Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Day in the Life of Carnegie Mellon

My friend, Aash, requested I write about some moments from undergrad because going to CMU, in itself, is an experience that begs to be blogged. So here goes...
There are two kinds of people at CMU: the geniuses who truly belong there and then…there's the rest of us. Similarly, there are two kinds of classes: the easy A courses like “Engineering and Public Policy”, or “Science, Technology and Ethics” that students clamored to get into in the false hopes that it would offset their Fs in other courses. Then there were the rape-your-ass engineering courses that would keep you awake for 57 hours straight, and starve you for 14 hours before your unshowered, tired body pushed you to the only place that would be open at 3 am and stuff greasy French fries down your throat, only to have you vomit it out an hour later at the nearest bathroom.
A 2nd year Mathematics course was, surprisingly, an easy-A course. The professor couldn’t be bothered with the undergrads so he would use the same tests, with the exact same questions every year, for the last 5 years. We would memorize patterns of answers, like “AABCDBBDBACBBADDDC”, from our practice tests and hope those questions came on the test, which it always did. The hardest part of the exam was to not be the first one to submit the test. In an auditorium of 250 students, when you’re taking a final exam that’s five pages long, it would raise a few eyebrows to hand the paper in under two minutes. So you ended up looking up and scanning the crowd, and notice the others also scanning the crowd, because most of us were done taking the exam, but nobody wanted to be the first one to hand it in.
Then there were the rest of our engineering courses that fell under the ass-rape category. 211 was one such course. The “Fundamentals of Data Structures and Algorithms” had nothing fundamental about it. Of the people I know who took that final exam, not a single one of us have forgotten that experience. For these courses, you spent months studying and attempting to understand concepts like data abstraction or modular program composition. But it never helped. No matter how much you studied, it never fucking helped. When you received the test paper, you’d scan the questions and every single one would look like a foreign language. Accompanying the realization that you don’t speak this language, is a sickening, sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach; time slows down and your entire life flashes in front of you, including the future where you foresee being kicked out of college and your home. And after wasting 60 minutes out of the 80 minutes just staring at your paper, you start writing furiously, forcing your elementary understanding of math, physics, logic, and language to come together to form some coherent response that will perhaps get half credit and maybe even result in a decent score after the curve. You maddeningly hope that all your friends fail. You want those fuckers to fail so the test is curved up!
After the 211 exam, five of us walked out like we would in a funeral procession and sat down on the snow-laden lawn. It was dark and easily 0 degrees and one of my friends started sobbing. I touched her shoulders and said it was going to be okay only to realize she was laughing hysterically. “Dude, I bombed that shit,” she said. “I’ve never failed anything so fucking spectacularly in my entire life.”
I burst out laughing and the rest of us joined in and there we were, lying on a foot of snow, laughing with tears in our eyes. It was either that or go hang ourselves.  So we laughed, astonished at our resolves to continue living normally, instead of ripping our hair out, stripping our clothes off, yelling expletives and running our naked asses straight into an asylum.
One of my favorite professors (and I’m deliberately not mentioning his name for the sake of privacy) was a sweet-natured, French man who students loved to take advantage of to get an easy A. Rumor had it that if you went to his office hours and had a few conversations with him, you were guaranteed a B. If he remembered your name, you were guaranteed an A.
My friend Aash and I decided to try our luck and went to his office.
“Hi professor,” I said, “Here are our thesis papers, but we wanted to drop it off in person because myself, Shilpi, and over there, Aashni, wanted to chat with you for a few minutes!”
“Oh really?” he asked in a thick, French accent, “Vot eez it that I can help you weet?”
“Oh well,” Aash replied, “we just wanted to say hi really and wish you happy holidays!”
He looked at us skeptically and replied, “Vel, eez a good theeng you girls are here…I am very perplexed by sum sing and vonted khonfermation on eet.”
“Oh shit,” I thought as we sat down and furiously started recalling what we had learnt in the past year.

