key at the agreed upon spot. No, what he says is that there is a key, but this key does not belong to my apartment. His theory is that someone has taken my key (key to apartment 3B) and replaced it with that to apartment 3D. This baffles me. If an undesirable element of the city has stolen my key, surely, one does not expect him or her to play bartering games. Satan’s Lieutenant helpfully explains why in his view this barter is entirely possible, indeed probable – apparently the woman in Apartment 3D is quite used to leaving her key near the mail box for friends to pick it up. His theory is either that my neighbor left her key, and picked up mine (which again makes no sense). Or that her friend took my key and in a mood of Christian giving, left the key to 3D in this spot, which to me is beginning to look less and less like a super secret spot known only to government agents and building supervisors and more and more like the forest of Arden, where all and sundry assemble to exchange keys, and goodness knows what else. Mr. Super Spy No More calls me again to let me know that he has called the occupant of 3D and left her a voice mail, but if I do run into her when I get home, I should ask her about my key.

To cut a long story short, after an afternoon of nail biting frustration and abnormal blood pressure, I manage to get spare keys from my leasing agent, only to come home and find out that my key has mysteriously materialized back at the agreed upon spot. Satan’s Spawn continues to beep. The only difference is that it does so from my bathroom now. The Super was guilty enough about the affair that he left me his ladder, which I used to successfully take the device down from its lofty perch. But the battery change turned out to be more complex than I expected – there are wires involved. Hardware stores in the neighborhood are already closed for the night, and I’ll be spending one more night with His Evil Beepingness.

Friends and acquaintances who know the story have offered a few suggestions:

a) Make nice with the Supervisor, give him Christmas gifts and so on, so that he is more receptive to treating such situations as the emergencies they actually are. Problem is after today, I don’t want to make nice with this man.

b) Acquire a ladder. Not a bad option. Most independent of the lot – but where do I find the space for a ladder in a New York studio? For something I will need once a year, if that, it just feels like too much trouble

c) Acquire a tall boy-friend – the theory being that a boy-friend will find it more difficult to refuse to come help out, as opposed to a tall mere-friend. Fair enough, but this solution has the same problem as the ladder – barring these once a year emergencies, what do I do with him for the rest of the time?

d) Acquire a tall husband, the theory being that this is a more ‘permanent’ solution than a boyfriend. But problems listed under c and d apply here as well. In addition to those, the acquisition of a husband apparently also involves at least one if not or more of the following: quitting my job, moving out of my Studio, moving out of New York – which makes the whole changing batteries part moot, really, so this isn’t really a solution. (OK, so quitting my job has nothing to do with batteries, but it’s a big deal to me, so deal with it.)

Given the grief these so called solutions come with, I’m giving serious thought to a fifth alternative – bar stools. Taller than regular chairs, useful round the year and in more ways than one.

 

 

Souvenirs from the other side of the moon

On pure impulse, I accompanied a colleague who went to a 5th Avenue cosmetics store. She was going to get a make over and freebies were also available for a friend. Since the person she really wanted to invite was out of town, I ended up being R’s “+1”.

Stanley, the poor man who ended up with me, must’ve been scandalized. He asked me what I did usually, and I said nothing. Rapidly revising his standards, he asked if I at least used a moisturizer, and I said sure – he asked me to name names, and I couldn’t. Stanley was a good sport though, and proceeded to cover my face with 16 layers (I counted) of stuff. He patiently described what each product was supposed to do, what was the best way to apply it, and so on. One of the many layers of stuff (apologies to those who understand these things – to me, it’s just “stuff”, some smelt nice, others not) had vitamins A, C and E. I almost said out loud, “oh, just like the 14th street subway station!” – but was too scared to open my mouth, or my eyes…

He complemented me on my “healthy skin”, and once on the length of my eyelashes. It was obvious that Stanley was a trooper and could work with whatever horrors fate threw his way. At one point, he used some whitish stuff to cover what he politely called a “blemish”. Is that the PC term we’re using for pimples now? I wondered what the point was – unless you put on enough layers to raise the rest of your face to the same height as your, er, “blemish”, the damn thing’s still going to stick out, isn’t it?

