Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Cheery Goodbye to 2009!

Happy New Year everyone! Hope 2o10 holds wonderful things in store for you...

For the past few days the internet has been inundated with New Year wishes. And I could not help noticing a general theme that pretty much everyone, myself included, cannot wait to be done with 2009. Usually we wish people a "great" year ahead. But I find us wishing everyone a "better" year. This got me thinking: Was 2009 really so bad that I want to forget it so quickly? I believe that there are always silver linings. This post is an attempt to glean those silver linings and leave the year behind on a positive note.

I'm tempted to summarily dismiss 2009 as a year of uncertainties and disappointments. But that would be uncharacteristic of an optimist. To me 2009 was a year of surprises-few good ones, few bad ones. I like to look at these surprises as nothing beyond tests of my ability to adapt to situations out of my control and emerge from them still smiling. They were tests of persistence, of hardiness, even faith sometimes. I do not have a way to measure my performance. I do not even know what qualifies as success. All I can say is, the year's over and here I am, still smiling.

I grew up a lot in 2009. We are talking about a quantum leap here, coming from someone who had the maturity level (and many of the problems) of a sixteen-year-old. I've always had ambitions, now I know how to persist when things don't come easy. I've always had plans, now I know how to make new ones when the old ones fall apart. For the first time ever, I know my priorities. I recognize and methodically work on my limitations. Above all, I've learned how to live in the present, something I never believed I could.

This account will probably sound vague and irrelevant to anyone who's reading this. But the events and details are only incidental. This post is a retrospective nutshell of the tremendous transformation a single year has effected. And I suspect I will be able to draw strength from it every time I come back to read it.

So fare thee well 2009. Again, Happy New Year to you!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

So long California...

I'm off to the East Coast! The details are lack luster at the moment. But all that matters right now is that I'm going back to where I want to be. As I pack up and prepare to leave, I have a few thoughts to share about my unexpectedly prolonged stay in California.

First things first. I feel extremely fortunate to have the kind of family I have. For the past few months I have been staying at my maternal uncle's house. My uncle is only a little over 10 years older than me and we are more friends than 'uncle and niece'. There was a time when I spent every summer with him and my grandparents in Thrissur, Kerala. My uncle would save up money all year and would buy me ice cream and other treats every single day I spent there. When I was too tired to walk back he would tirelessly carry me home because it was too short a distance to flag a rickshaw. All through my formative years he was an imperceptible guiding hand for me. He fed a lot of his ambition to me. He spent an unjustified amount of time researching and discussing my academic options with me. Even today, when I no longer need it, he takes it upon himself to ensure I have all the information I need to make the right decisions. And he does it in the most non-intrusive of ways. These months I spent at his place felt like my childhood all over again. I was cocooned, supported and constantly encouraged to follow my dreams and fight my battles. No questions asked. I sometimes feel undeserving of such support and I believe I can never do enough to repay him and my aunt.
On lighter fronts, there are other things that will make me look back at these months fondly. I've become much closer to one of my friends from Wharton, as we vacillated together between extremes of fun and angst. I might have forged a lifelong friendship there. I got a chance to hang out with my college friends. It was like undergrad days all over again, full of slapstick humor and fading memories revived. Even the cyber world became a dearer place during my stay here. It would have been a pity if I had not gotten the chance to meet and become friends with the bloggers I met here recently. In the past, I've always found the Bay Area boring. But it is that very boredom that made me a runner. I've upped my mileage from 0 to 5 miles a day in about 7 weeks. It is the first time in the last 5-6 years that I've found a fitness routine that I'm not itching to change. Thank you Bay Area roads for the liberating runs. Thank you Public Library for the blissful hours with your books. Thank you Simon & Garfunkel for all the psychedelia...
I always imagined this would just be an obligatory post. I'm rather glad it is not. Until later California...

