The Middle Link

Here’s an awesome statement made by my husband’s friend, who is a young, eligible bachelor, not particularly interested in getting married right away, and whose parents tried introducing him to a young eligible girl. He met with her a few times and they both decided things were going nowhere.

His concluding statement to his parents was: “You guys want a daughter-in-law. That girl wants parents-in-law. I am just the middle link in this requirement. Why bother me..”

Now that’s an interesting perspective on arranging a marriage!

Sampoorna Woman: Follow Up

Here’s a follow up to my earlier post about the “Sampoorna Woman” track on PANIIT. If you go to the site now, it has been changed to: “For The Family”. I am unable to retrieve the original cached page. In summary, the track has been now changed to be less disgraceful to women. It is termed as being for the family, and everyone is welcome to attend. They got rid of the “sampoorna woman” term. Although the core activities of the track are almost the same, they have now invited everyone to attend the main sessions. This was a welcome change from what the track was in its original form.

However, change does not happen by itself. You’ve got to fight for it. After writing my previous blogpost, I would have just given up and walked away, furious with the PANIIT organizers, furious with everyone involved, and more importantly, enraged with society. Luckily for me, I have an extremely supportive husband, who thought it was important to pursue this topic further.

Additionally, in this case, I was lucky to have a supportive colleague who realized the ridiculousness of the whole thing and who had the tenacity to follow up the matter with the concerned folks. He pointed out that as a sponsor company, we should engage in a dialogue with the organizers, and highlight the wrong attitude of the track in question. After some back and forth between the organizers, and our HR folks (who were very persistent themselves), the outcome was quite positive, as seen in the final changed version.

It helps to work in a company which understands its women employees and fights for their issues; it helps to have supportive, persistent colleagues; and it definitely helps to have an extremely understanding and encouraging husband. However, note to self for future cases like this one- despite the luxury of such a wonderful support structure, I should be the one fighting for change myself, rather than relying on others to fight the issues for me.

The Sampoorna Woman: WTF

The PANIIT 2008 Global Conference‘s program designed “Especially for Spouses” highlights the height of obnoxiously obsolete thoughts in the midst of technological progress. In a world that’s taking huge strides forward in terms of making the workplace a bit less cold for women, the so-called highly educated minds, who choose to inspire, innovate and transform, have actually chosen to transform back over a century in time.

There are tons of things I can point out that are wrong with this program. I’ll write about a few over here:

1) The program starts by saying it is designed “especially for spouses”. You think- whew, at least they said spouses, not wives. Wait, you thought too soon. The very next sentence is:

The theme for the spouses’ track in this year’s PANIIT is “Sampoorna” – programs meant for the complete woman, who is able to perfectly balance her personal, professional and public personality.

What about the female IIT alumni? Are their husbands supposed to be encouraged to be a “complete woman” as well? Hmm, maybe! Or maybe these people are finally accepting homosexuality with open arms!

2) The “Sampoorna” woman is such an archaic thought that I need to first sit down and think what it can possibly mean. Well, by the PANIIT definition, the “sampoorna” or “complete” woman should be able to perfectly balance her personal, professional and public personality. Huh? What’s wrong with these “stalwarts of technological advancement”?

If a woman has an excellent professional and public personality, there’s bound to be a compromise on the personal life. Does such a compromise make her an “incomplete woman”? And of course, a man in the same situation is always a “complete man”. What the hell!

3) The program includes activities like visits to dakshin chitra, cholamandal artists’ village, kalakshetra (all famous for their arts, crafts, music, dance), as well as some shopping for jewellery, silk and handicrafts. There are also some workshops for mehendi, cooking, dandia etc.

Really! Is that all they think a “sampoorna woman” should be exposed to? Well, how about a tour of the campus facilities- the library, the labs, the departments, the sports facilities, the swimming pool? How about a tour of leading research institutes in Chennai, like the IMSC, Cancer Institute etc. How about a few demos that were recently showcased at Shaastra 2008 in IIT-M, like the NUS robotics show, the defence tanks, the vertical take off and landing? What about talks by Nobel laureates? What about talks by leading industrialists and researchers and academics? Oh wait, I forgot. Maybe these are reserved only for the “complete man”???

