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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Commencement 2010

Day 2

At 7 AM, Dad called me up to make sure I got up, even before my alarm set off. It is good to know that you can always count on some people. I buried my face in the pillow, trying to pull myself up, lying to my body clock about the confusion. A cold shower woke me completely and I dabbed some sunscreen on my face and other exposed areas, worked on my eyes with a liner and spread some light gloss on my lips.

I wore a brown, cotton, tube dress and black leggings, but I forgot the shoes. I had to come back for the brown pumps and toss the flip flops just in time to reach the ice rink at 8 AM. I met some graduate students already dressed in robes, but since I had the wrong one, I kept it neatly in the packet. Once I changed the hood from blue (College of Education) to brown (College of Management), I wore it inside the restroom. Every other girl was fussing or was getting fussed about with the cap and gown. I walked into the denoted area and met some former classmates and professors.
I was beginning to feel it in first person already. I was glad I had come over. It was worth it - every bit of it. We greeted each other and queued up behind the flag bearers of CM. The university took care to provide fresh water bottles to the students, and I felt it was very important not to get dehydrated. Last year, I had attended the graduation of a friend and it had rained. I was hoping it wouldn’t during the main ceremony as it took place in the open lawn, by the sea. But it was very warm and the hot sun dried up the insides of us. We kept taking as many pictures as we could.

Chancellor Motley introduced the commencement speaker- Victoria Reggie Kennedy, wife of late Senator Ted Kennedy. She is an attorney and the cofounder and trustee of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate at UMB. She delivered the principal address to 3,366 graduates at the University of Massachusetts Boston's 42nd commencement ceremony, near the site where the institute will break ground this fall.

The John F Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum is right across the campus. The public wake of Edward Kennedy had taken place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday, August 28, 2009 at the library's Smith Center, a maple-paneled room with a striking view of the Boston skyline. I remember watching the live broadcast of the eulogy delivered by President Obama on Saturday at The Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Boston's Mission Hill section, while working out at the HP fitness center.

Senator John McCain shared his thoughts on his late colleague. I particularly remember the incident he recalled about two freshmen Senators getting personal over a political debate. The heat of the argument attracted the attention of senior members like Ted and John. ‘ A fight not joined was a fight not enjoyed’ had me in splits. It was enlightening to see politicians gathering at the funeral by putting aside their ideological differences. I recognized Senator John Kerry from Massachusetts, who had delivered the inaugural speech at Commencement 2009, UMB and 'Governator' Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, where I was planning to head soon.

Chancellor Motley acknowledged the contribution of the Kennedys to UMB, and Victoria insisted that the institute was not going to be a shrine to Ted or to the senate, but a seat of learning, a living, breathing, constantly growing and evolving center.

The 2010 John F. Kennedy Award for Academic Excellence recipient, the university’s highest honor for an undergraduate, was Thao Do, a Vietnamese immigrant whose goal is to devote her life to fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The content of her speech drove me to tears as I envisioned her struggle and the scope education offered to many like her. ‘My name can be mispronounced but as people call my name, they have to acknowledge and accept me as who I am’ struck a chord.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Divorce in India

Irretrievable breakdown of marriage made ground for divorce

NEW DELHI: The cabinet Thursday approved an amendment to the Hindu Marriage Act to make irretrievable breakdown of marriage an additional ground for divorce.

"This would provide safeguards to parties who file petitions for grant of divorce by mutual consent but who wilfully avoid coming to court thus causing harassment to the other party," Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni told reporters after a cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

She said the amendment would be effected through the Marriage Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2010 which would be tabled in parliament.

-The Economic Times

Historic data suggests that India had the lowest divorce rates in the world 1.1% (11 in every 1,000), significantly lower than countries with 50% divorce rates. (Sadly, the CIA Worldbook also cited the infant mortality rate of India as 64.9 deaths/1,000 live births as opposed to 6.76 deaths/1,000 live births in US.)

