I was driving back from work today. My usual channel on the FM is KDFC. Today, the channel was playing Gershwin’s piano concerto that I dislike a lot. I felt compelled to fiddle with the radio channels. I ended up on a channel that was playing Aerosmith’s Ragdoll.

I had loved the song back in school. It was an unexpected traipse back in time. The women had been lovely, luscious, and sensual. Yum!

At the next stop signal, I quickly brought up the other tramp song (the best of them all) – Bowie’s Rebel Rebel. In that one, Bowie is lovely, luscious, and sensual. He still remains all of that, inexplicably. Yum! He wears heels better than any woman ever has.

Pansexuality makes me think of goats. I don’t like goats. That might have been easier.

As it goes, the truth is different, and hot tramps weren’t what I fell in love with, and I am a bird on a wire.

About these ads

Writing in cursive was mandatory at the secondary school I went to. I believe it had been necessary even at my high-school, but I had somehow managed to get around it by connecting my letters every now and then with bars (rather like Hindi, now that I think of it). I can’t write in cursive, or slanted cursive. It twists my wrist in interesting and painful ways when I try. I suppose that is because I am doing it wrong. There was this well-meaning nun in secondary school who advised me to get those copy-writing notebooks and practise. God knows I tried. It was important back then. What if some underpaid teacher somewhere correcting the common exam papers graded me badly just because I wasn’t writing in cursive? I cared a lot about that. Never mind that my non-cursive, non-slanted hand was easier to read than a cursive, slanted version, everybody cared about the cursive, and that was that. It might be a genetic flaw. My brother’s hand is more legible (and downright pretty) after he abandoned the cursive. It is not that we didn’t try. There are dozens of copy-books, dozens of re-written assignments et al, showing how hard we tried. The sad part, of course, is how pointless having a cursive hand turned out to be. Yes, it might have gained people marks when they were in school and graded by teachers who thought it a good metric to judge children’s aptitude by. My brother and I tried, and failed, and castigated ourselves, and were castigated, about the inability to write well in cursive. Now he is in undergrad. I don’t think a cursive hand really counts for much there. Lab experiments must show results, the code must compile, you need to know how to use Matlab and Simulink, you need to know your way around microprocessors – all of that matters, but not the slanted cursive. As for me, as long as my squiggles on the whiteboard aren’t illegible, I doubt anyone cares. It has been quite some time since it was something anyone cared about.

The slanted cursive is just one of those things that the education system thinks is important. The number of pages in your answer booklet is another. How punctual you are with your assignments and how you interact with your teacher is another. None of this matters much. So when the entrance exams are here, everyone wonders why the teacher’s pet doesn’t do better than someone who spent his time playing truant (and says it is unfair). When the placement time arrives on campus, everyone wonders why Google picked someone with a horrible grades over someone who topped the class. Perhaps we should be rethinking our metrics. We have these metrics, and our children expect that as long as they score well on these points, everything else will fall into place. No, it won’t. It is something they need to be aware of. Their little world (school or college) isn’t the world, and isn’t even an approximation.

There was a professor at my undergrad, who taught networks, who encouraged us to write only the points relevant. It was a heavenly idea to me. I could just jot down three or four bullet-points and be done with a question. As far as I can remember, she was the only one sensible about these things out there. I think she tried to tell us, often, about what lay outside the campus. It can’t have been easy, being one of the rare few to have reasonable metrics to judge students (you write the answer, I’ll give you the marks) as opposed to unreasonable metrics (do I like you? do you respect me enough? do you write in a slanted cursive? how many pages in your answer booklet?).

I know a man who has poor communication skills, has poor hand-writing, and would meet no Indian teacher’s idea of ‘acceptable’. He had led a big revenue-churning team at Google for a dozen years, had invested in and started successful companies, had outstripped all his peers who came with better grades. He is tenacious, resilient and stubborn. Many people have those qualities. I think that the difference though is that he thinks. He thinks outside the framework the education system tries to instill in all of us. Many of us go with the framework. Some of us go against it instinctively. Only a rare few have the ability to think about it, gather the best with them as they go forward, and discard the rest.

