What would RTH do?

That is the question.

If I were in a highschool yearbook, they would vote me most likely to die of a lynch mob. That does not prevent me from opening my mouth and serving a warm hearty cup of STFU to people who deserve it. My dark scathing humor will leave no matter of existence untouched. My innocence will touch your soul.

Welcome to a warped world turned inside out and upside down. All sorts of discretion advised.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

God in Every Bite

This post is a follow up to my previous post on Ramadan and fasting.

 It is restaurant week. That means that for a whole week you can go to select upscale restaurants in town and enjoy a fancy three course meal for just $25.00. On Tuesday I had a French bean salad with blue cheese and toasted pecans, followed by a Madras curry garbanzo patty with three dipping sauces followed by a rich and decadent black forest cake laden with gooey goodness of cherry compote. Tomorrow, we go to another fine restaurant and I'm torn on what to choose for my appetizer, entree and desert. You can probably see clearly why fasting is such a far cry for me at this time and why I find it ridiculous.

There you have it, I'm a foodie. I love food. But that is not all that is there to it. It is not just food. There is more to it, a whole lot more to it. Food is not just food. Food is beautiful. Food is love. Food is God. My uncle once joked that our family deity is the potato. Indeed every member in my family has a certain fondness for potato. Each has their favorite preparation. I like fries and a crispy Indian spiced stir fry we make. My sister likes the fasting preparation spiced with turmeric. My dad likes almost everything with potato that is cardiac arrest on a platter. My grandfather loved potato vadas, a battered and fried preparation that you eat between buns like a burger. But he didn't care for the bun, he loved them hot and piping just like that. He also loved them in an oddly flattened shape.

See food is not just food. Food is family. Food is memories. Food is the cherished thread connecting life. It is how I connect to my grandfather who is no longer with us. I recollect his fondness for potatoes. He also had an affinity for coffee. The most vivid and brightest memory of him is him sitting at his desk every morning tinkering with something and asking grandma to bring him his cup of coffee. Fish was another of his favorite food and I think perhaps he might have enjoyed Friday night Fish fries.

Food encompasses the life, the universe and everything in between. It is food that connects me to the life I have lived bringing every memory, every person alive. Food is grandparents stocking the refrigerator with my favorite soda Gold Spot every time I visited and providing plenty of sugar rush. Food is my neighbor driving around town and treating me at Foo Yong my favorite Chinese restaurant. Food is what my mom serves us that is uncannily delicious and amazing each and every time. Food is tea and glucose biscuits we had at five AM before morning hockey practice when we were away from tour. Food is all the junk food that you can eat on the streets of India. Food is the massive spread of delicacies at family get gatherings when we get together to celebrate Diwali, Thanksgiving or just get together for the sake of it. Food is summer vacation with the family eating chilli pork at Gaylin or masala dosas as big as your head in Puttur or the gadbad icecream at Udipi's Diana or just a gang of noisy cousins sitting at the table making an ordinary meal extraordinary. Food is having a vegetarian Muslim friend and the silly friend who calls fried rice, fried ice. Food is my sister and me experimenting in the kitchen pretending we are great chefs.

Perhaps I am the only person who feels this way in the whole world, but eating a bite of food is not just eating a bite of food. To me there is God in every bit. Every bite is a life experience that connects me to the universe. Every bite of food means something richer and deeper. It is a memory being created or a life lesson being learned.

I remember my very first piece of filet mignon. It was in Brazil at a real Brazilian churrasco. I was hungry and waiting for a piece of chicken or sausage. Finally I caved and decided to eat a piece of steak. My tongue still salivates a bit at the memory of that piece of meat touching my tongue. I can literally feel the buttery piece just melting in my mouth in an explosion of flavor I had never experienced before. It was truly divine. But there is so much more to that bite than just the flavor and the party in my mouth. It encompasses my life voyage of a teenager who crossed the seven seas never eating a piece of beef in a life and my adventures in slowly opening myself to new experiences till finally at the age of thirty I ate the first piece of steak I really loved. I was surrounded by friends who were in awe of me having never eaten filet mignon before. Tied to that moment are all my experiences in Brazil. That is how the memory thread of life works. That is why giving up food never makes sense. I feel gratitude, humility, love and a great many beautiful things with simple experiences such as this that no temple, shrine, ritual or fast can offer. These are the memories that make me feel so blessed, honored and happy for everything that I have that every other religious prescription that I have pales in comparison.

But it would be unfair to encompass everything in life to food only. Our taste buds are only one of the senses we are gifted with. We have been blessed with sight, scent, hearing and touch and placed in a world with a plethora of sensory experiences. Food is just my sensory gateway to the world. Life and every moment of it is just one large delicious delicacy to be tasted, appreciated and devoured by our senses. I don't know where denial, temperance and all sorts of restraint came from and what sort of convulted pig headed logic was behind it. There is in fact something truly ethereal and pure in the sensual pleasures of life.

Our senses and reveling in their delights just get a bad reputation. Binding the pleasure of the senses to sin could only be the work of a perverted mind, because in reality experiencing the pleasure of the senses is the most innocent and honest thing in life.