Then the professor opened his cabinet, took out a small figurine and placed it on his desk.
All three of us quietly stared at a Lingam, a symbol of worship in India and of Shiva’s male creative energy.
“Ees it true,” began the professor, “of vot they say? Ees it really…a…?”
I saw Aash quietly look at the professor. “Um…” she began, “What have you heard?”
“Well,” the professor blushed, “I’m too embarrassed to say, really…”
“Preposterous!” I heard myself say, already offended about whatever nonsense he may have heard. “That,” I yelled, “is a symbol of worship in India and Hindus around the world pray to it! It is a symbol of destruction.”
“Shut up Shilpi,” Aash cut in. “Professor, I think what you heard is…true. It is, indeed, what they say it is.”
“What the hell—“ I began, but stopped as the professor nodded his head and shuffled us out of his office.
Outside, I turned on Aash. “Dude,” I said, “What was that all about? Why did he show us a damn lingam?”
Aash looked at me and was like “Dude…you don’t know what it is, do you?
“Of course I do! It’s the symbol of dest—“
“Shut the hell up about destruction. It’s Shiva’s dick, okay.”
“…Wha -at?”
“The lingam is Shiva’s di—”
“Why the HELL would we worship that?”
“Beats me. Dude, how did you not know this?”
“It’s not exactly something my mom can tell me,” I yelled. “Btw, Shilpi…that thing that you’re praying to…it’s a penis”.
“Yeah, well you learn this in school, you idiot. Not at home.”
“What the fuck…this is horrible. Hinduism sucks.”

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Chapter 1 - Dad and the Lady in the Rain

A lot of people have requested a blog post on my dad, or 'baba' as I call him. Here's one to start of with:

I observe my dad at work; at home; and with his friends—his life is full of light humor that frustrates the people who live with him, but amuses everyone else around him. I would describe my dad as a socially lovable, perpetually confused, workaholic. An odd combination I know, but you will understand if you read on.

I remember once we were returning from my friend’s, home that was maybe a ten minute drive from mine, and we got lost. He took a wrong turn and we ended up in a strange neighborhood that dad insisted was the correct way to go home. After a few loops in the neighborhood, realization dawned on him: this was not the correct way. “Don’t worry,” he said, “We’ll ask for directions.”

It was hurricane season, and that night it rained like any stormy night during a scary movie. He spotted a person slowly walking a dog. In this weather?! I thought. My dad drove up to him screaming “Sir! Sir!” at the top of his lungs, trying to get his attention. The lady walking the dog wasn’t too pleased at being called 'Sir'. She replied “Yes?” with venom dripping down her mouth. My dad stared straight into her eyes and said, “Sir, can you tell me how to get to Cranberry road?” The lady paused looking a bit startled, but then started giving directions. With that, my dad said, “Thank you so much, sir”, waved goodbye to the lady and drove away.
I looked at my dad then and said, “You know, she was a woman, right?”
“Yes I know,” he replied. I didn’t ask him to elaborate. We drove the rest of the way home quietly.

            My dad is like that. Once he makes up his mind about something, nothing can change it.
Once, dad tried to book a one-week cruise for us. He called the travel agent and asked what cruises go to the Caribbean. The travel agent listed ten cruises ending with Norwegian, Princess, and Carnival.
“Ah yes,” said my dad, “I want the last one; Liberty cruises.”
The travel agent said, “You mean Carnival?”
Dad: “Yes, that is what I mean. So what does the Liberty cruise have other than pool and spa?”
“Um,” the agent began unsurely, “Carnival cruises,” he said emphasizing the word, “has several things to offer.” He then listed the amenities.
My dad: “Excellent. We’ll go for Liberty travels!”
“Sir, it’s Carnival, not Liberty,” said the agent as politely as he could.
Dad: “Excellent!”
A small pause, and then the agent started again, “Alright, well how many passengers?”
“Three,” replied my dad.
“Two adults and one child?” the agent inquired.
“…Yes, two adults and one very small child,” replied my dad.
“How old is your child?” asked the travel agent.
Dad: “21”
That was the end of the conversation. A long pause. A little static. And then, for the first time in the history of customer salesmanship, a travel agent hangs up on the customer.
            Like I said: once dad makes up his mind, you cannot budge him: just as it didnt matter to him that the 'sir' in the rain was a lady, it didn’t matter that the actual name of the cruise was Carnival; dad had already decided that he wanted to go on Liberty travels with his wife and his very small, 21 year old daughter.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Graphical Nature of Relationships