4) The eminent women invited as chief guests for the program are- hold your breath- Hema Malini and Shilpa Shetty. They will speak on how to be a “complete woman”. What! Are these the only leading women that they can think of? How about inviting leading women researchers, scientists, doctors, businesswomen? Oh no, I forgot. They are not “complete women” anyway!

5) The program included a “Mystic Trail” track, which has since been taken off from the website. The cached page on Google describes this track as:

In the afternoon our Mystic Trail will take you through some of India’s most well known practices such as Astrology, Palmistry, Gemology, Nadi and Kili Josiyam. The entire trail will be set in the IIT Campus, giving the participants an opportunity to get a first hand experience of some of India’s most occult practices and beliefs.

I just cannot absorb the fact that the alumni of IIT, which supposedly gets the “cream layer” of the country’s brightest minds, actually believe in and encourage these “occult practices and beliefs”. And on the very premises of one of the most prestigious educational institutes in the country! Seriously- Astrology! Palmistry! On campus? WTF!

Wake up, people! The world has moved far ahead of you. It will take eons for you to catch up. Please make some use of your “bright brains” and of the education that has been imparted on you. Please think!

– Written by a Proud-to-be-Non-Sampoorna-Woman (who managed to complete the blogpost without dying of cerebral aneurysm)

Back to the Swimming Pool

After a long hiatus, it feels great to be back in action- this time on the swimming front. And that too, in a beautiful 50m swimming pool in IIT-M. I am already managing a distance of 800m-1km. I even tried a few rounds of butterfly the last time around. I wish Bangalore had a more accessible swimming pool.

It’s a Feature, Not a Bug

This statement was hilarious, considering the context that it was made in. Here’s a snippet of a conversation between me (P), my sister S, and my husband N. S lives in the US and had called us over the weekend.

S: Hey, how are you guys doing.
P: Fine. We are just about done cooking dinner. We’ll eat now. Can I call you later, or actually, maybe over the week.
S: You guys are always busy. You don’t have time to talk to me these days.
N: Weekends are the only time we are together. We are not together over the week, like you and your husband.
S: That’s your (N and P) fault, not mine.
N: That’s a feature, not a bug!

S, N and I just burst out laughing. It was an awesome statement in a completely different context.

Contrasting Scenes at Two Train Stations

A couple of years ago, on our way back to the bay area from Salt Lake City by Amtrak, our train- the California Zephyr- was delayed by about 3 hours. We were stuck at the station, with about 25-30 other passengers, and one station master. There was pin drop silence in the waiting room, as everyone was sitting quietly, either dozing off or reading, or just starting into thin air.

I was reading the book, “Collected Fiction” by Ruskin Bond, where he was describing a scene at a train station in India. It was a beautiful description, one that brought vivid memories of buzzing train stations to mind. What a sharp contrast it was, to the scene that I was experiencing on that cold night in Salt Lake City. Here’s the excerpt that I was reading, from the short story, “The Last Tonga Ride”, by Ruskin Bond:

‘Do not worry about the train, it never leaves on time, and no one expects it to. If it left at nine o’clock, everyone would miss it.’

Bansi was right. We arrived at the station at five minutes past nine, and rushed on to the platform, only to find that the train had not yet arrived.

The platform was crowded with people waiting to catch the same train or to meet people arriving on it. Ayah was there already, standing guard over a pile of miscellaneous luggage. We sat down on our boxes and became part of the platform life at an Indian railway station.

Moving among piles of bedding and luggage were sweating, cursing coolies; vendors of magazines, sweetmeats, tea and betel-leaf preparations; also stray dogs, stray people and sometimes a stray station-master. The cries of the vendors mixed with the general clamour of the station and the shunting of a steam engine in the yards. ‘Tea, hot tea!’ Sweets, papads, hot stuff, cold drinks, toothpowder, pictures of film stars, bananas, balloons, wooden toys, clay images of the gods. The platform had become a bazaar.

