Wednesday, June 17, 2009

True Incident

After many goodbyes, hugs and tears, it was with extreme sadness that I reached domestic airport in Delhi to get on the flight to Frankfurt. The flight from Chennai to Delhi was delayed by 40 minutes so we were on a tight rope to catch the plane in Delhi.

12:05 A.M.: I get the boarding pass.

12:07 A.M.: I leave for Indira Gandhi International airport(A 20 minute drive).

12:30 A.M.: I fill out my immigration form.

12:35 A.M.: On request, I fill out a 60 year old woman’s immigration form.

12:38 A.M.: I proceed towards the immigration officer’s counter.
(Credit for accurate time goes to the big digital clock in the airport)

And now, a strange conversation ensues:

12:45 A.M.:

I.O. (Immigration Officer) (This particular gentleman delayed calling me to his counter since he had one of his colleagues with him. I later discovered both gentlemen were engaged in a rather amusing discussion about their wives’ jobs): Aaja beta.. Kaise ho?

Me: Well sir. Thank you.

I.O.: Akele ho kya?

Me: Yes sir.
(I have lost the will to write in my poor hindi. The following is a loose translation).

I.O.: So how come you are going to Amrica alone? You look so young.

Me(Amused): I am a student, Sir.

The conversation proceeds to what I am specializing in (I.O.: Computer architecture? Woh kya hota hai? Are you an engineer or an architect?!) and how his son refused to do engineering and so on. Halfway through the conversation, I realize that he has not even looked at my passport. He must have realized it too, so he looks at the first page.

I.O.: How old is the photo, beta? You look like a very small girl in this.

Me(Getting impatient at the irrelevance of the talk): It was taken six years ago, Sir.

Then he tells me about his 24 year old daughter who used her 10th grade photograph for a library card! I suppress a yawn. Noticing,

I.O.: You look sleepy. Would you like a cup of Chai?

Me: No thank you, Sir. I might be getting late. My flight is at 1:10 A.M. What time is it now?

I.O.: It is 1:05. But it is ok. I know all the Air India people very well. I will call and ask them to wait. A cup of Chai?

Me(Shocked at the indifference): No Sir, I am good. Maybe I should proceed towards security check. That will take about 5 minutes, right?

I.O.: Yes Yes, you are right. Ok, carry on. (Now he looks at my passport and does whatever he did) Have a safe flight.

Me: Thank you. (And I run)

At security check, a security personnel informs me that I am the last passenger to board. I rush through the security procedures and request him to let me run to the nearest pay phone to make one phone call to my parents. He regretfully apologizes and tells me there is no time to even walk and that I have to run. I whine unstoppably about the irresponsible I.O. and the poor devil lets me use his cell phone to make an STD call as we walk towards the boarding gate(he was instructed to escort the last passenger). As I reach the gate, I thank him and take out a Rs.10 note to pay him for the phone call. He refuses and says “Kya madam, itna bhi nahi karsakte hai hum?”

1:12 A.M.: As the cabin crew head announces into a microphone, “All passengers on board …”, I am already lost in thought. What is this country; where respectable government officers in uniform are willing to put duties aside, where a simple security personnel is willing to do more than his duty; where money and influence can buy time and integrity?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Marley & Me: The book vs. movie

When my brother gifted Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog by John Grogan, I started off without realizing it would be one of my most favourite books forever. .. Hilarious, brilliantly well-written, sweet, emotional, exciting and crazy! Whatever happened in Hollywood, though? It is well-known that when attempted to translate a book onto big screen, more often than not, readers are utterly disappointed with the result; but I was desperately hoping for a different feeling after watching Marley & Me.

The book beautifully takes us through the lives of the young and newly married couple John and Jenny Grogan, who start off their family with an adorable furball of a puppy, Marley, who turns their life into a whirlwind of disasters- chewing furniture, gouging walls, eating jewelry, terrorizing neighbours… every little anecdote characterized by pithiness, yet detailed finesse, of life with “the world’s worst dog”. Marley in many ways reminded me of my own hyper Labrador retriever who chewed up friends’ books, hid guests’ shoes and thought the entire world was always four feet above the ground! Despite the madness, Marley is most affectionate and unconditionally loving. Not strictly being within boundaries of Marley’s antics, Grogan brings into the book the element of how much Marley contributed to the family at times of distress and depression, and how Marley bonds with each family member. Unfortunately, the movie takes a little extra lenience at that point, going into a little overdrive of detail of John and Jenny’s love life, which is quite unncecessary, as is the excessive description of John’s career as a journalist and interactions with his boss, albeit perfectly portrayed by Alan Arkin. We all know the movie is licensed two hours of the audience’s time, but the only question ringing out loud for half the movie is “Where IS Marley??” and “Why do I need to see so much of Sebastian(John’s hot bachelor friend)??”. Sadly, the movie treats Marley as more of a background shade in the Grogan family.

