What may I call you? (we had names more intimate)

Nick-names, shortened monikers are common as relationships deepen. Families are the first to give you affectionate nick-names (pet-names, as those powdered aunts liked to call them). Then friends take their turn.

In my case, I was an unnamed female child on my birth certificate. At baptism, I received a four-letter first-name. Family managed to shorten it to two letters. Acquaintances, on the other hand, combined my first and middle names to christen me with an eight-letterered atrocity that haunted me through my school-days. Teachers took to it like ducks to water. To this day, I cringe whenever someone calls me by that, and most everyone I know from that time still do. Friends called me, and still call me, by a male version of the name, because learning each other’s names had come before learning to spell, and the male version was much more common back then.

Time went on. Those who mattered usually ended up calling me by the family nick-name or simply the first letter of my name.

In one of the earliest internet circles I was a part of, there was a specific name that stuck. To this day, it is a pleasure to receive emails, forum references and tumblr notes that refer to that name when recommending something I have written.

Over the years, I quietly and persistently worked at having my middle name taken out of the picture. It was nothing I identified with and felt burdensome. People still continue using it in addressing me, but I have moved on.

For the first time in my life, I feel that I have finally managed to take the name I will carry to my dying day, officially and in all the places that matter, and it is a powerful feeling. No more name-changes for me. It took quarter of a century to get this done.


Out of my heart and into Instagram

I was introduced to the evil world of instagram last week. All my hard work in getting off the internet has been undone. I can’t help ogling the delicious yumminess on this website and I don’t mean the food.

I have even decided to follow a few who oblige near daily with delightfulness. There is a lot of pretentious posing against exotic landmarks and on sandy beaches, but my eyes can quickly tune into what is really relevant to me.

Must do my daily instagram round now. It is hipster porn, without the emotional landmines that trap the curious on Tumblr.


Come Together


“…of all states and religions, come together to…”

Everything has been all stirred up this week around here due to a certain visiting Prime Minister. I have lost count of the number of times the subject has come up in conversation during the past few days. The local association, in particular, has been enthusiastically speaking about how patriots across all states and religions, at various stages in their life, who have come to make a living here, are going to present an united front at the reception. I wonder what the Prime Minister has to say. I can understand the excitement of the diaspora, the tugging of bonds to their country etc. I still am not sure what exactly they expect to hear. There must be something in particular. All this enthusiasm cannot be merely for the sake of seeing the man or posing for photographs with him, though I hear that his sartorial splendour is something to behold.

I spend the day at home, reading Cryptonomicon, eating apples, and drinking copious quantities of hot chocolate. I have finally found the recipe for the best hot chocolate. I buy 100% cocoa discs from Whole Foods, grind them into powder, and then make the drink. It is so tasty with none of the sweetness of the hot chocolate powders have. It takes effort to stay off the internet, but it has been a worthwhile quest nonetheless. Life has been highly stressful due to work recently and any time away from hearing about everything else is a pleasure short and treasured.


I visited a neighboring holiday-town last week with a friend. She is an art-enthusiast, so we went to many galleries together and she explained to me the nuances that were lost on me. She took me to a steampunk art gallery and I spent a long time dawdling there, swooning over the pieces. Eventually, she got into a heated discussion with a curator and I wandered out into the sunshine and aimlessly walked by the shops. Then it happened.

A mannequin, in a full-length gown of black, shifted slightly. Oh, I had fallen for that classic trick of a lady in the window. I grinned at her and walked closer. She smiled back and waved, before going back to her mannequining. I walked in and waited patiently until she got down from the display window and joined me.

“All these clothes are overpriced and mostly useless for daily wear,” she told me, reaching across for a napkin to gently dab at the droplets of sweat on her made-up cheek.

“I didn’t come in to look at the clothes,” I told her honestly.

She was as beautiful as I imagine Shakespeare’s Portia had been. She gave me tea but I didn’t enjoy it since it was a very hot day and hot liquids weren’t on my list of desired drinks.

My friend eventually came and extricated me from the shop. She called me shameless and dragged me off for ice-cream. Later, she said something about needing to keep an eye on me so that I wouldn’t go wandering after beautiful women. For a moment, it was a harkback to Baudelaire and Duval, except that I am mostly harmless and only like to look at pretty things.