Think of the rainfall. There is nothing like the beautiful rich scent of the earth as it soaks in all the rain. Music is made in the pitter patter of the droplets on the rooftops. Even the rumbling of dark clouds and the booming clap add to the orchestra. The world through a curtain of rainfall is quite a sight to see. Everything just seems so stunningly beautiful. Ordinary trees become majestic creatures, dusty window panes become works of art and the whole world is alive like it never was before. Walking in the rain is one of the must have experiences in life. Umbrellas, raincoats are unnecessary inconveniences. Rainwater just washes away all worries and leaves you feeling fresh and rejuvenated. The drip of raindrops on your head, the slow trickle of rain snaking down your skin, the matted hair sticking to your forehead, the wet shirt hugging your body, the slushy puddle forming in your shoe. Every experience of rain on skin is a delightful sensation. And then you open your mouth and catch raindrops with your tongue, the taste of sweet, fresh pure water. It does not matter if the experience of rain is the laughter of kids splashing in the rain or an erotic sensation of the rain both arousing and quenching desires - there is still innocence and beauty to it. It is an experience that makes you realize how wonderful the world is and what a delightful gift life is. It makes me feel one with the universe.

I've never felt a God consciousness, a divine spark, or whatever magical thing religious people feel through any traditional ritual activity. However, the sensual experience of life just leaves me in awe. It makes me feel connected with the universe every moment. Every moment I am grateful and happy to be alive, to be experiencing what I am. Every moment I am in touch with my faith, the force that runs through the universe. I feel it when I walk in the rain. I feel it when I walk on fresh cut grass. I feel it when I breath in the fresh scent of spring. I feel it when I my cat sleeps in the small of my back. I feel it when puppy dogs give you slobbery wet kisses. I feel it when I hug the people I love. I feel it when I curl into bed bone tired from the day. And it is not just in the pleasures, I feel it in the pain as well. I feel it in the bitter cold when my fingertips and toes hurt like bitch. It makes me marvel about human adaptability and coping with pain. I feel it when my mangle my knee and deny the doctor's pain killers. It makes me feel the force surging in me boosting my pain treshold.

Strangely, the one thing that really comes close to explaining the way I experience life is Eric Liddell. His final run in Chariots of Fire just spoke to me. I'm a heathen and Eric was a devout Christian, but I could relate to and understand his final run. He says "I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure." It truly explains how I find God in every bite of life. I believe that every life was made for a purpose. We were given our senses and intellect to experience and explore the world. And when I savor every bite of life, I feel God's pleasure (the force).  

I truly believe the meaning of life is being true to ourselves. Being ourselves and living our lives on our terms, how we truly believe we are meant to live. My purpose is the inquisitive explorer, the hedonistic philosopher who approaches every moment with intriguing curiosity and soaks in pleasure from every sensory experience. That is how I fulfill my purpose and experience God's pleasure (the force) in every bite of life. That is what makes a heathen like me be fulfilled. For Eric Liddell it was running, I think Sheldon Cooper finds it in his lab and Xena found it kicking warlord butts. Whether it is prayer, fasting or rituals, I do hope whatever path people choose they find their true purpose and experience God's pleasure.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Why Ramadan Makes no Sense!

To a Heathen like me that is. It makes perfect sense to the rest of the world.

Friday July 20th (if online calenders are correct) marked the beginning of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. During this month Muslims across the world observe a fast abstaining from eating, drinking and sexual activity from sunrise to sunset. According to the Quran fasting is supposed to promote chastity, humility and temperance - and a sense of God consciousness if you will. It reminded me of my one week of heathen fasting during a quarter of Ramadan two years ago. I kept a very stringent fast despite being sick with a terrible flu and spent half my time worrying if I would break it by choking on my own spittle.

Ever since then I've kept contemplating if I want to dare myself to keep a month. Obviously, I've decided not to. Ramadan does not make bloody sense to me. Well at least it makes a whole lot more sense than the Hindu fasts my family keeps which means eating enormous portions of a most delicious potato dish and an Indian fry bread known as puri. Allegedly that is fasting food. I thank the Gods that I was born to such indulgent Gods who are so liberal with fasting meals. Ramadan makes damn more sense than karwa chauth where women observe a fast for the long life of their husbands. At least it is not misogynist and sexist. Although, I have a sneaky suspicion that most karva chauth fasts are not out of love but a desperate desire to die early enough and be rid of pesky husbands and hope they live long floundering about helplessly in their senescence and soiled underwear. Again, I thank the Gods for birthing me in liberal family. If karma were true, I'd say I must have been a gem my past life and I don't know what sort of heinous sins people must have committed in their pasts to be born into such stern fasting and abstinent cultures.

My main problem with Ramadan is the logic of sunrise to sunset. Till today, I have not received a satisfactory explanation. As a teenager growing up in the equatorial region - sunrise to sunset was a good measure of time. It was steady, reliable and rarely floundered in total volume of time. Living in the northern hemisphere, well north of the Mason-Dixon, made me go - now wait a minute. Ramadan always came in winter when I grew up. So it must have been sweet keeping the fast up here. The wont rise till 8 AM and sets by 5 PM. You just don't eat for a work day. I've done that on several occasions unwittingly. It must be even sweeter up in Norway or Siberia where daylight lasts just a few hours.

However, as Ramadan moved into Summer I started freaking out. Bloody Hell! The sun comes up like 4 AM and does not set till 10 PM. You are supposed to not eat, drink or be frisky for over sixteen hours? And what do the poor folks in the land of the midnight sun do? Starve for an entire month? I've asked several Muslims if the sunrise to sunset rule is still the only criterion considering the earth's rotation and revolution and the various measures of day time that vary by latitude. All of them have given firm affirmation. The Quran also does spell out clearly that it is sunrise to sunset, which makes me quite convinced that Allah probably did not count on the earth tilting on its axis and spinning around the sun. Allah also probably didn't count on his gifted people making a lunar calender even when the Mayans and other civilizations eons before knew the sun is the right calender. If I were Muslim I'd go to the substation in Antarctica for Ramadan this month and fast during short siesta time. You could even game the system by working night shift and gorging on food at night and sleeping through most of the fasting hours.

Anyway, I've been quite a disrespectful heathen up until now. To be honest people fasting with reverence does inspire awe in me. Not just the fast of Ramadan. I'm just fascinated by people who can deprive themselves with so much faith and conviction. Whether it is Orthodox Jews observing a strict fast, a political protester making a point or whatever cause of faith drives a person to push themselves to their limits. Faith can be the only explanation. People espouse benefits of fast like detoxing etc, but there are scientifically proven, healthier ways to cleanse and detox the system of all the garbage we put  in ourselves. Some say it gives an understanding of hunger. I don't think it does. I don't think I have the audacity to ever think I will understand hunger. I've experienced a tummy rumble, but I've always known that food is just within reach and that if I push myself too far 911 will be right there pumping replenishing fluids in my system. How can any human think a self prescribed fast can even bring us remotely close to understanding hunger, real true and painful hunger, the kind where you never know when your next meal will be, the kind where you don't even know if anyone will care saving you when your body begins to die, the kind where any breath maybe your last? Some say it is sacrifice that gives you that God consciousness. Power to them, I say. I figure, only some deep seated faith can drive that.

Although as a flawed human, I often wonder - is it really faith, conviction and true sacrifice or a misguide sense of self superiority and pride? I call myself a heathen, but I'm extremely spiritual with immense belief in the infinite, the unknown, the absolute - the force that governs the ever expanding universe. But no amount of faith can drive me to such fasting. Fasting out of pure faith is unfathomable. One might say I'm just a heathen with no true faith. But the reason I can't fathom it is because I am human. I can fast. I know very well I can fast. I can do it for more than a month of scorching summer if I wanted to. However, it would be driven by ambition and desire. It would be to prove to myself or others that I can do it. It would be to feed my ego. I might even do it for a good amount of money. Those are not very noble reasons. I don't think that is the reason any religion would want as your driving force. Even if I do it for what I believe in, I don't think the thought will be pure, it will be for the selfish reason of proving my belief or bribing salvation through my belief. The only purest reason I could ever imagine doing it is out of love, simply because I committed to standing by them through everything.

I can't buy the notion of sacrifice either. I don't think sacrifice can be something planned or marked on a calender or a conscious decision. To me true sacrifice is an impulsive action, not driven by thought processes but by genuine selflessness. If I sacrifice food, I view it as a conscious decision to serve a purpose. But if I am hungry and out of nowhere comes a hungry child and I give my meal to them without thinking even for a second, that would be sacrifice.

I don't even understand how it promotes chastity or faith. When I am hungry, I don't think of God or faith. I know only hunger and food. When I am thirsty, I don't think of God or faith. I know only thirst and water. If I have to be chaste and keep my thoughts and actions pure, I don't think of God or faith. I know only lust and desire.

People of faith have a plethora of tools at their disposal. They have rituals, sacrifices, fasts, customs and traditions serve as tools to strengthen, promote and deepen their faith. That is their path to feel alive and connected to the cosmos. But even I feel alive and so connected to the cosmos. When I look within myself, I see myself surging with my own deep faith and spirituality. I have none of these tools at my disposal, yet faith does not seem deeper and God (the force) cannot be more strong and beautiful than now.

So it got me thinking, what is it that drives me, what drives me - the heathen?

To be continued......

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The right to bear arms

Growing up guns were a novelty. I saw the occasional gun in the holsters of cops or in the hands of armed security guards here and there. However, if you wanted to see a lot of guns on display, you had to go to a museum. They were such a rarity that a hunting rifle in one of my relatives house inspired awe and fear. Even though the gun was casually laid in a corner of the house with no case, covering or protection none of us kids playing on summer vacation touched it. We were a precocious and curious brood who got into a lot of trouble but one trouble we would not even imagine getting into was the gun. We are were convinced that if we did so we would die. Even today as a thirty year old grown up I'm uncomfortable in the presence of guns. I'm convinced that I will die.

So you can imagine the shock when putting back returns at Wal-Mart brought me to the sporting goods department. I saw an aisle full of guns. Big guns, small guns, long hunting rifle, tiny stubby pistols, all kinds of guns. Not just guns, there was ammunition as well. I almost peed my pants. Wal-Mart sells those guns. If you ever want to raise an army or go on an anarchist rampage you want to go no further than Wal-Mart. It still baffles me why you can walk into a store and buy a gun.

It was even more perturbing that we let "Americans" buy guns. I think I might have felt safer if Indians could buy guns easily. Bombay would have been a more violent city with encounters and gang violence. But most Indians are relatively sane. Most probably would not know what to do with a gun. As for the rest who might, even gang bangers with guns give you a significant amount of safety and comfort.