Saturday, September 19, 2009


I love reading. I've never wondered why. But as with all other things, I vividly remember the beginnings of my oldest and favorite hobby.
My dad's brother used to be an avid reader. When I was 5 and he was in high school, I tried to tear open the crisp newspaper with which he had carefully wrapped the James Hadley Chase novel he was reading. He seemed to have prepared wisely to avert the scandal that would erupt if someone at home saw the buxom babe in fishnet stockings and nothing but a rifle to cover her chest. And I, with my curiosity and loud mouth, almost ruined it. He decided it was time I read literature more suited to my own age. And that is how I got my first library membership. I still remember handing over a deposit of Rs.25 to the library owner and getting a bright yellow card with my name and address on it in return. My very own library card!
My initial days of reading were filled with Enid Blyton. I had a club of my own, just like Secret Seven- replete with cookies and pitchers of orange juice, with the kids in the neighborhood. I even had a bonfire in our garden, which my mom put out before we could burn down the house (far fetched I know, but I must admit it made me feel all powerful). Then I discovered Fairy Tales and Arabian Nights. For months I longed for a gingerbread house or a lamp I could rub on the eve of my exams. I slept dreaming of princesses and dwarfs and mermaids and witches. I sat at the back of my Carnatic music class and read Archie comics for the entire hour, which explains why I am only a bathroom singer. I spent many a night snickering at the exploits of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, I blushed everytime Ned Nickerson kissed Nancy Drew and I read most of Sherlock Holmes on school nights with a flashlight under my blanket. I remember the name of every single Sidney Sheldon heroine. I've had my knuckles go white from gripping a Jeffery Archer novel too tight, unable to bear the suspense any longer. I spent most of my pocket money and every penny I ever got in gifts to buy books. I still read Wodehouse and the Classics. When I entered college my reading took a quantum leap. Maugham, Salinger, Rand, Shaw, Hesse, Eggers, Tolkein, Adams, Nabakov, Steinbeck, Stone, Irving, Pamuk, Joyce, Seth, a neverending list of writers entered my life to delight me. Some left in a hurry, some faded to the background, some endured.
I sometimes wonder if I would have been a different person if I didn't have an obsession over reading. I think so. Books ensured I never missed having a sibling. I am never bored. I am never short of a way to spend my money and my friends are never at a loss for gift ideas for me. Books have made me the restless insomniac that I am. I can, and would even prefer to, learn practically anything from a good book. I connect instantly with people who read. My mother would have liked me a little better if I didn't read ( read: completely ignore her whenever I did). If I didn't read I might be more willingly social. I might have no opinions. I might be less of an idealist. I may not be able to write.*Shudder*
PS: Thanks to Gradwolf for triggering this train of thought and bringing back countless fond memories!

Friday, September 11, 2009

On cyber buddies

Friendships that sprout on the internet turn out to be as good as or sometimes even better than those that have lasted several years. Is it that our vetting skills of faceless folk have reached an evolutionary high? Is it that we self-select ourselves into like-minded cyber-circles? Or is it just me?

In the books I read, no matter how intricately the author sketches a character, there is much left to my imagination. I suspect I enjoy what I imagine a wee bit more than the starkly evident. Maybe people I cross paths with in the virtual world have a similar allure too. In fact I attach a certain personality to most regular readers of my blogs- just an intuitive picture drawn from their comments, which makes them a little dearer and makes me anticipate their visit and second guess how they are likely to react even as I write a post. Sometimes I feel I take comfort in the extent of choice virtual friendships give me in deciding how much of myself to bare, how quickly and to whom, which is rather absent in settings such as schools and workplaces where we are slaves of situation. I am well aware that what I get in return is not a complete picture of a person either. But that is the beauty of cyber-friendships- no expectations, no pressure. Just a picture vivid enough to feel secure or hazy enough to delude, whichever we choose.

Whatever be my motivations, my luck (for lack of a better word) in cyberspace has been exceptional. During my b-school application days I read Iday's blog for 2 weeks, chatted with him online for the next couple of weeks and then we exchanged applications way before we met in person. We built, read, critiqued and obsessed together over our applications for 6 long months. The distance between Madras and Bangalore was hardly a hindrance. It is a time I cherish. And we both admit that we had a tremendous positive influence on each other. Such trust is hard to find, especially considering that we were competing for a spot in the same 5 schools. Today, after 3 years of great times and terrible times, we are still great friends, confidants, sounding boards et al.

About a year and half ago I discovered that Arun, a regular reader of my blog and vice versa, lived in Philadelphia through a very random post on his blog. We met, became travel buddies and zoomed across the United States in a car. Our story thereafter is well documented in our joint blog- Footloose on the Freeway. Today he is my biggest source of support and the calm hand of reason every time I reach new lows.