Grogan’s punchy, witty style gave the storyline a beautiful shape; a delicious sense of “Oh, I know EXACTLY what he means!” The movie, however, departs largely from the book in that a person who could relate to the book in such a great sense could hardly make sense of the detachment clearly detectable in the making of the movie. The glaring shock of Owen Wilson, who played John Grogan, stating that he never had a dog is atrocious; the very first chapter of the book mentions a ten year old John Grogan and his first ever dog Shaun!

There are some moments in the book which made me clutch my tummy and laugh- Marley being thrown out of obedience school, the strict mad dog trainer, one whole day’s filming for Marley’s 15 second movie clip and havoc on the sets, Marley’s caretaker when the Grogans are vacationing in Ireland, Marley dragging the iron dining table in a lovely Florida restaurant, Marley’s jumping out of the car, dog beach mishaps and many many more! The many sensitive moments that the Grogan family goes through from the excitement of their first pregnancy through the disappointment of the subsequent miscarriage, the author describes Marley’s role in the family with utmost perfection. The movie, however, selects very few of these incidents and tackles them oddly; most times just mentioning the incident or combining them into one scene and the laughs and cries are fewer than in the book.

Strangely, for a movie that condensed what could have been the funniest scenes, Marley’s death was a painful 15 minutes of the movie. It left me with an unbelievably large amount of sadness and I suspect the stretched time of Marley’s death was just so the actors who could showcase their acting prowess. The scene with Wilson, Aniston and the kids made me weep but I am sure Grogan would have wanted his audience to exit the theatres cherishing memories of Marley as the mad disastrous doofus than grieve excessively over a natural death.

All in all, the #1 New York Times best-selling book, Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog is a blend of emotions and a must-read for any dog-lover/pet-lover/book-lover or anyone who can appreciate the true joys of life the way Marley did. If you only saw the movie, you missed out the real Marley- foolish, funny, fascinating and absolutely lovable.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

15 things to do in India (in no specific order):

1.    Not worry about checking weather every morning.
2.    Sit in front seat of car and not wear seat belt.
3.    Ride scooty all around the city.
4.    Wear sandals, slippers… anything but my reebok sneakers.
5.    Go shopping on fourth block roadside and get stuff for Rs.5.
6.    Paneer roll, paneer fried rice, paneer makhni, paneer paneer paneer.
7.    Suma coffee powder with chikori.
8.    Walk Tucker five times a day.
9.    Temples.
10.  See cows, pigs, horses, dogs, cats on the streets.
11.  Chats!
12.  Talk on the phone for hours with Jan and Dummi about nothing.
13.  Not wear a million layers of clothing!
14.  Not let Tucker out of sight.
15.  Watch random trash shows on TV.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Americanism: Strange truths

I would start this the exact same way as I started my previous post but I think I’ll just refrain before people start pounding me for fake statements!

In my first week here, my uncle advised me to write a log of how I see America now because “you will never experience America the way you do the very first time”. Now I wish I actually had done that and not weakly succumbed to my notorious laziness.

Among the several new things to get adapted to, drinking from water fountains and taps was the hardest. Having lived half my life in Chennai, I am used to seeing muddy water every time I turn the tap on. And then there are the cliché questions- “Hey how come you speak such good English? Don’t you speak Indian?” or “Have you watched Slumdog Millionaire? What a phenomenal movie!” Whatever happened to knowledge of world history, 200 years of British Colonization of India and such. One American thing I still have trouble getting is the road sense- having seen cars keep left always, its really hard to think straight when you’re keeping right (I slide down to the left side of the back seat to feel better. Sigh!) And the small things like first floor, second floor and so on without ground floor. There are the rather funny accent-mishaps, of course- Route(root) verses Route(rout), OB-ser-VAT-ory versus Ob-SER-va-TOR-y, Z(zed) versus Z(zee)! And the damn exchange rate which makes us, the mindless, shrimp-brained shopaholics also think. Think twice or maybe five times before spending $1.04 on a worthless pack of Lays that was available in India for Rs.10.

