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Sunday, December 14, 2014

An afternoon at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum

The curse of the Pharaoh
As a kid, I read about the alleged curse of the Pharaoh that affected the members of the Howard Carter expedition, after the discovery of the tomb of the boy king Tutankhamun in 1925. Mysterious deaths caused by elements (or Tutankhamun's priests to guard the royal tomb) have spiked the interest of media for years.

Made of solid gold, precious colored glass and jewels, King Tut's innermost coffin is one of the most ornate and rare examples of burial regalia.  The museum houses a replica of the same.

A brief history of ancient Egypt:
The Old Kingdom (2663 BCE -2195 BCE), also known as the Pyramid Age, because virtually all of Egypt's population was mobilized to construct the pyramids. At this time, only the king was thought to deserve a proper burial. However, private tombs called mastabas were sometimes donated by the king to worthy individuals.

Families were expected to care for their dead ancestors by leaving them offerings. It was believed that ka, or the spirit of the deceased, would consume the spirit of the food.

The eastern side of a coffin, easy to identify because the eyes are meant to witness the rising sun each morning.

The First Intermediate Period (2195 BCE - 2066 BCE)
The glory of the Old Kingdom waned when Egypt was severely affected by a drought. The yearly flooding of the River Nile failed leading to famine and warfare, The pharaoh as the 'provider'  lost control of the situation, and the formerly dominant central government collapsed into warring provinces called nomes. The royal workshops could no longer exert control over local artisans; thus, they were free to express regional tastes at the behest  of their patrons.

The Middle Kingdom (2066 BCE-1650 BCE)
A warrior king named Mentuhotep II reunified Egypt. This period is best known for its literary classics like Story of Sinuhe and the Admonition of Ipuwer.

The New Kingdom(1550 BCE-1064 BCE)
The Middle Kingdom ended with the peaceful invasion by the Hyksos. A family of Theban warriors drove the Hyksos out of Egypt. The New Kingdom is famous for kings like Akhenaten, Tutankhamun, Rameses and queens like Hatshepsut, Tiyi, Nefertiti. During this time, the science of preservation reached its technological peak.

Women in Ancient Egypt could marry, divorce, and own property. They enjoyed equal rights and responsibilities as men. Many girls were trained as musicians and chantresses. Goddesses were not mere reflections of their male counterparts. They had their own aspects of nature and acted independently from their mates.

Statue of Queen Cleopatra VII,  the last pharaoh of Egypt, was born into the Macedonian family called the Ptolemies, who were infamous for their vicious infighting. Matricide, patricide, and fratricide were common in many generations.

The Romans coveted Egypt as a bountiful source of grain they could use to feed their army. They used the infighting in the Ptolemy family as an excuse to send an envoy to Egypt: Julius Caesar. But Caesar fell in love with Cleopatra, and brought her back to Rome. However, when Caesar was murdered on the Senate steps, she fled back to Egypt.

The next envoy to Egypt was Mark Antony, a friend of Caesar, who fell in love Cleopatra too and together they fought against Rome until they were defeated. She committed suicide from an asp bite so she would not be dragged through the Roman streets.

Model of the temple of Abu Simbel 
Built by Ramesses II
(Note the scale of grandeur with respect to the model people standing at the entrance)

The temples were not merely places of worship; they fueled the Egyptian economy. Donations arriving at the temple for the resident deity were recycled back into the economy. The kings granted land to the temples, as well as prisoners of war, thus providing a workforce of linen weaving women. Linen was a form of currency and considered a worthy gift at any temple. The king was also responsible in keeping the temples stocked with incense to pacify the gods.

A fragment from The book of the Dead, a guide to the afterlife

Animals in Ancient Egypt
Many Egyptian deities were associated with specific animals. Baboons were believed to personify the Egyptian deity Djehuti, god of record-keeping, writing, and wisdom. Crocodiles represented Sobek, the crocodile god of the Nile. Uraeus or a rearing cobra was the image of the snake goddess, Wadjet, and was often worn on a king's brow. She was believed to protect the pharaoh. Cats were sacred to Bastet, goddess of music and household. Ancient Egyptians who wanted to honor a deity would pay for an animal to be mummified and donate it to the god or goddess's temple.

Amun Ram associated with the sun god Amun

Amuletic jewelry
In ancient Egypt, people wore amulets emblematic of a particular deity to be protected or be endowed with certain special abilities. For example, the amulet of goddess Hathor (mistress of music and  beauty) was thought to make a man or woman more attractive or more skilled at making music.

If these notes interest you, please take some time to visit the museum.

Address:1660 Park Avenue, San Jose, CA 95191
General admission: $9
Recommended duration: 2-3 hours

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

A broken verse

Every day I read news about gender violence and sexual assault. It is easy to feel empathetic towards the victims and equally difficult. Sometimes, I wonder what it is like to be a survivor. 

Memories. Memories. Bad memories. Horrible memories. They leave me raw with pain. I wish I could show you how wounded I was, but I don't want you to go through what I have survived. I am not even sure if I was a victim.

I say to myself it doesn't matter now. Maybe it doesn't. The putrid stench of their lust can't touch me. The scars from their bites have faded. It was a long night. Of violation and humiliation. Of my naked body lying in the cold by the road before someone found me and covered what was left of me and my dignity. Like a diseased animal, I was left to die. 'Why didn't they kill me?', I kept asking.

I tried to, so they kept me on a suicide watch. 'She has lost her mind', they said. No, I was sane. I was just trying to make a rational choice to end the struggle. Then I thought to myself: I am stronger than this. An accident will not define me. I will not end my life with such a miserable turn. My body is battered, but it will heal. I will have to help my mind. A bunch of drunk savages won't decide my fate. This is my story. I will write it.

Monday, December 01, 2014

The art of receiving

We always hear how unconditionally we should give. But we seldom dwell on the art of receiving. Here is a story for you...

A long time ago, a very talented mathematician and navigator decided that he wanted to go on an expedition to discover new trade routes via the ocean. He picked the best men he knew, asked for the blessings of his King and started out with a fleet of four ships towards the southern seas. They braved storms and diseases to reach land.

Now, the king of new land was a greedy one. As soon as he heard about the arrival of a foreign fleet, he decided to welcome them with great fanfare in the hopes that they bore gold and precious stones as gifts.

The expedition had very little resources left.  But the captain offered the king four cloaks of the finest velvet, a barrel full of honey, and twelve branches of the most beautiful coral. The meagre offering displeased the king, and he asked the men to pay customs duties in gold and silver like other traders or to leave the land by dawn.

Disappointed, the ships returned to sea. They were too tired to travel all the way back home, so they stopped by a nearby port. Here, the people were gracious. They fed the sailors and offered them fresh water.

On the first night of their stay, the captain discovered that the land was fertile, and the people grew spices in their fields. They had a surplus of salt and labor. He recruited 12 men from the nearest village and started his voyage back home. Their king received the news with great delight and ordered new fleets to embark on the newly discovered trade route for spices,  which until then, was  the monopoly of the Republic of Venice.

Business in the guest town flourished as they exported their spices and learned new skills from their visitors. The explorer took out his charts to travel to new territories again.
  1. Not every gift needs to be gold and silver. It can be new ties, sharing of knowledge etc.
  2. We should always receive gracefully. The giver might have been through a lot to get it.
  3. Instead of immediate gains, we should open ourselves to the  bigger picture.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Bigg Boss 8

First, let us observe a minute of silence for our dearly departed discernment that has left us for good. Why else would we watch this sadism in the name of entertainment? Those who don't watch Bigg Boss, good for you. You save more than 100 hours of your life every season which you can use to complete a course, read good books, watch quality movies or do some community work.

The appeal in reality shows like BB is probably because humans are natural voyeurs. When they are bored, they will take a pair of binoculars and peek into the houses of neighbors like James Stewart of Rear Window. In the absence of that opportunity, we will gratify ourselves by watching strangers living in a house. A housemate brushing teeth on the live feed is entertainment after all.

