Friday, August 05, 2005

The Whole Nine Yards

A bundle of joy (at some point to my parents) turned into one of contradictions. That’s me. At least, that’s how I feel as I start this blog. I’ve been busy for the last couple of weeks since Special K’s mom is visiting. Within a couple of days of her being here, she’s provided me with enough fodder to last a few blogs. She was describing her niece’s wedding that had taken place earlier in the month. Part of her wedding proceedings consists of a Mehendi ceremony to be followed by Sangeeth. Nothing out of the ordinary if it is a Punjabi wedding. But Special K belongs to the Tamil community. I’ve also noticed that Mehendi and Sangeeth rituals are becoming quite commonplace in South Indian weddings taking place in the Bay Area today. So, what’s going on?

Are our social rituals and customs undergoing a change without us being fully aware of it? Over the years, as we morphed as a society, we have adapted our culture and customs to suit the changing winds of time. For example, while both my grandmothers wore madisar (a nine-yard sari draped in a very complex manner) every day of their married life, my mother only word it for special occasions like weddings, pujas etc. I’ve worn madisar twice in my life, once at my wedding and the other at my brother’s wedding. I’m sure the art of tying madisar is going to fade away in the next couple of generations only to remain a distant memory for some of us. So, is this the fate that awaits some of our other customs and rituals?

I’m hardly a card-carrying, flag-waving member of the Tamil community. I was brought up by fairly liberal parents in the 1980s and while I’m proud of my heritage and background, there is scarce evidence of it in my life at first glance. I speak Tamil & English equally well, although I feel more comfortable writing in English. I love Gulzar’s lyrics just as much as I love Kannadasan’s or Vairamuthu’s. Music bands like Cream, Led Zeppelin Deep Purple and The Who rock my world. I enjoy Hollywood movies as much as Bollywood or Kollywood movies. So, as someone who eschews rigid social mores and as someone who claims to be non-parochial, I should welcome this new blend of rituals. Right?

But I can’t seem to. As with most other things, I feel that South Indians are selling out (hyperbole intended). While a majority of the North Indian kids born and brought up here in the Bay Area speak Hindi, I rarely meet a south Indian ABCD who speaks his/her native language. Granted my sample may not be statistically significant, but it is random enough to be representative of the general population. The same goes for festivals as well. Holi and Raksha Bandhan are popular even among South Indians who live here. However, Kanu Pongal (which includes a brother/sister element ala Rakhi) does not raise the same level of fervor. Maybe our traditions are not considered hip or cool enough to warrant much fanfare. What bugs me most is that this is not just happening here in the Bay Area or in the US, but this seems to be a trend even in India. Maybe some of the smaller cities and towns are slower to jump on this bandwagon but it is quite evident in the major cities in South India.

I’m extremely thankful that I live in this big melting pot called the Bay Area since it enables me to blend in. While a melting pot enables assimilation of people to form a homogenous society, it also makes people shed their native identity (be it cultural or linguistic). But as a country made up of immigrants, the United States may need to create a sense of nationalistic pride to promote a stable, homogenous and harmonious society.

India, on the other hand, is a cultural mosaic and has been for several thousand years. It is this aspect that makes us special and the reason why I love this colorful heritage-rich country of mine. I love it for its multicultural elements…. the diverse population, each with its own unique brand of customs, languages, rituals and cuisines. I cannot think of a single other country in this world that can boast this level of diversity while remaining harmonious for the most part. This is not to say we do not have problems typical of a multi-cultural society. But with this multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic and multi-religious group of people, we have managed to forge ahead with a secular, liberal democratic country.

Maybe this is why I cannot accept the North aping the West and the South aping the North and (applying the transitive property) India becoming one big clone of the West. This does not mean that we should ignore positive values of the West like work ethic, customer service etc. But hopefully we can avoid a few pitfalls suffered by the West by selectively adopting rather than blindly following the West.

So, to conclude, I guess this blog was not about the nine yards of Madisar fading away as much as it was about the whole nine yards trailing in its wake.

Monday, August 01, 2005

It’s been a hard month’s blog

Hats off to the dedicated bloggers. I’m not sure where they find the time but having tried my hand at it, I can tell you that it is really difficult for me to blog everyday. I keep my standards low…. my aim is to do a couple of blogs every week. But even that was hard in July.

