Monday, January 27, 2014

This is the story of Snownibal

My exposure to the western world began with Enid Blyton novels. Every Enid Blyton novel set in the winter, had children building snowmen. Sometimes these snowmen even had clues to solving mysteries involving stolen goods and fireworks meant for Guy Fawkes Day. When the children in these novels were not eating scones or stealing pies from the larders for their secret adventures, they were accessorizing the snowmen that they built with hats and scarfs. 

Despite vanquishing the bunny hill at a ski resort, this winter, my tryst with snow didn't feel complete without building a snowman. There was a gaping void in the list of activities I had meant to do the moment I set foot in this country. Making a snowman was that gaping void, for the lack of willing accomplices.

This Saturday, just when I was about to sit down with my Econometrics book, one of my friends suggested that we should build a snowman given the polar vortex seemed to be doing its second round and all that snow was going waste. So intrepid we were, that we trudged through -13 degree celsius to campus just because the snow would be much more pristine on the campus.

Our initial plan was to make this ginormous snowman that would be visible from the entrance of the campus. We hadn’t quite contemplated on prior research before embarking on this endeavor. After all, it was a dumb snowman, and we were two doctoral students with one being a real life brain scientist. Ten minutes in the snow, our flawed methodology and the years of growing up six degrees above the equator started showing up. Our hands were too frozen to consult YouTube from our phones. After multiple strategy sessions and scuttling back into the safety of indoors every 20 minutes, we figured that we could approximate a snowman out of this the huge mound of snow that we had created. Our art started looking more and more like a three layered frosted cake.

After we made the final spherical mass that was the head, we decided he looked snowmanly enough. But the deed wasn’t quite done. The stump of carrot that I had so carefully carried had turned soggy. Our amateur effort in giving the snowman his well deserved nose job, which was along the lines of poking a series of holes wherever possible, caused his face face to disintegrate as if he had been a victim of an acid attack (Life is all about violent imagery, isn't it?) . But a snowman isn't a snowman without the carrot. We finally managed to cement the darned carrot in ( we called it "fixing the deviated septum") and substituted some twigs for eyes.

The fun part about any project is the naming stage. In fact, I believe that the only good part about having pets or even kids is that one gets to name them. I should say that I am terrific with names. I once thought of a series of names for twins that a colleague at work had, that started with Ping and Pong to downright arcane characters from Greek & Indian mythology. After a while, he started taking a different route every time he saw me as I was spewing out names at a rate higher than he could take in, without visibly grimacing. My stuffed elephant is called Ashwathama after his elephantine counterpart in Mahabharata and my pink flamingo, with her frilly wispy skirt, is called "Azhagiya Laila" after the legendary Marilyn Monroesque scene that Ramba pulled off in Ullathai Allitha. My bike in India was called Karuthamma (Black beauty?). My friend calls her stuffed lion, "Singaram, the lion" and therefore a team like ours had a self-inflicted responsibility to come up with a name befitting our art-work.

We came up with three. The snowman was called Santhanagopalan. He also goes by Sheshadri. Since Santhanagopalan implies that he will be spelling his name forever at Starbucks, we decided to call him Snownibal as a salute to the sleepless nights of reading Hannibal Lecter books, though the logical abbreviation would have been Santa. Snownibal was also chosen for Hannibal because of the whole Crossing of the Alps bit and we were sure there must have been lot of snow while doing so. 

Santhanagopalan Andrew Carnegie Sundaram Iyengar (as a hat-tip to all the schools we both attended/attend) would have been perfect but it was too cold to goof around more. In retrospect, it actually abbreviates to SACSI- Sexy indeed, the effect that we were going for.

I can now proudly say that I finally built a snowman. He is quirky and wears his hat at a jaunty angle.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

One of those days (aka Dear Diary post)

Today was one of those days when everything went according to the plan. It is amazing how rarely these days occur. I went to a lecture three minutes ahead of time;  hit the gym; did not binge eat; did the dishes down to the last spoon; walked into the frozen yogurt shop and then walked right outside without buying anything; drank only two cups of coffee - boy, I am so proud of myself.

I am so proud that I wanted to make a note about this once in a blue moon day. The problem with self-control is that, by default, mine is on a road to perdition. I calculate the probability of my going above and beyond to stick to a routine and then give up just by the thought.

Like everything that is not good for a person, doing things impromptu, feels good. Historically it has worked well too. I get so much work done when I capitalize on my prime productivity zones that probably occurs once a week at inconvenient, god-forsaken times, and then go about the rest of the week, in what Calvin would call, a complete forfeiture of experience. The problem with this approach to life is that it is extremely difficult to induce these happy zones, on demand, especially when there is homework to be done and reports to write.

Digressions apart, today was perfect- except the time I tried to study and fell asleep for a rather embarrassingly long period of time. Oh, so much for perfection.

I am just going to try holding on to this meek attempt to live a normal life and see how it goes.

Monday, January 06, 2014

They said I would hate winter

Summer is for outdoorsmen- The people who play cricket when it is 45 deg C outside; The ones who talk about Madurai weather with such fondness in their eyes while their shirts get soaked in sweat minutes after they come out of the air-conditioning that they have to scurry back in for their fourth shower of the day.