I don't blame the contestants for the fights. The conditions are stressful. Very little comfort, restrictions on sleep after physical strain, limited rations and the simulated prison environment is enough to drive anyone crazy. It is a miracle that they don't turn cannibals to eliminate competition. Because the way they behave on the show makes you wonder why are they so desperate for footage. What good has Bigg Boss done to any of the previous winners, anyways? Shouldn't the platform be used to showcase your real talent and act like normal human beings? Oh wait, the channel can not profit from 'normal' people. So they incentivize arguments, no matter how unnecessary. How do you solve your problems in real life? By threatening people, fighting and pushing others away, of course! What else would civilized people do?

The past seasons had their share of negative characters, but this season has a particularly despicable lot. I don't understand why would someone waste their money on votes if they don't like anyone. The channel should focus on making the characters likable instead of goading them to dogfights. Then there is the cliche of contrived romance. We know Katniss and Peeta of Hunger Games, we know how it works. Even it is not scripted, it is a desperate attempt to survive in the show.

Now, there is a new wave in the house. ' Don't touch me' during tasks. How the hell are tasks supposed to happen?  Maybe they should have separate tasks for men and women. Real women don't use the woman card for unfair advantage.

So far, Preetam seems like the only sane person in the house, but he gives up on tasks too easily. And the ones who 'think' they are doing the task get unnecessarily aggressive so much so that you wish you could fast forward to where real conversations happen. Some humor, something creative, even tips on work out or fashion. Who am I kidding? I am not even the target audience of that show. However, the lower TRPs (compared to previous seasons) suggest that my response is representative of a larger pool of audience.

My appeal to the channel and contestants: Get creative, not aggressive. Make the luxury budget tasks more interesting. Make captaincy a challenge with a task between the nominees. Punish the rule breakers severely.  As a viewer, I demand more value for my time. 

Monday, November 03, 2014

How are you?

When I first came to US, and the employees at the local supermarket  (Shaw's) checkout asked me, 'Hey! How are you?', I thought they meant it. I was lonely during my first semester in Boston, didn't have many friends and even the practiced greetings at a business transaction made me feel grateful for the chance at human interaction. Hence, I always replied with a smile, said I am fine (no matter how dog-tired) and asked how the other person was.

Then I saw them do it to other customers and felt jealous. I wasn't a special case. They asked it out of habit. Some of the customers did not even respond. However, I had my favorites at the checkout, like Rosie, whose aisle would be the one I preferred to check out from even if it meant waiting in a longer queue. When I  didn't see her for some days, I got worried. After a few weeks, she was back and I enquired about her well being. She said that she had been ill. She looked tired and her usual cheerfulness was missing. On my next visit, I bought her some flowers, chocolates and a thank-you card. She was pleasantly surprised and thanked me profusely. The store manager saw what happened and told the others about it. The other employers smiled at me as I walked away. I wondered if she would miss me if one fine day I did not show up anymore. 

A few days later, I fell sick and I kept to my room. When I finally recovered, I went out to get some salmon at the same store. The guy at the seafood counter remembered me: 'Haven't seen you in a while, were you away?', he asked.

My takeaway:
1. Not everybody who asks you 'How are you' wants to know.
2. If you want to do something impulsive for someone, do it. Show your affection.
3. Someone will always miss you. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

শারদ শুভেচ্ছা ও অভিনন্দন

Autumn greetings to you and your family.

Compering for Prabasi Durga Puja 2014

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The P word

I am grateful that I grew up in a house where it wasn't a taboo to talk about periods. I wasn't allowed into the prayer room by my mother as it is customary in most Hindu homes. But I didn't have to sleep on the floor or do other crazy things that some people say they had to do when Aunt Flo came for a visit.

However, my first educational crash course about preparing for the changes in my body was not from my mother. It was from the girl I sat next to in Class VI. I was 13 and of age, and she told me not to be scared when 'it' happened to me. We had a chapter on human reproductive system in 'We are the World' in Class VII Moral Science. A year too late.

A couple of months ago, I saw a girl getting death threats on social media because she wrote about her 'feelings' during that time of the month. Her post was not what I would consider 'tasteful', the language more provocative than was necessary, but death threats? A whole nation was obsessed with examining her character, propositioning her, and lashing out at people who supported her freedom to express anyway she chose to on her timeline.

The evasion around a mundane body function might seem illogical to some, but even I made sure that I let SG read this post first before publishing it. Why am I writing this then?

Last Tuesday, my father told me that my mother had some spotting even after her menopause. SG looked up the internet and we saw possibilities from polyps to endometrial cancer. I was hysterical and we insisted that they visited the doctor at once. One of my paternal aunts, whom we always turn to for medical advice, had the same suggestion. It was 17th September, Viswakarma Puja. Most doctors were not practicing from home. Even though, Lord Viswakarma is the Principal Architect of the Universe and the divine engineer, his blessings are sought by medical equipment as well. A family friend made some jugad and requested a doctor to check on her nevertheless.

The doctor diagnosed a tumor in her uterus and recommended immediate surgery. He wanted it done on Friday. But my mom said that she had some work to take care of at her school first. She was admitted on Monday morning, operated  upon on Tuesday and will be going home today (Friday in India). The support of friends and family has been overwhelming.

Things could have been worse, had we not talked about it. It could have been malignant. My MIL told me about a woman whose tumor grew to 9 pounds before she was diagnosed. Uterine fibroids and endometriosis are quite prevalent gynecological disorders and the most common reasons for hysterectomy. A lot of women don't talk about it, not among themselves, not even to their daughters. I don't advocate status updates about premenstrual cramps every month, but let us have the freedom to talk about our bodies, at least, in clinical terms.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Hagiography by the illogical Indian

I had great respect for a certain Indian website until it associated the concept of patriotism with denouncement of U.S. citizenship. The post informed us of a certain individual who had allegedly said that his Indian citizenship is more important than anything else (his junior scientist job offer at NASA). The site almost conferred sainthood upon him for a personal decision (if true) that can be driven by several factors. By all means, promote nationalism because we need to feel an extreme sense of superiority over other nations to feel proud of our country. Like a spoiled brat who needs to be constantly told how wonderful he is or else he throws a tantrum.

Firstly, you don't need to have a U.S. citizenship to work for NASA. More than 50% of employees at NASA are contractors who work on other visas, and that include non-U.S citizens like Europeans, Japanese, etc. You will need a citizenship only if you have to serve as a civil servant (which also comes with a lot of restrictions).

Furthermore, the site seemed to imply that anyone who leaves India to pursue science or other careers is unpatriotic. Strive to be a global citizen and don't be a victim of jingoism.  Personally, I know a lot of NASA employees of Indian origin collaborating with India. Those collaborations open new frontiers to students in virtual classrooms, researcher in labs, and even farmers in the fields.

Also, there is a common misconception that NASA is all about space. NASA has programs that monitor global warming, forest cover, etc. Google 'NASA earth science ' for examples.

Update: The post has been taken down following several protests, including one which rightly asked,  'why doesn't he work for ISRO if he is so patriotic?' Especially when it is on the verge of making space history with Magalyaan.

Seems like the whole thing was a big scam. Read here.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Short story: Bhooter Haachi (ভূতের হাঁচি)

অনেক দিন পরে একটা বাংলা গল্প লিখেছি - এক ঘেয়ে কাজ করে হাঁপিয়ে যাচ্ছিলাম - তাই নিশ্রামের জন্যে- কেমন লাগল  জানাবে।

গল্পটার প্রথম অংশ  যখন  Facebook এ দি, সুজয়াদি তার মেয়ে পাখিকে সেটা পড়ে শোনায়।  তখন তার কত প্রশ্ন- 'ভূতের এত হাঁচি হয় কেন ? ভূতের মা ওকে ওষূধ  দেয় নি কেন? ' আমি  তো লিখে খালাস। কিন্তু বুঝতে পারলাম যে এটা গুরু দায়িত্ব। মা মেয়ের সম্পর্ক যেন চিরদিন এমনি থাকে, আর পাখির অনুসন্ধিৎসা  যেন কখনো কম না হয় সেই প্রার্থনা করি...