The station bell clanged, and in the distance there appeared a big, puffing steam engine, painted green and gold and black. A stray dog with a lifetime’s experience of trains, darted away across the railway lines. As the train came alongside the platform, doors opened, window shutters fell, faces appeared in the openings, and even before the train had come to a stop, people were trying to get in or out.

For a few moments there was chaos. The crowd surged backward and forward. No one could get out. No one could get in. A hundrend people were leaving the train, two hundred were getting into it. No one wanted to give way.

The problem was solved by a man climbing out of a window. Others followed his example and the pressure at the doors eased and people started squeezing into their compartments.

Grandmother had taken the precaution of reserving berths in a first-class compartment, and assisted by Bansi and half-a-dozen coolies, we were soon inside with all our luggage. A whistle blasted and we were off! Bansi had to jump from the running train.

Our train finally arrived at 2:00 am. All passengers queued up at the doors and boarded the train wordlessly, in single file. After 15 minutes, the train took off, leaving the sole station master behind at the platform.

A Tale of Two Monkeys

I don’t know what’s with monkeys and me these days. They seem to be displaying this special affinity towards me all of a sudden. Two incidents within a span of two weeks is a bit too much for me to take.

A couple of weeks back, I had invited a few colleagues for dinner at my place. While N and I were cooking in the kitchen, I suddenly saw a monkey standing right at the door of the kitchen. We were trapped in the kitchen, with no exit route. With no prior experience at handling monkeys, I was completely psyched off. N, on the other hand, had encountered monkeys entering his office and trying to steal things. He started making some loud sounds with a pan and ladle, and managed to drive the monkey off. On the way out, the monkey managed to spoil the cucumber that we had grated for raita, and made a mess in the entire dining room.

Last week, while we were on vacation in Bali, we visited the Uluwatu temple. The temple is very beautiful, on top of a cliff right next to the ocean. There were tons of monkeys around there. We were quite careful to secure our belongings. However, the monkeys were smarter than us. Just as my attention got diverted while watching one of the tourists feed some nuts to a monkey, another monkey sneaked up behind me and snatched off my eye-glasses. Thankfully it did not scratch my eyes or face. The bananas and nuts that we offered to the monkey were not enough for it to give the glasses back to us. It just ran off down the cliff into the trees. I was left vision-less for the rest of the day, and am down to wearing contact lenses for a week now.

The positive side of the whole thing is that now I am all set for the next monkey onslaught!

Adoption by Same-Sex Couples

This weekend I landed on youtube after a very long time. The first video that I immediately felt like watching was one that I had seen quite a long time back. It’s a wonderful video that just stays on in your heart.

In the video, the adopted son of a gay couple sings this song about how proud he is of his parents, and about the love and care that they shower on him. He sings to an audience of a bunch of school kids. The song is really beautiful. And the response from the kids is amazing.

Watch the video at: Kinderen voor Kinderen song

Not surprisingly, this video is from the Netherlands. Currently adoption of children by same-sex couples is legal in less than 15 countries, the Netherlands being one of them. I very much am in support of legalizing it, and I really wish more countries were in favor as well.

Back In Action

I ran on the treadmill today after a long time- almost a year. It felt great to be back on track. Although my timing has deteriorated significantly, my stamina has not. I was able to run/walk a total of 3 miles in just under 45 mins. My goal is to get it down to 36 mins by the end of the summer. A stretch goal is to get it down to 33 mins. And maybe get to 6 miles as well. Hopefully this is the start of a good running routine for me back here in India.

I realized that one of the reasons I could get back to my running form after such a long break, is my long standing inclination to do any exercise (whether swimming or running) in a slow and steady manner, with a focus on endurance. Even today if I go swimming, I am sure I will be able to swim 1000m with at most 4-5 short breaks. On the other hand, I am terrible at sprints- running or swimming. There’s just no way I will be able to beat 10 min miles for even a 3 mile run.

Irrespective of my timing, I am just glad that I have gotten back into the running routine again.