Archive for June, 2009

The holiday

Janani has started a new feature on her blog for really short stories (aptly called Tiny stories). Also, I am inspired by Arjun Basu’s  Twisters, 140 word stories on Twitter. Here is my (lame?) first attempt (not 140 words, but pretty short story)…

Amma woke him up. From within his quilt, with half open eyes, he coughs and holds his stomach, and pleads to his mother that he wants to skip school because he is not feeling well. He adds a couple of coughs to his act. Amma said, OK, no school for you. His eyes suddenly lights up at the unexpected answer. Amma asks him to sleep off the illness, but he wakes up within 5 minutes with the excitement of an unexpected holiday. He curls into his dads lap, coughs a little (in an attempt to maintain the charade), blocks his dads view of the sports page, and quips, Utsav would be in his uniform eating breakfast now, and I am here. His dad ahems. His joy does not know any bounds.

But, he did not realize that it was 10 AM, well past his school time, and he does not remember the previous night. He had become unconscious suddenly, and had his family tensed and anxious for most of the night in the hospital. His parents, were now waiting for the MRI results.



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A story of a blog

He was sad, depressed and sorry,

so he started a blog, to tell his story.

On his blog, he laid out his soul,

Many laughed, few cried and some people cried foul

Controversy reigned,

and a book deal he gained.

Millions more read his story,

Now, he is rich, depressed and sorry

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Observed…

Case-1:

He loved her. She did not. He thought that was fair game. He continued living life as before and doing new and different things. Now, she is married to someone else.

Case-2

He loved her. She did not. He thought that was unfair. He started drinking. He asked her again. Still No. He started doing drugs. He asked her. Still no. He tried to OD on sleeping pills. Still no. He tried some other way to kill himself. She relents. Now, she is married to him, and he is doing new and different things.

Case-3

He liked her. Her parents and family liked him. His parents and family liked her. She was asked to like him. They married. Now, they fight daily.

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I wonder…

if I am a Koala which

Like wombats and sloths, has a very low metabolic rate for a mammal and rests motionless for about 16 to 18 hours a day, sleeping most of that time.

This is what I did last week

Monday: I woke up at 5 am. I did not sleep Sunday night. Ever since the semester got over and I had no 9 am classes to attend, I have kept pushing back the time I hit bed in the night, often reading up late, or watching a movie, or spoiling another persons schedule by chatting up late.

I also had a trivial matter of finishing up some examples that I was making for my adviser’s book. 2 among them were exceptionally straightforward, and I had been avoiding typing it up. And, I did those two problems in 2 hours of non-stop work on Monday morning, from 6 to 8 and then slept off. The whole afternoon went in a meeting with the adviser to get the examples fixed in his book, and I saw a movie in the evening and dozed off

Tuesday: I hoped that a Monday with as little sleep as possible would get me back to normal schedule. And it almost worked.  Went to office by 10 and started working on the last example that I had to finish. It was for a chapter that is not directly related to my research and I had to use another student’s code, and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out if bugs in his code were not actually bugs. Late morning was another short meeting with the adviser, and then I slacked off for most of Tuesday, doing nothing, (except getting frustrated at apt-get upgrade and even more frustrated with installing Octave 3.2.0)

Wednesday: Wednesday was the day for the scheduled bi-weekly research meetings with the adviser. I woke up at 9, but lazed around in bed till noon, made lunch and strolled into office at 1:30. Played around with the last example, and convinced myself that there were bugs in the other students code, and went into the meeting with no progress to show, but a question that had bothered me for 10 minutes a few days ago regarding the model that I was using. Luckily, that question was enough fodder and we spoke for an hour about it. It has become a norm that I hardly work after research meetings, and I came back home and slept.