“Did you get her number? Did you add her on FB? What did you do?”

I opened my blog for her on her mobile. Aesthetics for aesthetics, and all that. My friend groans and I quickly change the subject to her art-inquisitions.

Rarely, there comes along a writing assignment that is pure pleasure to work on. This year, my annual Make-A-Wish has been a surprising, fun adventure. It is set in the 60s and in the 90s, two generations, and it has been a joyride from the start to now. I have done Make-A-Wish every year since 2008, but I think this one has been the most enjoyable one. I have had fun writing in snippets of the political scene during the time, because it is relevant to the plot, and because it is not every day I get to write something like this on request or for pay. The central chapter is titled ‘Come Together’, an ode to Beatles’s Abbey Road. I just finished writing it in the wee hours of the morning.

In general, it has been a productive writing period. I won’t go into greater detail since I don’t want to jinx the muse.


“Why did you go into this field? Did you know then that it was going to take off?”

When I think of eating two meals, carefully budgeted from seven-eleven, in the summer of 2012, before I was finally given shelter by a kind couple, I feel like crying again. Most of my life has been so cocked-up by bad decisions of self and others, terrible environments etc that I didn’t think anything was ever going to improve from the baseline permanently. Mostly, one keeps going on because there is hardly a choice there. If you have to meet your needs, you had best do something you can do, instead of something you don’t have a chance in hell of making work. At least, that was half the idea. Or all of it.

Sometimes, though, everything coalesces, without effort, and watching it all come together is not painless, because it is not the joy of the now, but also the pain of the yesterdays. The waiting is difficult and a constant thrum of anxiety until the day things change, but there is a lesson even in waiting, now that I am old enough to see it. It is incredibly hard to explain, and near impossible to do so without sounding like a pretentious piece of work, so I will just stop trying to.

While I am waiting, I will write pulp-fiction and make my own soap, because I can. I will have made a wish come true too, again, and there is something to be said about constancy in life.

“Why are you giving me six bars of soap?”

“Well, I made soap. When it comes together, it does so in bulk.”

“I don’t even want to know,” Sibelius mutters, grabbing the bars and striding into his apartment, saying something about not having signed up for any of this.

Then he comes back and drags me in, saying that he has been making waffles and I had best make myself useful by eating a few. It is a late breakfast of waffles and iced-tea (sweetened), and I am reminded of where we first met. He brings out his guitar and asks me what I’d like. I ask for Come Together. I sing along, and I can only remember the first few lyrics and the chorus, and it is ridiculous but life is remarkable for its ridiculous, rare moments of shared joy. He laughs and segues sharply into Here Comes the Sun.

I take that means I have been forgiven for the soap.


High, holy days | The Sibelius Chronicles

After the new year last week, it is time for Yom Kippur. A wise lady gives me a history lesson. The prayer that Cohen took inspiration from is purportedly derived from that of a persecuted Rabbi who lost limbs and life to faith. When I think of religious wars, like most people, I am taken aback by the sheer senselessness of it all.

I drove our top of the line race-car around during the weekend. I possess no words to explain the exhilaration. Most everyone who heard about it was incredibly and understandably jealous. I exulted in that. Sibelius kept me informed about insurance liabilities and proved to be a proper wet blanket.

Went window-shopping in a pretty harbour town, ate ice-creams by the side-walk, watched yachts floating by the harbour (I have held a life-long fascination for white-sailed yachts). The sky was clear blue, with not a cloud in sight. A proper, summer day. And to think it is nearly fall (as per the calendar).

Went to a concert in Santa Cruz – guitar. Not my type, but the interns (ex-interns) insisted it would be. It was an experience with little redeeming grace, but at least I can say that I have tried something new. This is important, because they kept teasing me about only frequenting places that old, fogies go to (hello, ballet, I have season tickets again!).

Time to do my winter budget and trip plans. It is going to be a busy time, what with our annual demo coming up and the management being a stirred hornet’s nest about it right now. Meetings, powerpoints, more meetings – in the fine and upstanding tradition of that nation. Nothing is determined unless everyone signs off on a powerpoint. Sometimes, I am not surprised that nothing is ever determined.