There are others- Ganja Turtle, my friendship with whom started off with a 12 hour long delightful discussion on poetry and books over Skype. There is "the Being" who I've met all of 3 times but with whom I share an impossible optimism which we call each other to reinforce now and then. And then Meera and Anuradha who were nothing short of academic rivals at school, who I rediscovered through their blogs years later and found them to be wonderful writers and extremely like-minded people.

I guess this is just my customary verbose way of saying I am really glad I did not shy away from looking to the blog world for friends. Till a new thread of thought beckons...

Thursday, September 03, 2009

My Mother...

When I was a child, I was always daddy’s little girl. I could never grasp why my mother insisted that I had to be back home at the stroke of 6pm every day, or why I had to score only 100 in math, or why I had to leave the room when the grown-ups were discussing things that did not concern me. Being the only child, the only girl child in two generations of my family, I naturally ran to my father or my grandmother for sanctuary every time my mom tried to be a mother. But despite being thoroughly spoilt and despite my best evasive efforts, to this day I’ve never been home 5 minutes late without informing my mother, even before cell phones existed. To this day, I stop dead if my mom is silent and cannot be at peace until she herself tells me why she is angry.

My mother had a queer way of raising me. Every time I fell down and hurt myself (I used to have sutures twice a year) she would rebuke me like I had committed a crime, but not without torrents of tears streaming down her eyes as she rushed me to the doctor. When I was ten she bought me a bicycle even before I asked for one, because all the kids in the neighborhood had one. But she didn’t let me ride it the 3km to school for three whole years. “There will be big buses on the way,” she used to say. When I was 15 she bought me a scooter and allowed me to ride it to my gazillion coaching classes without a driver’s license, but would stand in our balcony with bated breath till I came home every night. I could never understand why she would voluntarily put herself through such trauma.

When I was sixteen, my relationship with my mother changed permanently. On an uneventful Monday afternoon, as I hovered around the kitchen talking to her about this and that, she taught me about choice. “Everything in life is a choice,” she began. As a girl from the average Indian middle class family, I could choose to do well at school, etch out a career of my choice, travel the world and never know what a budget meant. Or I could squander away the next few years, pursue whatever education my academic prowess afforded me, get married at 20 or 21 and, in the worst case, lean on a man for financial support for the rest of my life. Then she drew out some personal choices for me. I was at an age where I had an uncontrollable urge to rebel, she explained. If she restricted me, I would do things without her knowledge that would prove to be far more unfortunate than doing them with her consent. So she awarded me complete freedom. She would not stop me from doing anything. Instead she would offer her opinion and possibly explain the consequences as she saw them. Essentially it was up to me to tell her the truth or to lie.

That is how my mother dealt with my adolescence. She did not once try to make my choices for me or to nudge me towards the right one. She just left it to me. And her method worked like a charm. By giving me the freedom to screw up my life, she ensured that I never did. That Monday afternoon, I left the kitchen a little bewildered. But my mother had become my friend. Today there is nothing I cannot discuss with her. Boyfriends, crushes, alcohol, parties, my insecurities, my aspirations, my confusions, nothing is off bounds with her. She shields me from judging relatives. She debates with me about my decisions. She indulges me and my profligate ways. She eggs me on when I'm feeling down. She brings out the idealist in me when I struggle with bouts of cynicism.That clueless sixteen-year-old has come a long way today because of her mother's attitude and unrelenting support.

When I think about it now, 10 years later, I realize that she probably wanted me to have the childhood she never had. My mother was blessed with an untimely maturity. At the tender age of 8 she used to help her slightly ill mother cook before she left for school every day. At that age she never let me enter the kitchen except to throw dishes into the sink. When she was 16 she would wake up at 4am to study for a couple of hours before she cooked for the whole family and got her little brother ready for school before she left. I, in turn, slept for 15 extra minutes while she ironed my uniform for me. When she was 18 she graduated at the top of her school and got admitted to an Engineering program. Instead she gave in to family pressures and married my father and had me when she was barely 19.