Meanwhile R was also getting her own face done, and making what looked like great chit-chat with her er, person. I am terrible at making chit chat with hair dressers and well, anyone in the “beauty” industry really. I make great chit chat with the security guard who checks my back-pack at the Donnell Library, with the lady who gives me my free newspaper at the subway and so on. But put me in front of a professional beautician, and I freeze. My attitude veers between abject guilt (“I am so very sorry to present my sorry, shabby hair / face / self before you”) and a sense of determined entitlement (“Your whole industry depends on people like me who don’t exfoliate enough or at all, so I refuse to let myself be intimidated by you!”).

In the absence of chatter, Stanley was able to finish in about 20-25 minutes. I thought about this friend of a friend, who allegedly wakes up an hour early every morning to blow dry her hair. I only recently discovered that there’s more to “blow dry” than mere blowing and drying – so I realize what this friend of a friend does is quite elaborate. An hour earlier? If I had that kind of time, I’d automatically start staying up an hour later at nights to read or watch an extra movie. I mentally calculated how long it might take me to do what a professional like Stanley was able to in 25 minutes – probably an hour. Maybe after 10+ years of practice, I could get down to his time (he mentioned he’d been doing this for 13 years) – but by then, I’ll be older and will need to put in more time to conceal random wrinkles and other “blemishes”.

I realized why women who deeply care about their looks don’t care about books or many of the other things I care about – it’s not because they’re not interested. It’s because they don’t have the time. If I were to ever take up this ‘looking good’ thing, I would have to overhaul my entire way of life – when I wake up, when I go to bed, what sort of things I carry around with me, what sort of container I carry these things in (the powers that be in the fashion industry will never allow ‘water proof backpack’ to become the “it” accessory) – everything I have or do now will have to go, to be replaced with an entirely different set of things.

At any rate, Stanley was done. He asked me how I though I looked, and I felt obliged to tell him I thought I looked great! And I suppose I did. (It lasted less than half an hour, as I ended up eating most of my make up – no I didn’t lick my face, but did have to eat lunch.) He asked me if I had questions, and both of us knew that there was no way I was going to buy all of the stuff he showed me, let alone ask him for pointers about how to go back home and become a DIY-beauty. I did buy a couple of things – some soap with beads in it (“to exfoliate”), because soap is something even I can use. And some eye thingamajiggy, as an attempt to convince Stanley and myself that without being overambitious, I would at least give this beauty thing my best shot.

So much for an afternoon’s venture to the bright side of the moon. It is too scary to consider a permanent relocation, but I feel adventurous enough from having had the guts to make that brief visit. And I have souvenirs to prove I did go there.

Bibliophile

It’s interesting that the term bibliophile is inextricably linked to the physical object. I wonder if there’s a term which only means ‘lover of reading’, something that denotes just the act of reading, independent of the medium. Perhaps when the term was coined, one didn’t conceive that reading might be possible on non-print media.

At least for people of my generation, a love for the physical objects themselves was a pre-requisite. I can’t remember my first ever visit to a library or book store. It must felt very close to how it felt like when I wandered into McLeod’s Books in Vancouver last month. The smell of pulp, that very distinctive smell of slightly musty pulp, made me feel heady. The sight of so many books at one spot added to that feeling of slight imbalance. I came down from that high pretty quickly, as I felt overwhelmed by the thought that I’d never be able to read all those books, or even read enough to understand what most of those books were about. That low was followed by a slow climb to another high (a more permanent high this time), where I decided that I’d somehow manage to read everything worth reading, regardless of the seeming impossibility of that goal.

These days, it’s difficult to recapture that sense of awe-struck wonder. For one thing, neither the Donnell Library nor Barnes & Noble are at all musty. Even the Strand doesn’t scare me anymore. Everything is too neatly labeled and categorized. I suppose the idea is to make it less overwhelming, but all it really does is to make it all seem more mundane, and therefore easier to ignore. My love for new books, with their slightly moist pages, and their smell of new binding is for another post. But in this one, I am going to say that as much as I like new books, with their shiny covers and untouched pages, I’d much rather take older books, used or not.

Even libraries don’t seem to carry very many old books these days. You might get lucky and get an old edition of something that no one reads any more, or something which the library hasn’t gotten around to replacing with a shinier version. But that’s extremely rare. All you get these days are new books trying very hard to look like old books – with their vain attempts at evoking the past, replete with references to old paintings and books and maps. These are the books whose pages are thick and their edges a tad rough, as though the paper’s been cut with a dull-edged knife. Who’re they kidding? They’re as close to “old” as Dan Brown is to Umberto Eco.

