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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Letter from a Leaf

I attended a writing workshop yesterday at The Arsenal by Lita Kurth, the co-founder of Flash Fiction Forum, San Jose. We did several exercises, one of which was to pen down either an autobiography of a leaf or a letter from a leaf. I chose the later. I would like to share the first draft with you.
Dear Ma,

It has been a while since I last saw you. After the gardener had pruned some of our sisters with his gigantic shears, we lay on the ground for hours in the scorching heat. Some of us crumbled and gave up. But Tessa and I kept hoping for a spot of rain.

A young woman with purple hair picked us up and took us home. She put us on her writing desk and started sketching details of our anatomy. Occasionally, she touched or smelled us. We were delighted to be there.

But soon her art project ended, and she threw Tessa away. I did not see her after that. The woman put me in one of her notebooks, and now I live across one of the poems she wrote about love. One day, I saw her weep. Her tear drops fell on a few lines of my neighboring poem and smudged a few words. When she closed the notebook, I got a black stain. But I don't mind. I had seen the woman when she was most vulnerable, and I think it is a privilege.

Don't worry about me. I'm living beyond the lifespan of my other siblings who fell to the ground the day we were pruned. Sometimes, it makes me feel guilty. But I think you'll be happy to know that I survived.

Your loving daughter,
Gina


Saturday, June 24, 2017

He drew windows everywhere

A poem by Roberto Juarroz, an Argentine poet famous for his 'Poesía vertical' (Vertical poetry)

He drew windows everywhere. 
On walls too high,
on walls too low,
on blunt walls, in corners,
on air and even on roofs. 

He drew windows as if drawing birds. 
On the floor, on nights,
on glances tangibly deaf,
on death's outskirts,
on tombs, trees. 

He drew windows even on doors. 
But he never drew a door. 
He didn't want to enter or leave. 
He knew one can't. 

He only wanted to see: to see. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Of Language and Accents

People pick up accents from where they live and work. When people accuse you of faking an accent, they probably think that you are doing it on purpose and struggling behind it. But expressions and phrases can make their way into your vocabulary organically. It depends on the amount of interaction with the locals.

We were taught British pronunciation and spellings in school. But now, I need subtitles to understand thick British accents on TV. The nature of language is fluid. What was once yours can become foreign one day. Though Hannah Arendt once said in her famous interview: 'What remains? The language remains.' What happens to those who do not have the opportunity to continue learning their mother tongue? I see a lot of children born in the US conversing exclusively in  American English. Some might feel it is a cultural betrayal.

But I want to tell them- the kids are growing up in a different environment. Their teachers, friends, family friends speak a common language. If they choose to converse in American English, let them. If some day they feel the need to learn about their roots, they will. Of course, some people make sure the kids are exposed to their mother tongue. Since Hindi, Bengali, or Tamil is not taught in schools here, it means extra coaching. I admire the tenacity. But is it really essential to love your mother tongue first? Learn of course, but love? What if someone can converse better in a different language? I love reading Bengali literature, but that doesn't mean I have to treat the first language I learned in school (English) differently All are mediums to express my thoughts. And no matter how many words I use in what language, I never feel it is complete.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Humans of Silicon Valley: JP

Have you ever stopped to think that beyond the visible spectrum of our universe, lie millions and millions of other galaxies, more vibrant and warm than the one we live in? Maybe there is an alien life more intelligent than ours. However, as Calvin (Bill Watterson) would say: The surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that it has never tried to contact us. But what if through a magical portal you could reach another life like yours but equally different?

I had the good fortune of meeting JP recently. A 40-year-old French-American with a little twinkle in his eyes. He lives in Bay Area with his husband and two kittens-Princess and Alien. He plays the harpsichord, loves Baroque music, and works in the software industry. He dropped out of high school when he was 17, taught himself to code in BASIC, Pascal, x86 assembly,  c, and c++. One of the reasons he moved from France was that it was easier to get a job in the US without a formal degree. But even in the liberal bosom of Silicon Valley, there are some impediments to overcome, for example, in companies where you need higher education to become a direct hire and enter the tier system of designation and salaries.

When I told him that I love my job because I have all the creative freedom I need, he lamented that the software industry is not what it used to be and engineers are having less and less to do with the creative process while the managers make the decisions about what needs to be done and how. He wants to change fields but he has already invested so many years in IT security, and it is not always that easy. He will probably have to take a pay cut too.

Though he was born in the US, he grew up in a village in France with a population of about 5000. He biked to school through the woods. His father was a Particle Physicist who worked for the government.

I asked him, ' Don't you feel suffocated in this jungle of concrete?'

‘I don't live in this jungle,’ he said with a sheepish smile.

'Of course, I forget, you live in the hills!' I laughed.

Then he shared an interesting anecdote about how his next-door neighbor had to dig his own well because the Santa Clara County line ends just at his place. He talked about the renovations he made to his place recently and advised me against investing in properties in Florida and putting too many eggs in one basket. ‘There are several cost disadvantages to investing in different locations too,' he explained.

He married in 2013 after the US Supreme Court (in a 5-4 decision in the United States v. Windsor) declared that part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which defined marriage solely as a legal union between a man and a woman was unconstitutional.

He told me how he fought with the DMV in 2008 to get his vanity plate 'HIV POZ'. When he first applied, his request was rejected. At that time, the story caught the attention of some local news agencies. 'My three minutes of fame,' he joked. A DMV spokesperson had said that a team of personnel reviews vanity plates and determines whether submissions are inappropriate or offensive, from degrading sexual terms to negative references.