She may have given up her academic dreams. In fact for a very long time I used to complain to my grandfather about his misdeed. "Look at her family. What more should she achieve?" he would ask. I daresay he is right. She is a success in every undefined sense of the word, on numerous immeasurable counts. She has always been a success in ways I have never understood. I call her every day. For five years now, every single day I’ve found her excited and waiting with some new story to tell me. Ever the social butterfly, she is always buzzing with activity and fussing over people and flitting around with her bubbly energy. Even our extended family brims with her fans. People cannot shop for weddings without her. People called her with their problems even when she was visiting me in the US. My friends who I don't see more than once a year, visit her every time they are in Madras. She takes care of her parents and, until recently, her parents-in-law. She single-handedly manages the finances and investments of all my dad's siblings who don't even live in India. She is the omniscient, omnipresent super daughter, super wife, super mom!

To people, I am always Veena's daughter and I would not have it any other way. Some day in the distant future I hope I become my mother.

Happy Birthday Ma!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Thinking on my feet

Warning: A lot of retrospection and useless information (that is not fun or funny) coming up.

For the past 3 weeks I've been running 5-6 days a week. I seem to need no motivation. I seem not to be tempted to skip a day. At 7pm every day, I don my shoes, grab my trusty iPhone and am off. I've discovered that running for me is full of lucid moments.

Here are some of my thoughts crystallized from recent runs...

At all points in time I need a goal, a plan and measurable results. This is my OCD. At the same time, it is my crutch. It has thus far been the panacea to all my woes- personal, academic, professional,
emotional, you name it. The pre-2007 posts in this blog, with their color coded excel grids and constant progress reports of my b-school applications, will attest my claim. You could say I overanalyze and that I do not know how to "go with the flow". You will be right, of course. But I have unshakable faith in my three pronged defense mechanism. For I've turned even the most uncertain phases of my life into saner, manageable times by breaking my life up into goals, plans and results.

It's been a little over three months since I graduated and I have no idea what I will be doing next. As I try to take stock of my situation I realize that I'm no novice to professional uncertainty. In fact my post-MBA days are merely a deja vu of my post-undergrad days. In my final year of college I gave up the job I got on campus because I decided I did not want to work for that firm. I voluntarily signed up for six months of being clueless about what I will be doing next. You could say I was 20 and didn't know what I was doing. You could say I somehow found the strength to veer away from compromise. Whatever be the case, I turned out fine. Then I did not want to stay in a technical job for too long. It took me three years of focus- the first two spent simply aspiring and patiently waiting followed by one year of micro-planning and executing, before I was admitted to the MBA program of my choice. During my MBA, it took me four months of grueling effort to get the internship I dreamed of. The odds were completely against me. The world of Finance was crumbling under recessionary forces. I was a career switcher and amongst the youngest students in my class. You could say I was 25 and cocky. You could say I somehow found the strength to stick to my guns. Whatever be the case, I got what I wanted.

Beware, this is hindsight painting a rosy picture of the bygones. When I was actually going through each of these episodes it felt like the end of the world, every time. It felt like I was forever swimming upstream. But swim, I did and still do tirelessly. Maybe I have to do it the hard way every time. Maybe I have to learn the same lessons in patience and perseverance to cross every milestone of life. I simply will have to find the strength. But as long as I
have a goal and a plan that I'm implementing diligently and hopefully, the results should come by sooner or later.

Such is the nature of things I think about when I run. Which brings me to the question- Why do I run?

I run
to sweat out my futile tears. I run to let out the anger I sometimes feel at the aberrant world. I run to be alone. I run to ward off inertia. I run to savor the impatience of one foot to get ahead of the other. I run for the silly pleasure of a fellow runner's wheezing smile. I run for the tiny success of beating my 9.5 minute mile with a 9 minute mile. I run for that unmistakably measurable progress. I run to overcome my fears that are, those that have been and others that are to be. If nothing else, I run to have the breeze in my hair.

Until next time....

Monday, August 24, 2009

Onslaught of the short hair fetish movement

I recently chopped off my hair to a third of its length. I did it purely to cut in half the time I spend tending to my hair and vacuuming my house. My friends from all over the globe were naturally curious to see how the new me looked. My friends were (naturally) primarily of the male gender, at least the ones that wanted to see a picture. I dutifully sent one out. My inadvertent findings owing to this innocent, well-meant act of mine are startling. I got a bunch of comments. Most were something to the effect of :

"Oh! Didn't realize you had a long face. That's a compliment, take it from me" What a stunning discovery after all these years!