Years ago, I saw two donkeys tied at their feet. I couldn't imagine how they grazed and how the waywardness of one couldn't effect the other. I was young, but resolute enough to pledge that I'll never let myself be in a relation like that.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Commencement 2010

Day 1, Thurs, June 3, 2010, Boston, Massachusetts
The cab driver was very enthusiastic to learn that I had flown from CA for my Graduation, and wished me luck with my life ahead. “You are young, you are smart. You might be a VP in 5 years.” ‘I hope so’ I said fondly. A professional degree is not the end; it is the beginning of a life-long commitment to learn. There will be things that I couldn’t have learned in a classroom. My teachers will not always be kind to me like my professors, but I hope I never stop. I long to stay hungry. Always.

It was around 5: 30 AM when I rang the bell of my former apartment, hoping my friends remembered my estimated time of arrival. A very sleepy DJ opened the doors for me and stood straight long enough for me to give him a bear hug. The apartment looked pretty much the same, a little messier, but I knew I had left it in good hands.

I hardly had any sleep on my red-eye flight, so I took out my snooze kit with eye mask and ear plugs, stuffed them on and went to bed in the warm, humid morning. Couple of hours later, I woke up and had some fruit salad for breakfast. One of my seniors was staying home to study for CFA Level 2 exam on Saturday. He offered to lend the apartment keys if I needed to go out.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Commencement 2010

I was not sure I'd take the walk this year for a number of reasons. But then Shweta lent me some of her enthusiasm and I saw the email for my nomination to the valedictorian speech, albeit past the deadline to apply. I called up the Graduate Studies and emailed the Dean, but to no avail. The student was already selected and they couldn't possibly accommodate two speakers. Later, I discovered that by the time the College of Management sub-ceremony started, every one was so hungry and tired, no one really cared what the student speaker was delivering. Yet, I believe I could have done a better job, and it was the best platform I could have voiced my acknowledgments. However, it is only fair, people who don't know what they want shouldn't get it.

Day 0, Wed, June 2, 2010, San Jose, California

SG came over to drop me to San Jose airport. My land lord was at home, so he couldn't say an elaborate goodbye like he had planned. My flight was at 9 PM PT. We started early to avoid the outgoing traffic from offices. When I picked my boarding pass from the kiosk, it was 7 :15 PM. We had some time to kill before I walked through the check-in counter, so we hung around in front of the queuing space. He wanted a coffee, and I wanted something to munch on. Unfortunately, Terminal A, where my Jet Blue was stationed, did not have any options. We kept hugging and kissing each other. He was sad that he wouldn't be there for the ceremony. Suddenly, I didn't feel like leaving him behind. Oh, how I wished I had decided earlier to travel to Boston ! We could have made our plans. His parents are visiting, I could have RSVPed with some guests. It was cheerless to write '0' guests on the invite. But like I believe, uncertainty shouldn't go unpunished.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Road Trip: California Route 1

'Big Sur is the California that men dreamed of years ago ... this is the face of the earth as the Creator intended it to look'
-Henry Miller

It is very hard to resist the lure of open roads once you have tasted the joy in marveling at Nature's creation and felt like a child again- wanting to live only for the present- when no promise, no land, no reward seems more alluring than what you have right in your hand. What a beautiful state of mind!
I had fallen in love with the glorious Pacific coastline the first time I flew over California. I could see the blue ocean juxtaposed with mountains from my flight window and I heard myself think: Someday, I will see it up close.

We started around 9 am,May 1, 2010, Saturday, knowing it would take only 2 hours to reach our destination. This time we drove south. We saw several private airplanes docked at South County Airport and a couple in the air. SG revowed to get his flying license someday, teasing that I should insist upon it by saying: 'It is time you got one', strangely similar to something I had said before he got his driving license. When we saw fruit stalls selling farm-grown cherries and garlic along the highway, a sense of deja vu filled us.

We stopped at the city of Gilroy to get a SD card for my camera; crossed Marina and Carmel-by-the-Sea. SG said he was reminded of Europe. I haven't seen Europe yet, except for connecting flights and the insides of airports at Brussels and Heathrow, so our reference points differed. I imagined Europe in the likeness of what I was seeing.

Big Sur

The treacherous road to Yosemite had established my faith in SG as an able driver on a previous trip. Hence, the precariously-perched cliff-top roads with their several twists and turns did not intimidate me. Driving a convertible top-down at high elevation, holding onto my favorite hat felt like I was in a Hollywood movie from the 60s. The warmth of the young summer sun and the cool sea breeze titillating my skin made me more alive than I had felt in years. I am home.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Our weekend trip to Yosemite National Park

'The world is a lot more than it appears from an open window.'

- A friend
On Wed, April 21, SG got his California State driving license, and last weekend he suggested: 'Let's go to Yosemite.' We checked Google maps, it showed 3 hrs 33 mins drive from our starting point. By Thursday, we confirmed the hotel bookings. It was at short notice. 'The Ahwahnee', 'Yosemite View Lodge' had no rooms available in Expedia. We finally narrowed it to 'Wawona Hotel'. It promised us the relaxing experience of a bygone era, with no Internet and telephone (or cellphone signal as we later discovered).

Early morning, on Sat, May 1, we set out with our 'Navigon: And the world is yours.' She can be a little silly at times, but helpful for a journey like this. I wondered aloud -' How did people travel before GPS was invented?' referring to the ease it provides. SG reminded, 'They had maps' and opined that GPS kills the joy of driving if you just blindly follow the directions.

We drove north towards the verdant mountains we can see from home. In an hour, we caught sight of some gigantic windmills along I-680 N. I thought of Don Quixote de la Mancha.

The exit onto I-580 E towards Stockton brought us to the valley of San Joaquin, greeting us with green orchards and farms. We made a mental note of getting some farm fresh strawberries on our way back. We clicked some pictures in an almond orchard and the friendly farmers waved and smiled at us every time we moved. Moving along CA-120 E/Yosemite Ave, we came across a vintage car rally.

Before long, we discovered the pleasant indulgence of several vista points offering amnesia-rendering scenic views. You know when nothing before or after the moment seems important, and your whole existence is sucked into the beauty of the surrounding elements, and you cease to be yourself, a separate entity and blend in with what you are sensing.. or something like that.
We entered the Yosemite National Park from the west gate. They charge $20 for private family autos for a 7 day permit. You can obtain a Yosemite pass for 12 months for $40. Soon, we saw snow on the ground, with bursts of sunshine between giant Sequoia trees. We stopped at a gas station to fill and stretch our legs when a mama bear with her two cubs decided to come out for a stroll.
I had never seen uncaged wild bears so close, so all I could do was scream : 'Sangy.. dekho bhalook' repeatedly to my companion. Some nearby tourists noticed my animation and pointed towards the woods where my gaze and camera lens were fixed. A lady told me that it was very unusual for them to walk down so low. I wondered if they had difficulty finding food above. There are very strict rules about feeding the wildlife.. and for a reason.

Each year bears are killed in Yosemite as a direct result of human carelessness and improper food storage. Driven by their powerful sense of smell, bears are drawn by odors of human food. Once they eat this food, they continue to seek it out from backpacks, picnic tables, ice chests and cars. Bears recognize grocery bags and scented articles such as soap, sunscreen, hair spray, perfume, even toothpaste.

You are required by federal regulations to store all your "food" properly throughout Yosemite National Park. You must have your food stored unless it's within arm's reach (so, don't go for a swim or take a nap while leaving food out).( canisters and food lockers are available for use.

The vignette changed into a large area of forest fire remnants with some sad beauty. A very scary, winding Old Priest Grade tests the skills of a driver with sign boards cautioning against falling rocks. A couple of tunnels, a dancing brook with ice cold water and waterfalls punctuated our journey.

