Tuesday, January 05, 2016

The Pied Piper

At 7 am on my morning commute, NPR news relayed the new open gun carry laws that go into effect on college campuses. You know, because Sandy Hook never happened. And, since we are not doing anything to help working mothers take the time to bond with their newborns…what difference would it make whether those children are dead or alive anyway?

In conversation with a long-lost school friend over the weekend, it came to light that she (by the way, she holds a degree in Computer Science from UIUC no less, and has patents to her name in attempts to come up with a product idea that she’d hoped would eventually launch her startup – no such luck, she works for a leading bank now) started working from home 2 weeks after her scheduled Caesarean surgery and returned to work full-time a month from that date.

I don’t know what the biology books say about the recuperation of the human body after a surgery, but I have been through 3 by now and can tell you from experience that’s not nearly enough time for a human body and mind to recuperate from invasive surgery. She is obviously a motivated person and wanted to return to work. But, you couldn’t mistake the wistfulness in her voice as she blamed herself for the lack of bonding with her son. She could provide breastmilk to her son for a month after several attempts, stuffing herself with galactogogues and even Reglan, a prescriptive medicine that supposedly enhances lactation. Mothers go above and beyond to protect their children, blame themselves for wanting to have both a career and a home life, and at the end of all that heart-wrenching white-knuckled determination, frustration and hard work….they are supposed to send their children to schools and colleges to be killed by psychos the country doesn’t have the good sense to run mental checks on before issuing gun licenses.

Monday, November 24, 2014

In reading about Schrodinger's cat, I found the following in a Wiki reference:-

"..in which a quantum system such as an atom or photon can exist as a combination of multiple states corresponding to different possible outcomes. The prevailing theory, called the Copenhagen interpretation, said that a quantum system remained in this superposition until it interacted with, or was observed by, the external world, at which time the superposition collapses into one or another of the possible definite states."

A situation carries within it the possibility of multiple states/solutions, until observed...or perturbed. Meaning, that a closed box of Ravelin bakery goodies could possibly contain chocolate croissants, eclairs or creme brulee, until you open the box and lo and behold....black-and-white cookies! (That's my tip-of-the-hat interpretation, Copenhagen Institute). Very intriguing. I suppose my Kolkata sojourn could be that way....it could have been stellar, magical OR it could have been mundane, run-of-the-mill OR it could have been annoying, downright suffocating. Of course, once perturbed - the experience turned out to be quite annoying...but one wonders what the alternate "stellar, magical" experience might have been?

I read an example of the Copenhagen interpretation before knowing what it actually was, in Twelve Red Herrings where the reader was offered four different choices to the culmination of a story - Rare, Burnt, Overdone, A Point. I suppose you could term my Kolkata experience as burnt to a crisp. So, lets taste "Kolkata A Point".

It would have to be a Kolkata winter, in a dusty পাড়া - the hours between 10 am and noon. Too late for early morning, but just late enough for dust to be kicked up on the streets by shuffling feet, ripe for the rickshaw-horn to blare a few times before turning the bend, ears picking up on the sizzle of fresh-water fish plunged into hot mustard oil and the soft metallic ring of bangles on hard hands scrubbing soot off with ash and steel wool. You might find yourself bundled up in a woolly sweater that defies the possibility of body contours, shuffling around the house in blue Bata sandals...or you might be found whacking the shuttle across hastily-drawn badminton nets. Oh yes, it's childhood again. Eat, play, read, repeat. At your mother's bidding, fetch victuals from the neighborhood store, then squeeze in a ride on the 24/29 tram via Rashbehari. Thumbing through dusty secondhand books in Gariahat, eating a sandesh or two at Mouchak, sunbathing by the window on the same tram back home, the combination of wool and Sun starting to prickle a bit as the stellar experience draws to a close, ears now picking up on the rhythmic tick-tock of a ping-pong ball being thrashed across a table in the neighborhood boys' club.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Pay it backward

It takes a sick world to bring a tear to one's eye, when realization dawns that the woman that just drove off ahead of you in the Starbucks queue bought you a drink for no reason at all.