পাখির জন্যে 

ভূতের হাঁচি

ভুতের খুব মন খারাপ। তার  হাঁচি হয়েছে শুক্রবার থেকে, এখনো যায় নি। অথচ হাঁচি নিয়ে সে ঠিক গিন্নির জন্যে পুকুর থেকে মাছ ধরে আনতে পারছে না।  মাছের কাছে গিয়ে হাঁচি দিলেই সব পো-পো  করে পালাচ্ছে। আর এ তো মানুষের হাঁচি না, এ হলো ভুতের হাঁচি - এক সঙ্গে ৩০- ৪০ টা তো হবেই। তাই সে নাজেহাল।  খুব মন খারাপ করে বুড়ো  বটগাছের  ওপর পা ঝুলিয়ে বসে আছে, আর ভাবছে যে কি করা যায়।

তখন রাত ১০ টা হবে, অপু মাস্টারমশাই এর বাড়ি থেকে অঙ্ক করে ফিরছিল।  খুব কঠিন একটা অঙ্ক তার মাথায় কেবল ঘুরপাক খাচ্ছে। কিছুতেই তার সমাধান মিলছে না, কিন্তু মাস্টারবাবুর  খুব বিশ্বাস- কেউ  যদি পারে তবে অপুই  পারবে। তাই সে খুব চিন্তিত।  সবাই জানে অঙ্ক স্যার খুব কড়া , কিন্তু অপু কে খুব ভালবাসেন। অপু বাধ্য ছেলে।  রোজকার পড়া করে, ক্লাসের ফার্স্ট বয়।  ভূগোল আর অঙ্ক তার খুব প্রিয় বিষয়। সে দিন রাত এটলাস ঘাটাঘাটি করে আর অঙ্ক কষে যায়।  বাংলায় কম নম্বর পায় বলে মার খুব মন খারাপ। উনি বলেন- 'বাঙালির ছেলে ভালো বাংলা লিখতে না পারলে কেমন লাগে?' বাবা বলেন: 'আহা! ওর যা ভালো লাগে পড়তে দাও না! বড় হলে যখন ভাষাটা  বুঝতে শিখবে তখন নিজে থেকেই  বাংলা সাহিত্য পড়বে। '

অপুর দিদি কিন্তু ইয়া মস্ত-মস্ত গল্পের বই, উপন্যাস পড়ে শেষ করে দেয়।  ছুটির দিনে কখনো উপুর হয়ে, কখনো জানালার কার্নিসে বসে, চশমা চোখে দিদি সকাল থেকে সন্ধ্যে খালি গল্পের বই পড়ে।  মা তখন ডেকে ডেকে হয়রান।  'চান করতে যাও, খেতে এসো , এবার বই রেখে একটু ঘুমও , চোখটা আরো যাবে- এবার একটু বিশ্রাম দে,' ইত্যাদি ....

অপু ফিকফিক করে হাঁসে।  তখন দিদির পায়ে আরশোলা ছেড়ে দিলেও দিদি বুঝতে পারবে না।  যেন ধ্যান করছে! অপু মজা করে বলে - 'দেখিস বাল্মীকির মত উইঢিপি হয়ে যাস না যেন!' তাই শুনে দিদি শুধু বলে- হু!

এমন করেই অপুর দিন কাটছিল।  সেই দিন রাতের কথায় ফিরি। অপু সাইকেল চালাতে পারে তাই আর ছোটবেলার মত বাবাকে নিতে আসতে হয় না। বন্ধুদের সঙ্গে গল্প করতে করতে সে দিব্যি কলেজ টিলা- যেখানে স্যারের বাড়ি সেখান থেকে বাড়ি ফিরে আসে।  স্যারের বাড়িটা একটা পুকুরের ধারে।  স্যারকে বলতে শুনেছে যে সেই পুকুরের নাকি এক কালে খুব মাছ ছিল- কিন্তু গত কয়েক বছর ধরে মাছের সংখ্যা অনেক কমে এসেছে।  আগে বিকেলে দাড়িয়ে অনেক রকম মাছের খেলা দেখা যেত।  এখন কচুরিপানায় সব ঢেকে গেছে। মাছ হয়ত কিছু আছে , তবে পানার জন্যে কিছু দেখা যায় না।  এর একটা বৈজ্ঞানিক ব্যাখ্যা অপু পড়েছিল : পানার দরুন জলের  তলায়  সূর্যের আলো পৌঁছায় না, সালোকসংশ্লেষ বা photosynthesis হ্রাস পায় , আর তার জন্যে অন্যান্য উদ্ভিদ আর জলজ জীবন বৃদ্ধি পায় না। কিন্তু অপু জানে তার দিদির সেই ফুল খুব পছন্দ। একদিন অপু মনে করে দিদির জন্যে নিয়ে যাবে।

কলেজ টিলা নাম কেন বলি। ১৯৪৭ সালে ত্রিপুরার রাজা মহারাজ বীর বিক্রম কিশোর মানিক্য একটি কলেজের স্থাপনা করেন। তাঁর নামেই কলেজ হয়, সংক্ষিপ্তে এম. বি.বি  কলেজ।কলেজের একপাশে কলেজে কর্মরত অধ্যাপক ও অন্যান্য কর্মচারিদের জন্যে কিছু বাসভবনের নির্মান করা হয়। কলেজ ও তার পার্শ্ববর্তী এলাকা একটি টিলার ওপর অধিষ্ঠিত হওয়ায়  অঞ্চলটার  নাম পরে কলেজ টিলা। টিলার নিচে একটা ক্লাব আছে - মডার্ন  ক্লাব। সেখানে দূর্গা পুজো হয়। পুকুরের ওপর মাচা লাগিয়ে ঠাকুর রাখা হয়।  আবার সেই পুকুরের জলেই বিসর্জন।

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Happy Book Lovers Day

In the stillness of a summer afternoon, in the chatter of a busy street, on a cold winter night when it is snowing outside, when I am happy, when I am sad, when I extend my hand to touch you with my half-closed eyes the first thing in the morning, when I walk in the rain but cover you with my embrace, when you protect me from the scorching sun, when I smell your pages and feelings stir inside, when I weep resting my head on you, when you comfort me in my loneliest nights, when my eyes light up when I talk about you, when I read and reread you but never think I have known you enough-let me count the ways I love you. Happy Book Lovers Day.

Also, 10 ways to celebrate

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Volunteering for non-profits

I have volunteered for a considerable number of non-profits in the past and will continue to do so. I always advice my friends to find time to volunteer because:
  1. Networking: You make new friends. Some of the best friends of my adult life are from volunteer gigs. A common interest is always a good place to start a relationship; personal or professional..
  2. Team spirit: Your ability to work within teams improves. Of course, you don't get paid in money, but you learn and practice skills that are not taught in school. In older days, success meant being competitive. Now, it is all about your ability to bring value to the team. No one likes a genius asshole. The quicker you grasp that, the better it is. 
  3. You learn better time management. Someone said to me recently: 'You organize your time very well.You wear so many hats. I am impressed.' I thought to myself I could have never learned it if I were selfish about sharing my time. You know Parkinson's Law, right? Now, here is the Kar's Law 8.5.14: You can wear as many hats as you let your head.
  4. Self-restraint : You learn to smile better. A good amount of your success depends on being likeable (assuming you are already an established genius asshole. If you are just mediocre, don't bury your ideas in your effort to be likeable. Red flag there.). And trust me, it is a learnable skill. Unfortunately, people will not care if you had a bad day. For them, the moment of truth is when you interact with them. If you appear unsympathetic during that single moment, then they will assign a personality trait that might not be typically yours. Exposing yourself to a diverse mix of personalities improves your self-restraint. You learn to compartmentalize your emotions. The show goes on.
I was offered to be a board member of a non-profit I am associated with, which if I accepted (in my late 20s) would make me the youngest board member. Cool, right? Wrong. Here are a few things to consider why-

 -How aligned is their mission with your career objectives? Because you have to accept, you have a primary responsibility - your regular job.

 -How much willing are you to share your time with the same kind of people? It would become an obligation, at least for me, to stay in touch to facilitate communication and rapport. Are you prepared to be doing that on your days off? Or would you rather be networking within your professional sphere and/or unwinding with your friends? 

 -I understand that volunteering is more about what you believe in, but what if you want your primary identity to be your career? There is nothing wrong in being ambitious and wanting to dedicate a major part of your time in learning new skills required to be more competent at your job. You have to make a trade-off here and by declining some offers you are actually committing to focus on what is really important to you. 

 -Don't get dragged into the agenda of someone else. Have the discipline to say 'no' even if the offer sounds lucrative in the short-term. 