When you’re right in the middle of it, reasoning is muddled. But math can help in understanding the different progressions of relationships! You can actually plot it. I realized this in a JK Rowling-epiphany-while-riding-in-a-train sort of way. Ok fine, I lied – I was traveling in a plane and I don’t think my discovery will go on to become an epic 7-series book and movie blockbuster, but let’s not get stuck on details.
In Physics, there is no such thing as an instantaneous object. An object can have a certain width, breadth and depth, but it cannot exist until you actually introduce the 4th dimensional aspect of time. Given a certain time frame, that particular object exists! Relationships, similarly, are not quantifiable at an instantaneous moment, or what we call the present. In the present, you might think things are perfect, but you both may either be converging into a perfect marriage or diverging into a sticky breakup.
 Just like a 3-dimensional object cannot exist without the passage of time, the 4th dimension of a relationship is the amount of enthusiasm each person has in the relationship. If this is not making any sense to you, it’s cuz I’m totally making this crap up.
Anyways, let me explain with a graph:

If you plot your enthusiasm versus your partner’s enthusiasm over time, its best that your slopes don’t intersect, because that generally means you guys are starting to feel differently about each other, which could mean a potential break up in the future. Take a look at the graph above:  you start out undecided while the guy is pretty enthusiastic in the beginning, and after some amount of time, just when you start to get intrigued and comfortable with the circumstances—BOOM! Your ass has been dumped. Or your ass is not working out anymore. Or your ass has been replaced by somebody else’s ass.
Of course, an intersection doesn’t necessarily mean a breakup! If you fall under either of the two graphs shown below, you guys will be fine!
Here are a few others, with explanations. Which category do you fall under?
A.      On-and-Off

You guys can’t make up your mind and take turns liking each other. Hopefully your emotions will stop yo-yoing and you guys will realize that ya’ll can’t live without each other. This stuff makes for excellent romantic comedies.
B.      Not good

Yeah, you need to break up with him/her. Like right now.
C.      Incest

You found the man or woman of your dreams until you go to a family reunion and find out you’re related. That’s bad luck. But, looks like your cousin is still interested. …Awkward…
D.      Hanging on to the past

Ah yes, this is where the other person doesn’t like you anymore and you want to go back to the time when everything was perfect, so you build a spaceship and travel back in time. You think this is a totally rational plan to fall back on but, really, you need to stop living in the past.
Seriously though, don’t ever take my advice because the only thing these graphs reveal is my nerd-at-heart mentality. So, yes, PowerPoint decks can make anything look official, but we also know it’s just another way of putting lipstick on a turd. Good luck with your relationship or the lack thereof! J