Or, I'm at long last growing old.

PS You would think that by the third time, one would get used to it. But no, every time it touches my black heart. This time, I managed to compose myself from a blithering quivering mess soon enough to mumble an intent to pay it forward....or backward (as was true in this case).

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Seeing Red

The transfusion room in the hematologist's office was well turned out. Plush, comfortable with overstuffed leather recliners, soft woollen throws, an assortment of drinks to keep your thirst at bay, and a state of the art home theater system with a wide variety of blues, soft jazz, classic rock - whatever rocked your boat that day. I took tentative steps, shuffling softly on socks on the smooth buffed floor. Inching towards the last unoccupied leather chair hooked up to an IV station. It was unusually cold, I thought as they hooked me up to a dark colored liquid (liquid iron, I was told) - that was normal, they said. No, I meant the room was cold - but, never mind. I did not want to create a fuss. The nurse said they would precede the transfusion with Benadryl to counter anaphylactic response. I nodded, taking it to mean that I was going to be sleepy - no party here I was going to miss!

"So, is this your first chemo?" A deep, silky voice interrupted my somnolent state.

Through my half-open eyelids, I discerned a shock of red hair. The fiery crop was beginning to thin at the front of the forehead, but you couldn't see any roots. It was either natural, or dyed regularly. A creamy complexion that goes with that hair type. Bright red lipstick, chunky rings. A Guns n Roses locket on thick black strands around her neck. An interesting array of tattoos on her right arm - the Christian cross, Islamic moon and the Hindu Om emblazoned in three quadrants of the universal peace sign. Blue eyes shining through slits took in everything meticulously.

That body belongs on a Harley somewhere, I thought. And a cigarette. A cigarette's missing.

"Is this your first chemo, darling?"

"Oh! No, I'm just here for an iron transfusion," I blushed in spite of myself.

"Don't get worked up now. You done good. I was just curious." She sighed and started talking into space. My eyes traveled down to her fingers once more, noting the telltale groove on the side of her middle finger, and slightly yellowing fingernails. Smoker, figures.

"You know, I grew up right around the corner from this building and crossed Dr Busch's office on the way to work. My mother used to own a dry cleaning business - but she never bothered to get herself a driver's license and I was her little chauffeur. Patty and I..." her voice trailed off. Lucidity returned to her eyes and she started again. "Patty, my best friend, and I would steal puffs a door down from here. The third door down from this clinic is a Latin bakery - we would buy ourselves those itty-bitty alfajores and spritz some cologne before returning to the shop. Mum never knew." She chuckled and reached out for a glass of lemon water.

"Have you been here all your adult life?" I asked.

"Nein nein, little darling." She made a clicking noise with her tongue. "Born in Texas, raised all over. After helping my mother for a couple of years with her business, I traveled to Boulder with my boyfriend to grow out pot business. That didn't work out so well. Then on to Laramie, Wyoming to work on a ranch, a few months in Santa Fe learning pottery and Sanskrit..."

"Wait, what?" left my lips before I could stop myself.

"Sanskrit, the ancient Indian language, ya know?"

Err, yes I know. I just happen to have been born in that country. But you can't be rude to a cancer patient undergoing chemo. I let it go.

"I wanted to start a yoga studio in Abilene. That town has nothing. Mum's business was the only dry cleaner's in town , and it doubled as an UPS drop-off - the only one in town. So, I shacked up with Patty's sister in Dallas for a year and registered for any yoga teacher training classes I could lay my hands on - Hatha, Vinyasa, Iyengar, Yin - even some Qigong classes. I liked the names of the poses - halasana, bajrasana, navasana - so lyrical. So, I wanted to know more about the language. I signed up for a yoga retreat in Santa Fe, where they teach you Sanskrit. Ya know, for kicks." She winked.