Thursday: Was less lazier than Friday. I spoke to the other student for  about 15 minutes. He understood his mistakes and said that he will finish the example. So, one work less for me.  I came back and spent time making my system work like before after installing Octave3.2.0. Downloaded a few papers, which I thought would give me some super idea to further the ideas that the meeting on Wednesday generated. Read a few of them, and each one of them was crappy. Thought a little, and got an idea anyway. All this took around 45 minutes. The “intellectual” strain made me tired and I slept off, woke up later and wrote the previous blog and then dozed off again

Friday: Was the laziest of all. Woke up at 9, but decided that I need to finish the awesome dream that I was having, and so slept and tried to recreate the awesome settings of the dream. But, what is awesome when you are in deep sleep, is plain illogical when you are semi-awake and try to recreate it, but free association in a semi-awake state can lead to colourful dreams, and I dozed till 3 in the afternoon, made lunch, had it, and napped again till 6 (this was because of “An Equal Music”). Rishi called at 6, and spent the next six hours drinking beer (Self note: I am getting older, and my body rebelled for 3 22 ounce glasses of beer with vomit last night. Need to decrease the amount to just 1 beer) and chatting aimleslly.

And finally on Saturday, I analyzed the previous week and realized that I spent 7 hours meeting my adviser, 2.5 hours working on the examples, 1 hour downloading and reading paper, and generating an idea (which in all probability will be thrashed next meeting), and slept for a massive 58 hours the previous week, averaging nearly 12 hours a day. The question that begs to be asked is:

Am I so lazy because the PhD affords me the luxury of being lazy (ya! most of the time no boss and no deadlines) or is it because I am so lazy that I opted for a PhD?

So, I have made myself this plan, to finish work that in my lazy schedule, I would have taken ages to do, but in actually, would not have required so much time, and a little ambitiously, plan to finish it in 10 days. I have a feeling I won’t be, but I am sure I will do a lot, if I actually get to office and work furiously. Lets see

Plan for the next 10 days

Plan for the next 10 days

PS: The first “no” in the last column needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. I prepared this to-do list almost at the verge of being bored with work. I decided not to split the work in item (1) because then there is a flow to the to-do list. But let me see how subsequent updates on the plan works!

Updates:

Sunday: Another “no”. I realized that making the matrices was not as trivial as I thought it would be. But, it is boring work, because the fun begins after the matrices are coded up. Also, a plan to go to Chicago might just materialize next weekend, so a major blow to my plans. Lets see what Monday brings!

Monday: Work was progressing smoothly, till my computer decided that it has been used enough for the day and refused to work. Don’t know how much of a setback this is going to be. Hopefully, it can be fixed easily tomorrow.

Thursday: Way Way behind schedule. By the way of explanation: 1. The work is way too boring. I have to carefully type the code, but do not have to think. It is just a matter of writing up around 300 lines of error-free stuff. Just too boring. 2. Adviser is not in town next week, so the next meeting is well into the middle of July. Hopefully, I can finish stuff by then. 3. German class is at 9 in the morning. My schedule is all affected because of waking up at 7:30.

Friday: Back to scratch now. Realized that the code that I am writing is getting clumsier and clumsier as I move to steps 3 and 4. Need to redesign 1 & 2 to make 4-10 easier.

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Homecoming

“I will come to the station with you”, insisted Ajit’s father. “No, appa, it is not necessary, why do you want to stay awake till 1:30 in the morning”, Ajit repeated for the gazillion’th time. He had been persuading his father to drop plans of dropping him at the Pune railway station ever since he had come all the way up to the Bombay airport to receive him about a month ago. He had requested Appa not to come to the airport either.

The holiday had quickly come to an end. The last day remained, and sad that he was, that 25 days of bliss at home was almost over, he was looking forward with much enthusiasm for his last day of the India trip. Ajit was due to fly back to Tempe, AZ and his research the next night, and he had planned a wacky day with his college crime partner, Ratish on the last day in Bombay.

The plan itself was made in a brief spurt of madness. Ajit had called Ratish up, and as with most of their conversations across the oceans, it began as quickly as it ended. “What news?”, “All the same”. Then there was a pause, and then, the easiest escape conversation, “Remember that night during our Matheran trip?”.  Nostalgia took over the conversation, and by the time Ajit was ready to hang-up, they had hatched the awesome plan, to relive one of their favourite final year pass-time, a drinking binge, in Bombay. Ajit was going to Bombay a day earlier to materialize this plan.