Americans are a whole different ball game. They be crazy! At Wal-Mart I learned Americans are scary people who bitch and abuse when they insist on returning a perfectly functional DVD player a few days after using simply because they didn't want it anymore. They buy clothes that don't fit and return it when there is a fitting room to prevent that dumb ass error. They fill their carts with stuff they cannot afford and then leave 3/4 off it at the counter because it cost too much. They start a riot if something cost a penny more than a display price or if the line at the checkout counter is longer than two people (don't even ask what they do on black Friday). They have a hard time counting 12. Apparently 19, 27, 33 and 45 are all different versions of 12 in the American express checkout line. They let children run around unsupervised and play with things they should not and when the kids fall like they deservedly should when they run on soapy wet floor they blame others. The mom glare is non existent in this nation and all a kid has to do is throw a hissy fit to get any amount of salty sugary snacks they desire. Frail old people and handicapped people walk miles while fat people use handicapped parking spots and need scooters to move around. Seriously! Everything is messed up and all the people are bat shit crazy! How can you trust them with violent weapons? Don't you see the possibility of them killing each other to get the last item on sale on Black Friday? Don't you see the potential of bratty little kids gleefully prying guns from the cold fingers of uncaring parents in a hissy fit and doing something stupid?

I think most people  see the danger but there is apparently some huge caveat in denying Americans their toys aka guns. The constitution of the United States of America guarantees every American citizen the right to bear arms. Personally, I find the notion of bearing arms amusing. Living in a world where arms are not accessible to the average civilian the only arms I think of are the arms that are attached to peoples shoulders with a hand attached at the other end. Often times when I think of the right to bear arms I think of myself prancing around the American landscape like Goddess Kali and her skirt of arms. In fact the constitutional right to bear arms makes me feel that my government should give me the right to get myself a skirt of arms and go shopping at Wal-Mart for mundane stuff. The constitution does not allow me the right to bear a necklace of skulls or a severed head, so I would have to make do with my skirt of arms.

The constitution does not really define what an 'arm' exactly is does it? I mean if there were any restrictions or limitations people could only buy simple arms that you have to reload frequently. No one in their right mind would allow deadly automatic arms to be sold that could kill dozens in seconds right? But apparently you can buy those arms too. So I assume the 'arm' is ill defined. It really sets my imagination sparking in all sorts of crazy directions along with skirt of arms. Perhaps I could walk around in a full medieval armor and design my own coat of arms. Considering the recent drought and heat wave that might be sweltering bad idea. Perhaps I can be a shadow ninja and stealthily move across the city with my nunchucks, katana throwing shurikens at assholes. Although that would require some serious ninja training on my part which I feel too lazy for.

That is why I decided that one day when I am rich. I am going to build an enormous mansion with its own nuclear reactor. I know there are a lot of regulations around nuclear reactors and I will never get the permitting. But fear not, I don't intend to use the reactor for nuclear energy. I'll still give the power company its daily bread. I'm going to use the reactor to power my missiles and warheads. As far as I am concerned the constitution gives me the right to bear arms, nowhere does it say "except nuclear arms". So disarm North Korea and Iran if you will, but as an American citizen I have the right to bear arms, ancient, modern, human, artificial, harmless, lethal, manual, automatic, normal and nuclear. I have the right to bear arms as I wish. Period! End of discussion!

ex nuclear missile silo Zombie MOC

On a serious note, I'm a pacifist. I probably would never bear arms, skirts, nuclear or otherwise. My conscience could not bear to bear arms. And it is my conscience that often puts me in an ethical conundrum every time there is a shooting like the recent shooting in Colorado. I'm a libertarian. One thing I truly admire about the United States is the value for freedom and liberty. I deeply respect the bill of rights. Whatever my personal beliefs, I respect the fact that the United States government gives its citizens the liberty to defend themselves, their loved ones, their property and nation. I've met many people who do bear arms, and do it with responsibility. At the same time I'm a very soft hearted pacifist. The implications of arms always weighs on me. Even a small unintentional mistake can cost a life. In the hands of the wrong person, a lot of lives are on stake. Human life is too precious for that risk. Saving even one innocent life is worth stripping the rights of millions of citizens.

There is a middle ground though I think. A balance between the liberty of citizens and the sanctity of human lives. Guns definitely don't kill people. They kill people no more than knives, cleavers, blunt objects. People kill people. Deranged, unhinged, with no compassion it is cold, cruel people kill people. Sometimes stupid, reckless, moronic people kill people. We can't blame an inanimate object that can't kill on its own volition.

We can't even blame movies, music or other media influences. I saw a lot more violent films and played violent video games as kid. As a teen I spent hours killing up people on Duke Nukem and Wolfenstein. I even liked violent games like wrestling. Even today, if I play GTA - I go on rampages killing cops and hos because I suck at completing actual missions. But I still have a good heart and am a pacifist in real life. I have empathy and a conscience, I value life. Violent games or movies don't make people bad. A lack of empathy or conscience makes them bad.