When I was a kid, if you claimed to ‘love to read’, you also had to love the musty-odor, and the silver-fish, and the cob-webs. Books were hard-bound in an intimidating sort of manner (intimidating because they reminded you that they really belonged in a fancy glass book case and that you were ruining them by stocking them in your modest non-glassy shelf). There were no capitalized or italicized blurbs shouting the book’s worth to the world, no quotations from Michiko Kakutani or Salman Rushdie, not even a summary. There was nothing. You either had to have read something else by the same author, or you’d heard of the book from a friend, or you went with the title and what little you could make out from skimming through a few random pages. These books were clearly not published in the 80s. These are books from my grandfather’s generation – but for some reason, these were the sorts of books one found at libraries – be it the British Council or the Shankar Lending Library at Cuddalore.

When I was a kid, reading was a solitary pursuit. I didn’t have friends who liked reading half as much as I did. I didn’t have siblings who might have steered me toward or away from books. I suppose I started with what my parents thought I might like, or rather, what looked like appropriate reading for a kid. Then I went through many authors they themselves liked – Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Robin Cook… I used to go “through” authors then – if I liked one book, I read anything and everything else from the same author. Most of the books I now swear by were read for utterly random reasons – an uncle who happened to spend a few months in Germany brought back an Asterix comic as a present; old Mr. Shankar from the lending library told my Mom that Perry Mason would be “appropriate” reading for a young girl; a couple of my Dad’s friends from his bachelor days were PGW nuts, and Dad remembered the name long after he’d stopped being a bachelor; a neighbor had hard bound copies of all of Jane Austen’s novels in a book case they inherited from their grandfather; a senior from high school thought that our system of education was irredeemably screwed up because they no longer taught Shakespeare in the original – R quoted from Othello, I think, and insisted that the language was alive and not scary at all – I had a crush on him after that fine speech (mostly for being revolutionary enough to question the merit of a thing I’d taken for granted, and for not being afraid to openly express a fondness for reading stuff even older than what I’d read till then), and decided to give Shakespeare a shot, even though I doubt that I spoke to R ever again… It’s funny that the very strong likes and dislikes I now claim to have were developed so haphazardly.

Only in the last five or so years have I finally managed to connect with other readers. It still feels odd to ask someone about their reading – I am too scared to ask the question of people I think I would like to be friends with. I am terrified that they or I will give the wrong answer and a possible friendship might forever be lost. Even if I didn’t have friends, there are a zillion reviews to read, hundreds of rankings and blogs and book clubs to tell me what I should be reading. Suddenly, reading is a social activity.

But I get distracted. This was supposed to be about the books themselves, not about reading. McLeod’s as you can see from the photographs, is an amazing store. It was a delightful spot to kill a few hours, as I waited for my visa. One of the books I bought there is an old edition of Robert Graves’s Claudius the God. I’d been reading a library copy in New York, which I had to return before I could finish it. I like the book well enough, but the only reason I bought this copy was because it was inscribed:

“January 19th 1959.

To successful years ahead – and contentment – B.H.”

How could I have not bought the book after seeing that?

I have the book on my bed as I type this. Every time I read this inscription, I think of McLeod’s, the way the store looked and smelt, and I remember some of the reasons I fell in love with reading for the first time.

Resolutions

Perhaps the idea of counting in repetitive cycles isn’t so much to have a sense of order as it is to create opportunities for ourselves to wipe the slate clean and start from scratch – if things didn’t work out today, perhaps they will tomorrow, or next week, or the most popular option of all, next year. The idea of a do-over is immensely gratifying.

As a kid, I used to spend most of December coming up with resolutions for the New Year. The making of resolutions reached its heights during my teens. In my high school years, the item which figured on the list year after year was “Study for at least 15 hours a day on week ends”. I especially liked putting in the “at least” bit – a deft move, which I felt left the field wide open for days on which I might do more than 15 hours of studying. The “week end” specification is another DoZ characteristic – for week days, I obviously accounted for time spent at school, going to and returning from school, meal times and so on.

By the time I started college, studying mattered far less. Or at any rate any activity that involved Pachaiyappa’s College didn’t matter enough to warrant a New Year resolution. Others, such as ‘read Thomas Hardy’, started to replace the old promises to study for 15-hours a day. This particular resolution was as futile as ‘I will really like Analytical Geometry this year!’ (from circa 1999 aka the prepping-for-CAT year),‘Try to “get” Operations Research’ and ‘I will not let M. Peru [1] get to me’ (from circa 2000-01 aka the MBA years).