I rejected everything to do with the education system, blindly. I might have been right in doing so, but I am trying to think now. I am trying to think about why instinct told me that it was a broken system. Why would a system reward those with a slanted cursive hand? Why would it reward those who behaved, those who were punctual, those who compliantly went along with the framework, those who drew margins, and those who wrote a lot of pages in their answer booklet? Did it make sense in the era where government service was the best one could aspire to? I think much of it has to do with the teacher’s laziness (why read answers when you can just count the pages?), and sense of self-importance (this student isn’t punctual, doesn’t treat me with complete respect, and why would I give him or her marks?), and in some cases even ignorance (how dare this student write down things I don’t know about?).

The education system is a dystopia. That parents and children still buy into it is most horrifying. There are still pieces that make sense that you might come across (one lone professor who is the voice of reason, one or two professors who know what they are talking about, a handful of students who remind themselves and each other everyday that something is off), but you need to be very lucky in order to do so.

Grateful for the place. It is in a nice, quiet part of the town. There are shops in walking distance. I had lived in this area last summer. I am not in a state to bike as I had used to, but I hope to be soon. K-san is also from last summer. The happiness of happenstance.

Internet providers – the duopoly is appalling. We choose between AT&T’s horrible service or Comcast’s horrible customer-service. Still need to get renter’s insurance. The ease of it all, conveniently done online, is something that I wish was the case in India too.

In which Sibelius says that he is glad to be in grad-school. If he hadn’t applied to the six grad-schools, if he hadn’t been accepted at all of them, if he hadn’t gone on to Harvard, he would have joined the army. With the Middle-East situation being what it currently is, he tells me wryly that he’d rather debate about it under the autumn shades of Harvard than face the prospect of fighting someone’s war. He thanks me for the app-fees. I thank him for having decided to press the ESC on that army option.

Pot tax revenue might be something to be grateful about, for the state that approved it.

Skyrim invokes complicated memories I haven’t yet sorted out. It was a cold and a dark place, and it mostly rained. Today was a cloudy day. The garage door is usually left open for the sunlight to stream in, but we left it closed today.

“What would I find if I ran ML on your blog?” the intern asked, fresh from the Coursera class, confident that Python and ML will win her the world.

[This was difficult to write. Choosing to do so was not a lightly made decision.]

One of the first plays I had read in French was Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (En attendant Godot). I remember reading it, in the dim light of my grandmother’s bedroom, and idly wondering if all my life would be spent so, bleakly repeating day after day, hoping that some clean break, some Godot, would come through. I could see myself in Vladimir and Estragon, telling each other that Godot would come.

Godot did come. I had given up hope by then, that anything would change. I felt it best to align my life with those closest to me in chosen career and dared hope for nothing more. There was only today.

I was living my todays, one after the other, listening to Bowie, and thinking of Kalman Filters when bounded Godot into my life. Godot was plagued by bright dreams and inaction, and I could hardly fathom how he had come to be where he was. Godot was privileged by birth and gender, and by other factors.

The bounding Godot did me good. I began wondering if things might change. I began daring to dream a bit beyond the constraints I was hemmed in by. Things changed, but not in a way I had hoped for. Everything went to hell in a hand basket, I lived off credit cards and love, I loathed family more than I had until then, and I ended up being equipped with enough tales of misery to be the protagonist in a Hugo novel.

On dark nights, I despised Godot and I despised myself for having waited for Godot. My fellow grunts in academia had moved on to the next year of their graduate studies. I was teetering over an abyss and everything that could go wrong had gone wrong.

Godot was a rather careful player, I discovered, beneath all the bright plans and carefree grins. He was also as dedicated and persevering as man can be. We hauled my life back onto its rails.

It is tempting to give him all the credit. I don’t think it is fair though. Many of my plans that would have ensured my continuation in academia had been changed because of Godot. Even before Godot, when my life had been off the rails (and it has been ever so often), I had managed to get back to normality with personal effort. I don’t think I am indebted to Godot for what he did to put my life back on track. I think I should give Godot the credit for something that’s likely to stick far longer – for having shown me what I could do. I hadn’t believed before that I could.

Why didn’t I believe that I could? I think the past has taken a toll on me. I have had to fight for every fucking thing in my life. It shows, in the way I speak, and react, and behave, and weigh my options. It shows in how little I expect fairness from others, and how surprised I am when they are fairer than expected. The first time I had walked the bleakness, my greatest fear was that it would repeat. The hyacinth spoke about Robert Bruce, and wove a cocoon that was a thousand kisses deep. Life shattered that, and I walked the bleakness again and again, and had been by then convinced that it would repeat.

