On Winning the Parent Lottery

The title of this post refers to a statement from the book and the talk, “The Last Lecture“, by Randy Pausch, a Computer Science professor at CMU, who had pancreatic cancer, to which he succumbed in July 2008. In his book, Randy talks about how you have don’t have any control over who your parents are, and how they influence your life the most in your formative years, which in turn determines to a large extent, the shape your life takes.

Recently I read three books on stories of women oppression- “A Thousand Splendid Suns“, “Not Without My Daughter” and “Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia“, based in Afghanistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia respectively. All three are excellent books, and I highly recommend reading them all; especially the first one. I shudder to think what would have become of me if I were to have been born in a family/country that had no concept of women’s rights whatsoever.

I feel *so* lucky to have been born and brought up in India, by excellent, very well educated parents who have been most supportive and encouraging of all my ambitions, my goals and my interests in life. I very much consider myself to have won the parent lottery, hands down.

Support SaiG for his Fund Raising for LLS

A very good friend of mine, SaiG, is training with Team in Training with the goal of running the Seattle marathon in June 2009. In addition, his goal is to raise $3900 for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. This is a cause that is extremely dear to my heart. Even today, when I hear of someone training with TNT and raising funds for LLS, it strikes a deep chord.

Please support SaiG in his missionto help fund research on leukemia, lymphoma, myeloma and hodgkin’s disease, and to help support the patients of these diseases. Together, let’s help fund and find cures for these terrible diseases..

On A Mission

It had been a long time since I had gone on a hike, and I had been itching for a nice time in the wilderness. This trip to the bay area seemed like a good opportunity to get some hiking done. Getting friends around here to join me turned out to be quite tough. I was therefore thinking of doing a hike alone- something I had done a long time back- almost 7 years ago. Finally, a couple of days worth of frustration, caused by a freak online stalker, pushed me over the edge on Saturday morning, and I concluded that a good hike was the only way to get over my sinking spirits.

I decided to hike up Mission Peak in Fremont- a trail I had done with a friend, about 6 years back. As I set out on the hike, I knew exactly why I was impressed with this hike the last time around. The vistas were just excellent. The elevation gain of about 2200 feet is quite obvious in the kind of scenes you see on the way up. You get a view of the entire bay area below you and the nearby mountains, as you ascend the peak. The 2.8 mile trail is a moderately difficult one, with a continuous upslope, without a single respite. The trail is entirely worth the strain on the muscles, and I’d strongly recommend it to anyone interested in hiking.

I reached the summit in about a couple of hours, and estimated that I could get down to the trailhead in about an hour. This left me plenty of time to enjoy the scenery around, to eat my packed lunch, to read a book, as well as to watch a couple of paragliders take off and glide down the hills. And to regain my lost enthusiasm..

By the time I had made it down to the trailhead, I had successfully accomplished my mission of cheering myself up. I am not certain whether this was due to the beautiful vistas, or the thrill of ascending a challenging peak, or the unique charm of a solo hike, or the contemplative nature of the hike, or the fulfillment of some not-so-obvious desire somewhere within, to assert myself as an independent woman after reading a couple of books about stories of women oppression in Afghanistan, Iran etc. The sum total of it all was that I had a wonderful time hiking up Mission Peak, alone.

On Reading Books v/s Reading Blogs

Manas has an excellent post about “Book-as-Blog“, where he makes the case for splitting books into chapters or even smaller units, and publishing them as blogposts.

While I don’t have any numbers for justifying this thought, anecdotal evidence through conversations with a lot of friends is enough to convince me that this is a great idea. I have heard so many friends complain that these days they spend most of the time reading stuff on the net, and that they dont have much time, or patience to read a book sitting down. I personally wish I had more time to just lie down and read some book (which btw I managed to do on a recent vacation). The only reading I get done these days is on a flight or train. (Hmm, here’s one advantage of a long-distance relationship).

There is no doubt that reading a book online does not come anywhere close to the charm of reading a book while holding it in your hand. But then, same is the case with newspapers. And don’t we all read most, or maybe all of our news online these days? Maybe books are going that way as well.

On the point of reading books in PDFs, one chapter after another, v/s reading them broken down one chapter at a time via blogposts- I think it’s just due to the lack of time and the lack of attention span that we have developed, and come to accept in this Internet era. This reminded me of the article in The Atlantic, titled “Is Google Making Us Stupid“, by Nicholas Carr, which talks about how the online era is actually making humans more and more stupid by giving them all the information online. Although I don’t agree with most of the article, a few of the points he makes are quite valid. It is true that our reading habits have changed a lot due to the presence of the Internet, blogs and all other online stuff.

It seems to me that reading books as blogs is the way to go, especially for those that spend every single waking moment on the Internet.

On Becoming Fearless: A Must Read For Every Woman

Recently I read the book, “On Becoming Fearless… In Love, Work, and Life“, by Arianna Huffington of “The Huffington Post” fame. It is an excellent read, and I would recommend all women to read it. She talks about fearlessness as not really the absence of fear, but the ability to overcome the fear that every single one of us- man or woman- has, in some form or another. A lot of the thoughts in there resonated very well with me. However, I did not buy her arguments in some of the chapters- especially the one on god. I highly recommend reading at least some of the chapters- the ones on fearless about the body, love, work, leadership, and about changing the world.