Special K’s mom is visiting and so the last couple of weeks have been busy in trying to help her get settled in. She’s been a frequent visitor to the Bay Area and is constantly amazed at the changes she sees every time she visits. The latest thing she’s thrilled about…Indian Magazines being delivered to our doorstep (er..mailbox). My brother had subscribed to a few Tamil weeklies when my parents visited last year. We were quite impressed with the prompt delivery and the excellent customer service provided by Indian Magazines Online. So, I signed on to receive Kumudam, Kungumam and Ananda Vikadan for the next 3 months Add to this the availability of over 800 Tamil novels in the Santa Clara County Library system, Special K’s mom is in seventh heaven. Things sure have come a long way since her maiden trip in 1982 when she had to lug along or create her own form of Indian entertainment, if she so desired.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Bring it on

The vagaries of the English language, its use, abuse and misuse by the people around the world has been rich fodder for many a scribe. The power of a language resides in its inherent ability to verbalize one’s thoughts and communicate it to others. As with any medium of communication, there is an assumption that if the sender and receiver(s) speak the same language, there is seamless transition of thought from one to the other. But what if a single word means different things to different people? Never is this point driven home more, than when you travel to the US and listen to the denizens of this adopted country of mine speak the English language. Having been trained in the “British” version of the language, it takes a while to get used to the accent not to mention the spellings, meanings and pronunciations.

One has to quickly wise up to the fact that there is no such thing as a “petrol bunk”…it is a “gas station”. Or else it will be a long time before you find fuel for your car. And expect a funny look when you walk to the bookstore in the University campus and ask for a “rubber”…you need an “eraser”. If you are looking for a ground floor flat, you’re in for a long wait. There is no such thing as a ground floor…. Americans believe that the floors of a building should start from one rather than zero. And oh, by the way, you better not be looking for a “flat” to live in…. you need to look for an “apartment”. Flats are something that’ll happen to your tire (not tyre) ever so often. And please don’t call that a puncture. They’ll never know what you mean. At a restaurant, you do not ask for a bill…. you ask for the check (for which you owe them $ bills). If you ask for a dustbin (and not a trash can) they may think you are asking for a long-forgotten bin that’s been collecting dust! And if you go to a "strip mall" expecting adult entertainment, you’re in for a big disappointment.

Simplicity is the name of the game here. It is not a speed breaker that tries to slow you down; it is a bump (after all, it is a bump on the road!). They call the sport they play football because the ball is a foot long. As for spellings, Americans prefer to spell words the way they pronounce it. Or to put it another way, they change the spelling to suit the pronunciation. How else can one justify words like aluminum, jewelry, sulfur, airplane, check …and the list goes on endlessly. Over a period of time, you get used to these idiosyncrasies and slowly but surely you get sucked into this vortex as well. But before you get there, you’ll gather a few amusing anecdotes on the way over. Here’s one of mine:

I was working as a product manager at that time and we were in the midst of a beta test evaluation. One of the beta units had failed at a customer site and we were scurrying to find a replacement unit. We decided to fly a project engineer out to ensure that the customer would be up and running without further delays. At a meeting to discuss project status, I mentioned that the replacement unit wouldn’t be ready for shipment until the day of the engineer’s departure to the client site. Here’s how the conversation went:

Me: Mark, the manufacturing group will not be ready to ship until tomorrow. So, it looks like you’d have to hand-carry this new unit.

Mark: No problem. I will bring the new unit with me.

Me: What’d you mean? I don’t want you to bring the new unit. I need you to bring the old unit for failure analysis.

Mark: But you just told me that I’d also have to bring the unit with me tomorrow.

Me: Tomorrow? But you’re not back for two days. How can you bring the unit tomorrow? Have you changed your travel plans?

Mark (rolling his eyes): No. I bring the new unit with me to the customer site tomorrow and I’m back with the failed unit in two days. Why is this confusing?

That’s when the penny dropped!! He meant “take” when he said “bring”. I’ve since gotten accustomed to this peculiar usage of the word “bring”. But for a while there, it was confusing as hell alright.

You see, Americans are different than the Brits in a lot of ways…. and for the grammatical purists out there, it is different than in this country not different from!!!

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Desi stand-up anyone ?

I’m sure some of you have heard of Russell Peters. For those who haven’t, Russell is an Indian Canadian stand-up comic who is rib-tickling funny. He can be a tad bit risqué at times. I came across one of his routines on this site and thought I’d spread the laughs around. You can download it at Russell Peters Video. Make sure you can spare 45 minutes or so to watch the show in one sitting.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Road to Percolation

For as far back as I can remember coffee has been an integral part of my life. My childhood memories are filled with images of my mother’s daily routine of making coffee in the morning. Amma would wake up at 5 a.m. (except for Sundays when she slept in until 5:30 a.m.!) and put some water to boil on the stove after brushing her teeth. While the water was boiling, she would light a lamp in the puja room and then go back to the kitchen to commence her daily routine. She would then proceed to boil the milk required for coffee. The boiling water would be poured into a stainless steel filter (akin to a French Press coffee pot) containing ground coffee powder. The final step was to mix the decoction (which is the concoction you get from the filter) with milk and sugar to come up with the perfect morning beverage.