It is unfortunate that these tragedies turn into political games with gun control lobbies and NRA lobbies battling it out. These tragedies should actually bringing us together to assess what we can do "together" to address gun violence in the United States. Switzerland has even more lax gun control laws than us with more guns per capita than anywhere else in the world. Yet, the name Switzerland evokes the alps, cheese and peace not gun violence. What we ought to do is find out what makes Switzerland so peaceful and what we can do to make our own nation as safe as theirs. Liberty without the price of life. In the meantime until we do so perhaps we should embrace a few minor curtailment to our liberties. Like perhaps a definition of 'arms' and preventing people from buying excessive, deadly arms. Drawing a line for what 'arms' can be borne by 'civilians' . And of course preventing skirts of arms and household nuclear arms as well.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

14 years later

Last weekend I fixed my sister's unused bike. I took it for a test ride, and was disappointed to find myself winded in just five minutes. I can walk ceaselessly for hours together. When it comes to walking I'm like an energizer bunny with tireless energy. Biking, unfortunately makes me a pussy. I live in a valley and all roads to anywhere are an uphill climb. It just knocks the wind completely out of me and leaves me gasping for breath. I'm tempted to give up and just keep walking. But I want to keep pushing on. On Tuesday I pushed myself to bike a trail, walking the bike every time I hit a hill. I'm committed to bike now. I got some gear like a water bottle holder, lights and a bike rack for my car. I got an annual trail pass. I'm going to bike the trails all summer and improve my stamina and endurance.

I still wonder why I am still such a sissy when it comes to biking. The last time I biked was when I was 16. That is almost 14 years ago. The 30 year old body is definitely nowhere to the fit, exuberant body of a16 year old. Even though I biked everywhere as a teen, the town I lived in was tiny and relatively flat. My regular bike rides to school or for chores were less than half a mile. The longest I ever rode was at the most 3 miles. I never really biked more than 20 consecutive minutes. It appears I am doing much more than I ever did in my life (although playing entire games of field hockey without ever being subbed and the endless hours of training definitely were calorie burning). I'm committed to biking and pushing myself to the max. I believe and hope with practice, I will definitely be biking miles, going uphills with relative ease. Here's to keeping fingers crossed!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Murders & Executions

Or Mergers & Acquisitions as the rest of you insane folks know them as. Patrick Bateman, the American psycho was right about it, there is little difference between the two. Whatever you choose to call them, I'm writing this to let you know that the whole process is stacked up against desis. Actually, I consider the process beneath us desis but people may mistakenly assume that the process is against us.

Case in point, our Managerial accounting finals was a Murders & Executions problem in two parts. The first part being the seller's perspective and the second part being a buyers perspective. The sellers part went very well. When it comes to selling we are adept at it. Exuberant optimism runs through our veins. We live in the belief that our cricket team will win every match, that our favorite actor will produce one hits after another and that you hit the jackpot every time you play. That is why we have no qualms having people sign away their fortunes to buy crap, because we sincerely, hopefully believe that all crap is worth a fortune. So when it came to offering up a firm as the goat to its execution, I got the price right.

Turn the table around though and we lose it. When it came to buying the firm, our professor calculated 600m and its ballpark to be the right answer. As for me, I calculated 200m and still was left with the restless feeling that I'm bidding too high. Murders & Executions don't make sense to us. Why anyone would go to great lengths to acquire a company is beyond us. Synergy, economies of scale and scope, diversification, revenue growth, all sound great on paper but don't seem to have any practical bearing. Any true blooded desi would balk at the idea of paying millions of dollars to buy anything. Even if it were El Dorado the city of gold at a bargain price we would balk and hesitate. This is the realm where our optimism turns to cynicism.

It appears that a lot of western executives are driven by hubris and competitive killer instinct. They like to win and win big. If they see something they like, they want it and will go at any lengths to get it. Two firms chasing the same start up can generate a bidding war that results in paying twice or thrice what something is worth. Even though most murders and executions fail miserably, they still walk around flailing their executioners Axe in a blood lusting frenzy felling everything in their path. A perfect murder or a meticulous execution stokes their ego.

We desis come from a whole different perspective in life. Barring a few of us who are immensely lucky, most of us come from very humble beginnings. That is why we tend to be a very miserly lot holding onto our hard earned possessions like Gollum. Our precioussssss! Back home in India our fine China and cutlery was for display purposes only. In fact it would not even be displayed. It would be safely packed and stored for some important occasion like when the Queen herself might drop by for a cup of tea with a hint of lemon. Even if we were visited by the President of the United States, we would probably just whip out our tall  glasses and small plates into which we pour the hot tea for slurping. I miss slurping tea and drinking water from the very practical, durable, ever lasting, unbreakable and ugly as fuck stainless steel glasses. There is just an extra dash of flavor that illogical neurotic frugality can add.

When it comes to frugality, my grandfather was an inspiration. He was a mister fix-it man. He never through away shoes and sandals if they broke. He had his own stash of glue, shoe nails, leather needles and twine to fix shoes. As a child I remember learning to glue and nail back soles that were coming off, fixing tearing seams and stuff like that. Even if things were broke, he never threw them away. He would always pull it apart and try and figure out how to fix it. It was quite a sight on weekends to watch him sit at his desk with something torn apart trying to fix it. My grandfather was quite something. He didn't trust anything to third parties. To save money he bought books on all sorts of subjects and tried to make himself an expert. He was convinced that he could turn himself into a dentist, doctor, auto mechanic, handyman, attorney, financial advisor all rolled into one so he could save millions. 