Surprisingly, but thankfully, the infamous Madison winter and I got along very well, far from my dread. People still ask me why I chose to go to school in Wisconsin when I had the convenient alternative of Los Angeles. But where else can you witness an innocent twenty minute walk out in the cold turning water in a bottle into ice! Ice skating, skiing, ice fishing, walking on the frozen lake- each one is a different experience! Next winter I want to be a part of the Polar Plunge!  But of course, the bitter truth of the world is Newton’s third law; every coin has two sides. Bundling up for ten minutes to go out and throw trash for two minutes is an unbelievable pain in the butt.

I must say, I was just paranoid for no reason about missing home food. Had I never heard of “Freshman-20”? In my case, the phenomenon should be redefined as “(Poor-Indian-)Grad-Student 6”! Of course, my paranoia about infrequent chocolates and ice cream treats is entirely justifiable; although Ben and Jerry’s ice cream has their best for $1.39, who really wants to feel cold in the tummy when it is freezing outside.

If you have read my previous post, you probably are thinking that the white world has made me more cheerful, but that is probably because I am going to India for a month this summer! I have started making a list of all the interesting things I want to do in that short span. That will go up soon on the blog. And by soon, I mean this weekend, I promise! ;)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Distress, apprehension and other mishaps

I have been wanting to do this for quite sometime, but never got around to sitting where I am sitting now because I know that my life for the next 2 years (hopefully, one and a half) will revolve around this very seat(in front of my computer, if you haven't got it already). How could I not mention my two(seems like ten) year old computer and a perpetually down they-say-it-is-100Mbps connection which will be replaced by a shiny new laptop(Yes, I am an engineer. But shiny is the only word I have). So, I have finally dragged myself out of dunes of wistful thinking(Or have I? I still have a month to go!) to face reality.

I am leaving for the United States on January 8th for a Master's degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with an intention to specialize in the field of Biomedical Signal Processing. At this point, I harbor a hope of returning to India for a short vacation next summer, essentially to spend time with family which includes my 8 month old pup, Tucker, who I am awfully attached to(and the reverse holds good too). Tucker's doctor says that young dogs will not miss their loved ones much- a piece of information I am certain I am happy about. The vet also said that Tucker might soon forget me- this is not what I hoped he would say. I have resolved to talk to him everyday via speakerphone!

Most engineers intending to pursue a Master's degree abroad leave in the month of August for the Fall semester. I, however, am lagging by 6 months. Well, lagging is really not the right word(And I do not know a well suited word; my vocab is poor) because these six months have been pretty much the best time- reading for hours and hours, spending the best time with family, seeing Tuck grow from a cute little fur doll to a handsome young man(sorry, dog), and oh, I almost forgot the few(actually, many) hours spent at the Indian Institute of Science(IISc) as a project assistant.

Leaving India is by far the hardest thing I have had to do(apart from understanding network analysis)- I will miss getting pampered, yes. It is distressing to even think of coming back home and not having my mother to listen to my incessant rambling. Also, there is the good South Indian anna-tomato saaru that I will terribly miss. The bitter truth that I eat a lot compliments my unworthy culinary skills. I am relying heavily upon the Indian stores in Madison to have a good supply of MTR ready-to-eat Indian food. And there is the infamous Madison winter to worry about. For a person who wears sweaters in Chennai winters and uses velvet razais in Bangalore summers, Madison should be quite a bagful to deal with! Besides that, I have heard that a grad student's life is similar, in many ways, to a pauper's; a life of privation. My paltry monthly allowance will make the frequent chocolate and icecream treats rather sporadic. The very thought fills me with dread.

There is, of course, something rather enticing about independence. I look forward to, with a great deal of anticipation and excitement, the idea of living alone for the first time, and studying seriously for the first time. The prospect of choosing subjects is indeed rewarding, after painfully wasting inestimable energy on, and barely passing, a course like EEM(if you don't know what it is, consider yourself blessed). Of course, there is the lovely snowfall and the pleasant Madison summer that people talk about. I am sure there are other things as well, and you will certainly see those updates on the blog. And I promise to whine a little less(if you thought this was whiny, that is. But hey, I am leaving in a month and I am allowed a little bit of fussing!)