 Lastly, I'd like to say that when money is not the motivation, the power struggles become much more pronounced because humans are attuned to have a social hierarchy. Unfulfilled promises and hurt expectations bring a lot of negativity in your life. Are you willing to be in that environment and try and formulate a new protocol or would you rather be an outsider, observing and taking notes?

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Life is a pilgrimage

As a child, I often wondered why some of the revered temples in India are located in not-so-easy to access places. Instead of building it on a high altitude, why didn't they build it at the base of the mountain? Now, I think it is more about the journey. Days of traveling for your destination, bearing both physical and mental hardships, challenging yourself to face those and completing your itinerary. Meeting others on the way, exchanging stories, and of course, becoming friends. And when you are done, planning the next undertaking.

Life is like that. When you feel something is particularly difficult to achieve, think of the distance you have covered so far. Give yourself a pat on the back and keep walking. There is still so much to see.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Agartala? Where is that?

Recently, a Kaun Banega Crorepati promo (the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire) has gone viral, and for good reasons.

I shared it on FB and Twitter too, with the message:Do not alienate your own people. If you see others doing it, educate them. I have great belief in the present and the future generations and in their commitment towards equality.

A lot of people ask me where I am from. The typical response is- 'Oh, is that in Assam?' and an accompanying sense of accomplishment with the query. I want to say- 'As much as Puri is in West Bengal', 'Seriously, at least remember the capitals!', 'How much did you score in Geography in school?', but I put on a blank expression and pretend they do not exist. Inner peace.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

A Farewell to Orkut

I heard it in online conversations, now the mail from Google confirmed it.

It was like the death of an old friend we had stopped caring about. I went to Google Takeout and archived the memories. Those who want to do it: Google ' Google Takeout', Click on 'Create an archive' option, Select Orkut. It will download the profile and photos in a zip folder.

Here are some of the testimonials I had on my Orkut profile, saving it for rainy days (some of my friends deleted their account and are listed as 'anonymous'):

A special mention to dad's testimonial on my birthday in 2008, which was my birthday gift that year.

Anonymous - May 5, 2010 at 10:04 PM I was reading the testimonials...but let me tell u... words fall short of explaining Aparna--she is simply DIFFERENT.....and I mean it.. How ??? well, I am not sure how i cud define...but i can tell u...if you talk to her or read her features .. for the next 30 mintues or so you bcome a different man.

Pramit (classmate from HCS) - November 6, 2009 at 9:41 PM "Aparna...The Warrior Princess........" Always ready for an ACTION....It doesnt matter whether she is holding a "Pen or A SwOrd"..she kNows the aRt of using both of them...nicely and with full AccUracy...sHe will always leave a MARK..Besides that as a human being she is fun loving and adVenTurous and A DeaR friend to me....I have seen her LoVing and CaRing Nature and also seen the "DRagOn" inside her....In both of her forms she leaps over all boundaries...We have had Great Fun in school days....and those memories of our fights and debates on every smalL IsSue will always comfort us and gift us with a SMiLe in the FuTuRe......and also in the days PasSing By...

Puja Raut (my roomie in Boston) - March 27, 2009 at 10:13 AM Cheerful, down to earth and a reliable friend. Can instantly pose for stunning pictures and can laze the whole day writing creative stuff for all her fans. Great cook! Try out her awesome baked recipies and not to miss the " Kheer". If you take her out for dinner, and if she closes her eyes while eating, Boom!! She is relishing the food duh!! "Banda Pagal hai" is Appu's patent dialogue. So all you guys BEWARE before opening your hearts to this great listener! Spent some good times with her to cherish all my life. I wish Appu the best for her future endeavours.

Anonymous - August 6, 2008 at 8:26 AM APARNA KAR for the world but for me she is that Kid "Appu" friend from school. She is an enigma...with lots of potentials waiting to be unfolded. At the moment the world is in need of people like her who can be truthful and faithful to their dreams...who can bring their words and actions in one track. Dear I have learnt about ur book from ur profile but m not yet privileged to read that...will do that one day...but even without reading i can guarantee its gonna ba a masterpiece and i know it is. Well an intelligent young woman who can capture ur heart with her beautiful eyes....turn off ur speech with the intensity of her gray matter...soothe you with her compassion when you are in need ....! She is that human being you can rely natural simple...yet so gorgeous and adorable. love u ...may God bless you!

Dr. Sangram Ganguly - 8 de março de 2008 22:21 you are the ultimate girl ... accept it... baci baci

Aniruddha Bhattacharya - 6 de dezembro de 2007 14:31 Aparna, aka Apu, as I lovingly call her, is my kiddo friend .. do not remember how we got introduced, did we ever ? But kinda remember her commenting on my weirdo profile pic during the Beta phase of orkut, probably early 2004. She appeared part confused, part suave, part jovial, part clownish, part loving, part didn't somebody (was it Freud or Jung?) say the whole is more than the some of the parts? As we got acquainted on orkut, with time, the flirt in me took a veritable backseat and gave way to affection, and my fondness for her grew courtesy our sporadic telephonic conversations. She came to me as a sweet mannered, giggly, naive and vulnerable young soul who wanted a way in life. Well, Apu finally has broken the jinx of immaturity and naiveté (though I wish she does remain naive and pristine as before) and has embarked on to successful channels in life All the love for you dear.. do be happy in life

Anonymous - 4 de julho de 2007 10:05 "She is a Goddess", and I have no doubts about it. As she has wisely said, "when demi-gods go, Goddess arrives" :) I am not sure if I have more appropriate words, but yes, She is one of those I want to spend some enlightening time with over a coffee...and lucky me, she has agreed for the same.

Subhendu Kahaly - 9 de março de 2007 15:31 A creature in its journey towards humanity...On the verge of the transformation...

sYzYgY (Prasenjit Dey) . - 15 de janeiro de 2007 17:17 had she been an alien.. she would have had a million tentacles, each with million colours... had she been a tree, she would have had her root with billion branches spread around thousands of miles.. and way deep to touch the heart of the earth... well, thats just one or two of endless things you can imagine to describe her. Lemme make it easy for you all. If you like this girl without a second thought, feel happy that your intuition is sooo right. If you don't..then... no no don't think you are confounded... you can still like her and you'd be surprised to find on a magical day that your intuitions are not cheating you anymore.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

All characters are imaginary

Man: So, what do you do for a living?
Prospective Groom: I am a story teller. I spin stories about products so that people can relate to them.
Man: That's alright.. But what do you do?
Prospective Groom: Oh, you mean job title? Brand Manager.
Man: How much do you earn?
Prospective Groom: About 100k, plus bonuses.
Man: But you are not an Engineer?
Prospective Groom: No.
Man: Oh (disappointed)

Monday, June 23, 2014

Confessions of a Marketer

Your profession makes an impression on your character. Policemen often develop a good eye for things, lawyers have good ears, and teachers should have a gift of the gab. Someone in marketing should learn peacocking early in life. There is no place for introverts here. Sure, I like to curl up on the sofa with my preferred device, a cup of tea, (maybe a cuddly kitten) and type away to glory, but every day I have to think- how can I help others reach their target audience in this world of clutter ? It is advised to have a dialogue, not one-way communication that only pushes their agenda. Followers like authentic, responsive and compelling content.

And sometimes, you have to be obnoxiously cocky. Feign it. Believe in it. I think I was born for this.

Now that I have done some shameless self-promotion, let us get to the crux of this post- how do you motivate talented but invisible members of your team to be more involved? It is a well-known fact that some work cultures prefer extroverts over introverts. Yet, sometimes introverts have a lot more to add to a discussion than they readily contribute. What you need to tell your introvert employees is that networking is a learnable skill. Also, rapport building need not be an exclusive trait of the extroverts. It is more essential to have a few meaningful relations than several superficial ones. Think of it as your Klout score. Your influence is measured by your ability to drive people into action. If an introvert spends 40 mins on 5 prospects and converts 3 of them, but an extrovert talks to 20 and converts only 2- whom would you rather have? A good team has a healthy balance of both and a leader should make it conducive for all kinds of employees to thrive in their ecosystem.

Also, read why marketing needs more introverts on HBR blog.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Are you articulate?

You will never see a European apologizing for his accent. Almost 7 years in the U.S, and I still speak very Indian English, neutral at best. My professors always graded me well for presentations, potential clients understand what I say, and yesterday I had a 2-hour long conversation with someone who shares my passion for women empowerment.