Here’s an interesting excerpt from the book, that hit spot on:

Beyond the major moments of fear in our lives, there are many other times when we sacrifice our personal truth to go along, be approved of, or just plain be “nice”. Because despite all our advances, there’s still a huge premium on women being “accomodating” and “team players” who don’t “rock the boat”. As Marlo Thomas once said, “A man has to be Joe McCarthy to be called ruthless. All a woman has to do is put you on hold.”

Most girls are brought up with the “be nice” philosophy. If they are forthright or tomboyish (read: rude, daredevils), they are smirked at by everyone around. It takes a lot of courage and persistence to keep that attitude going. Even for a die-hard tomboy like me (S.E.S. junta: does that sound familiar?), there have been lots of moments when these exact fears had crept in, and I was unable to overcome those, thus forcing me to be “nice”. At some point, I learned to overcome these and just adopt the screw-you attitude. Over the last few years- especially after going to the US, I have become a lot more self-confident, fearless and aggressive. In spite of that, once in a while, I do get called a “mouse”; although these occasions are quite rare these days. I do have a long way to go before I can claim to be able to overcome the fears that I have in life..

Talking about sacrificing personal truth in order to be nice- there are times when our opinions are very different from those that are being discussed on the table. Now, whether to argue tooth-and-nail about these opinions with some random Joe Schmoe, or to let go and just nod your head along, is a dilemma we face quite commonly. Most of the times I just go along with the flow, not because I want to be nice or anything, but just because I don’t want to militantly argue about some random topic with someone, whose opinions I don’t care much about. Now if I know that someone very well (like say Niket) and we differ in opinions, I will of course argue my heart out.

There are times though when random people say random things and you don’t respond, thinking you don’t care what that random person thinks; and then a couple of hours later, you realize that you do actually care about that statement, because the fact that you did not give a fitting response at that time has been bugging you a lot. This happens to me especially when the statement is made about sensitive topics like diversity, women’s issues, independence etc. This, I would definitely consider as sacrificing personal truth.

Some of the other discussions on fearless about body, work etc. are also very interesting. To every woman I know- rather than worrying about “how will I look at the holiday party if I wear x y or z” or about “what will my boss think of me if I say or do x y or z”, please do yourself a favor and go read the book…

Surely You’re Joking, My Dear Mom

I can write tons of blogposts about conversations between son-in-law (read: Niket) and mother-in-law (read: my mom). Here’s an unforgettable gem.

MIL: I was reading “Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman!” the other day. Very nice book. Richard Feynman very much reminded me of you.

SIL: (Thinking: Oh dear FSM, this statement is worse than that made by any of my students. How am I supposed to respond to this?) Aloud: Aai, do you realize that you are comparing me to one of the world’s most renowned, Nobel-prize winning physicist, who is an excellent teacher and researcher. There is no way I can live up to that image.

MIL: I meant, his experiences with teaching, research, students etc reminded me of your experiences…

When I heard about this conversation, my first reaction was- exactly why did she think about N? Was it really because of his teaching, research, students etc., or was it because of his (I meant Feynman’s) fondness for topless bars? 😉

This is the typical blind admiration that is usually reserved by parents for their sons or daughters; or these days- for their sons-in-law or daughters-in-law. I can almost imagine the conversation between my mom and some other two MILs.

Random MIL-1: My SIL is so great that he has now become the President of the Friendship Cricket Club.
Random MIL-2: My SIL is so great, so great, that he has now become the President of this big company in the US.
Subject MIL (my mom): My SIL is sooo great, that he will some day win the Nobel prize!

My mom sure has a lot of expectations from my dear husband. FSM help him!

Don’t Be Dismayed At Goodbyes

When I visited the US this time around, I was pleasantly surprised to find that one of my friends from grad school had moved to the bay area. It had been three months since he joined, and I had no clue about it. In fact, it was about two years since we had last met, and I had lost touch with him for the most part. We had a few email exchanges in the last few years, and I knew when he had graduated etc. But I am not the kind of person who will keep in touch with people once they/I move on. He does keep in touch with people, but you need to be a single female for him to do that. And I don’t fall in that category 😉

We decided to meet up for dinner. And it was almost as if the two years in between had not passed at all. We did catch up on what happened during that time, but otherwise it was just the same. Our rapport was the same, I was just as comfortable talking to him about a lot of things, and so was he. It was almost as if we picked up the thread from where we had left a couple of years back. I was thrilled.

This is not the first time this has happened. It’s been the case with other friends as well; at least the ones that I am really close to. You tend to form new friends, new ties when you move to a new place, and that leaves lesser and lesser time to maintain the old friendships. Plus phone conversations are not really as informal as meeting up and chatting in person. One of the worries I had, when I moved from the US to India, was that I will lose contact with friends in the US. Thanks to my frequent trips, that has not been the case so far. But I am now sure that even if the trips are not as frequent, and even if I am not really in touch with good friends on a regular basis, when I do happen to meet them, it will be just the same.

I was reminded of a quote by Richard Bach, that I had read a long time back, that seems quite apt (although I don’t subscribe to the “after lifetimes” part, and in fact a lot of his philosophy):

Don’t be dismayed by good-byes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends.