Thursday, April 27, 2006

Pandora, Tindora etc...

I am a sucker for Indian style vegetables. I only say "Indian style" because we use it a lot in our cooking. True to being a proper Tamilian, I like pumpkins, senaikizhangu, seppangizhangu, sakkarai valli kizhangu, chow-chow etc... Now, I don't know the English equivalents of many of these veggies. To me, they will always be in Tamizh.

I found 'kasturi manjal' in the grocery shop this past weekend. I got so excited that I shrieked,

"Is that kasturi manjal?"

I have no idea why I was so elated because I never use it anywhere! Maybe because it was a whiff of home?

So my friend sniffed around a bit and confirmed my deduction.

So, in true Indian style, I pinched off a teeny tiny bit of kasturi manjal (That's all you buy, you know. I am pretty sure none will buy 2 lbs of kasturi manjal!) and dropped it in a biiiiiiiiig grocery bag. And humming happily, I finished the rest of my shopping and headed off to checkout.

The checkout person almost thought it was an empty bag (He was a rather cute college kid. You know, the ones with a cute, lost expression?). Then he fished around the bag and found my teeny, tiny bit of kasturi manjal. He gave it a rather curious look.

"What's this?"

"Ummm..I don't know."

A pause. What could you call kasturi manjal? I was quickly thinking of a translation for "kasturi". Ok, maybe I could translate "manjal" easily. "manjal" is turmeric. So it is kasturi turmeric? He was looking at that tiny piece from different angles. Like it was going to yield an answer if he looked at it from a 47 degree angle! I could sense the "Lady, you don't know what you're buyin'??" hovering in the air.

So I hastily covered it up with a,

"Ohh..I know what it is but I don't know the English equivalent!"

"Uhh..ok..Hey Cathy, you know what this is?"

Cathy now turned around. I was feeling like a terrorist who was passing customs. She looked at it and thought for a few moments and said,

"Oh, that's Tindora. It is an international produce."

I sighed with relief. It had a name, after all. So, people, its tindora! :) It is sitting in my fridge and I haven't touched it since the day I got it. But I like having it around...:)

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Vancouver Diaries- IV

Days that were really important to me - the day I stepped into my first school, the day I met my best friend, first crush, first love, first major disappointment, first job, prom, graduation - have all been surprisingly very ordinary, mundane days! No firecrackers in the background. No razzmatazz. No appropriate ambience (rain on a disappointing day, sunny when I have a crush etc...). No background music. Just ordinary, sometimes even boring, days. Funny how appearances can be so deceptive! Little did I know back then that the nondescript rainy, grey day I stepped into Vancouver was going to be the beginning of a rich set of experiences, one that'd mould me in ways I'd not even imagined....

We were put up at the Tropicana Motor Inn on Robson Street for the first three weeks or so. I was recovering from severe jetlag. My dad had to go to work almost the next day. My brother and I had to wait for two weeks before we could get our student authorization and go to school. So my mom, brother and I spent our days sleeping, eating, watching TV. TV watching is a funny experience when you can't follow the accent that well. We used to religiously watch a series of programs just to understand the accent!

10.00 AM Charlie's Angels
11.00 AM Remington Steele
12.00 PM Mission Impossible
[break for lunch]
3.00 PM Spiderman
and so on!

There was a wonderful Icecream place on Robson (not sure if its there now) called "Cows". The icecream is just heavenly there. I was still on a rigorous diet while my brother enjoyed icecreams and annoyed me. I had just graduated to eating rice with saltless dal.


"Ummm...what is this?"

"Dear, this is your class schedule. Okay?", my high school counselor, Mrs. Gioia, said.

I was staring at a piece of paper that looked something like this with a legend underneath:

Monday A B Lunch C D
Tuesday E F Lunch G H
Wednesday B A Lunch D C
Thursday F E Lunch H G
Friday A B Lunch C D

"These are your blocks for today", she continued.

I was mystified. For me, blocks were something that two-year-olds played with. What in the world were blocks? And what was with the confusing schedule? It seems so simple now but back then, it was a huge effort for me to figure it out!

I staggered out the door heading for Block F in Room 203, North building. I had no idea where North Building was.

"Uh..excuse me. Where's the North building?" I asked a huge, straggly giant with a spiky hairdo.

He gave me a weird look that had "Dude, where are you from?" written all over it and wordlessly pointed at a door.