Sometimes, I speak very fast (trying to change that). Recently, I have downloaded an app that helps me to analyze my pronunciation by comparing audio waves with a template. I have a lot to learn. I am taking a course in public speaking to boost my confidence.

But when I look at the videos of successful people of Indian origin in Silicon Valley, I don't see them faking an accent. All I see is their competence, their expertise, their depth of knowledge in their chosen field. And this makes me believe that confidence and articulation comes from a thorough understanding of your subject- you can not fake that.

Update: My friends and family say that my accent has changed organically over the years. I will upload another soundcloud file to examine the difference.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

On Father's Day

My father doesn't browse Internet much these days, so no point in wishing him Father's Day here. But I am grateful to him for several reasons-
  1. For standing by me for every decision I took. Right or wrong, he let me own my life.
  2. Investing in my education. My life would have been very different, had he not been progressive by Indian standards
  3. Teaching me to value my dignity, and not to get trampled upon for a 'good woman' certificate.
  4. Letting me see his vulnerable side once when I was very ill. Most people think that he is a very strong man, his traits aligned with his past profession as a police officer, but I know that he is a poet at heart. And this makes me believe that someone who is sometimes intimidating on the outside can be an imputrescible child deep inside.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Trade show 101

  1. Prepare your pitch, but make it more conversational. Ask questions. Get to know your potential clients.
  2. Get a business card scanner app. You don't want to be buried in information and lose contacts. It is also easier to connect on LinkedIn later.
  3. Have an appointment schedule if you are also setting up meetings with people from other departments.
  4. Have your devices handy, but don't forget old pen and paper. Quick Notes is not as quick as quick notes.
  5. Ask advice from someone who has done it before. They always have something valuable to add.
  6. Don't forget your camera.
  7. Never, never, never wear heels.

How can you tell a noob from an expert in a trade show? Look at the shoes. More comfortable they look, more experienced they are.  They don't need to walk for years to reach the restroom and miss a prospect in the process.

Good luck.

Monday, May 19, 2014

I am a cat

I am vain.
I like to groom myself.
I need attention most when my owner is trying to get some work done.
I love fish and milk.
I like sunshine and chasing butterflies.
I purr when I am happy.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Growing up in India in the 90s

What I remember:

Cherished worldly possessions:Multicolored pens, Stickers, Disney Pencil box, Audio cassettes, Slam books and friendship bands

Books:  Tintin, Asterix, Amar Chitra Katha, Anandamela, Arthur Conan Doyle,  English Classics, Shakespeare, Satyajit Ray, Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury, Tagore.

TV: Boy meets World, Blossom, Disney Hour, Bill Nye the Science Guy, X-Files, Byomkesh Bakshi, Stone Boy, Rangoli, Turning Point, Surabhi, Tehkikaat, Chandrakanta, The Jungle Book

Games: My Best Friend is.., Help Sister, FLAME, Ludo, Snakes and Ladders, Checkers

Indulgence: Cadbury Nutties, Fruit and Nut, Toblerone, Coke, Big Babol, Uncle Chips

Monday, April 28, 2014

Travelogue: Yosemite trip 2014

Last week, we visited Yosemite National Park after 3 years. We had booked our rooms at the Tenaya Lodge, near the south entrance to the park.  The establishment derives its name from Chief Tenaya of the Ahwahneeche tribe, who was killed in the valley, in a dispute, in the summer of 1853.

We drove a little over 3 hours from San Jose to reach the lodge in the quiet of the evening. We had already dined on our way at Fresno in a Persian restaurant called Aria. The rack of lamb I ordered was soft, juicy and complemented the saffron rice marvelously. I like it when I enjoy my food, it gets me into a very agreeable mood.

We registered ourselves as guests and found our way to our room which was on the ground floor. A sliding door opened into the lawn and the outdoor swimming pool. I discovered later that there was some drilling scheduled during the day for reconstruction of the premises. We had a neighbor named Paula. She barked a lot. Very suspicious of strangers.

The next morning we had our breakfast at the buffet; then we got dressed and headed for the park. You get a 7-day pass for $20 and an annual pass for $40. Through the curving roads, we entered the Wawona Tunnel, turned a sharp left at the end of it and parked at a vista point to get some pictures.

We drove down further to see the Bridalveil Falls up close. After a short walk, we reached the base of the falls. I sat on the rocks and enjoyed the mist on my face. The Ahwahneechee tribe believed breathing in its mist improved the chance of matrimony; I will have to remember to relay that to all my marriageable friends.

I have come up with a feasible explanation for the belief: when you are sitting at the foot of the falls,  happy in the embrace of nature, with a goofy smile on your face- people tend to think that you are friendly and strike a conversation. If you are both looking for love, chances are, it could lead to something.

(to be continued)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


I grew up in a household where if I said 'I'm thirsty' aloud, someone would rush with a glass of water - whether I wanted the service or not. But my father made it clear to us that life is not always going to be the same. He disliked it if someone pampered us silly. He preferred we eat with their own hands even when we were kids.(Parenting ideals were different in India) 'Let them be self-sufficient' he would chide our mother.

It is another thing entirely that I did not like being fed. My mom had a habit of pushing my neck with her left hand while she fed me with the right. I abhorred it and hence preferred eating on my own.

Years later, I can thank him for another of life's lessons. There is no shame in doing your own work. Good domestic help is hard to come by where I live now. I hired a cleaning service once and she chatted away for two hours for which I paid $120. At the end of her visit, I still had to clean my own house.

It is a good thing that SG helps a lot. In fact, he does most of the cleaning when we are expecting guests, while I cook. And people always seem to appreciate our efforts. Once, we had a role-reversal, when he cooked a specialty and I cleaned. Consequently, I began appreciating his contributions even more. Personally, I find cooking easier than cleaning.

I think it is fortunate that I have seen two extremes in my life and I am happy with my present state of things. The best feeling, however, is when my parents say how proud they are of me shouldering my responsibilities so well. Here, I should also mention my MIL who is an inspiration. She always tells me that no matter how educated I am or how big my paycheck is-I have to manage my house well, life is going to be a lot more easy for us. I agree. যে রাঁধে  সে  কি আর চুল বাঁধে না ?

Maybe if I own a big house I'll hire a gardener, a cook,  and a housekeeper to help me out. Until then, the sweat is sweet. (Though the back hurts from mopping. :D)

P.S. I am looking for an efficient house cleaning service in and around San Jose. Recommend if you have any in mind. 

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Perfect 365

Okay, I discovered this app called Perfect 365 that I can use for a virtual makeover. This is a good way to gauge which make-up suits you, without really putting it on. I tried a few looks, a few quite outlandish. Here are some samples. Vote for your favorite.

1. Noir

2. Minnie blue eyes

Saturday, March 29, 2014


Last night, we went out to watch the spring revival of ’Amadeus’ at the City Lights Theater in San Jose. The play by Peter Shaffer won a Tony Award and received eight Oscars as a motion picture, including Best Picture. This post is not a critical essay on the production, but the emotional journey I had with the characters during the play.

The first scene opens at the salon of Antonio Salieri with his appeal:

Mozart! Mozart! Forgive me!
Forgive your assassin!

While ominous whispers accuse in repetition, ’Salieri, Salieri’.  We doubt that the man is paranoiac and imagining voices. His feverish pitch mellows to a confessional tone when he confides to the audience:

I was the most successful musician in Vienna.
And the happiest. Till he came. Mozart.

And we realize immediately, this is not going to be a hymn of joy, but a tragic symphony of dark emotions that we fear in ourselves.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born to Leopold Mozart and Anna Maria, in Salzburg in the 18th century when Austria was still under the Holy Roman Empire. He performed as a child prodigy in the presence of royalties, while Salieri was born to a merchant who wanted him to be interested in commerce.  He admits to be jealous of the fact that Mozart’s father encouraged his prodigious talent.

 You can’t blame old Salieri when he gets nostalgic about his last days in Lombardy, Italy before he had set out for Vienna, Austria to study music and reminisces the proud prayer he had offered in the church:

Lord, make me a great composer! Let me celebrate your glory through music –
And be celebrated myself! Make me famous through the world.
Make me immortal! After I die let people speak my name forever
With love for what I wrote! In return I vow I will give you my chastity –
My industry, my deepest humility, every hour of my life.
And I will help my fellow man all I can. Amen and amen!