As a teenager the prized possession in my room was a color television from way back in the day when color television came first in India. It had a wooden frame and eight hunky steel buttons tuned to the rabbit ears of the day. Rigged to one of those buttons was a cable box so we could access hundreds of cable channels through one button. To watch cable I had to go to the back, gently prop open the TV and connect the cable wire to the box. I'm not sure how it worked actually. My dad had set the whole thing up. I have a huge flat screen TV now, with a surround sound DVD system, but my chest does not swell with pride the way it did showing off the literal junk of a television with grainy picture quality that was miraculously showing hundreds of cable channels with some very nifty fix-it job that my dad had done. I took great pride in showing off to everyone how it worked.

So you can see why 600m for buying a company is far too excessive. It is a number that I'm not even evolved to process. Trying to acquire a 600m company is like buying a top notch home theater system of the latest technology and design. It would be immensely satisfying and worth the price, but why would you when you can possibly get an alternate for much less and actually has a satisfaction quotient of infinity. Our hubris does not come from acquiring the finest, but deriving pleasure from junk.

Indians also bargain like no one can. It comes from the frugality syndrome above and the fact that we believe that there is always an undisclosed catch expense. If you quote a price to me, I'll offer to pay you 1/4 of it an negotiate furiously till you reluctantly sell it to me for half the price. I''ll walk away if it is too high with no remorse that someone else can have it. With no regrets even if I find out that I let go off a great bargain. Money is my precious. Granted the good life in America has made me indulge and spend a lot more than I did as a teenager. Deep down though, I'm still a true desi.

So let me walk you through the mind-frame of a desi executioner when you trying to sell your 600m pharmaceutical company to their firm. Obviously you are delusional, tooting your own horn and embellishing. We offer to pay 200m. You tell us that there are several aggressive bidders vying to buy you out. We think you are desperate and hiding a devious catch. We offer a 100m instead. You tells us that the drug is a miracle drug and will rake in billions. Now that gets our thinking juices going. What we will do is leak to our rivals that we are aggressively bidding 700m for your firm and want it. Hopefully, they will buy your overpriced junk for at least 800m. Now with half the 100m we are willing to bid, we can bait, lure and bribe your key scientists who are making this miracle drug happen. For the remaining 100m we build a small factory, hire some brilliant chemists, compounder and loyal desperate for work degenerates on the subcontinent. As soon as FDA approves the drug and it hits the market, our knock of factory is making the drug for less than half the cost thanks to your easily swayed scientists. Our packaging and everything almost matches what you have. Yeah, the drug will have a stronghold in USA and make the billions your promised. But USA is not the only market. There is a whole world out there that does not have access to quality drugs, people dying because they can't afford to save their lives. They will be happy for cheap knockoffs. Our ROE will be much better than yours as we didn't throw the 600m.

Now thats murders and executions bitches! Desi style! Pharmaceuticals, designer jeans, expensive equipment, the latest gadgets, you make the products, you merge and acquire companies - we make the knock of millions baby.

It sound unethical. It sounds wrong. It sounds unfair. Someone else steals the credit for the hard work firms put in to make things happen. It punishes innovators, pioneers and great inventors. However, in the grander scheme of humanity is it really that unfair? There are millions of poor people in Africa, Asia and South and Central America. Millions of people who can't afford medicines, can't afford luxuries or do things the western world takes for granted. Many of them bust their backs in sweatshops so that the western world can wear fancy shoes and clothes, play with their latest i-gadgets. Is it really that unfair that some enterprising ones amongst them build a knock off empire. The thing about knock off empires is that they don't even erode the market share of the maker or steal their profits. They serve a whole different market no one would care to sell to. Wall street actually carries out the murders and executions, bringing down the world for common man everywhere. The frugal, miserly, deviously cunning, diabolically deceptive, dishonest, lying, cheating, third world entrepreneur is actually merging benefits and acquiring opportunities for forgotten people.

The entire sentiment is hard to explain but quite eloquently and wittily portrayed in this SRK song.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Living with Immaculate English

I finally finished reading the Hindi Chandamama I started earlier this week. With work, a final exam due, watching movies and Glee, chores etc; the timing was not too bad. I actually did not struggle as much as I expected to. Of course I don't read with the speed and ease I read English. I read much more slowly. I sometimes have to reread sentences to fully grasp the meaning. I also find myself struggling with a words, especially the merged letters like in वक्त (waqt - time) , भिन्न (bhinn - varied), प्रसन्न (prasann - pleased), तांत्रिक (tantrik) , बुद्धि (buddhi - wisdom) ,  सन्तुष्ट (santusht - satisified) etc. The key point though is that I get it and fully understand. My Hindi does not suck balls as much as I thought it would. Although, I don't hold a lot of words in my vocabulary, I immediately recollect from them from school studies them when I read them.

Some born and raised Americans who study English lifelong have weak reading and cannot read as well as I do. I figure that my Hindi is still quite impressive compared to that. For sure it has to be much more impressive than people just learning it recently. I'm just lacking practice and confidence. I think with practice I can pass Hindi tests with ease.

My next task is to read a Hindi edition of India Today from June 2012. This will be way more complex than Chandamama. Instead of short stories intended for children I will be reading news articles, opinions, editorials and Hindi discourse at a much more technical and professional level. At this point I am quite confident that my Hindi skills are well beyond the minimal requirements of foreign services. But I have to keep practicing, just so that I feel better as an Indian.