© Copyright by Shilpi Chakrabarti 2011

Friday, November 18, 2011


Spain was a whirlwind. Spain was everything I desired and more. Ok fine, I wouldn’t go that far, but it was bloody fantastic. Let me tell you about it.
My friend Aash and I landed in Seville and decided the first thing we should do was something crazy. So we spotted the sole Indian girl on the bus and made friends with her. She had been to Spain several times before and she offered to show us all the local and hidden treasures of Spain in the next few days. She promised us the best food and drinks and fun and friendship. We waved goodbye to her as if we were childhood friends. We texted her later that day and she didn’t reply. We called her later that night and she didn’t call back. What a bitch.
That night we went to a Flamenco show. By the fourth glass of wine, Aash and I were caught up in the drama and anger of it all. “She,” I slurred, “is very passionate.”
“Why is she so pissed?” inquired Aash.
“I think she found out the guitar player is gay. I’m pretty pissed off about that myself. So frickin cute...I swear, if he wasn't gay, I would...”
Anyways, let's keep it PG. Aash was all about Spanish food for the first few days. She wanted only authentic tapas – patatas bravas, huevo y jamon, paella, sangria. Unfortunately, coming from the land of spices, Aash found almost everything bland including my company. “Hot sauce!” she would yell as she flung her fork and knife towards the waiter. The waiters had no idea what we were saying. One brave young waiter did try to figure out what the hell we wanted.
“Sal?", he inquired.
“No, no” we replied in exasperation.
Waiter: “Jamon?”
Aash: “…Jam?”
Me: “No, not jam. Ham.”
Waiter: “Vino?”
Me: “After this conversation, yes dammit. Bring four.”
Waiter: “Pimiento?”
Aash: “Pimi….yes! Those are those spicy green peppers right, Shilps?! Yes, damn you, bring me pimiento!!”
We high-fived in triumph, as if we just decoded Caesar’s cipher, when the waiter came back with some black pepper.
We stared at the black pepper, depression settling over us in thick, heavy blankets.
“Let’s go to an Indian restaurant tomorrow,” said Aash without preamble.
“Fuck yeah. I’ll be snorting the garam masala from the kitchen floor.”
Food aside, we saw some of the most brilliant architecture in Seville. In the middle of cobblestone streets, dotted with romantic street lamps, stood a Cathedral holding paintings and carvings of stoic Catholic beliefs and the remains of Columbus’s genitalia. Oh yes, we were different people in the romance-infused air of Seville. We got lost amongst the gypsies that insisted on selling rosemary twigs to Aash as if they were precious diamond bracelets; amongst the street musicians that played a heart-wrenching tune while we walked through quietly-lit streets; amongst the Plaças with street vendors selling balloons, and lit tops that would fly high into the air, and a whistle that made you sound like you inhaled helium, and many, many other essentials.
We took a train to Cordoba to experience more Moorish architecture and it was truly enthralling. We went to see the local Cathedral there, which had started out as a church and was converted to a mosque when the Muslims had conquered the Christians in that region. The mosque had then been converted back to a church after the conquered Christians re-conquered the conquered Muslims. The final architecture of the Catedral, today, is the result of layers and layers of testosterone, resembling a set of Russian dolls, with each doll built slightly bigger, and better and overshadowing the previous one.
We left the beauty and elegance of Seville, and were confronted by the blatant promiscuity of Ibiza. Ibiza was a beach town with a contrasting landscape: of quaint, quiet villages and large, glittery clubs. For a moment, I felt bad for Ibiza and its gradual progression from a pretty peasant towards a garish, gaudy prostitute. But make no mistake, this prostitute was by no means cheap. We ended up spending more money there than we did in the rest of our trip combined!
That night we went to David Guetta’s closing summer party. It was the epitome of fun. We were right there, staring at Guetta work his magic as neon glowsticks, heart-shaped balloons, lasers, smoke, and huge robots swayed to the rhythm of “I gotta feeling!” We were so deliriously happy walking out that we didn’t even realize a bunch of guys had felt us up on our way out. Or maybe that was the reason we were deliriously happy? Don't quite remember the exact order...

Anyways, we went back to the hotel room from the club, changed, took a ferry to an island and biked for an hour to a beach. Then we fell asleep on the sand like newborn babies.
Finally, we landed in Barcelona. I looked skeptically at Aash and said, “Listen Aash…I know you…we have two and half days in Barcelona, ok? We can’t spend it all shopping.”
“No, I know, we’ll go shopping on Sunday. We’ll spend all of Saturday doing the tourist stuff.”
We woke up on Saturday and walked into the streets of Barcelona with our tour books out, sneakers on and baseball hats snug on our heads. We were going to see Gaudi and the Sagrada today, but before that we were going to get breakfast. I took ten steps when Aash already disappeared into the nearest Zara. Shit.
I dragged Aash out of the store and decided to go for breakfast. We went to Pita Inn and our ‘breakfast’ consisted of falafels drenched in tahini and hot sauce.
“Jeez”, I said walking out, “if people knew the crap we were eating while in Spain.”
Aash giggled, “So far, Indian food, Italian food and, now, Middle-Eatern!”
That evening, we relaxed with a glass of wine on Vincent’s balcony. Vincent was the person who owned the apartment that we were renting. He drank his white wine with ice, which apparently is the norm in Spain. Aash and I also learned how to pronounce David Guetta’s last name.
“Who?” said Vincent.
“Goo-ate-ah,” replied Aash, “the DJ?”
Vincent: “Ohhhhh, you mean ‘get-ta’.”
Aash: “Oh, is that how his name is pronounced in Spain?”
Vincent: “….No…that’s how his name is pronounced everywhere.”
“Not true,” I replied, “In India, he is Goo-ate-ah. Jai Sri David…”
“…Balakrishnan Goo-ate-ah,” Aash finished off, completing the ridiculous lie.
Vincent never facebooked us like he promised. But Aash and I were fine. We were more than fine actually. We were happy and relaxed and delightfully free from the ties of real life. Here in Spain, as we walked the musician-lined labyrinth of streets, as we strolled and sipped Sangria next to a river, as we ate in a candle-lit café while watching women dance flamenco; we bonded, reminisced, and rekindled a friendship as ethereal and blissful as the enchanting region of Andalusia.