I was already late for class. I ran around looking for Room 203. I didn't know 203 would be in the second floor..:) I had to figure it out by trial and error! When I finally did find it, huffing and puffing, it was locked. There was none there. I was near tears. I ran back to my counselor. She made a couple of phone calls and directed me to go to the library. Class had adjourned there for some project.

I went to the library (this was another big Crusade for me to find the library) to find a bunch of students in different states of poring over some textbooks. I looked around wondering what to do all the while, quite aware that 20-something people were staring at me furtively. An old guy with spectacles walked by and said,

"Can I help you?"
" for Social Studies. I am new.."

He stared at me over his glasses and directed me to a table where three other kids were already seated. A girl looked up and said a bright hello. I was a bit relieved. I smiled slightly.

"Your assignment - a report on Pierre Trudeau. Class has already been working on it the past two weeks. Due on Friday. Must be typed and two pages long." He barked.

Who in the world was Pierre Trudeau? Report - what sort of a report? Typed? I don't have a computer as yet. Where do I type it? Great, Friday is tomorrow and I have no clue what all this is!


"Okay, kids, today we are going to watch a comedy piece. You've been given a questionnaire. I expect you to turn it in end of class. All questions are from this piece we are going to watch. Ok?"

Mr. Bain was my Career and Personal Planning teacher.

What is CAPP? They have classes for this?!!! What in the world....

I was mystified. I was sitting at a table with 6 other Chinese kids. They were all chattering away in Cantonese ignoring me completely.

Jeez, did I come to Canada or China? Why are they not talking to me?

I tried a feeble "hi" to the girl next to me but she turned her face away. Great, I thought. Just what I need.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bain rolled a TV into the class and turned off lights.

Is this even a class? We are going to watch TV inside a classroom?? Ok, let's see..

A tall, lanky guy with weird hair zooms into an apartment. He says something to a short, fat, bald guy called George.

What in the world? I can't understand the accent at all! Why is everyone laughing?! Just because the guy walked in the door??!

Tall, lanky guy opens refrigerator and takes a drink. Jerry looks at him.

Everyone's laughing again?? Why am I so dumb? I can't figure out anything! Oh my god, I can't relate to anything/anyone here! How am I going to survive?

At the end of the class, I hadn't really latched onto one single dialogue. I didn't find anything funny and I was staring desperately at the questionnaire in my hand wondering how to complete it. It was for 10 points which made it even worse.

That, ladies and gentlemen, was my first introduction to Seinfeld! :) Oh and I'd have to be the first kid in Burnaby North to have scored a pathetic 3/10 on a quiz about a Seinfeld episode..:))

And thus began life at Burnaby North Higher Secondary School!

All these memories are like wine - the older, the better! One of my best friends, Monica, once gave me "That Boy is Mine" by Monica and Brandi as a birthday gift. In "Angel of Mine" from that album, there's a line that goes, "Now I know why they say that the best things in life are free..". I think its true. Would I be what I am today without all those experiences? Would my life have been the same if I hadn't met some wonderful people in Vancouver?

The diary will flip its next page soon...

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Vancouver Diaries - III

It is one of the facts of Indian life that you get sudden “importance" and "value" if you are going "abroad". This is true especially with family. People who never used to listen to you even if you were making a very valid point start paying attention. Suddenly, you have relatives fawning over you and showing off.

"Oh yeah, she is my niece! You know, she's going to Canada."
"You know, Vasan is going to Canada!"
"Appadiya? (Is that so?). Viji is also going?"
"Lucky Viji!"
"Maybe we should call them."

You go to dinner at a relative's place and you find that you are being given extra servings, extra attention. They even go to the trouble of finding out your favourite dishes! :)

"Innum konjam saappidu. " [Eat some more].
"I made your favourite rasam today just for you."

I even have a jealous relative who fell at elders' feet asking them to bless her saying, "May you go abroad!". Not everyone is like that, of course! But the ones that are the most supercilious are the ones that are blog-worthy..:)

Though most of them are amusing, they can give you some small moments of anxiety also.

"Vasan, are you taking Subha with you?"
"Perhaps you shouldn't. She is just 15 and you know, that's a very impressionable age. The culture there is so different. We will be happy to take care of her for you."
I remember staring at my dad terror-struck, wondering if he was going to leave me back.
"No", my dad responded calmly, "She's coming with me, no matter what."
Whew.I was relieved.
My first love...