“That is the entire point!” chimes in Sibelius, looking too gleeful as I struggle with my post-it notes and slide-decks.

Should have been more sympathetic when he went on about that advisor.


A Vitruvian Man (The Sibelius Chronicles)

It has been a terrible week, work-wise. Too much stress for too little reward. Making patents is not my favourite thing to do. Making powerpoints to convince management of the usefulness of what we do isn’t my favourite thing to do either. I am glad that the weekend is here.

Sibelius, though supposed to be working on a paper, was procrastinating and playing around with Garage Band on my computer. He ended up on previous recordings and found one from back in 2010. I had just returned from my daily swim when I found him cackling away to himself.

“What is it?” I asked, worried that he had somehow managed to find a drug dealer all by himself in Berkeley, during that short span of time when I had left him unmonitored to go get myself a decaf.

“You sound so young!” he giggled, and played the recording. And lo, there I was, all of twenty, waxing eloquent about my crush of the time, a handsome fellow, and drawing comparisons to Da Vinci’s Vitruvian man, in a bid to explain to my disbelieving audience of two why he was the perfect eye candy ever.

It was too late to salvage dignity. So I just set around to making a set of slides for the next big presentation. Sometimes, I wonder how I could have been so incredibly young, hopeful and naive. I had been, as much as I would like to deny it.

I hadn’t thought of that particular man in years. Curious, I looked him up on Facebook, to find that he was happily married with a kid. Those handsome shoulders I had admired, those proportions that had made think of the Vitruvian man, were all gone, and he was lumpy and balding, with a nondescript job at a nondescript place. His posts ranged from trivia about cricket matches to half-articulate reviews about Bollywood films. There were photos of a grand Indian wedding, of a cute baby, and of some honeymoon locale. Saddened, I closed the tab and returned to my presentation.

“What are you looking for? It is important to find the right set of qualities. It is also important to make sure you don’t end up alone.”

I enjoy like companionship. I suffer when it is not a good alignment of personalities or preferences. I want to build robots because I love doing that, to write books, to travel –  I haven’t done most of what I wish to do. I try explaining this, but it is difficult to explain, especially when life-trajectories are utterly different from the norm in the social group.

I am not bothered by the fear that I might have to settle in love, just because. I don’t think I will have to. Nobody really has to, these days. Often those who do, choose to, for various reasons.

My worries recently are more to do with what I need to do to get the opportunities I require to build robots, to write, to travel, to know the world’s workings. How do I get myself from where I am to where I need to be? I know what I want to do, but I don’t exactly know how I can get myself to a position where I can start doing all the preparation for that. It is a time of transition, of change, of choice, and everything is stagnant still and is likely to be so for a months to come. My thoughts these days are to do with risks and possibilities, and how I can try to break out of a long and vicious cycle where I had to deal with problems thanks to social or familial circumstances. Most of my grief was rooted in my half-arsed attempts at trying to conform to what was expected of me. Yet, it is frightening to step out of that path too. What is familiar is safe, despite its many flaws.


Teacher’s Day

For every post I make here, there are at least half-a-dozen posts that never see the light of day. This was going to be one of those unlucky ones, but then I decided to take a leap. This month has all been about taking giant leaps. If I leap anymore, I will end up in Hawaii.

Teacher’s Day. It is a big deal where I come from. Dutifully, I write emails to those who made a difference to my life every September 5th. To teachers. People who taught me at school or under-grad.

People like to label me as rebellious sometimes, when I try to bring up systemic maladies in discussion. It eventually turns to not respecting the elders enough, or being dutiful enough, or being grateful enough. I suspect I might be more dutiful than most, since I still keep laborious notes on whom to email or send cards to, to be thankful. I send out yearly emails of thank-yous to people who have made my life easier in some way or the other.

What am I thanking them for? Doing their job? In India, teachers are gods, right next to parents. They can do no wrong.