When making resolutions, I’ve tried everything – from being broad and rather vague (“be good” from when I was the 6th or 7th standard) to being ultra specific (“no more than 1hr and 15 minutes of TV per day on a week day” from around the same period). From the modest (“go to the gym twice a week”) to the dizzyingly ambitious (“don’t swear”). There are pros and cons to each method. In fine tuning the degree of specificity or the toughness of keeping a resolution, what I was really trying to do was to find a way to trick myself into keeping a promise, without being in any way conscious about it. Consciously doing or avoiding something reeked of “duty”, a dreaded option which was to be avoided at all costs. I hadn’t yet discovered the joys of martyrdom.

Some years, I’d do evaluations in addition to resolutions. I’d start out by listing what I was happy with from the last year. At some point this started to suggest pride. Perhaps due to spending several years in a Catholic school, every time I feel proud of something, a nun immediately materializes in my head, and chants “Pride goes before a fall”, while doing a little jig. So I’d stop, and start listing things I wasn’t proud of. This list was almost always longer than the first. Then I’d feel too bad, and try to balance things out a bit, till the dancing nun came back.

One year, I remember, a friend told me that using the negative was a bad thing – saying ‘not’ or ‘no’ or ‘don’t’ etc. brought nothing but ill luck. That year, all my resolutions were worded in positive terms – avoid watching TV, shun all telephone conversations exceeding 15 minutes on a day before an exam, and so on.

I can’t remember how long I managed to keep any of the million resolutions I’ve made over the years. I only have the vague but certain knowledge that none survived. Any resolutions for 2007? You betcha –

– avoid Law & Order and CSI and anything involving the solving of a crime in one hour or less

– read at least one never-before-tried author every month

– go to the gym more often (but not be such a sap as to turn up there on the first day!)

Am trying to keep things simple this year, nothing too specific or patently unachievable. Perhaps this year will be the one.

[1] M. Peru – the econ prof from hell, as anyone from BIM will tell you.

Artistic license? Or too much Will & Grace?

Yesterday, Anatha, Samanth and I watched “A First Class Man”. This was my first time meeting another blogger and it was fun. The play was bad, but it was awesome to meet up with two other ex-Chennai-ites who also like Tin Tin and Asterix and Seinfeld and well, just take it from me that we had number of things in common.

But I digress – let’s return to the play. It’s about Srinivas Ramanujan, the math genius. The play focused (mostly) on the mathematician’s years at Cambridge – the spiritual, cultural, professional and alimentary challenges he had to over come during his stay in England. The big picture was fine – it was the little things that just didn’t work. Ramanujan sounded like how Hollywood-types think Indians sound like (thank goodness he didn’t sound like how northies think “madrasis” sound like, so there were some things to be grateful for, I suppose); his widowed mother appeared in a colorful saree, with a full head of flowers; the only veggie options in early 1900s Cambridge consisted of carrots and lime pickle, and as the icing on the cake – a strong suggestion of a love triangle with Ramanujan being the object of affection of his lady friend Esme, as well as his mentor Hardy. Fortunately, Samanth had read The Man Who Knew Infinity, and was able to warn me about the bits where the playwright had indulged in, shall we say his “creative license”. 

History’s a tricky thing. When you’re dealing with a non-fiction account, you’re less likely to make errors of interpretation, I think. An account of battles won or lost, wells dug and trees planted is just that – a list*. But add a couple of dialogues to keep people from nodding off, and boom, you risk changing everything. When Hardy calls his time with Ramanujan, “the one romantic incident in my life”, I don’t know if he meant what we today automatically assume he means. (Hey, the playwright could be right in his interpretation – it’s just difficult for me to believe that a man who didn’t know how to “operate a bed” was remotely close to understanding the mechanics of a romantic entanglement, let alone one with Hardy.) Two hundred years from now, will people be as amused at us, and our eagerness to interpret same-sex friendships as being more than what they actually are?

There’s a temptation to overdo it these days, I think. There’s an ad for Chivas Regal that I see only on Channel 73 – it has a group of men out in the jungle somewhere – fishing and rafting and camping – hajjar male bonding and what not. The whole effect is spoiled by the background score – a particularly sappy song that goes, “we could be together, every day together”. Every time I see that add, I have to laugh. That they don’t seem to use this ad in non-desi programming makes me wonder about a couple of things – are desis less likely to see the ad as being anything other than four guys doing guy things, inured as they are by years of watching Salman dance without his shirt? If that’s the case, then the problem clearly is with me. Am I watching too much Will & Grace? 