My jaw clenched once more as I felt the bile rise in my throat. I had not yet learnt how to control the Indian impulse to counter every tiny belittlement of every language, mannerism and stereotype associated with the Indian subcontinent. Just let it go. Breathe.

"I had a chance to learn Sanskrit in school," I said. "My brother dissuaded me - it was either Hindi or Sanskrit and he had barely managed to scrape through Sanskrit. I was sure it would drag my grades down. I opted for Hindi, but now I wish I had learnt Sanskrit instead - easier to understand Hindi once you know Sanskrit."

"It wasn't half bad. It's easier to remember the Gayatri mantra when you know what those words mean. They run off your lips effortlessly. Om bhur bhuvah svah tát savitúr várenyam bhárgo devásya dhimahi dhíyo yó nah prachodáyat"

Pretentious, hmph.

"Have yoga and meditation helped you heal? I've heard meditation is a great boon to the terminally ill." I preened.

"Heal? What do ya mean?" Her nurse was now at her side, unhooking the IV station.

I squirmed under her blue gaze, as if transfixed by their intensity. "I thought....?"

She roared with laughter. "I'm here for an iron transfusion too. Wait, you were thinking all this while that I had cancer? Psshh, cancer aint got nothin' on me."

The rumblings of a motorbike outside in the parking lot drowned my thoughts as the effects of Benadryl started wearing off slowly.

Damn it, Red.

PS Inspired by Rezhnikov on OITNB

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

You have to hang your boots somewhere.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Where I'm from

Every writer needs two kinds of critics: one that always sings praise of his/her writings, and the other that tells the truth. In hopes of unearthing a few from the second category, I place this on the blog - inspired by George Ella Lyon's poem "Where I'm From". I find my childhood a comforting place, an unending source of inspiration for a jaded could-have-been writer.

I am from kitchen soot,
kisses and kohl.
I am from the evening echoes of the conch.
(Deep, mournful
it rang out to the skies from my mother's lips.)

I am from the fragrant jasmine,
the rooted banyan
whose timeworn roots
must surely go as deep as mine.

I am from rice puddings and birthday blessings,
from too much and not enough.
I am from hand-me-downs
and ne'er-give-ups,
from secrets treasured and silences untold.
I'm from the 3 D's etched in my father's letters
(duty, discipline, determination - he said)
I chose duty over them all.

I'm from the muslin of Jaycee
from the broadcloth of Teekay too.
From the land of palm tree and fish aplenty
from milk and honeyed tales
that dripped from the lips of ancient dames.
In my closet lies a crowded box
a melange of letters and pictures
of faces and words that extol and chastise
Knowingly, they whisper in my dreams,

"One day, you too shall be here."

Friday, May 16, 2014

Of a hero and his unlikely disciple

There was a recurring theme in my grandmother's stories about the partition - it was unbiased. There were no Hindus waging war on the Muslims, or Muslims up in arms against the Hindu majority - there were simply warring Indians bathing streets in blood. Every wheelbarrow filled with Hindu bodies emptied into drains were matched by Muslims in equal measure. She never blamed any one religious community. And, yet every generation removed from theirs has only gotten more and more bitter about this episode. Perhaps because they had no direct experience, their imaginations were colored by stories very similar to mine, and they chose to make what they wanted to, from childhood tales. Pity.

Did India just smite the nose to spite the face? How can citizens be more worried about corruption than genocide? How can economic progress be so important that one turns a blind eye to the skeletons in Modi's closet? Do you laud Hitler for all the planning that went into decimating a race? After all, wasn't his agenda the ethnic cleansing (leading to the betterment) of Germany? Can we condone blood on a statesman's hands if we are promised economic progress? Apparently, the great statesman's hero is Swami Vivekanda - oh, the irony. Saffron is where the similarity begins...and ends in this case.