I know what I am thanking a few for. I am thanking them for not being utterly incompetent or evil. I am thanking them for not attempting to destroy my idealism or whatever virtues I had at that point. I am thanking them for being decent human-beings. What does that say about the majority of the teachers I have had? They were needlessly cruel, hopelessly incompetent at teaching what they were being paid to teach, and the whole of my schooling was a train-wreck that didn’t stop wrecking my life until I gave up trying to make sense of it.

I believed once. I believed that teachers actually cared about their subjects. I was quickly enlightened about the utter wrongness of that belief. There was that English teacher who told me that my eyebrows looked ugly because I corrected her on the past tense of ‘shine’. There was that physics teacher who didn’t know the basics of how transistors worked and tried to teach us her deluded notions about the subject. She cried in a classroom when I corrected her. It led to other staff coming to class and making threats about how the walls have ears and how criticizing a staff member was not going to be taken lightly. It doesn’t matter. It was all long ago and I have hundreds of other examples where that came from.

I thought under-grad would be a better experience. I had not understood then how messed up reservations had made the whole university teaching system. I have plenty to say about reservations, and none of that is very pleasant, but it isn’t highly relevant right here, except that I think it messed up an already broken teaching system further.

The saddest part, to me, is that I can’t say any of this to my peers who came from the same system. They aren’t willing to entertain such a discussion. The idea of the moral authority of teachers is so deeply entrenched in their minds that any other opinion is blasphemy. They will call me out on all of my moral failings if I bring this topic up. I have plenty of moral failings when held to the standard they live by and believe in, and I enjoy most of my failings to varying degrees, but that doesn’t make my opinion invalid on this. I will be told that I always had issues with authority figures. Perhaps I might have had good reasons?

I think, that it was only extreme and rare good fortune that preserved me when living under this system, and I might have my introversion and the fact that I found my validation elsewhere to thank for that. Someone else, who tried to believe, to think, might have broken worse. I had other matters to focus on, other passions to pursue, and apart from needing to show good grades or ranks for getting to the next stage of getting out of there, I didn’t care about any of it. One of the common complaints to my father when he came by to pick up my progress report at school was that I was too arrogant to my teachers (She corrected them! How dare your daughter do that?), that I considered them beneath me (She questioned them!). That they even considered this remark worth making says more about the system than about my juvenile delinquency.

I overcompensate with my interns. I spend nights poring over books to make sure that the references I give them are accurate and up to date. I ponder and over-ponder when they ask me technical questions, to do my best to give them the best answers I can give them, and add plenty of caveats when I think they are necessary. I should be grateful that I did not go into academia. I would have worked myself into an early grave trying to compensate for all the messes of the teaching system I had grown up under.

This isn’t healthy. Hopefully, I will be more level with the next round of interns. I am working on that. That is the saddest part about the whole issue to me: those teachers never worked. They droned on and on with the material their predecessor had obtained from their predecessor, and never did a single thing to improve their methods or even their knowledge of their own course-material. If they were in any other profession that valued growth or improvement, nobody would hire them (well, somebody might, for SAP). These are the last people (barring criminals and malicious folks) who should be let near children. And not only do they manage to keep their job and ruin children, they get revered for their failure.



A grand old dame | let us eat cake (The Sibelius Chronicles)

A grand old dame

“Hello!” Sibelius chimes, looking too happy for a Saturday night.

I am understandably concerned. The last time he had turned up so cheerful at my doorstep, I had ended up having to explain why he had switched over to a math department TA-ship to his formidable mother.

“Happy Onam!”

I tell him it is over. He says a festival not yet celebrated could not be possibly over. Against my better senses, I accept his gift. It turns out to be two bottles of a grand old dame. I don’t even drink vodka, unless it comes in ice-cream. Most of my alcohol consumption is via ice-cream.

Onam isn’t a potato harvest festival. I don’t even like potatoes. He assures me that vodka is many, many steps away from potatoes.

It is a good brand. So I fetch my bucket of Trader Joe’s vanilla ice-cream, we open a bottle, and he plays O Fortuna on his guitar. I have never heard that played on a guitar. It is good. It gets better when I accompany him on the keyboard. The vodka helps a great deal, especially when we start singing. It helps even more when we start talking about Thoreau and academia. God knows that my convalescing self needs a great amount of alcohol to even contemplate academia.