"Hey! Your nose looks sharper." My dream come true. Thank you.

"Well, if I've not mentioned this before... you look really young." Should I swoon now?

"Hey, heard about your cool hair style. Where did you get it done?" The only sensible question. It came from a girl, of course.

"You do know I've always been into girls with short hair, don't you? " Ahem. Ahem.

My! My! What do I say about such a deceptive reality? I always wondered what is it that men saw in long silken tresses, soft bouncy curls and make- believe waves. I thought maybe they liked the distraction, something to to hold on to, you know? But was it a waste, the hours I spent on scrunching and smoothing and curling and brushing? Did the males of the world go and get themselves a taste upgrade? Or do I hang out with too many utilitarian geeks? If only I'd known that the success formula lay all along in showing the nape of my neck. Sigh...

Friday, August 21, 2009

"Week" is my new unit of time

These days I'm often reminded of the summer holidays of my childhood. I would behave like every day was the last day of the holidays. I would spend every hour of daylight on the roads, playing cricket and hide and seek with the boys. Or riding my bicycle till my legs were ready to fall off. The rest of the time I squandered away reading volumes and volumes of novels and comics. I could not sleep because I was afraid that the holidays will end before I did all that I wanted to. Invariably, the holidays were over too soon. With a heavy heart I would postpone my plans to the following summer.

I cannot help but compare. Now there is no school threatening to start next month, I have no place to be or deadlines to keep. This is the indefinite holiday, at least theoretically, that I always wanted. You would think I would slow down and savor such rare leisure. No! Not me. Time hurtles past at a manic pace, jumping one week at a time. Monday becomes Sunday within a blink of an eye. And I have a compulsive need to account for my time with a rapidly shrinking reading list of books, my overflowing browsing history of interesting nooks in the internet, a steadily increasing stamina for running and the rate at which I'm filling up my blogs.

What is this queer sense of urgency? Why this obsessive need to be busy? What is it that prevents people from enjoying an occasional slow phase of life? Why can't we just be? Is it the sudden absence of the travails of the corporate race that makes us grapple with the unfamiliar lull? Maybe we need tangibly productive items to check off on our mental time sheets. Or is it a fear of drifting a little far or for a little too long?

Whatever be the rationale, week after week I establish milestones and check points and pseudo-deliverables for myself. Maybe because I know no other way but to mercilessly tire myself to sleep, night after inevitable night...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Profundity in a garage closet

Today I was looking for a new bottle of mouthwash and recoiled from my chance discovery. I found 2 extra large bottles of Listerine, a pack of 8 toothbrushes, a 16 roll pack of toilet paper, 500 diapers and extra large packets of several other things. No I don't suffer from chronically bad breath or from perpetual diarrhea. I don't have a baby either. I am at my uncle's house and these were the contents of his family's storage closets.

The giant packets boomed "These people are not going anywhere!" They are not indeed. My uncle and his family have lived in the same city for eleven years and in the same house for seven. This seems like an unrealistic amount of time to me. Justifiably so, given that I've lived the life of a nomad for the past five years and the fact that I can fit my entire life in 3 not too large suitcases. I'm still not sure what is more incredulous to me- the stability of their lives or its complete absence in mine.

However, I don't seem to crave for stability, not the geographic kind for sure. When I was a child I always imagined myself living in Delhi, Bombay and Calcutta when I grew up. Then I wanted to live in many different countries when I grew up. When I was an adolescent I could never comprehend how people could "resign" themselves to spending the rest of their life with a single person. What if they get bored, I used to wonder. People say I'm a grown-up now. I still have no clue what or where I want to be "eventually". All I know is I want to be right here, doing what I'm doing right now. These days I
occasionally stop to wonder where I'm going or whether I'm going anywhere at all. But I certainly don't long for the kind of stability that makes me shop in Costco for a year's supply of everything.

Friday, August 14, 2009

On the wrong side of 25

Yesterday I was filling out a health insurance application where I had to choose my age from the following bands: 0-17, 18, 19-25, 26-29 and so on. I just got bumped up a band! I've been 26 for a while now, but it was still oddly depressing to be so brutally confronted by reality. When I stopped obsessing about the number, the implications of it suddenly dawned on me. To be more precise, two little words popped into my mind- Money and Marriage.