“Clawed your way back,” is a rather evocative description. I will remember that. I have qualms with putting it that way myself. I did not return the same, after all. I left full of doubts and despair. I did not return the same way. For that, I have to thank Godot.

Before Godot: I had lived. I had waited for a break, for Godot, but I had lived. I think it is one of the things I have done right – having lived as well as I could, given what I was handed. I hadn’t wished for knights or fairy godmothers. I had gone on, regardless of the family and the society. I have seen more disappointment, more unfairness, and more poverty than almost all the peers I know. On many levels, my life is still harder than that of most of my peers, not through my choices as much as through what was handed to me. I don’t know if I’ll be able to improve my lot given the hand dealt out to me.

My interactions with most people are difficult often, because life experiences are wildly different. It is not easy to identify with those who worry about higher-level concerns, when on your plate are matters to do with daily bread and a roof over your head. I find myself frustrated when I am dealing with those who care about conforming. I find myself frustrated when I am dealing with those who care about not conforming. I’ve rarely had the time to make a choice either way, and instead usually lived by instinct. It is not easy to identify with the sexual experiences or family experiences of my peers very well, because the flavours I have lived (and lived with) are very different from the norm.

It wasn’t easy. It isn’t easy. I don’t know if it will be not as difficult as the years ago by. All of that makes me glad that Godot bounded in, larger than life, singing of grand dreams and little care. You tend to like your Godot more if you’ve waited a long while.

I ended an interesting experience yesterday. I might miss the few good men I had come to know there. I find that I am glad to have left, not because of what was lacking there, but because of what I miss. They were sad to see me leave.

I spoke to Shwetha last week. We spoke of this and that. I realised, pleasantly, that for the first time in a long while that I was not frightened to tell her about those little dreams that I dare dream now, even if it is something as simple as returning to the kind of work I love. I realised that I was not wary of saying that I was good at some things (I had been afraid, for the longest time, that saying something of the sort was a guarantee for a jinx on my already jinxed life for the next six months).

There are things that even Godot can’t solve. It is difficult for me to dream of what-nexts when the weight of the past is still heavy, when I’m afraid that I’ll be back on Boogie Street tomorrow. At least, I comfort myself, now that I know there exists Godot, it might be all a tad easier.

I bought a car recently. I am remarkably good at wriggling finances around (having become good via necessity). I am remarkably decent at finding out what I like and buying it without getting ripped off. Wound up at a decent dealership. They were quite nice, except…both the saleswoman and the financial representative spoke to my companion (male companion) about the car and the pricing. I was the one paying. I was the one buying. And in the end, when the car was ready, the saleswoman gave the car keys to this male companion of mine.

I work at one of those fast-paced software firms. They liked (initially) handing the mathematics-heavy and coding-heavy bits to my male colleague, though he had far less of a background in mathematics and computer science than I did. I got handed the drudgery. Unlike the car situation, where I cared enough not to make a fuss out of it before my male companion, I quickly amended the work situation by reminding them of the reason why they hired me (the mathematics and the computer science). There is a lot of drudgery, but it is evenly distributed these days.

I go out to dinners with male companions. I usually pay, because I have one of those reward cards. It doesn’t matter. The waiter brings the male companion the cheque, the waiter takes my card (which has my photo on it) with a smile, bills the meal, and brings back the card (my card) and the receipt to the male companion. And it is all taken as acceptable by most men I have had dinners with. There was Sibelius, who is rather perceptive, who gently and politely told the waiter at Cafe Jonah that the card was mine, and that it would be nice if the cheque was placed halfway between us or discreetly to either side, without making it a point to place it right before him. The waiter changed his ways after that, at least when serving us.

I know men, even today among those whom I associate with, who still think it best that women stay at home after giving birth, to make sure that the children grow up with good values and such. I remember Babylon called a woman’s commitment to career after giving birth a selfish choice. I have a mother who stayed at home. I rather think everyone would have been better off if she hadn’t stayed at home. She didn’t have a choice, given the family and the society. I don’t think I will cease work for such a reason, though I like the idea of a child at some point, perhaps in the never-will-happen future where I can afford quality childcare. I find it appalling that many men (or women) assume that children might automatically become priority for me (priority enough to set aside other things in life), just because it is so for their wives (or for them). Apparently, it is too hard to not assume. “You can take a break and return to work,” they tell me. “Any time spent with your child is rewarding and fulfilling. A mother’s role is the most important. Genetically, physiologically, a woman will want children and want to take a break from her career to bond with her children. It is all worth it.” Might be, for them, and I am glad it worked out. I wish they let me be, though. There is no reason to try validating their choices by convincing me to attempt the same formula.