For some time, at least, God was with him. Within a few years of reaching Vienna, he became the Court Composer to Emperor Joseph II. In those days, musicians had to rely on sponsors and patronage. This also allowed a certain amount of censorship because most of them would be then obliged to cater to the fancies of the nobles. Who would want to write about the common man? The heroes would be Gods and their stories would be epics. Who would bother about the banalities of daily lives?

Consider meeting the man who had written his first concerto at the age of four, his first symphony at seven and a full-scale opera at twelve. What had Salieri imagined him to be like? Measured? Poised? Controlled? Mozart was polarly opposite to his expectations. While he sat unnoticed in the buffet room of the palace, savoring his favorite- Crema al Mascarpone (‘We all have patriotic feelings of some kind’, he justified), Salieri heard giggles and then saw Mozart chase Constanze, his fiancée. He dropped to all fours and crawled across the floor, meowing and hissing like a cat:
Meow! Meow!
Puss-wuss, fangs-wangs. Paws-claws.

Maybe Salieri wasn’t supposed to witness this secret of their conjugal bliss- the occasional teasing and nonsensical laughter. To Salieri it was infantile, crude, and antithetical to his assumptions about a genius. With consecutive meetings, his rage surged with Mozart’s slighting of the Italian opera. He also inadvertently eavesdropped on a conversation between Mozart and Constanze where she accused him of fooling around with Katherina Cavielri, a young soprano and one of Salieri’s students, in fact, his favorite. Salieri had admitted that his wife was cold, lacking in passion,’ La statua’, yet he had chosen a life of virtue because he had promised to. But Mozart said to Constanze that the only reason Katherina was virtuous under the tutelage of Salieri was because he couldn’t ‘get it up’. Insulted, blinded with rage and jealousy, Salieri declared to God:

From now on, we are enemies, You and I!
Because You will not enter me, with all my need for you;
Because You scorn my attempts at virtue;
Because You choose for Your instrument a
Boastful, lustful, smutty infantile boy and give me for reward only the
Ability to recognize the Incarnation;
Because You are unjust, unfair, unkind, I will block You! I swear it!
I will hinder and harm Your creature on earth as far as I am able. I will ruin Your Incarnation.

Thus began Salieri’s elaborate schemes to curb the genius of Mozart. Mozart’s expenditures were more than his earnings, and he desperately needed an official post at the court. The niece of the emperor, Princess Elizabeth needed a tutor, and Salieri promised Mozart that he would recommend him for it. In reality, he put forth a less talented musician for the job, who Mozart feared would do more musical harm to the princess.  

The most confounding thing of all was that Mozart did not, for a second, doubt Salieri’s true intentions. In fact, he considered him a friend. He confided in him that he was broke, his concerts didn’t pay much and the only way to earn was if he could have pupils.  Salieri offered false promises of help, and when Mozart resorted to begging from his Mason brothers, Salieri made sure it was stopped when he advised Mozart to write about the secret order, as a mark of gratitude. But when the opera ‘The Magic Flute’ disclosed a Masonic initiation and other rites, the order was offended and it resulted in Mozart’s suspension from the brotherhood.

Mozart, now destitute and nearing his end of days, had lost much of his mental faculties. Salieri hoped to see him reduced to nothing, and one a night when his curiosity got the better of him, he chose to walk in the direction of Mozart’s home. But Mozart’s circumstances had not begrimed his genius. He was composing ‘Requiem’ at what he alleged was to serve the request of a hooded figure that beckoned him grimly in his dreams.  The figure was actually a  disguised servant of a certain gentleman who wanted to pass ‘Requiem’ as his own composition to  Count Franz, who had lost his wife and wanted to commission a piece in her commemoration.

When Salieri witnessed the filth and decay in Mozart’s life and realized that much of it was his own doing, he made a last attempt to redeem himself and confessed. Mozart was not able to comprehend fully and Salieri was too late with his explanation. At that moment, you couldn’t decide which was more pitiful- Salieri’s jealousy gnawing into his heart all those years or his need for absolution from Mozart.

You might be interested to know that though Mozart died in poverty and was buried in a common grave, the elite of Vienna provided for his wife and children. She also sold his original manuscripts, charging ‘by the ink’, and married diplomat Georg Nikolaus (who later wrote a biography on Mozart).

In the final act, we are brought back to old Salieri’s salon. Nearing dawn, he announces:

From now on no one will be able to speak of Mozart
Without thinking of me. Whenever they say Mozart with love,
They’ll have to say Salieri with loathing.
And that's my immortality - at last! Our names will be tied together for eternity -
His in fame and mine in infamy. At least it's better than the total oblivion he'd planned for me, your merciful God!

Facing the audience now, he chants:

Mediocrities everywhere,
Now and to come: I absolve you all!
Amen! Amen! Amen!


I did not view the play as a lesson in history, nor do I want to judge the veracity of Salieri’s moral dilemma or Mozart’s puerility.  But as a pure creative piece, it has its brilliance in the eternality of characters within their temporal span of existence. At moments, you find yourself identifying with Salieri, a hard-working artist who feels cheated by his creator when he witnesses the easy genius of another man, whom he considers the conduit of God Himself. His music so divine, so perfect! There was no murder except of the young Salieri who had promised his virtue to God. And we find ourselves weeping for that loss.

Monday, March 17, 2014


Photo courtesy: Nishant Nischal

Aparajita, today I saw a picture of you and remembered the afternoons we spent playing together. I used to touch your delicate petals with my little fingers and pretend your pods were peas for my play kitchen. You grew unassumingly on the fence by the guava tree.You did not demand much attention unlike the fancy plant that grows in a pot in my room now which needs water once a week and bleaches in the sunlight. You drank rain drops and flourished in the sun. I picked your blue flowers for my mother. She offered it to her favorite God- ‘nilkanth' for the Nilkanth’ I used to say.

I grew up, left home, and almost forgot about you until I found myself walking to my favorite spot again. The guava tree was gone, and so were you. The bamboo picket fence had to make way for the concrete in our lives. I don’t know if there is a poem about you, or if the claims that your medicinal properties can boost memory and fertility are true. I don’t care, I have to consider too many things for their utility value now. I want to remember you as you were- pure, demure and a sight for sore eyes that are now jaded by artificiality.

Note: The multilayered variety is called nilkanth. Also, Lord Shiva is sometimes referred to as Nilkanth or the ‘Blue-throated One’ because he drank the poison that emerged from churning the ocean (Samudra-manthan) that turned his throat blue.

Roughly translated (in Bengali):

অপরাজিতা , অনেক দিন পর আজ তোমার একটা ছবি দেখলাম। মনে পরে গেল গ্রীষ্মের সেই দুপুর গুলো যখন তুমি আমার খেলার সাথী ছিলে। আঙ্গুলের স্পর্শে তোমার  সূক্ষ্ম পাপড়ি অনুভব করতাম আর তোমার ফল আমার খেলার রান্নাঘরে কড়াইশুঁটি ছিল। তুমি  সূর্যরশ্মি আর বৃষ্টি খেয়ে বিস্তৃতি পেয়েছিলে। এখন আমার বাসকে একটি পাত্রে  রাখা উদ্ভিদটির মত নয় যেটা রোদে জ্বলে  যায় আর  সপ্তাহে  এক বার মাত্র জল পান করে। কোন  চাহিদাই  তোমার ছিল না। পেয়ারা গাছের পাশে বেড়াকে আলিঙ্গন করে তুমি বড় হচ্ছিলে।  তোমার নীল ফুল আমি মায়ের জন্যে নিয়ে আসতাম,  তার প্রিয় ঈশ্বরকে নিবেদন করার জন্যে। আমি বলতাম- নীলকন্ঠের জন্যে নীলকন্ঠ এনেছি মা!