Friday, May 27, 2011

How they became my sisters...

I was going to write about how, with the advent of smart phones, it has become creepy to people-watch. But it’s 2 am, and I’m thinking back to the past few years of my life and the people who have made it so full and vibrant. And, though, my parents and my best friend, Amy (who are really my constants) deserve their own blog posts each, I've decided to dedicate this blog to my sisters from another mister. God dammit, 'brother from another mother' works so much better.

Anyways, I have 8 of them. I am an only child, but I have 8 sisters that know me better than I know myself.
Let’s start with the youngest. Sushmita. My first cousin; it was only a few years back that I used to carry her around in my arms. She would follow me everywhere, and do exactly what I did. She hated eating the malai, or the cream, that formed on top of our grandma’s home-made yogurt until she saw me eat it; then, as she had herself said when she was four: “I suddenly started liking it.” Now she’s all grown up, traveling the world and going on cruises; when asked what her favorite parts of the cruise were, she replied “James and Nick.”
Then there is Nikita. She has the prettiest face and the foulest mouth. We once sat down and I challenged her to say a swear word for every letter of the alphabet in 30 seconds, which meant she barely had a second for each letter of the alphabet. She started rattling off at an impressive speed, starting with the overdone Ass, passing by the Dicks and Fucks, charging through the Sluts and Mofos. But then she came to the letter Q. I held my breath as she paused for 3 heart-stopping seconds. I started sweating and just when she was about to run out of time all together, she yelled out in sheer desperation: “Queen Boob!” At first we both stared at each other startled and speechless; did we just invent a swearword? Then both of us dissolved into uncontrollable laughter; the challenge long-forgotten, but a lifetime of fucking fabulous memories etched into our pasts.   
Anita, the poor soul, was my roommate all through college. We had a particularly sensitive alarm in our apartment; it would go off if someone farted. Every time I cooked, the fire alarm would turn on and I’d have to waive a towel near the alarm, run out with the burnt pan and food into the hallway, leave the hot pan on the carpet and then burn the hallway carpet. Every time I took a shower with the door slightly ajar, the alarm would turn on and I would run out naked, waving a towel in front of the alarm. Every time these things happened, I would pray that Anita wouldn’t walk into the apartment. And every time, she did. She was always a reliable person. At one time, she knew me better than my own mom. In fact, my mom had got me a jar of pickle and she said, “Oh aunty, Shilpi can’t eat pickle. It’s too spicy for her. Here, she likes my cookies…you can give her that.” When I saw my own mom’s startled expression as she got told, I couldn’t help but crack up.
Ashi. I always had a slight crush on her. I still do. And she secretly sweats me too. It was very early on when I realized that even if I tested our friendship to its limits (and I did), she would always stick with me. Freshman year, I had a major case of food-poisoning and I could barely stand up without expelling a good portion of my intestines. I spent some pretty colorful hours in that not-so-clean public bathroom on our 7th floor dorm, but she was right there holding me through every minute. I remember that incident so well; I was curled near the toilet seat when she ran into the bathroom and pulled me up so her face was near mine. I was tired and dehydrated and everything was blurry except for her eyes. Her eyes were the most beautiful light-brown color, outlined with dark kohl. I thought they were the most gorgeous fucking pair of eyeballs I had ever seen. She shook me and yelled, “Shilpi! Wake up! What’s wrong?”
“You,” I replied in a whisper, “have the most beautiful eyes ever.”
She was confused at first, but right before I passed out, I caught her trying not to laugh.
Then there’s Aash , of course. Aash is the one that I’ve had the craziest moments with; the funniest moments; the most memorable moments!  From sneaking into famous architectural landmarks (without paying for it) to driving down the interstate for at least ten minutes while a cop car followed us with its lights and siren on (we were too busy laughing and listening to music) to getting thrown of a banana boat into the ocean so hard that our swim suits came off (I’m pretty sure those boat guys did that on purpose), fun is almost always certain when I hang out with Aash. She is a true friend; and I’m not kidding about that: I’ve seen Aash change the dressing of a bandage on her roommate’s—get this—ass. Why her roommate had a bandage on her ass is another story altogether.