On a random side note, my handyman skills are quite alright. I thought, sitting at home I had become quite inept with fixer-upper skills. Today, my mom gave me the task of watering the plants. While I was doing that, I found that some of the pipe connections had pretty bad leaks reducing the pressure of the water. Despite tightening, removing and refitting the connections the leaks continued. So I had to eventually get spanners and tighten all fixtures. All leaks were fixed in no time. Sounds quite a simple task, but it has been ages since I used tools. It was nice to use them again. Not to mention it was in the sweltering, burning heat. I felt accomplished like a man.


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The embarrassment of immaculate English

I just started reading the January 2012 Hindi issue of Chandamama today. Chandamama is an Indian periodical magazine for children. It is published in English, Hindi as well as some other regional Indian languages. It has short stories for the 8-16 year old audience. Very simple, basic, rudimentary language and stories. The book is 82 pages including the advertisements, illustrations and fillers. I would usually finish an English language children's book of this caliber within an hour. Heck, I plowed through Half Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows in a night. Now I am embarrassed and wary at how long it will take me to complete this book.

For an Indian, my Hindi sucks balls. My vocabulary is limited and my grammar is beyond appalling. I actually can converse in Hindi easily. I follow Bollywood movies easily without a problem. Even after ten plus years in the states, I have confidence of speaking Hindi with Indians back home with ease. Albeit, the Hindi I actually speak is an urban polygot that results from the melting pot of multiple Indian languages in Bombay. However, when it comes to writing and reading Hindi, my abilities are that of a child just learning a language. I cannot remember all the alphabets for the life of me. It takes me a while to grasp the words and then connect the sentence flow. It just is painful and embarrassing. When I look around and see how fluent some Arab, Russian and Asian immigrants are with their native language I feel inadequate. When I see the Spanish, the French, the Italians take such pride in their language and hold onto it, I'm embarrassed at my fluency in my nation's language.

It is the price of immaculate English. Compared to most immigrants, I'm blessed to have a great command over English. My mother read to me frequently as a child. I picked up reading young and tore through books rapidly at reading levels well above my age. My parents enrolled me in a Private Catholic English medium school. Our Principal and teachers were task masters who forced us to speak English all the time. They didn't just make us speak English, they ensured that it was clean, grammatically correct and pure English without slang and peppering of Hinglish.

My English education has been a great help in the states. While I do have my desi faux pas and mispronunciation, I have a smooth, professional and unaccented English. I love when American jaws drop in small towns and Wal-Mart stores as I speak in English so fluent that it is better than the English some native born Americans can ever dream off. I look like a Latin, so the effect is even more dramatic when they expect to mock me over my broken English and watch me helplessly flail and ask for a Spanish speaking associate. When they ask me how I learned English or are shocked that I learned English as a child, it is my turn to raise my eyebrows look down at the pathetic ignorant Americans and say "I learned it in school, bitch! Wake up and smell reality. Every kid in India speaks English and is more aware of the world than you". Of course I'm a lot more polite. Speaking fluent English has professional and academic advantages as well. I'm taken seriously, presentations go well, group work goes well, on the whole all communication is smooth. And unlike most Indians who get ridiculed for their funny accents "Thank You! Come again!" I get complimented at my voice being so good, so professional and even sexy at times. Yeah baby! I can even make desi sexy!

But the price of immaculate English is embarrassing. I'm not an American or Briton, I'm an Indian. English is actually my second language. When I see an Hispanic struggling with English, I simply can't lift my nose up and scoff like Americans. I look upon them with reverent admiration and respect. They are true to their native language and culture. They take pride in it. They have not been enamored with the west and forgotten their roots. Most importantly they have drive and effort, a quality many people lack when they travel to other countries. Moreover, after my experience in Brazil without speaking a smidgen of Portuguese has given me a deeper level of understanding and respect for them. I look at my teenage days of making fun of the vernacular students and am disappointed in myself. I still make fun of Indians and their very funny English, but mate if you speak, write and read Hindi or your mother tongue fluently, I'll salute and bow down to you. Respect! Thanks for keeping your roots alive, now let me help you with your English.

In my defense though I am multilingual. My mother tongue is Konkani. I grew up speaking Konkani and speak it at home. Since Konkani has no script I can read and write Konkani easily in Latin script. It is a dying language, and I take pride in being Konkani. My family visited a Konkani convention recently and lamented at Konkani Americans who don't speak the language, whereas I speak both the Goan and GSB dialect of Konkani. I learned English on account of English medium school. I had to learn Marathi because it was the state language and Hindi because it was the national language. They both use the Devnagiri script and for a Konkani child, learning English, learning two more languages is hard. I mixed up between them a lot and could not get the different nuances of grammar and spelling straightened out. In frustration I ignored the languages and let my knowledge of Hindi and Marathi fade.