I tell him about the Goldfinch, a book that had been my cafe read for a while. I have finally completed it. It is a good story, though a tad too American for my tastes. It also made me want to go to New York and spend a year or two there. It was a magical place in the book. Too chaotic for my nature, definitely, but wondrous nevertheless.

In general, wanderlust has been strong in me recently and I am tiring of California. The food is great around here, but how people try to pass off other motivations as idealism gets to me. It is perfectly all right to be motivated by whatever you are motivated by. It is not necessary to be idealist. I don’t like it when someone tries to sell me something different disguised as idealism.

I was asked to be a judge at a poetry contest recently. I listened to the appalling poems, listened to what their friends and family applauded as talent and brilliance, and came away wretched. Networks make you. I am horrible at networking, I am horrible at even dealing with people unless there is true resonance on some level, and my introversion is a tragedy that has haunted me all my life.

“You have tanned!” Sibelius points out. I serve more ice-cream. It is the swimming. I glare at him. Not all of us have the luxury of tree-shaded backyard pools. I could stop, but the stress relief swimming a few laps everyday has been granting me is too precious to lose.

There is a long discussion on the various demerits of his advisor. It is more a rant, really. I bring out my card of three dozen emails in a night from my ex-advisor. There is a reason for that ex. Thankfully, the next advisor had been a much better match. We talk about Stanford. My dealings with the labs there are less complicated than his dealings with their administration.

“I will be twenty-five soon,” he laments.

We spend the mandatory fifteen minutes reminiscing over our association which had begun in the late summer of 2012. We had attended symphonies using our student IDs to get cheap tickets. The box office knew us well by the end of that season. We went to the 14th street playhouse for adapted Shakespeare. We went to the Fox when we could afford it. We had drunk cheap wine and eaten pad-thai out of take-away boxes under the ivy of the church on Peachtree a few blocks from the Bank of America there. His mother forced cold lemonade on us and made us help her with her prize bulbs in her large garden. He taught me swing-dancing. We danced for Thanksgiving that year and at the half-a-dozen parties his mother coerced us into.

I remember my twenty-fifth very well. I had walked around the pond near Atlantic Station with Yoda, and he had told me something about how it was time to grow up, to get serious about everything, to start taking care of my health, and to think about what I wanted to truly do with my life.  It was a lifetime ago.

“You. Tell me about you,” my new concert partner asks. She is a decent pianist. She has a great ear for music.

What do I tell her? She is considerably older than me. Sheltered, well-educated, and beautiful, she is a darling. I have lived more, even if I hadn’t necessarily set out to. I don’t tell her. She doesn’t need to know about all that brought me here, as we stand together on Patricia’s Green and smile for the photo she wants.

Let us eat cake

The morning sees us nursing cold beer, because Sibelius assures me that this is the best way to get rid of the headache. He is confident about this and I hope his mother doesn’t hear about it. Since my tolerance of beer is next to nil, I decide to have ice-cream as accompaniment.

It has been forever since I have had Tiramisu. Sibelius laughs and tells me that even my heavily-budgeted purse can buy a slice of Tiramisu without too much strain. It isn’t the buying. Tiramisu is associated in my head with other warm and cosy things. We end up at a bakery in San Mateo, and have tiramisu for brunch.

“How was Onam?” he asks me.

I think about the association event I had been intending to attend. They had a feast. I had been meaning to go and network. My father had asked me to, I vaguely remember. I had been dreading the many aunties and uncles there who would come and sound me out about marriage. I had been dreading the bold, single men there who make me want to go home and hide for the next few months.

Onam was vanilla ice-cream, vodka, tiramisu and Thoreau, and a full night of conversation. It wasn’t that bad, even if my tolerance of alcohol seems to have to gone with my tolerance of caffeine in the months between graduation and now.

“Do you want to see the new Mission Impossible?”

I don’t want to. Still, I am sleepy and I sleep well in movie theatres. Sibelius likes the Mission Impossible series for some unfathomable reason.

“Will you come with me to the concert?”

I should have known better than to barter with a lawyer, because he cuts me a deal that is tremendously unfair.

“It is for your own good,” he says.

I suppose it is. I promise him a novel for Christmas.