Back at home, the summers were typically 45 deg Celsius (110-115 deg F). We didn't have air conditioning until after I was in college. Not that it made any difference because we always had (and still have) six hours of power cuts everyday during summers. I remember lying hours together on the floor with my face pressed to the cool marble floor of my home and settling for buckets of lemonade or buttermilk instead of Rasna as it was "unhealthy". Arun ice-cream had a monopoly in Tamil Nadu and the sticks of orange or grape icies were rare treats. In the evenings, my parents and I would splash a lot of water on the clay floored terrace and sit down on "easy chairs" to read, while the gnarled teak leaves fell down and the coconut tree's leaves swayed very gently. By 8 or 9 PM after it turned unbearably humid and hot, I would go down, shower for what would be the third time that day and swathe myself in layers of Nycil (and Dermicool later on). I always prayed that the power shouldn't go off at 4 AM so that I won't wake up in a pool of sweat. Cotton, thin, soft, non-scratchy clothes were the order of the day. My parents and I would shudder at anyone who wore a full sleeve. I remember my mother writing a rather scathing letter to my principal saying how stupid it was to make us wear shoes and socks in Madurai's horrendous climate which was one of her few actually valid reasons to write a scathing letter to the principal.

A room without a fan was a nightmare and my undergrad classrooms didn't have fans while we all fanned ourselves with the thinnest of our engineering books. Imagine being in labs poring over faulty circuit-boards with the hair sticking to the back of your neck for three hours and coming back to the hostel to find that there is no water or power. My roommate and I would hang up towels soaked in water over the windows so that it would cool the room. The laptops would get so hot on the bed that I had to work from a desk. The horror.

God, I hate heat with a vehemence that comes from the twenty three summers of longing for a cooler tomorrow.

Thank goodness for the snow and this list.

  • The crunchy nice new snow every morning
  • Wading through the new snow just because it is so powdery and soft
  • Making the first footprints on fresh snow
  • Short days  warm bed, just being at home
  • My hands getting cold as I type
  • Going around my house reciting Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening with no one to stop me or roll their eyes at me
  • Struggling to say "Wet cappuccino" at the coffee shop with the frozen lips and tongue and getting "Venti  cappuccino" instead

Ha, and they told me I would hate winter.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Year end post

I don't really remember too much of 2013 as it whooshed past by. While 2012 was all about indulgence, 2013 was all about backbreaking work. I realized this as I was scrubbing out six months of cooking from my stovetop. The first five months were all about my letting the goblins in my head take over and crank up the crazy just a wee bit more to wreak havoc. But I have talked more than enough to anyone who would listen (or really, be in the same room as I am) about this, and so I am going to selectively remember the few good stuff. My official admit came on my 24th birthday. My shoes and coats came to Pittsburgh three days after my admit and then I managed to bring 4x23 KGs of luggage here. I am taking a moment to savor the shopping that happened between March and July. Really, that's all the good stuff in the first part of the year.

2013 was the year I realized how hard it is to fend for one self. I have never realized how terrible and how hard it is to keep up a house. All along, I have waltzed past the concept of living alone armed with maids at my beck and call, who cleaned my house, did my laundry, folded my clothes and took care of me for a paltry salary equal to ten days worth of coffee at Starbucks. I fondly remember the days I used to groan just at the thought of getting up from my bed and letting the maids in to my apartment. 

My background in housekeeping is almost non-existent. In twenty-four years, I have never once taken out the trash. It was something grown ups did and when I had to, it felt so repugnant. At the first attempt, I held on to one corner of the trash bag testily, squealed all the way to the trash room and back. This was just the tip of the household iceberg.

Dishes piled themselves in the sink. I painfully realized that things turn greener and gruesome after a few days of lingering around in moisture and goo. Then came the mystery of missing spoons. I had gotten about three dozen on my first gleeful trip to Walmart and somehow there was never one around when I most needed a spoon. I didn't know that spoons have the propensity to wiggle their way into the bottom of the sink, and create a pyramid of quivering dishes resting on a base made of spoons. Of course, I never make it to the bottom whenever I valiantly set out to do the dishes.  The worst moment of this year was the first time I did reach to the bottom of the pile and realized the ghastliness that my First In Last Out approach was. Decay, squalor and all things slimy and shady characterized my first attempt at truly living alone in 2013.

My peerless house keeping skills resulted in a neatly traced out path from the door to my bed. I have been called as a threat to myself as if it is news, after people almost broke their necks stumbling on innocuous heaps of clothes, which camouflaged deadly heels. I tell them that they just need practice. I bought a sofa as a treat for doing great in an exam. When I wanted to flaunt the wonder that my sofa is to a friend, he looked blankly at the general direction I was waving at. It took him a whole minute to comprehend the presence of a sofa from under the pile of clothes. Personalized robots that can fold clothes and organize boots cannot get here sooner. 

2013 was a year of feeling erudite befitting my latest stint in the academia. Sometimes, I step back from the whiteboards filled with squiggly integrals feeling quite proud of myself. I am exceeding my own expectations just by nudging myself out of my comfort zones. For once, R seems to be easier to handle than Excel, which indicates great personal improvement and less blaspheming (years may pass but spinning beach ball of death in Mac's Excel will never cease).

This year, I have learned the importance of being earnest and of sanity, a pat on the back, a kind word, a genuine grin, a good night's sleep and oh-so-lovely work. I don't think I get to complain about anything. After all, who best Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. If by mild yoke, a roof caving in, so be it. I shall take the hazing and the assorted cosmic character building endeavors like the manned up, Zen Guru that I am.

Last but not the least, this bit about "a little help from my friends". What would you do if I sing out of tune, would you stand up and walk out on me? Apparently, yes.

Here is to 2014 and as Calvin says, the world owes me happiness, fulfillment and success. I am just here to cash in.