I speak English, Hindi, Marathi and Konkani fluently. I can read and write English fluently. I understand Gujarati and am learning to read small tiny bits. I can understand Urdu and Punjabi to a certain extent. I can understand very rudimentary French if it is spoken very very slowly with enunciation. I recognize several words in Russian thanks to Taty and in German thanks to Rammstein. I still feel inadequate and thirst to learn another language. I feel I ought to know more foreign tongues. I'm hoping my Hindi is good enough for the foreign service bonus points. It has to be, or else I'm a bigger disgrace than I think I am. But I hope my burning desire to communicate with the world serves the interest of the foreign services.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Things Fall in Place

Or - Mid Year Resolutions

Chinua Achebe's critically acclaimed novel discusses the philosophy of things falling apart. In the novel one event is the catalyst for another in a downward destructive spiral. That much is true in life. One event often leads to another in a downward destructive spiral. But I don't believe that things fall apart. My personal philosophy has always been that eventually, things fall in place. What happens, happens all for the best and the ending is always happy. Perhaps it is the result of a lifetime of Bollywood cinema, the unfettered hope of being an Indian cricket fan or the knowledge of the powerful literary device called deus ex machina that can magically fix anything and everything. So life is a mess? Things appear going downhill? The economy is tanking further? Company laying off more employees and you? Don't worry, everything can be fixed with a deus ex machina. At least in my version of optimism, you wake up and find everything falling in place.

For example, just a week ago I was kind of an emotional wreck virtually. Everything else was perfectly fine, but I am uber geek which means that there is a very fine non existent line between virtual and real life. The best example I can cite is Sheldon Cooper who calls 911 when someone steals from him in World of Warcraft. What do you mean it is not real? I'm real, the internet is real, data is real! What else do you want as proof of reality. It is not as if I'm asking you to jump in a rabbit hole or crash your mirror to enter some Wonderland. Virtual is real and real is virtual. The Cheshire cat and the Mad Hatter are not real, unless you are on an acid trip. So I suffered a virtual crisis and took a temporary virtual leave of absence. Things were falling apart in a downward spiral, but it is falling in place too.

For starters student for now student debt rates will not be doubling, which means that I will only be buried in debt but not six feet under and then some more.

Obama care is considered constitutional which means that America actually took a small step in being equal to all other western civilized nations.

I have not gained an ounce of knowledge in my Management accounting class but it is almost over and I think I might just be barely passing.

On a more serious note, today is ironically the first of July. It is an ordinary Sunday. It is not Memorial day, Independence day or Labor Day. It is not a big deal like Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year. It is not even solstice or equinox. But July first is Mid year. Six months have gone by and six more to come by. It is the perfect time for lazy people like me who are late on the uptake. It is the time for mid-year resolutions.

With summer vacation coming up allowing more spare time for me - my resolution is very simple, focused and dedicated. One goal, one resolution, one outcome - Foreign Service Officer. Earlier this year in February I was fortunate to pass the Foreign Services Written exam. With some good writing skills, I was blessed to make it through the Quality Evaluation Panel. Now in September I go to Washington DC for my Oral Assessment which is a day long grueling affair. I have been advised not to be too hopeful. Some of the finest candidates come this far and don't make it through, and I'm not that much greater than the others. I will admit, I am a very ordinary person with less than ordinary career and school accomplishments. My life and career honestly have nothing to brag about. But I think I have two things going for me, two things that I really want to sharpen.

Firstly, I am a product of dual cultures. I was born and raised in India. I speak English, Hindi, Marathi and Konkani quite fluently. This was not a semester abroad or a job abroad or volunteer period abroad. I've actually lived in a foreign country as a citizen. I've lived their lives, eaten their food, shared their hobbies and passions, experienced their dreams hopes and aspirations. Then I moved to the United States and adapted to being an American. Now I live the American dream. I know what it means to go to another part of the world and not just be an employee, visitor or student - but understand what it means to be a citizen. And for a diplomat to be abroad, to engage in cultural exchange, to share the American dream of freedom and democracy with others - understanding what it means to belong to a different part of the world can make a world of difference.

My second asset is my MBA degree which I will have very soon. I didn't major in political science, law or history. I'm not a super smart engineer or doctor. People may perceive that MBA is good for corporate careers or for the management cones. But a business degree gives me an edge in public diplomacy that law, politics or social studies might not. Good business is about social responsibility. Good business is about public relations. Good business is about building communication channels. Good business is about building and being part of great teams. Good business is negotiations in creating win-win situations.  Good business is about managing organizations and motivating people. Good business is about adapting to change and expecting the unexpected. A good MBA candidate is sharp, articulate, succinct and can tackle group tasks and case management exercises effectively. I'm counting on that to get me through. I was never and never will be climb the corporate ladder and mint money kind of business student - I've always been a make a difference, take on a challenge, do something good kind of business student. Public diplomacy is a great way to do that.

I'm going to focus the rest of my time on achieving my goal. And being a Foreign Service Officer is about being well rounded. So that means a whole lot of things. I hope to try and up my reading pace and soak in a lot more. I have some books on sharper writing and creative writing exercises and I hope to crack them open and practice. I bought Crack the Case and I want to work on cracking cases like a fine business consultant. I want to learn calculus, advanced math and dozens of things I never did in my life before and want to engage in the pursuit of knowledge. I fixed my sister's broken down bike this weekend, I hope to be outdoors, get fit and bike trails as well. I want to spend more time with my sister, grandmother and my family. Since you can't put all eggs in one basket, I will develop resumes and research into what I want to do post graduation. On the whole I hope to be a better, smarter, more well rounded human being. That in turn will be the magical deus ex machina that might solve my virtual crisis as well.

Didn't I tell you in the beginning, one event is a catalyst that leads to another and things always fall in place!