But with yesterday’s play, it wasn’t just me. I don’t know about the rest of the audience but each of the three of us felt “Kadavulae, enna ithu!” or its equivalent before repeating the same thing together.

I sound ancient when I say this (not to say 23 kinds of a prude), but I really do miss the old days when math was maths and gay simply meant happy. And watching an ad or a play was not so fraught.

10 days and counting

Over the weekend, I watched Scoop. At the moment, my life feels a lot like watching Scoop – a job and a city that’re vaguely familiar, and therefore comfortable to be in. But they did promise more than they have delivered so far, and I can’t quite shake off the feeling that my previous experience with them was richer, more fun, better. And I’ve resigned myself to enjoying just the memory of grand old times, or at least till Allen and I are back on our feet again. Saving grace: I’m only 28 and closer to the beginning of my career than the end, and therefore hopefully have a few more chances than Allen to recreate the good old times.

As a dyed in the wool pessimist, I am blue most of the time. I am especially miserable during the time leading to and following a big change. Right now, I’m in a state of inter-city limbo that I detest – I have already moved on from my last home, but am yet to find a new home (or even a place that will eventually become home). Routines perfected in Dallas are in shambles. The only reason I fall asleep in my strange new bed is because I’m exhausted from all the walking I do here. A true New Yorker would laugh (or spit in my face or both) at the amount of walking I do. A true Texan, however, would run me over with his Hummer for moving to a city where a “decent commute” is a 25 minute walk, as opposed to a 45 minute drive.

Somewhere in my 3 years in Gurgaon and 2 in Dallas, I apparently turned into a creature of the suburbia without quite realizing it. The sad truth is that my happiest moments in the last 10 days have come from shopping for groceries. I dream dreams of going veggie shopping, of cooking in my own kitchen. On Friday, I wandered into a Food Emporium and didn’t wander out for another hour. On Saturday, the sight of the Manhattan Mall almost had me in tears – a mall! I was so overjoyed that I rushed in and bought some totally unnecessary things. Finally, something I’m used to!

While I completely fail to understand the folks who set the credit-history rules, I do understand why some women marry for money. I spent most of yesterday wishing I had a sugar daddy. Not just any sugar daddy, but one who makes 80 times my rent-to-be, has a pristine credit history, and wants nothing more from life other than to be my guarantor. Let other women have the sparkly trinkets – I’d pledge eternal gratitude for a rented studio. Heck, I’m even happy to pay the darn rent myself, so long as the process is in no way confused with “buying” a studio. Yes, I’m smack in the middle of the give-3-month-advance or put-up-sugar-daddy negotiation.

Despite the preceding cribs, it’s not all bad. I get a thrill every time I remind myself that I don’t have to take a taxi to La Guardia in the next day or two to get back to “real life”, where ever that may be. I am here and that feels wonderful. And the routinizer in me has been hard at work. I’m learning to switch from Dish to Time Warner Cable and getting your head around a whole new set of channel numbers feels like discovering cable all over again. And the entire subway system awaits mastery. Heck, I’ve even found a tea mate in a city of coffee-drinkers! Now if I can only find myself a sugar daddy…

Moving. Again.

I used to hate my dad’s job growing up. Mostly because it was the reason we had to move every few years. I’d accuse my dad of never giving me a chance to “put down my roots”. I vowed that when I got a job of my own, I’d say put!

Since getting a job, I’ve moved twice. First time across the country. The second time to a different continent. And in a little over 5 years, I’m moving for the third time. This time to New York, to become a minuscule cog in a rather major wheel. This is will come as a big change from being a minuscule cog in a tiny wheel. Yeah, the change that really matters is that I get to exchange Dallas for NYC.

Any city am about to leave turns beautiful over night. Dallas is the same. It actually looked like it might rain some time yesterday. The temperature went all the way down to 97, while New York swelters at 99. Every corner of the town home I’m leaving stares at me with pity, and says, “I’m one less corner you’ll have in your match-box studio.”