We went shopping to get winter jackets. I saw a beautiful light pink, suede leather jacket on display. It was light but warm.
Me: "I want that one."
Mom: "It is very light colored. Are you sure?"
Me: "YES." (Typical teenage behavior)
Mom: "Uhh..ok. But I don't think you will have it for long."
I still have it but my mom was right. It was tough maintenance and two years down the line, a drycleaner who didn't know much about cleaning suede ruined it..:(
Woe is Me!

I had been down with jaundice for a month or so. One day, as I returned from my usual boring class at Computer Point, I was racked with severe stomach pain. My mom had gone out somewhere. She found me doubled up in one corner of the bedroom. We found it was jaundice. I lay in bed for the next week or so completely drained, tired and racked with pain from time to time. I drank the bitter "keezhanalli" juice religiously every morning. It was more like forced down my throat..:) I was on a strict liquid diet - only orange juice and water. No salt. No spice. No sugar. No curd. No rice. Basically, zilch!
I got bored and annoyed with the food I was getting. But my tantrums didn't get me anywhere. So I was resigned.

The Flight

We were flying Malaysian Airlines to Vancouver via Kuala Lampur and Tokyo. My brother and I were majorly excited about our first flight. I don't remember the immigration formalities because dad took care of everything (How I wish it was like that now! sigh). I was wearing an ice-blue jeans and a yellow T-shirt. We had a mini-fight over who got the window seat. I wanted to sit next to my dad and have the window seat. But in the end, my mom and I sat next to each other.

I didn't like the whole flight. First off, Malaysian Airlines looked like an oversized bus. There was a flight delay at Kuala Lampur and lots of stranded passengers were sleeping on the floors in the lounges. To me, it looked like a more refined version of Chennai Central. To top it all off, my dad didn't let me eat anything except orange juice. I thought that I could by-pass my dad and tell the airhostess to get me something. My brother was busy gorging on all sorts of dishes and taunting me. The chocolate mousse especially was tempting me very much. I tried whining to dad a bit but it didn't work. I tried the airhostess route when I thought my dad was asleep. But he woke up at just the right time, shot me a dirty look and said firmly,
"She is just recovering from jaundice. Don't get her anything."
I couldn't sleep because my tummy kept rumbling. So, all in all, it was lousy. I was beginning to think it wasn't a good idea to leave all my friends behind and go to this Vancouver place. We had a rough landing at Tokyo Narita and my brother had airsickness. I was devilishly pleased..:)

Vancouver, at last!

After sitting through 10 hours of the unending Pacific, I was ready to jump off the flight. I was sore, tired and sick. As the pilot circled for landing, I tried leaning out the window. I saw nothing but grey, cumulonimbus clouds muffling the terra firma underneath. I was hoping for a glorious landing where I could see the beautiful skyline and tall skyscrapers. Then I'd walk out the airport into gleaming sunshine and pleasant weather. Instead, what greeted me was grey skies, rain and an unfamiliar city....

[The Diary will continue to write itself...]

Monday, April 17, 2006

There's something to be said for co-evolution. As users and hackers get more sophisticated/knowledgeable, so do service providers and companies. Its like 'Alice in Wonderland'. You have to keep running to stay in the same place! I have too many passwords to remember. I keep hitting the "Reset Password" link in most websites. If the website had a voice, I am sure it'd shout at me. If in some evil moment, the company/website decides to get back at me for not remembering the password (well, this might seem like an exaggeration but then who knows?), how would they do it? Exactly the way one of them is doing to me: send me a snail mail letter each time I reset my password. I get 4-5 snail mail letters/ week because that's how many times I forget that darn password! Each of them reads:

Dear Customer,
We have reset your password as per your request..blah blah blah.

So if I don't want to deal with so much junk, I guess I'd have to remember my password. Simple.