Coffee is serious business where I come from. The quest for the perfect coffee powder is one that every household has participated in at one time or the other. Restaurants, Households and even Weddings are rated based on the coffee served. And you know you have a thumbs up when the guest asks you for the source of your coffee powder after tasting your coffee. We always had our coffee powder delivered to us at home. If a particular batch was not up to snuff, all it took was a phone call to have a fresh batch delivered. Those were the days before Starbucks, Peet’s and Qwiky’s invaded the world, way before it was fashionable to have coffeehouse discussions on which chain makes the best coffee.

I think I was about 12 when my mom finally allowed me to add a drop of decoction to my glass of morning milk. After that, there was no turning back. Except for a couple of years when I was at Business school in North India (Ever tasted their coffee …ewww…no wonder they stick to tea), I’ve quaffed thousands of cups of coffee. When I moved to the US, I had to make do with Taster’s Choice instant coffee with micro waved milk. I did, however, get exposed to more coffee varietals and different ways in which people around the world drank their coffee. Espresso, Cappuccino, Latte, Mocha, Black, Turkish coffee, you name it, I love it.

During their first trip to the US, my parents were forced to accept the instant variety for their morning coffee. Since we were all addicted to having coffee first thing in the morning, there was no question of driving to the closest coffee shop for a latte, which they much preferred. The second time around, they came prepared. Armed with a filter and 5 kgs. of Indian coffee powder, Amma proceeded to setup a coffee shop in our kitchen. I quickly got used to the smell of freshly brewed coffee wafting through the air and rousing me out of my early morning slumber. When they left for India, they left behind the filter and now it was my turn to keep up the tradition. Once I ran out of the Indian coffee powder, I tried unsuccessfully to find a store bought variety that would take its place. So, until the next trip that replenishes my inventory, I’m stuck with using the instant variety. I have, however, managed to find an Indian Instant that tastes a lot better and I still swear that boiling the milk instead of micro waving it makes a world of difference to the taste.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

If you blog it, he (they) will come !!!

A new entrant’s trails and travails in the World of Blogging.

What is it about these blogs that seem to bring the writer out in everyone…millions are publishing their thoughts on random topics and millions more are interested in reading them. Maybe it is the budding writer with a long suppressed need to express simple thoughts without having to worry about editors, deadlines or circulation. Or maybe it is the cloak of anonymity that encourages us to boldly go where we haven’t been before. Or maybe it is the fifteen minutes of fame that beckons? More than likely, it is a way of social networking in this rapidly advancing technological age of ours.

Whatever the reason, I’ve decided to jump onto this bandwagon. My reasons, on the surface of it, are very simple. I decided to take a break from my career about a year ago and since then I’ve been looking for things to do to fill the void left behind. Never realized how much my work defined my life and me.

I’ve taken swimming lessons, remodeled pretty much most of our house, raided the local library to catch up on my reading, caught up on watching most tamil movies released in the last few years, become firmly addicted to the SJMN crossword puzzles (much easier than the Hindu Crossword) and now it’s time for me to find a new hobby. Learning Spanish and Italian are on my list of things to do but they seem to require me to be somewhere at a specified time. Logging on to my computer whenever I so desired seemed easier and so here I am.

Although I’ve lived in Silicon Valley for the last 12 years, neither Special K nor I are software engineers. Which doesn’t exactly meet the Indian stereotype that most people here have come to expect. Maybe our kids will take up that tradition, which seems to have skipped one generation. Just kidding !!

Anyways, I’ve muddled through the required setups over the last two days and am trying to figure out html programming to improve the layout of my blogs. I curse my teachers who taught me useless programs like Basic and COBOL when I was in college since none of those come in handy. I inadvertently change colors and fonts of sections I don’t intend to change. But, I must say, I’m having fun. In keeping with my all or nothing personality, I’m slowly getting addicted here.

When I put up my first blog, I wasn’t sure if anyone would read it. It’s a maze out there and exactly who/how/why anyone would pick up my blog to read was beyond me. It almost seemed like a flashback to the first day of school when you are thrown amidst a sea of new faces and you hope to find a few that shared the same interests as you. Thanks Balaji, to be the first one to read my blog and commenting. Hopefully, as I blog it, they will come.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

My Turn

It's about me, my opinions with a liberal dash of Special K's thoughts as well. BTW, Special K is my life partner and soul mate...the Yang to my Yin, the Sruthi to my Layam, the voice of reason in my emotional world and the love of my life (that's me ...all or nothing. I don't do anything in half measures...If I have to be mushy, I go all the way !).

This blog contains random thoughts and opinions (I have a lot of those) on just about everything that interests me and a few topics that don't (just for the sheer hell of it). I'm a displaced (or should I say misplaced) Indian in the US. In my 12 years of living in the US, I've grown to love a lot of things about this country, but I still miss home. And home to me is Madras, India (or should I say Chennai, India...I'm still getting used to that one). Growing up in a joint family in the 80s, I'm a new age product of the old world.

So, as I add to my blogs, I hope to paint a more complete picture of me, my background, my loves and my pet peeves.
In the meantime, this is as good a start as any to my first blog.

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