Friends in Dallas have spent the last few weeks carefully going over many aspects of life in New York – the size of the studio I’ll be renting, the rent I’ll pay for this space, the weather, the crowd, how my Mr. Perfect is sure to live in some city that is not New York, how I shouldn’t let that stand in the way of eternal bliss (to illustrate how I shouldn’t let this change in cities stand in the way of other more important changes), and how I’ll continue to work during the week and laze over the week ends (to illustrate how little my life will really change). My friend in New York has also been helping me to keep my expectations real. And my real estate agent chips in where ever she can (“remember they are ads not listings”).

Sometimes I take the trouble to protest, to try to convince them that I really am going to have a grand time. But these protestations are half-hearted attempts. It’s not that I fear I’ll be miserable in New York. Far from it. I agree with many of the things my friends say. I am not going to start jogging simply because Central Park exists. And despite my day-dreams, I am probably not going to buy season tickets at the Lincoln Center. Even I realize that apart from paying my rent I will also have to eat, occasionally at least. Truth be told, I am a little nervous about the weather. After spending the last 28 years claiming to love winters, I will finally experience a real one (oh, shush you Ice-Landers – am talking to people who mostly grew up in Madras or Trichy). Will I continue to love them as before?

The real reason I don’t bother to protest too much – I don’t care. The true worth of a city lies in the possibilities it offers. I doubt that I’ll ever walk into some store on 5th avenue and blow $7000 on some hideous handbag – but it’s nice to walk by and imagine you can. I am not going to become a concert pianist, ever. But it’s easy to imagine that I might, especially when I’m gazing down at an ant-sized Barenboim, as I hang upside down from the ceiling with one hand on some fixture which will likely be the only spot I can afford at Carnegie Hall. As for the winter, I have memories enough of summers from Dallas and Delhi that will last me a long long time to come. And who knows, maybe I’ll even start jogging. Not having Central Park – surely that’s the reason why I’ve never indulged in the habit till date.

R.I.P. Hell no. At least not just yet… I hope…

1. To drive across a continent simply because I feel like a long drive some afternoon
2. To get so drunk that I don’t remember how drunk I was
3. To imagine that this person may be “the one”
4. To meet at least 10 such persons about whom I might imagine #3
5. To be young and silly and make memories that I can bore /embarrass my future family with

Tonight, I think I should just accept reality and lay all these ghosts of dreams past to rest. Why tonight of all nights? Because it’s 1 in the morning, and I just got home from a baby shower. An event for which I:
– cooked all afternoon [1],
– unscrambled words like basinet, bingo’d others like Moses Baskets, listed ones related to giving a baby a bath, and ten more around a bed-time theme
– missed standing week end crib calls with 2 girlfriends
– was asked to dress up “girly” and so wore pearls and a skirt, only to be told that I should wear pants more, and get earrings to match the pearls [2]
– combined the names of 2 sets of parents-to-be to come up with baby names
– played seemingly endless rounds of antakshri, only with baby names instead – with alternating rounds of boy names and girl names

Life seemed to be fine. When did my world get overrun by the married-with-kids mob? I realize that someday, I may decide to have a baby or two myself. Hell, someday, I may even decide to marry someone. But until I do, I don’t think I should hang out with married couples anymore. And especially not married couples with children, present or future.

If any of my married friends is reading this, please do not be offended. It’s not personal. I enjoy your company. But I feel like I’m bypassing single-dom. As rotten as life feels like at the moment, apparently, these are the best years of my life. There’s a 99% likelihood that I will get to your phase, but not just yet. For now, I just want you to accept that there is that 1% chance that I might not do all that I ought to do, or all that I’ll end up doing anyways.

Somewhere between talk of whose parents are arriving when, fixing up car seats, and onesies and layettes [3], I woke up and didn’t recognize my life any more. Is this the dirty secret behind what happens to single people? One day, you realize that you’re living the life of a married person any way (attending baby-showers, cooking for “intimate soirees” for 25 friends, discussing housing prices, and having no sex), so why not go all the way? The next thing you know, you are married and find that life isn’t so bad after all, because it hasn’t really changed all that much.

I need to get a tattoo, a DUI, something, anything to remind myself that I am NOT married. For when it comes to marriage and children, it ain’t over till you actually buy one of them baby walkie-talkie thingummies.

[1] OK, so I made one dish. But tomato rice for 13 people isn’t exactly like turning up with a bag of chips.
[2] That has nothing to do with babies, but I am in the mood for ranting, so let’s not quibble.
[3] On the minuscule chance that you’re single, you’re probably hearing these terms for the first time. I’m not going to explain what these things are. Hold on to your innocence for a few hours more. Cherish it.

Why I love those who love sports

I never realized till today how grateful I am to sports fans. OK, not all of them, but at least to the sports enthusiasts among my friends. Let me illustrate with 2 examples.

Sports fans:
Last Sunday, I found myself trapped in a house with 3 basketball fans. Never a good thing, that, especially this time of the year [1]. As luck would have it, a game was on, and I amused myself by waiting for the beer ads and browsing the internet on my laptop in the time between ad breaks. Once in a while I’d engage the one person who cared to listen to me, till the other two figured that the team (I believe it was the Lakers) they were rooting for scored better whenever we were talking. We were given strict instructions to continue talking, which of course ensured that I suddenly had nothing to talk about.

At some point, even I had to admire their childish enthusiasm for this game. And feeling like the aunt who offers to take you to the circus, and filled to the brim with goodness and tolerance, I made the ‘grand gesture’ – offered to go watch a game with them, featuring the local team, whatever it was [2].

Readers, OK – me.
In my experience, the best tele-evangelist can’t hold a candle to a reader [3]. We, and by that I mean readers, are constantly guilt-tripping ourselves and others into reading something or the other. If I had one Andorran Peseta [4] every time I’ve heard the words “you must read this”, “you’ll love it”, “no Indian authors, shame on you!”, and my personal favorite – “you’ll hate it, but you must read it”, I’d be richer than Crassus. Yesterday, I read the new Jhumpa Lahiri story. My first action was to email the story to select friends. They don’t know this, but they’re part of a pet project of mine. You see, I’m trying to save their souls. I’m doing this through the administration of frequent infusions of great writing. Great according to me, of course. And because I care about them, I’ve designed an easy to follow (also according to me) 7-stage process.

Stage 1: Reading emails with paragraphs.
Stage 2: Any article of 300 words or less
Stage 3: Fiction, happy / Humor. Samples include shorter pieces by David Sedaris, James Thurber and the like. (for those whose palate is not yet strong enough for Brokeback Mountain and the like)
Stage 4: Fiction, sad, but not too sad. Think Jhumpa Lahiri.
Stage 5: Fiction, with abstract elements. Like Haruki Murakami.
Stage 6: A whole novel.
Stage 7: This is the toughest level, and a person will have arrived at this stage when he or she sends me something from NYRB, or better yet, from the Paris Review.

Graduation: The day they go to a library all by themselves and borrow ten or more books. I plan to photograph the moment, and keep the snap in my wallet, and bore every stranger with proud stories of my children, er, friends.

I ramble on, as always. To return to the Lahiri story – one of my friends emailed back. He said he’d enjoyed the story very much, and asked me who Jhumpa Lahiri was. Clearly, the New Yorker is as important to him as the Dallas Mavericks are to me.

I replied back somewhat contemptuously, but soon realized how his reaction was practically identical to my own from earlier in the week. I also recalled that although he’s a huge sports fan, not once has he sent me sports scores or whatever it is that those people send each other.

Friends and family have, at various points, tried to explain to me, the intricacies of football or cricket or some other game. I’ve never really paid attention. In turn, I’ve tried over the years to get them to read / worship various writers, newspapers, novels and magazines. I must admit that I’ve had a teeny bit more success than the sporting lot. Or these sports fans are better actors than they are evangelists. In either case, thank you – for letting me be, and for being more generous with me than I have been with you.

[1] Their playoffs” are on. If you’d wondered why this time of the year is relevant or don’t understand what a playoff is, can I join your hate-sports support group?
[2] Note to self: never kid yourself that you’re indulging someone else. My friends’ responded to this was a hoot of laughter (I happen to live in Dallas, which supposedly has a rather popular team) and the sort of look one gives children of 5 or below when they’ve said something particularly clueless and therefore amusing. They almost said those 2 incredibly offensive words ‘cho chweeet’. Then again, they didn’t have to – their look said it all.
[3] I do not include people who have the temerity to call themselves readers because they read a Tom Clancy novel 3 years ago or because they just can’t wait to get their hands on the latest issue of Woman’s Era.
[4] Why such fondness for an obsolete currency[5]? It had the least value against the dollar, as determined from a highly unscientific survey on oanda.com (1 US Dollar = 186.167 Andorran Peseta)
[5] And why the devil does oanda continue to list obsolete currencies? I found out the damn thing was obsolete only when I tried to hunt some more details about the country I should build my imaginary hacienda in!