The first view of the majestic El Capitan and the Yosemite falls charmed us. The road led us to the valley where campers were cycling and rock climbers were practicing. The vertical granite monolith is a mecca for rock climbers all over the world. With over 800 trails, the mountains offer numerous opportunities for hikers. We pledged to backpack the next time we visit.

The Housekeeping camp with showers and laundromat facilities appeared on our left and we decided to visit The Village Store. Parking was more than impossible, I got down and browsed through the aisles for some dry food and a souvenir fridge magnet. Starving, I took a bite of a bear claw I had bought and made a delectable discovery. We had our lunch at Curry Village where squirrels and birds abound.

We hit the road again towards Wawona to reach our hotel -a picturesque assembly of white cottages. We checked in and the receptionist reminded us to take our food out of the car. I had hardly slept the night before, and the cozy bed of Moore's cottage seemed very inviting. The last thought on my mind was- I should be wearing a Victorian bustle dress to match the decor.

I woke up around 8 pm, took a shower and headed for dinner. The chef's special soup of the day was a savory melange of broccoli and cheese. I ordered a medium-rare flat iron steak with mashed potatoes and vegetables. SG ordered Turkey ravioli. The fresh baked bread and homemade butter made me close my eyes in palatable delight. I shut all other senses and focused on my taste buds, while the gustatory cells titillated my brain with gratifying impulses.

Satisfied, we walked out on to the lawn. I couldn't remember the last time I had seen so many stars all at once. I saw a shooting star, and the cool air of the night flirted with my hair while I lounged on a garden chair.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Emosanal Attyachaar

I have always been a very 'attached' person. This has caused me more unhappiness than I should have allowed.

Guess there is a reason why life happens in phases. You need to molt your past life like a snake skin and make room for new experiences. I should be grateful that I have what matters to me the most. It is time to grow up and beyond.

P.S. Thank God, there is more beauty in this world to heal you, than there is injury to infect you.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Where is the catch?

Imagine yourself lounging in a spa pool at night with a clear sky above and the stars shining bright. You are supposed to relax, right? But all you can think of is a hidden sniper somewhere. That maybe the outcome of watching too many CSI episodes too, but my point is - we are turning bankrupt when it comes to the capacity of experiencing pure bliss.

We have let others and ourselves let us down too many times to trust in our own happiness anymore. 'Where is the catch?' we seem too busy asking ourselves, instead of assuring ourselves 'There is no catch.'

Ever chased butterflies as a kid? Not so much to catch them, as to run around those beautiful creatures. We didn't worry much about stepping in a puddle while chasing one, did we? The joy is in the process. We have had too many goals, too many deadlines, too many destinations to reach to know it is not the same when the journey is over. It is in the pursuit.

I don't ask you to idle away in useless pursuits, but pause for a while, look around and breath easy. Find joy in whatever you are chasing and say to yourself - this is the best time of my life.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

For Amiga

I absolutely needed to make some major progress in my 'To-do' list today, but the snowstorm alert shelved my plans. Now, I am staying indoors and doing my laundry one last time, before I leave Boston on Friday.

I met Clara, the Puerto Rican housekeeping lady, who has a very sweet disposition and uses the endearing 'amiga' every time she sees me. I think the first time I really noticed her was when I had an argument with my brother and I walked out in the snow in my flip flops. She shouted after me: ' Amiga, you will catch a cold. ' Inadvertently, I came back with frostnip feet and with immense gratitude towards Clara for trying to warn me.

Over the years, during my stay in Boston, Clara always gave me weather alerts ( Though I checked it online before I left the house.) She usually said: 'It is cold today' or 'It is not so cold today.' Sometimes, she would tell me how much she longed to be in Puerto Rico with her family but there were not enough jobs there. At the end of every conversation, she opined: 'You is a good woman amiga. Not many good people here.' It made me feel happy and helped me believe in my inherent goodness.