JP said, 'I don’t think it’s something you need to hide from or be ashamed of. I wanted to break the stigma associated with it. HIV negative means that the test conducted did not show the presence of HIV virus or any kind of antibodies. However, receiving a single negative test result is not confirmation that the individual does not currently have HIV, as tests have various window periods and need to be repeated for confirmation over time depending on one's sexual history.

All types of HIV tests have a window period, which varies from 1 to 12 weeks. 3% of HIV infections still show up negative on the most common screening test, the antibody test, after 12 weeks. This means even if you go get tested today, a negative result doesn't prove you are actually currently negative. It means you were negative as of 1 to 12 weeks ago with 97% confidence. The test can only confirm if you are currently positive, but cannot conclusively prove if you are currently negative.'

He sent me links to his blog, the treatments available, and advice for sexually active gay men.

‘How do you people react to the vanity plate on the streets?’, I asked.

Most people react positively, he said. ‘Some throw high fives on the freeway, a lot of people take pictures that I can see in my mirror. Many pedestrians on the street take pics too, but there are also assholes who cut me off for no reason.’ Then he shared a thread on an online forum which had an excerpt from a news article featuring his case and  some comments like:

‘And, of course, he drive's a Prius. Not only do we have to fear being run off the road by a Prius now we have to fear HIV POZ Priuses as well!’ 
‘Hope he is never in an accident that requires on scene medical assistance.’ 
‘Way to set yourself up for a hate crime, bro. There's being open, and then there's painting a target on yourself.’ 
‘If your car gets rear-ended by the aids Prius, is it gay too now?’

I don't think it bothers him anymore. He lives a very private life and keeps to himself. And tries to educate people who are willing to listen.

(With permission)

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

My name, my identity

The first time someone mispronounced my name, Aparna, was in the school assembly when they were announcing the winners for a recitation contest, and they called out 'Aprana Kar'. I waited for a moment before one of my friends pushed me,' Go! It's you!' I was amused. I thought it was a relatively simple name; there was no reason to jumble it. Maybe they just misread it from the certificate. Some of my friends had it worse. Imagine what a barista at a Starbucks would do. Your coffee would never reach you.

Aparna is a name of Goddess Parvati, given to her during her severe penance, where she went without even a morsel food (not even a leaf/parna) to win over Shiva. I didn't starve for any penance, but I tried my best to score well in GMAT by closing the doors and windows to the world for several months. I consider that my hardest effort to date and I am proud of it. Shiva doesn't necessarily mean a person. It also signifies liberation. I was aiming to be liberated from the shackles of a limited existence. I think the motivation worked.

I have come across people of different countries who have more exotic, harder-to-pronounce names. They often Americanize it and use a diminutive form for ease of use. French Camaraire becomes Cameron, Greek Christos becomes Chris, Italian Rossellini becomes Russell and so on and so forth.

Friends call me Apu, Appy, Aps endearingly and I love it in every form because it signifies a unique bond. But officially, I have stayed Aparna. A name which I hated so much once because I thought it was too common. I even tried to convince my father to let me change it to Apurva (meaning unique). Now, I love it. It does not matter if your name is unique or uncommon. Are you, as a person, the first of anything significant? Then your name will live on.

Most of my American colleagues pronounce Aparna very clearly. Occasionally, it becomes Aperna. But that's cholable. A French friend calls me Aparnita affectionately. All are some aspect of my personality that only they have sensed and loved.

I grow and learn to give some significance to my name. That one day you might proudly say, 'Aparna? Of course, I know her. She is my friend.'

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

On writing

Even after a 'decent' first week's sales, the royalty from the eBook is nowhere near what I can earn in an hour if I work for a client writing blurbs or laying out content in InDesign. So, why do I want to continue writing? Simple. Because I want to.

I believe that I have stories worth telling and people I know have often commended me on my use of words. I believe in simplicity in all things. My way of life, my food, my emotions laid bare- everything is very uncomplicated. But it is not uninvolved.

Our parents and grandparents used stories to tell us what we ought to know. Virtues of the protagonist were usually the ones they hoped we would develop as we grew older. People often write to say something about themselves that they otherwise can not in an everyday conversation. My personal experience has been very transformative. If I could, I would insist that everyone should take up some form of writing- poetry, prose, lyrics, even a scrapbook or a journal.

In the end, I'd like to quote Tobias Wolff,

'We live by stories. It’s the principle by which we organize our experience and thus derive our sense of who we are...
we put a beginning and an end to a thing, and we leave things out, and we heighten other things...
because that’s the only way we can give it significance.'

Monday, May 29, 2017

Kindle eBook: Belief

I am very pleased to share that my first eBook ( a short story of about 20 pages) is now live on Amazon. You don't need to own a tablet or a Kindle device, you can view it using the Kindle app for Android, Mac or Windows.

Though self-publication is the most convenient way to offer your work to others, there are certain limitations to it. The cover page, the content layout, and the formatting have all been done by yours truly over a weekend. There is a possibility that you might find some errors because the automated conversion from PDF to Kindle supported DRM format via Kindle Direct Publishing(KDP) is usually fraught with issues. I invite you to share them with me at thevariegatedsky@gmail.com. I will try my best to fix those.

It would help if you can leave a review on both Amazon and Goodreads, even if it is just a few words. If you like the short story, please share it with your friends.

eBook links:
US
India
UK


Cover page

PDF preview of first page


Update:
'Belief' is now #15 in Kindle Short Reads in the US.