I read Michael Crichton's 'Prey' over the weekend. It was okay. I was reminded of Jurassic Park the way he'd organized his story. Anyways, I think I am bored of the "machines taking over the world" theory these days.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

It seems so cliched to say "Time flies by!". And yet, I don't have any other phrase to describe my student days at the Univ of Kentucky (UK). Feels like now when I transferred from Louisiana to UK and arrived in Lexington on a cold, blustery day (Dec 13, 2003). I loved Lexington and UK from that moment on! I liked the pretty campus, the laidback atmosphere of Lexington, the rush to classes, endless assignments, night-outs at WT Young Library etc...
Tomorrow, I defend my Master's. It is a big moment and I am happy. But somehow, it feels sad to give a final closing line to the student chapter in my book of life. Somehow, having the "student" tag however nebulous your relation to school might be, gives a sense of belonging, of community. And its weird how I still see people who've graduated out of UK and moved onto jobs as students first (Case in point: R and K)! Maybe because that was our primary point of identification when entering the US of A!:)
Anyways, I guess I could still say that I am a student till first week of May when I have my graduation walk or maybe even till end of August, when I get my official degree! :)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

அன்பு வாழ்கென் றமைதியில் ஆடுவோம்,
ஆசைக் காதலைக் கைகொட்டி வாழ்த்துவோம்;
துன்பம் தீர்வது பெண்மை யினாலடா!
சூரப் பிள்ளைகள் தாயென்று போற்றுவோம்!

[Let us dance in serenity in praise of Love,
And applaud in praise of loving Eros;
Woman annihilates man's woes!
Let us acclaim her the mother of heroic children.]

-Mahakavi Bharathi in praise of women

I felt a stabbing pain when I read
this article about parents giving away female children
to Cradle Baby centres. As a girl, it affects me that baby girls are given away primarily because of the economic burden that has come to be associated with them; it annoys me that an event like marriage that happens 24-25 years after a baby is born determines its fate in childhood; it annoys me that people are so resigned to the eventuality of dowry even a quarter century from now; Above all, it absolutely pains me to see healthy parents consigning a newborn to a life of loneliness, misery and the pyschological feeling of not being wanted! If parents can do this to a child, what sort of faith would anyone have in love??!
Ironic how it goes against all the virtues of love, affection, motherhood that Bharathiyar celebrates in his poem in praise of womanhood! :(

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Ctrl + Alt + Del Life

These are the keys that save the life of a computer user everyday. Computer doesn't respond? Hit Ctrl + Alt + Del. Long running process tying up the UI? Hit Ctrl + Alt + Del. Computer not booting up properly? Hit Ctrl + Alt + Del. Want to switch between processes? Hit Ctrl + Alt + Del.

No, I am not a sales person for Ctrl + Alt + Del but it surprises me how much my life has become like that!:) Since we started multi-tasking, the highest priority interrupt has taken on real meaning!

Work on code. Read documents.

Ctrl + Alt + Del.

Check e-mail. Respond to friends and jolly talks floating around.

Ctrl + Alt + Del.

Manager requested a status update. Do that ASAP.

Ctrl + Alt +Del.

What am I going to cook for this evening?

Ctrl + Alt + Del.

Darn, I forgot to pay my bill! Do it NOW!

Ctrl + Alt + Del.

Ooops, advisor asked for changes to the presentation! Send immediately!

Ctrl + Alt + Del.

Okay, I am going to stop now before you start stoning me. I was beginning to think I was the only one unable to handle information overload. I am glad to see that the lazy geek has the same problem as me..:)

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Vancouver Diaries - II

The Interregnum

The initial excitement of going to a "foreign country" wore off. We had 3 months before we left for Canada. We moved to Chennai from Madurai (we used to move every 3 years! So no big deal..:)). We were put up in Indira Nagar (near the water tank). My brother was thrust into Hindu High School for the 3 month period. As for me, I got admitted to Sankara School (I think). There was a lot of bureaucractic red-tape about joining Grade 11 for just 3 months. I forgot what the hullabaloo was about. My parents ended up figuring that I might as well just join Grade 11 in Vancouver directly instead of going through innumerable hassles here. So it was Computer Point , Adyar for me for the next 2 months or so.

I had just finished my Grade 10 and I had excellent results. I'd had ideas of preparing for IIT, BITS etc... Now all my careful plans were getting upset and I was not in a regular "school setting". TVS Lakshmi, Madurai informed me that I had a couple of prizes waiting for me for Class X performance. I was getting royal treatment and was offered whatever group I wanted to get into! I was ranked school third in total marks scored and I had another prize for "Outstanding performance" or some such thing. I couldn't go to Madurai to receive them because my dad was busy with visa/passport business and my mother was busy getting the household ready to leave. Because I wasn't there, the guy who was ranked four got promoted to school third and he was going to get my prize. That chafed me immensely. After all, what's the point of working hard and scoring if you don't get to enjoy the pampering and prizes after that?! Why bother studying at all? Here, in Chennai, I was nothing. None even knew me. It annoyed me even more that my parents didn't think it was an issue worthy of discussion at all! What's the big deal? It is just a prize, right? To say that I was frustrated was the least of it!