The train pulled into Dadar at 5:15 in the morning. Ajit was surprised to see Ratish waiting for him. He had prepared himself for a long wait at the station. Ratish was never on time. Public display of male bonding, the hug, followed by Ratish suggesting the breakfast at the best idli shop in Mumbai, a small shop in Matunga. As they sat in the taxi, Ajit enquired, “All set?”. Somehow, he had the nagging feeling that they will pull out of the plan to drink all day and sit and watch movies and chat aimlessly. Ratish, however was hyper, and he said that he had planned the day in advance.

After the best idlis in Mumbai, they would go back to Ratish’s flat in Powai, and smoke the ganja that he had managed to procure. Lunch would be at the Dombivilli dhabha that they frequented during college, for nostalgia’s sake. And that would also give Ajit the opportunity to get on the local. They will get back home and drink the beers that has been pre-loaded in the fridge-Kingfisher Premium. “You can have all those imported beers when you get back to the desert”, Ratish said.  “We will stop drinking at 6 in the evening”, Ratish continued, “that will give you enough time for you to sober up before you leave for the airport at 2 in the morning”. “Oh! and we will have dinner at Chakras”, thus, Ratish rounded off the plan for the day.

Both of them were hungry, which meant that they cleaned off 4 plates of idli each rather quietly. The conversation started to open up in the taxi back home, as Ajit started recounting tales of the Hollywood trip and the drive to the canyons, Black Fridays and Football games. Ratish (ignorantly as Ajit would later say to his friends), quipped that American football is silly, and Ajit went off on a tangent explaining the game. As they reached the Powai apartment, Ratish started to tell the story of his great search for ganja the previous day, and how he had accosted a unshaven IIT student who had not seen a barber for ages, on the hunch that he might be into ganja to get the stuff.

They rolled the ganja and smoked the first joint, again in silence. Ganja, then started to do its stuff, and the conversation started to become colorful as the old friends opened up to each-other again. Time and distance had made the conversation thus far fairly formal, but in their ganja elevated states, they were back in their college fourth year souls.  The conversation, then, quite predictably turned towards girls. Ratish’s college sweetheart had recently got married, arranged marriage, and Ratish, perhaps for the first time in a long time, opened up, and unloaded all his frustration in the form of the best and the most innovative expletives he could choose. Then, he concluded, “You know what, I am becoming more and more like Seinfeld”. “How? Why?”. “I mean, I am meeting quite a few girls these days, in office, in the bars and parties on friday’s”, continued  Ratish, “but, like Seinfeld, I find stupid reasons to not approach them or talk to them”. “You must meet a lot of goris there in Arizona, tell me about it”, asked Ratish next, now that the conversation had turned towards girls. “Na re!, bloody, ASU is just like some Indian campus, those idiots give admission to every Indian who applies there man”, Ajit was now cribbing, “I stay in an national integration camp, my next door neighbors are 4 people from Andhra, they are everywhere man, and then there are the Delhi wannabees and the Chennai studs and the Bihari chap who knows to get the drugs”. He had covered every possible sterotype, and that was not far from the truth. The fun meandered into a serious conversation slowly, as the second and the third joints went up in puffs, about love and friendship, companionship, family etc.

At noon, in a drug induced hunger pang, they left for Dombivilli, and in the train, Ajit said what he had been thinking for a while, “It is so glad to get high with a close friend”. “Back in Arizona, I am always careful, and I stop at the feeling good stage, worried that I will blabber, but with you, I know that you will understand whatever I blabber”. Ratish nodded and echoed similar feelings, “childhood and hostel friends are totally different, you somehow stop making such friends as you grow older, the friend is just a casual acquaintance you spend more time with”.

Back at the Powai apartment, the beers kept them comfortably numb. Ajit recounted the happy memories of the trip to Mysore, to meet his grandparents and the extended family, the stop-over for a weekend at Bangalore, and the impromptu party there, in which so many of his batch-mates, all  IT slaves, came, many of them he hardly knew that he went to college with. Ratish told about the class reunion to Kerela, shared the photos and discussed the lives of their friends, the marriage parties and the bachelor parties that he had been a part of, and his work, the apartment that he is building in Kolhapur, his stock portfolio and such stuff.  It was evening by then, and the 6 PM deadline approaching. They had gulped around 8 beers each, and drowsed off slowly. Ratish woke up again at 10 and dragged a sleepy Ajit to Chakras and they had lasagna.