Let's talk about money first. There was a time, not too long ago, when my bank balance went from five figures to zero every single month. Something like a rectified decreasing sawtooth graph:

Although my upbringing suggests no folly on my parents' part, I have grown into someone who puts most expenses to a simple test- "Does it pinch my pocket?" If the answer is no, I spend. If the answer is yes, I don't. The result? I bought most things that caught my eye giving not a thought to tomorrow. Sometimes I feel I picked up a $150,000 education with the same insouciance. I'm not too sure if my binary logic will work any longer, especially given my swelling student loan, all the trips I want to send my parents on, the house I need to buy and other impossible promises I've made myself and my friends. I even checked up on my mutual fund investments in India. Their abysmal values only increased my urgent zeal for financial prudence.
It's incongruous that moving up an age band should make me grow up so much. Well I guess it is not such a bad idea to put away something for an impulse African safari, or A's $35,000 lens fantasy, or the day my birth control fails.

Now that brings us to the burning question of marriage. The excessive amount of time I spent with my parents recently served to confirm what I've always known at some level. They will not be the ones to find me a husband. They are pretty unconventional and liberal for Indian parents. But the real reason is their reluctance to take such a heavy risk, knowing their daughter. This means I will have to fend for myself. That's not so much of a problem. Let's suppose I follow Rachel's 30th birthday plan in F.R.I.E.N.D.S where she wants a year and a half to plan the wedding and know the guy for a year or so before getting engaged. Uh oh! If I plug in my own numbers into that plan, I should be with THE guy and planning the wedding already. That's the point when I reached my threshold for seriousness and grown up thought.

Why do I have a sinking feeling that 26-29 is not going to be too different from 16-19?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Back and Blogging!

I relegated this space to cyber-oblivion for more than a year and a half, which is most of my time at Wharton. It was not a hiatus I planned. In fact, it might have been great if I blogged through business school like Iday (Oh yeah! For those of you who know us from application days, we are still the best of friends). But I guess I've always been a private person hiding behind a veil of vivaciousness. A veil, that held me back from writing about the events in the soap opera that was my life in the past two years. However, I continued to write on two other blogs I own. Come to think of it, I almost feel like I have a personality disorder that mandates me to keep the different parts of my life in perfectly segregated compartments.

To begin at the beginning (of my absence), Wharton was great! Business school was everything they make it out to be- transformational, enriching, reformative, a personal renaissance of sorts. I'm rather happy to declare that I did exactly what I wanted to in the last two years. I took the courses I liked and made friends with some really smart people who I learned a lot from. I struggled for four long months to find the perfect internship and loved the experience. It shaped what I'm looking for in my career. Outside the classroom,
I was decadent. I took the opportunity to do a lot of things I always wanted to do. I traveled like it was my last chance to travel. I did a cross country road trip across the US, three trips to India/Asia, one to Peru and was out every weekend exploring new places on the East Coast. I also wrote a lot. The only thing that kind of suffered was my reading which is back on track now. On the personal front, to quote a cliche that sounds kind of wise, "I learned a lot about myself." No, I'm not sarcastic. I really did. To round it all off, notwithstanding many moments of doubt and despair, I graduated.

True to this blog's title, I find myself in between dreams yet again. Three months after graduation, I'm entrenched in a job search. Nothing uncommon, given the times we live in. Although I must admit, my situation is a result of a combination of the recession, crazy personal life crises and an uncompromising ambition to get what I want. I did a Private Equity internship and I want a related job i.e. a job non-existent for me, given the glut of talent out there. So that's that. But I'm not giving up, not yet.

So as you can guess, I've lately had time on my hands which is a shocking contrast to my life at Wharton. My parents were here since May and I took them to visit a zillion places. That could be another reason I don't have a job yet. They got sick of me and all the travel and went back to India last week. Ever since, I've been itching for things to do. So here I am back and blogging. However I'm not sure what I will write about. I remember the days when I was applying to b-school. I thought about what to write in my essays when I was running in the gym. Maybe now I can write about the stuff I think about when I'm running. Yes, I've come full circle! I guess I'll go wherever my pen takes me...