“So you are taken?” is a question men (or women) often ask me. Other times, it is “So you are off the market?”. I’d love to tell them that I was busy taking and partaking while they likely were still stuck masturbating to posters of actresses (or mooning over posters of actors or sports-men), fantasies of school-teachers, and porn-videos. I don’t tell them that. Instead, I change the topic. I have little patience for small-talk, particularly if it involves such questions that I consider a bit discriminatory. When men are asked, it is usually more politely, with a better choice of words.

“You must change your last name after marriage!” is another problem. Women tell me that I must, because they have done so and they like it (or don’t). Men tell that I must, because it is tradition, because it is part of showing how much you commit, because it is good to have the household under a single name, because they don’t understand why I wouldn’t want to, and the list goes on. For some reason, intentionally or otherwise, these arguments which usually become increasingly shrill, pleading and demanding in turns, go on despite my attempt to explain the concept of preferences (‘It’s okay if you change it. It’s okay if I don’t.’). It took me years before I settled on my last name. I quite like it and can think of no reason to contemplate a change. Commitment, to me, is monogamy between the sheets, and financial/other major decisions taken together. This expectation of a name change sits ill with me (‘it is only a name!’ ‘but if you can’t even make this small compromise…’).

I’ve had enough of family (mine) to last me a life-time. I am unlikely to put more investment into this business of catering to other people’s families. In India, the process is called ‘adjustment’, and it is expected, at least in my society. The man is not expected to ‘adjust’.

Most of the men at my workplace are full of virtues. They don’t set out to discriminate, unlike the peer-group I know from India. Discrimination here, at least at my workplace, happens more due¬†to a lack of awareness than due to intention.

I am sharply aware of discrimination. I grew up in a society that enforced it. I was expected to study well until I was married off. I was expected to take interest in babies and kitchen-talk and cooking and clothes once I had hit puberty. The living rooms were for the men, who spoke of more serious matters. The women ate only after the men had eaten. I had had a difficult time of it then, since I have never been overly interested in other people’s children (they all looked the same), or their spouses (a Bell curve), or cooking (I prefer food cooked for me, will cook when necessary, and have no interest in trying to cook other people’s recipes) or clothes (I am rarely interested in your clothes. Sometimes, I am interested in how you look with your clothes off).

I went to an undergrad university where men ganged up together during electrical lab experiments and did not let me participate, giggled amongst themselves and ignored me when I tried to communicate, and in the end looked smug when I asked them to at least give me the experiment readings so that I could go and calculate the output. There were better men there, but they preferred to ignore the whole male chauvinism business. It did not affect them, after all. I wish they had ignored me, just as they had ignored the chauvinism. They didn’t. They tried to flirt, conveniently skirting this real problem which badly affected my education there. They believed themselves better than the rest (they were, of course), and because of that they believed themselves entitled to attention and fawning over. My room-mate, extremely world-wise, had pinpointed the issue long before I got around to it.

I feel strongly about all of this discrimination business. I think I have come to embrace a lossy way of dealing with these things. I have, through necessity, turned rather resilient to this, though I still feel frustrated each time this happens. I feel strongly about all of this, because to this day, the most impressive person I’ve known (intelligence, kindness, sensibility, courage, technical acumen and raw ability) remains a woman. She was brilliant and she left the technical industry because of discrimination. I loved watching her exclaim in joy when she had cracked a mathematical puzzle. I feel strongly about discrimination because she was brilliant and she loved work (technical work) and she was forced out of it all (by society, peers, men of her acquaintance, and teachers and many, many others).

I went to a Farmer’s Market for the first time in Portland last year. I came back enamored with the idea, and frequented the local weekend markets in Sunnyvale and Mountain View for the rest of the summer.

I had the good fortune to finally introduce my Galatea to a farmer’s market. I had long wanted to. I was ecstatic at the prospect of today.

It was rather wonderful. I’ll remember it for a long time to come. We gamboled to our heart’s content, people-watched, ate crepes, slurped down honey straws, drunk limeade, had the sun bright and warm on our backs, and came back happy.

Thank God for farmer’s markets.

Now I am in such a fine mood that I must write.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 120 other followers

%d bloggers like this: