Archive for the ‘Navel-gazing’ Category

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.


Why too much TV is bad for you

Of late, there’s been a new topic to rant about in week-end calls with friends. Polygamy. At least 2 of my friends have watched the new HBO show, and well, so do I. There’ve only been about 2-3 episodes so far, and already I see a disturbing pattern emerging. My blood comes close to boiling when watching the show, and I relish making caustic remarks about it with friends, who in turn agree and come back with equally caustic responses. We swear we won’t watch it again. And the next week end, we’re having the same conversation all over again.

In this week’s episode, the question that my friends and I had anticipated, and which has fuming with indignation but also stuttering with nothing better than “But…but that’s not the same thing! At all!” finally came. If same-sex marriages are unions between consenting adults, doesn’t the same principle apply to polygamy? Let’s face it – it is the same thing. I just don’t happen to like it.

I almost miss the days in which the only thing on TV that made me feel this indignant was Chitthiiiiiiii (God, I used to hate that show!). It felt so easy to rant against media empires that gave away prime time slots to shows where wives were beaten up (remember Deepa Venkat!), ambitious women were portrayed as evil, to rave against women content creators who were so lost to greed that they only cared about making money (did I find male content creators who were as greedy to be equally offensive? No – But I was more sexist then.)…

I digress. To return to polygamy. Would I like it any better if the question were about polyandry, as opposed to polygamy? I doubt it. Because in both cases, the victims continue to be women[1]. And that’s the crux, really – my apparently unshakable conviction that in polygamy/andry, there are victims. Whereas that’s not how I feel about same-sex marriages. Big Love doesn’t make it easy for me to revise my opinions. Can’t help feeling that the men are smug. The women come across as needy (wife # 3), don’t-know-any-better (wife #2), or inscrutable (wife #1). It’s impossible for me to feel sorry for the husbands who’re under tremendous financial pressure to support multiple families, and get more than their fair share of wifely nagging. The minute I feel they must be regretting their lifestyle, along comes a bout of love-making that seems to make these men feel that the financial hassle’s worth the trouble. One fatso character actually believes that taking on wife #4 is his way of answering God’s calling. [2] Clearly, I have issues with the show.

Morality is a way to speed up decision-making. You don’t have to agonize over the pros and cons of a situation. You agree with some side because it is the “right” thing to do. It’s more efficient. In situations where morals fail or don’t apply, one can at least fall back on personal preferences:
– stealing: bad (moral reasons),
– killing: bad (ditto),
– cosmetic surgery (to get sexier looking lips / boobs / whatever): bad (surprisingly enough, moral reasons – I feel that you’re not dealing with the hand nature gave you – corrective surgery, OK – elective surgery NOT OK),
– smoking – bad (Here I leave morality and move into the realm of personal taste. I don’t like it myself, so I won’t do it. I vaguely think you’re foolish to do it, but I won’t hate you for it, or stop you from doing it, so long as you don’t blow smoke in my face),
– eating meat – distasteful (to me. You can eat whatever pleases you, so long as you don’t mess about with dead flesh in my kitchen), and so on and so forth.

I suspect I have strong “moral” beliefs about questions like stealing, killing etc. because these were instilled into me as a child (growing up with desi movies, for the longest time, I actually used to believe that the minute you commit a crime, you’d hear sirens blowing as the cops would be on their way. I must have been 12 or older before I figured out that in most cases the police really have no way of knowing the instant a crime is committed).

I’m sure my parents must have emanated a sense of “polygamy: not good” because I feel so very comfortable making that call. On the other hand, I am 100% certain there was no talk what so ever about same-sex marriages. (In all fairness we never even had the birds & the bees talk, so this topic had no chance at all. I was quite into science in those days, and they must’ve figured I’d get around to it sooner or later). And yet, I appear to have acquired strong “moral” beliefs, and unfortunately conflicting beliefs about both.

Here’s the thing about morals … They have this nasty habit of turning into umbrellas. Over-arching principles, which if they apply to situation A1 demand they be applied to situation A2 as well. With polygamy, I’m not sure what I’ll decide. I see three options before me:
– go down fighting,
– after a while bump the question from an ethical one to one of personal taste.
– stop taking stuff on TV personally. HBO wants to make money. I want to spend money. We’ve already struck a deal. Why sour the relationship with silly questions?

In the meanwhile, I’ll day-dream of situation A3 – nogamy – where people who wish to be left alone are left alone – by people of all sexes.

[1] I’m afraid I don’t recall specific evidence that I can use to back my claim. Regular readers of Kalpana Sharma will know what I mean. Or you could try watching Matrubhoomi. Yes, the latter’s fiction, but so is Big Love. All very apples to apples.
[2] My cattiness apart, the acting is really good. So far the show’s been interesting, and one hopes it will not soon run out of steam, even if carton-loads of Viagra continue to keep it steamy.

Update: Update: When I say “polyandry as opposed to polygamy”, I mean “polyandry as opposed to polygyny”. Thanks to Sudha & Pete for catching that oversight.

Of windows, doors, and fish in the sea.

This has been an interesting week for me. Why beat around the bush? It’s been a miserable week. Four, what should I call them – disappointments, i-knew-this-would-happen’s, i-should-have-seen-this-coming’s, still-it’s-not-the-end-of-the-world’s, c’mon-you’ve-been-through-worse’s or my favorite at-least-i-have-my-blog-and-my-health’s in seven days. Two out of the four were pretty solid whacks to the heart and ego. The other two would have gone by almost unnoticed were it not for their timing – their contribution is invaluable in giving life that perfect degree of bleakness.

As my back-end processors work on a pep-talk for myself, I am going to bore y’all for a while by examining the common theories of happiness / sadness to see if I can pick the right model for myself:

Alternating peak-trough theory. Sometimes, I think I put too much faith in the peak-trough philosophy – the one about life being filled with alternating troughs and peaks. This makes me feel entitled to a peak every time I hit a trough and fear a trough the minute I hit a peak. So I spend my whole life dreading peaks, because only a trough can follow & the bigger the peak, the deeper the trough, and so on. And what if some lives are all troughs or all peaks? It is, after all, as valid a theory as the alternating peak-trough one.

Widow-door theory or the “when a door is closed, a window opens” hypothesis. People really should have never bought this theory in the first place. From the very name window/door, you know they’re pulling a fast one over you. The scale’s all wrong. A DOOR closed. And a window is clearly a completely inadequate consolation prize. The door’s usually of the magnitude of losing the love of your life, and the window’s like your boss telling you that you’re wearing nice shoes. Nice try, boss-man – can I be offered a day off?

Post-mortem settlement. This is very similar to the alternating peak-trough theory, but the crucial difference is that the time frame is considerably longer, and possibly never-ending. This one proposes that by facing tough times, you’re either repaying debt from a couple of generations ago, or shoring up for future generations. I have many problems with this theory. One of which is that according to this theory, the act of dying is less powerful than declaring bankruptcy is and say what you will, that just saddens me.

Plenty of other fish in the sea theory: I suspect that this is the old window-door theory rebranded for fishermen.

Shit happens: Why are we so enamoured of patterns anyway? Why seek logic? Life is random. So long as one doesn’t have to hear the story of a butterfly in Shanghai causing a storm in California, I think I’m actually ok with this one.

I don’t know why I started this post, but when have we ever let minor things like that stop us? I must work on my pep talk now.

Karma – what’s in it for me?

Today, someone was extremely rude to me. Understandably, I am hurt and angry. I didn’t try to, er, return the compliment. But this post is not about my desire or ability to be rude. No, this post is about musing what might constitute fair restitution for all manner of hurts, particularly those cases where there is a clear distinction between the injured party and the party to blame. The way I see it, I have the following options:
– swear
– curse, or wish upon this person anything from a flat tire to a mosquito bite.
– do nothing, but take comfort from the belief that some mysterious accountant in the sky (or is it below ground? My Hindu mythology’s a little rusty) will update the karma accounts of all parties involved
– act noble

Option 1 may provide a temporary release, but really, it doesn’t do much else. So I won’t bother with it. The other three are worthy of deeper contemplation.

Option 2: Curse
While this offers a very tempting promise of quid pro quo, here’s why it is not a good enough option in the long run. Let’s say I wish this person had a flat tire, and some genie actually makes my wish come true. That still leaves too many questions unanswered. When will the flat tire happen? Today? Next week? Twenty years from now? And a mere flattening of a tire isn’t going to do anything for me. It has to be made clear to the rude person that the tire was flattened because he / she hurt someone (ok, moi). Otherwise, what’s the point? They’re going to think they’re the victim. OK, so that may be true, but they must realize why they’ve been singled out for victimization, right? In order for this to happen, retribution must be swift, and not take place a decade and a half after the initial act of rudeness.

There’s another aspect to the question of timing. Sure, I want rude person to be inconvenienced, but what if flat tire happens when he/she is rushing to the hospital to see / save a [dying] loved one? That would be terrible! Even I’m not such a monster… after all, only my ego was hurt – no damage to life or limbs occurred… So, maybe the curse idea isn’t such a good one. Moving on.

Option 3: do nothing, rely on Karma
This is my least favorite option. I am still not sure a 100% about the mechanics of Karma, possibly because I am a crass materialist. But being the crass materialist I am, this is my interpretation – Karma is like a bank account. Good karma dollars get put into your account if you behave well, and bad behavior takes your accumulated savings away. Of course, there is such a thing as a deal size, or in this case, a deed size – letting roomie watch game on superbowl weekend may be worth about 10 or so karma $. Actually sitting with said roomie and watching a game you neither understand nor like because you remember that the same football loving roomie watched Memoirs of a Geisha with you, that’s got to be worth at least a $ 1000, if not more.

But here’s what the problem is with having an account – money comes in, money goes out, and at some point you lose track of individual dollars, (unless one happens to be on some Interpol / FBI / SEC watch list for money laundering – and considering that I am neither Mother Theresa nor Saddam Hussein, my karma cash flows, whether positive or negative, are no where close to “laundering” status yet). So whether your boss suddenly goes on vacation or your car breaks down on the 635, you’re never sure what brought it on. So where’s the opportunity to learn? Sure, I could be “sensible” and try to only those things that I think will bring in the karma moolah, but really, let’s get real.

And the other thing about karma is that is too personalized. I only seem to have a direct say about what goes on with my own account. Causing minor emotional injury may cause rude person to lose a few dollars from his or her account, but what does that do for me? I can’t, for instance, say I want $9.99 taken from rude person’s account and put into mine. And even if we assume that I receive some form of compensation (that I got to write a post about it may be one for all I know), I’d really like to be able to choose my own compensation. Even if it’s a lousy choice, like the ones that Readers’ Digest gives you, I’d still like to be able to choose. If asked to choose between an idea for a new post, losing 0.2 pounds with no physical or mental exertion, and oh, something to day-dream about when am stuck watching that silly game on Sunday, I might want all three, but hey, at least I can grumble about life being unfair, pick one and move on. (and in case you’re wondering, I’d have picked losing 0.2 pounds. I watched “Aadhi” AND had the presence of mind to take notes AND I can survive a bunch of men in helmets chasing a ball with an identity crisis any day (it’s not a ball, for balls are round. It’s not an egg. What is it?) – but losing weight by doing nothing, now that’s an idea – ask any infomercial)

Conclusion: I don’t want to rely on an accounting system that seems to be almost as good as Enron’s.

Option 4: act noble
As you can see, through out this post I have taken great pains to raise the question “what’s in it for me?” in very many subtle and not so subtle ways. Acting noble (without the option of good karma) is clearly not an option to spend too much time thinking about. OK, I take that back. You can act noble, in cases when you’re confident it will drive the opposing party wild. In my case, and this particular rude person, I don’t think it’s going to work. As I know this person rather well, I know that the rude person is simply going to think I’m a prat and continue being rude.

One thousand words and counting. Still no answer to the original question “what constitutes fair restitution?” Now the question is what restitution would you want for having spent those precious minutes of your life reading this post? Think about it, and let me know. As soon as I receive mine, I’ll get by to thinking about yours.

Crown Princess of the world

Thursday evening – the best time of the week. Friday, Saturday AND Sunday stretch before me. 100% possibility 0% regret. I am not yet the Queen of the World (that comes tomorrow evening), but I am the Crown Princess tonight. In some ways, it’s even better than being Queen (especially when you know you WILL have your coronation in less than 24 hours!)

The dream starts disintegrating past midnight on Saturday night. By Sunday mid-afternoon, there’s the realization (for the th 500th time) that week-ends aren’t “life-altering phases” – just 2 days when you do your grocery shopping, the cooking, the laundry, and the cleaning. By Sunday evening, the great week end dream has burnt itself out to cinders, and there’s not even the possibility of a phoenix rising from the ashes… But come thurday, rise it does – again and again. Thank god I suck at learning from history!

Let me take my pleasures while they last. Sunday’s just round the corner…

My first post

The vanity finally won over the laziness – took the plunge & started a blog… Am multi-tasking here – sending out the last email for the day, hoping that the email doesn’t bounce back, trying hard not to think about food (it is almost dinner time) – and doing none of this with the “efficiency” or “effectiveness” one would desire, I decided to add one more item to the list & started a blog.