Midnight, and a hot cup of tea in hand, they sat in the living room, watching “Before Sunset” which was playing on some channel. Both had seen the movie hajaar times, and it was in the background, and they could weave in and out of the story at will. Sometimes, they will stop the conversation to listen to some dialogue, and sometimes, a dialogue itself would start off an philosophical conversation. As the movie was drawing to a close, and Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke were talking on the boat on the Seine; battling drowsy eyes Ajit says, ” I don’t want to go back”.

“Why?”

“What do I do going back man? It is not that my research is going to change the world, and it has been 3 years in the US, and I still feel like an alien there. I don’t think that I will ever be able to call that place home. Ya, I am doing what I have wanted to do, but life is not just money and a good job”.

Ratish was being the good friend, he nodded, but did not know how to reply, and made feeble attempts at justifying his friends decision made 3 years ago to do the PhD.

Ajit, however continued, “My life there is phony dude, I pretend to know many people, many people pretend to know me. Its been three years, still I don’t feel comfortable talking to the Americans”. “I enjoyed this trip much more than I wanted to, and I realized that I miss my family and friends like you much more than anything”. He continued, “You have a good job here, and you are happy, and we are not much different are we?”. Ratish was just nodding, thinking that they should have stopped drinking at 4, clearly, Ajit is not sober still. Ajit continued, “aren’t you happy? You have money, a decent life, much the same that I live in America, and you are with friends and family, and in a country that you can call your own, no matter how much more developed America is, it is not yours”.

As Ajit’s monologue continued, the movie slowly drew to an end. Celine was slowly dancing and singing to Nina Simone, and ever so cutely, says to Jesse that he is going to miss his flight. Jesse smiles and says, “I know”.

Ajit then says,”Ratish, I am much more sober than you think I am, and I think I am going to do a Jesse”, as Ratish points to the clock on the wall showing a few minutes past two.  Ratish tries in vain for the next few minutes to ask him to leave. Ajit’s father calls and Ajit lies that he is already in the airport, and then says, without much conviction, ” I can easily find a job in India”. Slowly, Ajit paints an Indian dream, talks about using his saved dollars for some investment, and of the million things he will do in India.

The clock ticks past three. The flight is at 4 am. Ratish has given up, Ajit will be missing the flight. Its 3:05, and Ajit is talking about the kind of job he wants, the companies that he wants to apply to, the work that he wants to do all life. Suddenly he jumps from the couch, “Who am I kidding”, he yells, and lunges for his bags, and leaves the apartment in a hurry, searching for a taxi at 3 in the morning.

They find a taxi soon, and as they part, Ratish says, “You know what, I think Jesse also made the flight to America from Paris.”

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Maximum City

The book has been on my radar for at least a couple of years now. Finally, I got it and finished in one week of  furious reading. And, I have never been more ambivalent about a book. Now that I have finished it, I find it hard to judge it within the scales of 0 to 5 stars.

Long time back, I had read a book on Calcutta by Geoffry Moorhouse ( a book that I later gifted to Ambi thatha), and it was structured the way I expected a book on a city to be structured, detailing its history from its birth.  Maximum City,  on the other hand, is like the mix-mash Bollywood movies, flimsily held together by a theme- Love, Fear, Metro etc. It tells us the stories of a few Mumbai-kars, a Shiv Sainik goon turned businessman, a dance-bar girl, couple of underworld hit-men, a honest days working family from the slums, Bollywood director, an honest policeman, a struggling actor, and a world-renouncing former successful businessman turned into a sadhu. All the stories, held together by the city, in which every one has a chance to flourish.

The concept was interesting, the stories that Suketu Mehta chose to tell was not the unexpected. Ask anyone about eccentric Bombay stories, and you will be hardly be surprised to listen to one of the above, and the unique rags-to-riches Bombay story. The Bombay dream is so much like the American dream!

But the execution made the book ambivalent to me. The book begins with the author’s struggle to settle back in the Bombay, and from the beginning,  I could feel the background of the picture he would be painting all book. My first reaction was that the author is another among the scores of people who are writing about India to appeal to Western, developed country readers, much like Arvind Adiga’s White Tiger, which I read a few days back or the Slumdog Millionaire movie. And, I don’t think I was much wrong, as the same attitude to describing the city, through the unhygienic slum toilets, the power-cuts, the beggar girl begging for food, the narrow lanes and the shanties. Even descriptions of the middle-class apartments were given the same treatment, almost making one believe that there is no nice apartment available in Bombay. There are frequent allusions of how much better America is in providing a nice habitat for human survival.

Much through most of the book, the author, sees Bombay through a pessimistic viewpoint, as a city on the verge of collapse, which to me was rather unsettling. I think a person totally unknown to India and Bombay, will hate the city if he ever thinks about it after reading the book. If not hate, it will surely enhance his vision of India and Bombay to be an exotic wierd city.

Ah! the word I was looking for: Condescending. Add to it Narcissistic. Suketu Mehta does not distance himself from the stories he is telling. He is there everywhere in the story, and his attitude to the story is best captured by the two words. For example, his story about the bar dancer Monalisa, much after making his point, he keeps mentioning that how everyone’s head turns at him and her whenever they go anywhere or the million times his protagonists call him to discuss what they are doing, as if getting his permission to do the thing that they would have done anyway. And, in most of the stories, he never fails to show his “richness”, like pointing out that he pays 100,000 rupees as rent for his South Bombay sea facing apartment (the description of which is so horrible in the first chapter, you would wonder why he stays there), to contrast a 50 rupees that he gives to a beggar.

I failed to understand the devotion of a few pages to his school, and his attempts to paint a sad childhood for him, when from the attempts it did not look he had one. It was  really boring, and really presumptuous writing, he (an young student) would bang into Suketu, and look up to see himself, in the school. The story of the businessman giving everything away was needless. It just added to the exoticity of Bombay.

The only redeeming story, after I got bored with the eccentric story, is that of a middle class family, which after spending most of its time in a slum, moves into a middle class suburban flat, and sees hope.

For a city as vast and with so many personalities, the book, hovers around the negative for most of its time. Descriptions of Bollywood is restricted to how the Underworld governs it, to the travails of the director with the bureaucracy and the story of the struggling actor, the police force description is restricted to failures of  police, the atrocious investigation tortures, the pending cases in the court, the failures of the police to protect people. The gangsters covered are poor people who take into killing for 50 to 1000 rupees, the sex-workers have a similar story.

While all this are true, there is much hope and optimism and positive success stories in the city, that makes it a dream for millions to call it home, and because of which millions more are in love with the city. For anyone, who loves the city, it is like listing all the shortcomings of your lover, but not telling why you love her despite all those shortcomings.

A good book, a good read (but could have had better editing, even I could find typos and grammatically incorrect sentences here and there), but a book on Bombay could have been so much more better. And the easiest route would have been to remove  a few of the negative stories for positive ones.

My twitter updates on the book, sums up my feelings as I read the book

Maximum City is gripping, after a sluggish start…feeling sleepy but dont want to put the book down! Passes my test for a good book 🙂

The underworld and bylanes of bombay keep me awake for the second night running…Maximum City is unputdownable

These updates when I was lost in the underworld that is pretty much everywhere in Bombay, and got a picture of the slums that I have never been to.

But a bit later, I wrote this, which was my eventual feeling for much of the last 250 pages of the book

maximum city is getting One dimensional…What about the Bombay I know about…will he ever get to that?

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I also finished Vernon God Little. Before reading about the slums of Bombay, I was in the world of a poor city in Texas where young Vernon is accused of aiding the murder of 16 school kids. Narrated from the point of view of a 16 year old, the first thing you notice is that his favorite adjective is fuck! It is fast paced book, with scenes shifting from Texas to Mexico to court house and jail. It is also a satire on the media, as a failed journalist is responsible for all the troubles to Vernon, and ends up beaming his trail on TV, and starting a reality show of death-row convicts. I read it in one go, till around 7 in the morning, battling drowsy eyes to finish it, and I need to read the last 40-50 pages of the book, to get the hidden message, the philosophy.

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I also read White Tiger, and I am sure it will be a movie soon. Nothing new in the story.

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This is the summer of books! On my reading list now

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