What with bored housewives and retired old men who wanted to wet their feet with technology being my classmates at Computer Point, I really wasn't too excited to go to classes. Besides, the instructor was pretty boring and I was learning Lotus 1-2-3. I wondered long and hard about the role of Lotus 1-2-3 and how I was ever going to use it in my life. I really wasn't enlightened. So I just resigned myself to the boring routine. I was becoming fidgety. I missed my friends back in Madurai. I'd studied at Asan Memorial, Egmore before moving to Madurai 3 years back. I'd lost touch with those friends too. What with no e-mail, IM or cheap long distance calling, losing touch was easy back then! So, there I was in Chennai with no company and nothing to keep me occupied full time.

Of course, there were exciting moments in between. Once, a pot-bellied policeman showed up at our door for passport verification. I was excited at seeing a real policeman at our doorstep. I peeped from behind my mom's saree at the policeman and his huge moustache. He asked a couple of questions and left. We went shopping for clothing, suitcases and other things. The logistics for a family of four to go abroad are just too complex! My father used to be very busy all the time. My mother used to be busy packing/disposing household items. My brother was enjoying his brief stint at his school. He used to be roguishly happy about not having to study for his quarterly exams while his classmates were slogging at it. His cockiness stemmed from the fact that we'd leave on September 13 and his exams were a couple of days after that! So he used to go around with an unholy, impish grin on his face whenever anyone mentioned "exams"! :)

On top of all this, to complete my cup of happiness, I ended up with jaundice in August....

[The diary will continue to write itself...]

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Vancouver Diaries

It is now nearly 10 years ago now that my dad walked in one evening and said,

"Guys, guess what? We are going to Vancouver!"

He was greeted by silence. Not that we (my mom, brother and I) had any sort of hatred toward Vancouver. We just didn't know what the hell IT was!

My brother looked at me and I at him. We both shrugged and said,

" where is this place, Dad?"
[I was hoping that it was indeed a place instead of some new restaurant in Madurai!]

"British Columbia, Canada."

There were excited shrieks of "Canada" and in the general medlee of noises, eager questions and shouts that followed, we scrambled to find the long-lost Atlas at home. It was hidden in one corner of a dusty shelf, abandoned and uncared for. :) We brought it back to the center table, dusted it off and eagerly turned the well-worn pages to the Canadian map.

"There it is!" My dad pointed. "Just above the US border, on the shores of the Pacific. Can you see it?"

We squinted and nodded our heads slowly.

"Canada. Is it going to be very cold?"
"So will they speak English or French?"
"Will it be a friendly place?"
"Are we going to school there? How long?"
"Yay! We are going to FLY there? How long is the journey?"
"So can we bunk school for the next 3 months?"
"Will it be safe for the kids to grow up there?"
"You mean, I have to leave my friends here???"

Questions poured in from all directions.

My brother, who was lost in contemplation suddenly said,
"British Columbia. Sounds familiar."
Now, when a 10-year-old makes a statement like that, a responsible 15-year-old like me was bound to respond with a smirk,
"Yeah right. I am sure you were born there!"
"No. I have seen this name somewhere recently."

And with that, he rushed excitedly to the annual SBI calendar for 1996 and turned to September. And sure enough, there was a statue of an athlete with a caption "Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC". The picture looked very pretty with blue skies, a very fine harbour , beautiful yachts anchored and lots of people walking around in the snow.

"So what do you think?", I asked my brother.

He shrugged. "I don't know. You?"

"I don't either."

That day, I remember, the entire family was huddled around chattering excitedly, gathering as much information as we could about Vancouver, British Columbia - our home to be for the next four years or so ....

[The Diary will continue to write itself...]

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Google now recognizes my mother tongue?

Now, how in the world did Google figure out that I can read Tamil and post a relevant ad in Tamil? Almost all my mails are in English. Of course, I type in 'Tanglish' but it would take some amount of deciphering by a computer to figure out that is Tamil transcribed in English. Interesting and scary..:)