তারপর বড় হলাম, বাড়ি ছেড়ে বাইরে পড়তে গেলাম, হয়ত তোমাকে ভুলেও গিয়েছিলাম। কিন্তু একদিন আবার ফিরে পেলাম নিজেকে ছোটবেলার সেই কোণটিতে। সেই পেয়ারা গাছ ছিল না, তুমিও ছিলে না । বাঁশ ফাঁড়ি হারিয়ে গেছে আমাদের জীবনে চূণমাটির জায়গা করে দিতে। জানি না তোমার নামে কোন কবিতা আছে কিনা। স্মৃতিশক্তি এবং উর্বরতার  উন্নতিসাধন করতে পার বলে  যে দাবি তা সত্য কি না। ।  অনেককিছুর উপযোগিতাই এখন আমাকে বিবেচনা করতে হয়। না , আমি তোমাকে মনে রাখতে চাই  যেমন ছিলে  তেমনি-  পবিত্র, অচপল এবং শ্রান্ত  চোখের শান্তি যা এখন কৃতিমতার বন্দী।

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Yeh andar ki baat hai

SG was pretty surprised when I told him that there is a Tumblr fan page dedicated to 'Jon Hamm’s Wang', and for the next few minutes we browsed pictures of the aforementioned celebrity’s celebrated anatomy. Though I felt he might harbor a disease like elephantiasis, SG said that he looked healthy (normal?). I offered that Hamm might feel offended that people got distracted by his body parts instead of evaluating him on his acting skills. SG said that some men like it if women stare at their private parts. He quoted a male friend who likes to wear nothing beneath his pants- ‘Women like it.’ I am not sure if that works for him because I never noticed. Not that I particularly like to stare at the crown jewels of people I know.

Guess it is the same philosophy why some women like to show their cleavage. Once, it signified freedom to me and the choice to show or not show whatever part of being a woman wants. Owning your existence. But it can attract the wrong kind of attention, I realized later. They may not see you as an independent, fearless woman but as an ‘easy’ one who wouldn't mind a casual relationship. Bummer if you are looking for love.

I argued further in defense of Hamm’s innocence: ‘Maybe he just likes it that way. I don’t like wearing stuff when I am at home.’

SG: “At home, it is different. But when you are going out you have to pay attention to societal norms. But hey, there are nudists too.’

I found myself thinking about the corsets women wore in the medieval ages that made them faint. The laces were tied tightly to give an illusion of a smaller waist, restricting blood and oxygen flow. Hence, the need for fainting couches. Maybe couple of years later, the hype about padded bras with silicon falsies that makes you ‘look several sizes bigger’ or push-ups that raise your bosom to your mouth will vanish. But until then we can only hope that our concept of beauty remains sane, and we are kind to ourselves and others who fail to conform to it.

Monday, February 17, 2014


Friday, February 07, 2014

I believe in you

This is a cup my mom got me in 2006. It was a time when I needed motivation the most. Even now, when I am down, I take it out of the cupboard and drink something in it. Even if it is plain water. Works like magic.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Travelogue: Los Angeles

Residence Inn, Marriott, Beverly Hills
Most of the times, I favor a home-cooked meal over eating out. This makes establishments with kitchenettes a preferred choice while traveling.(Try VRBO for vacation rentals by owners) This time we booked a suite at Residence Inn for our stay in Beverly Hills. A step down from the usual comforts at home but it can be managed for a week with some effort.

When we first reached LA, we got down at a Ralphs to buy some groceries. The  streets looked sprayed on by a drizzle. Petrichor filled the air. I never realized how much I missed the rains until that moment. California is in a state of drought emergency.

We checked in at about 2 a.m., leaving our car for valet parking for the night. All I wanted was to take a shower and slide into a bed. The porter who helped us with our luggage was a guy named Juan from El Salvador. SG made most of the conversation, I listened.

I wondered how the porter would manage to carry our luggage trolley over the steps. He asked us not to worry, so I left him to his proficiency- I was less experienced in practical matters such as these. I set to refrigerate the groceries at once. He asked us our names, enunciated SG's first name crisply and bade us good night when we paid him for his troubles. When I had settled the kitchen and washroom shelves to my liking, and lent a safe space to my suitcase, I took that shower.

SG discovered a curious thing. The sliding window in our bedroom had no bars/mesh. You could wake up and fall straight on to the street from the 7th floor, if you got up from the wrong side of the bed. The possibility worried me, and I asked him to sleep on the other side. He had to wake up early in the morning, I could roll over and get up safely. Keeping the window as a mere slit also helped.

Monday morning I woke up late, missing the complimentary breakfast (6:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. on weekdays). At first, I thought I'd go for a walk but I seemed surrounded by only dance academies, plastic surgeons and kosher meat.

The kitchen in Riverwood Cottage at Russian River was a dream- it had become the gold standard in my mind. However, it would be unfair to compare, and it would make me unhappy. I try to avoid unhappiness for my long-term health. So, when I came to terms with my new arrangement, I started to plan my meal. A friend was expected for dinner. I decided to keep it simple. Salmon, rice and a vegetable. At home, I'd be uneasy if I had anything less than 5 dishes to serve. But we must make the best of what we have. The stove has only two burners. And the knives suck. (We forgot to pack my favorite knife. Never again)

Getty Center
SG doesn’t heart museums much, so I visit them on my own- the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in DC, the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, and now the Getty Center in Los Angeles.

On Tuesday, SG dropped me at the level P2 of the parking and I took the tram up the hill, which is essentially a horizontal elevator that takes you to the summit, 881 feet above the sea level in about 5 mins. I felt grateful at once. The view from the arrival plaza was one that your senses need time to devour.  I lost track of time browsing through years of history.

Museum Courtyard


 Sketch: The return from the race
( A young athlete teaches his companion how to ride his vehicle. His victory at a competition is suggested by the laurel wreath hanging from his waist)

 The vexed man (from a series of 69 character heads)

I got out just in time to catch the sunset. It was a day well spent.

Random guy: Which one is this? It is a good camera.
Me: T5i
Guy: That's the body. The lens?
Me: 24-105mm. Luxury
Guy: Good camera. Great lens!
Me: Thanks :)
Guy (to his friend):Why didn't we bring our camera?
His friend: I don't know.

Maybe because you aren't allowed to take pictures at the exhibits which often feature private collection. Currently, they have two masterpieces of English medieval art: stained glass from Canterbury Cathedral and pages from the St. Albans Psalter, a book of psalms.

Rodeo Drive and Santa Monica Pier
Wednesday evening we went window-shopping at the famous Rodeo Drive. That was all we could do anyways because the place has a curfew after 6 p.m. It didn't occur to either of us that a city known for its nightlife might have a prime shopping location close down so early. I am sure they have their reasons. It gave us ample scope for uninhibited photography though. I thought I was in a museum again. The display of the merchandise was nothing short of art: provocative mannequins, elaborate floral arrangements, crystal chandeliers, and wooden horses. Celebrity-spotting wasn't possible on the deserted streets so we decided to come back during the day. We had some time before dinner, so we drove to Santa Monica Pier. That, fortunately, is open 24 hours. Even if the local businesses close down, no one owns the ocean. What a comforting thought!

I wasn't dressed for a beach, but who cares. It wasn't too chilly. We parked a block away from the ocean and walked down the pier. Cirque du Soleil ‘Totem’ was on tour. We saw the yellow tent with blue stripes from a distance. A man was selling some sort of lighted chute that he threw up in the air. He wanted to peddle us one, SG was keen on it. It looked pretty, but I didn't think we would have much use of it later.

We took some pictures of the Ferris wheel and walked further down. A section of the pier was under renovation. After 100 years of existence, you need some mending. The waves lapped up suddenly and the first roar gave me quite a turn. It must have been rather comic because I saw SG laugh heartily. I am his 24 hours Comedy Central.

Paly Center, Spadena House and Hollywood Boulevard 
The best part of the trip was Saturday when SG was with me the whole day. First, he made breakfast: my favorite mushroom omelet and tea. We got dressed and headed for The Paly Center of Media. It was a surprise. He had planned the day’s itinerary. I love it when he does that.

Several props and costumes from Warner Bros productions were on display.

A lady named Betty Ashley went out of her way to make sure we enjoyed our time there and suggested the VIP tour of Warner Bros Studios in Burbank, California (‘Maybe next time’, we said. We had already been to the Universal Studios on a previous trip). She even suggested some great ideas to click pictures. Before we left, we chatted for some time. She ran her fingers through my hair fondly and said, ‘My hair color was like this once.’