Today, when I hugged her goodbye, she started to weep, saying : 'You is a good friend. I miss you amiga. I will remember you always' I felt sad. It is not every day when someone cries because they think they will never see you again. It had happened before when I was about to leave Noida but that is another story. I prayed: 'Have a good life, Clara.' and gently patted her shoulder.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I wish I were there

Dad receiving President's Police Medal for Distinguished Service from Dr DY Patil, the Governor of Tripura on 26th Jan '10

I remembered the last time Dad received a medal. The whole family was present, including uncles, aunts and cousins. Most accomplishments are considered individual efforts, but my father always acknowledged his family, specially his wife, on occasions such as these. This time even Mom couldn't be around. She is a headmistress now and had to hoist the flag in her school on Republic Day. After that, she tried to make it to the Assam Rifles grounds for the ceremony, but missed it.

There are a lot of families who wish their kids to move to greener pastures but progress comes with a price. I have missed weddings in the family owing to academic commitments. And I am sure they have missed me.

We might have as basic amenities what some people would consider luxuries, but I miss the warmth of affection only a mother can give, the moments in conversations I can have only with my father, and the secrets I can whisper only to my favorite cousin.

Indulging in these fond memories is in vain though. Home, as I knew it as a child, isn't there anymore. We have moved to a bigger house. Most of the younger ones have moved out and have settled down in different places scattered all over the globe. An occasional green icon on a chat window or a phone call reminding me that we share something in common.

There is nothing much I can do, except choose to be with someone who can be family to me. I wish I had the emotional range of a teaspoon or never had the spare time to miss my family. It is true no one spends the entire life with us except ourselves. Thank God for my friends.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Friday, January 08, 2010

Mind your language

Years ago, I had to write an essay for my Bengali class: 'Aami Ingreji bhasha keno pochndo kori na' (Why don't I like the English language) The teacher, Mr. Kapil Bhattacharjee, had even asked us to compare it with Bengali and conclude why we loved it over English.

It was tough. At that age, probably the toughest thing I was confronted with. Can you ever say whether you love your mother more than your father?  How can you compare two languages- both of which have taught you to think and speak your mind? I looked upon it as a challenge. SKD had once opined that the purpose of a composition is to bluff convincingly. The trouble was - where to start?

I was taught in an English medium school, my best friend in Kindergarten spoke Hindi off class hours, and I had the toughest time spelling 'chair' in Bengali for my mother in Standard II. However, in Standard V, I borrowed 'Dhaatri Devata', one of the prescribed textbooks for ICSE exams, from my elder brother who was in Standard X. The fact did some rounds in my family, courtesy : my eldest maternal aunt, and I was hailed as some language prodigy. The plain truth was that I simply got curious about the story on seeing the cover page illustration showing a man behind bars and a woman visiting him.

I own a copy of Geetanjali I bought at a Bangladeshi grocery store in Somerville. I'm crazy about those Uttam- Suchitra starrer romantic classics, where the protagonists merely stare at each other and everything is conveyed. I love Bengali food and I don't think I can ever give up my 'maccher jhol' (Fish curry and rice -stereotype favorite of all Bengalis. But I  do know some Bengalis who don't like to eat fish.)

Does these attributes make me a true Bengali? Any Indophile, thuri Banglaphile can do that, and yet retain his/ her identity. Then, why if someone who does not do it will not be a Bengali in the true sense?

I will always be a Bengali. It is the identity I was born with. I love my mother tongue. It is one of the sweetest signals my auditory nerves transmit to my brain. But if I'm confused or excited or upset I will blurt out in English, because that is what I do. Take it or leave it. Don't judge it.

P.S. About the essay
I finished writing it with some help from my paternal grandfather, who was an authoritarian on languages. (I regret not learning Sanskrit from him.) He usually checked my essays when I finished writing them, but this time around I managed to squeeze a few pointer- about Michael Madhusudan Dutta, about the inconsistent phonetics of English and so on and so forth. It was one of the toughest essays I wrote at school.