Next we visited the Spadena House, a house designed to look like a witch’s abode. On our way to Greystone Mansion, we cruised through a huddle of dream houses at Beverly Hills. Mouth agape, I wondered where else in US could I see such pretty houses. The Hamptons maybe, or Fisher Island. SG said it reminded him of Southern France. I like it when beauty and snobbery go together. I think it should. What is the purpose of exquisiteness if it is easily attainable?

At night, we walked on Hollywood Boulevard, it was chilly but walking kept us warm. I was reminded of the Fremont Street experience in Las Vegas, where people dressed up as famous movie characters. We strolled past The Joker who was having his dinner on the stairs of a closed shop. Batman had great teeth, and he didn't mind flashing it. There was Bumblebee from Transformers and Captain Jack Sparrow with eerie likeness to the original. I think I saw Superman and Elvis too.

I spent some time at Sephora where I found an eye shadow I had been looking for some time.Then we got little flowers for our home. The seller said that the flowers closed with morning dew or light mist and bloomed again when dry.

We went back to our parking after crossing TLC Chinese Theater where there were footprints, hand prints and autographs of celebrities on cement. It also houses the largest IMAX (seating capacity) theater in the world.

An attendant came to help us with our ticket at the paying station, though we didn't need any assistance. It was routine. We tipped him anyway, and as we got into our rental car he remarked, 'Great car'. SG said it was a rental, and it wasn't much for a week. He said,'Not for me. It is a lot.' I was suddenly reminded of the stark difference between the have and the have nots. And though we are not what I would call 'rich', I realized I was fortunate in many ways.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Downton Abbey

My expectations from Season 5.

Mr. Bates will be innocent of the murder of Mr. Green. He might have gone to London, but Green's death was an accident. That vile creature met poetic justice finally.
Anna Bates (née Smith) will have left the horrors of that night behind. Hopefully, she will be expecting a kid with Mr. Bates, not because I think it is important but because it was a sign of a happy marriage in those days.
Mary Crawley will become more down-to-earth and choose Blake over the others, not just for his impending baronetcy but his expertise in practical and theoretical farming which can help the estate become profitable. Also, she needs a strong-willed man like him, not a feeble one.
Tom Branson has been mourning longer than Mary. It seems unfair that Mary has a desire of suitable suitors while he gets approached by the most unlikely ones. However, Miss Bunting might provide fuel for his ascent in a political career. She speaks her mind and he needs to be a little more assertive instead of feeling grateful to the Crawleys all the time .
Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess I like her the way she is. Acerbic. I think she is Julian's favorite. She gets the best lines in the show and was in Gosford Park (for which Julian won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay). I wish she were kinder to Mathew's mother though.
Daisy Though I want her to stay till the end of the series, I hope she takes Mr. Mason's advice and looks after his farm, starts her own business of jam, jellies etc. and grows into an independent woman.
Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes. It is about time those two were together.
Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham should be less of a pompous ass and become a pragmatist. He gets on my nerves sometimes. I was happy when he was away in America and Mary had an unimpeded say on the way things were run.
Isis should have puppies. Lots of them. And they should race each other on the green lawns and sprawl in the summer sun.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Ajju Dadu

I came across him on Facebook group  and the liking was instant. He is one of those people I sent a friend request to with the intent to know him better. Ajju dadu (dadu= grandpa in Bengali), as we lovingly call him,  is a fascinating person. He was born in Rangoon, Burma in 1933. After Rangoon was bombed, his family fled to Calcutta as refugees by boat, reaching in 1942.

Dui purush

When he was 11, he acted in Dui Purush (1945) and shared the screen with one of the most veneered actors of Bengali cinema- Chhabi Biswas. Fortunately, I found a copy on YouTube and played the movie for him when we had him over for lunch in October 2013. Sixty-eight years later, he still remembered how beautiful Chandrabati Devi was.

The wars
'During WWII, a lot of GIs on the Burma front got sick with tropical diseases. There was a U.S. Army hospital, close to my home in Calcutta. One evening, I was returning from a swim at the Dhakuria Lake (now Rabindra Sarobar) when I saw a lonely GI sitting by the water. I went up, spoke to him, and invited him for dinner. My mother was delighted. She had three sons in the Air Force (two had died in the war). Soon, our home became a center for lonely, young GIs. I was into pen-pals at that time and one of the GIs I connected with was from Lewiston, ME. We corresponded for several years.

In 1955, I was in Delhi. My pen-friend’s father sent me a letter letting me know that he and his wife would be visiting Delhi and they wished to meet me at their hotel. I did so and found out that he was an economist and was in India on a State department assignment. I told them that I wished to come to the U.S. and they suggested I sent them my resume.  I did so and I received a certificate sponsoring me to come to U.S. It was signed by Dr. Charles F. Phillips, President, Bates College, Lewiston, ME.

I went to the U.S. Consulate in Calcutta and the Vice Consul, a huge, affable African- American man, told me that the Indian quota was full as, until 1956, Indians could not become citizens, due to the Asian Exclusion Act.  Therefore, all the Indians in the U.S. were lined up to get their green cards. I was literally on my way out at the door when the official said, “If you were born in India, you'd have to wait six years. I told him that I was born in Burma. He said, “That quota is open”.  I got my Green Card in a week.

I spent a semester at Bates College, Lewiston ME and then volunteered for the draft.  I served two years in Georgia and North Carolina, in the then segregated South.'

His first love
'I went to Northwestern to study journalism. I worked part-time waiting at tables at the Mather Home for retired women.  One of my fellow workers and students was a young woman. We were the most unlikely couple but we became friends soon.  Karen was my first love.  We celebrated our birthdays together, her twentieth and my twenty-sixth, on July 2, 1959, as she was born on July 1 and I was born on July 3.  Our parting was bitter.  She went on to become a famous Hollywood film actress.

Three years ago, I had a dream that Karen was sick and dying and I had gone to visit her. I dismissed the dream. In July of 2013, I googled her name and found to my horror that she was dying of cancer, was broke and was soliciting donation on “Go Fund Me”. I sent some money and also wrote a message to her private site. She replied with her personal email and included her phone number. It was a warm and loving message and she asked me to call her. I did not do so, to my eternal regret, for complicated reasons. She died early in August 2013.'

I came down with a back-ache and went to an acupuncturist, who asked me if I had been under stress. I told her about Karen. She had seen her movies and knew one of Karen’s close friends, who lived in New York. The next time I went to see Abigail, the acupuncturist, I took an album of photos of Karen that I had taken in July 1959, also one of me taken by Karen.  She asked me if I had considered sending them to her family and I said I did not know her family.  By the time my treatment was over, she called Karen’s friend in NY who called her husband, who said he would be delighted to have the pictures.  I sent the pictures to Stephen, a movie producer.  He called me and thanked me warmly. He said that Karen had mentioned me often and that I was mentioned in her memoirs, that she completed the night before she died.  Stephen had been married to Karen for 24 years. He was 23 years her junior.  Karen was 74 when she died.

I left Chicago in 1963 and lived 25 years in SF. I got married and my daughter was born in 1967.  I took an early retirement from working as a Unit Supervisor in Child Protective Services for 25 years.  I have had a number of jobs since then: nine years with severely emotionally disturbed adolescents at Lincoln Child Center, two years at the SF VA Medical Center, two years at East Bay Recovery, a year counseling federal parolees, two years at Community Health for Asian American. My last part-time job was with Catholic Charities in Oakland until my program was cut short due to budget problems.  Since then I have been working part-time with family survivors of murder victims. Presently, I work with three Latina families who have been victims of violent crime. I have also worked with a French-speaking Haitian refugee family.'
Swimming with the dolphins
Dadu suggested  that we should try Wild Quest: Swimming with the Dolphins in the Bahamas. He said, 'If you don't pursue them, they'll come to you.' He was on an island named Bimini, where incidentally, most people had Hindu names like Aatma etc. Explaining his love for dolphins, he said:

When I was eight, Rangoon was bombed and we fled to Calcutta, our ancestral city, as refugees. As our boat streamed out of the Irrawaddy River into the Bay of Bengal, a school of dolphins leaped in an arc out of the water. I asked my mother, "What are those?" and she replied, "Those are shushuk (Bengali for dolphin)." "What does it mean?" It means we shall have peace in our lives from now on."