Nisha. We all need a Nisha in our lives. I’m fortunate to have found my Nisha at the age of eighteen. The first time I saw her, I never thought I’d be friends with her; turns out, now I can’t live without her. Seriously, I’m not sure what her husband will think when I move in as their “roommate”. Nish has seen me grow from an 18-year old immature, irresponsible kid to a 26-year old, slightly less immature, negligibly more responsible, I use the term very loosely, adult. She taught me how to ski, how to pay my bills on time, how to pack my own things when I travel, and how to be on time or not be there at all. The only thing I could do in return for all that was to make her rice and zucchini. And I didn’t do it very well. I always made either too much rice or too little zucchini. For some reason, she still chooses to be my friend, and for that reason, itself, I consider her my sister.
Who’s left? Oh yeah, I almost forgot her—she’s so little: my Shilpa. My namesake. The bane of my existence for she totally stole my name and poorly disguised her theft by replacing the uniquely impressive ‘i’, with an over-used, predictable ‘a’. Oh how annoying it is for us to quote each other and have people think that we are just narcissists who couldn’t spell. The figurative God was being extra unimaginative when creating Shilpa and myself, because we are the exact same fucking person. The only difference between us is that one letter at the end of our names. And for that very reason, she is my soul mate. I can be crazy, bitchy, psycho, needy, whinny, cry-baby, whimpering pathetically in a corner, or screaming until I’m hoarse, but she will understand. She always does because our bond goes beyond blood; it is metaphysical. Don’t ask me what that means; all I know is that I can see Shilpa reading this and saying, “It’s true. I don’t know many things, like if Michael Jackson is black or if Janet Jackson is related to Michael Jackson, but I do know that Shilpi and I are metaphysically bonded.”
And my last sister, the most special and the bravest person I know, is my cousin Amrita. Or as I call her, Koel. Where do I begin? You know what, I’ll just leave it off with one of our usual dialogues that we have—it should give you a good idea of the whimsical yet weighty nature of our sisterhood:
Doel: We’re like too peas in a pod.
Koel: Yes; like a spontaneous case of mycosis. Or is that mitosis?
Doel: This is why we’re single; because we use analogies like that.
Koel: Why don’t you go terrorize yourself in front of the mirror?
Doel: Was that an attempt at a joke?
Koel: You just don’t understand my idiosyncratic jokes.
Doel: Do you even know what idiosyncrasy means?
Koel: Enlighten me.
Doel: It is a weird, unique association of something.
Koel: Well, let me explain the weird, unique association of my joke.
Doel: Please don’t. It’s 3 am. Can you tell me why good things only happen in movies?
Koel: I guess we’ve had some pretty bad things happen, huh? Don’t worry; good things will happen in the future.
Doel: And what about Neil?
Koel: He’ll always be there; through the good times and the bad.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

What was I thinking?

Ever since Neil passed away, I needed to constantly and consciously distract myself. On one of those sleepless nights when I kept thinking about life, death and everything in between, I forced myself to snap out of it and began browsing the jewelry section on People who know me are now laughing or scoffing in disbelief because, one, I don’t like shopping; two, I know nothing about jewelry and; three, when I do buy earrings, I don’t spend more than $3.00 on them.
So it was no surprise that I balked at the cost of these overpriced, handmade trinkets: $75.00 for a pair of earrings?! I didn’t care if the gems were molded and pressed in a clay kiln in Africa, I’d rather go to Michaels, buy a set of beads and make my own earrings. Hey, I thought, why don’t I go to Michaels, buy a set of beads and make my own earrings?
I, immediately, envisioned waves of creativity overflowing from the right-side of my brain, enabling complex jewelry designs that would astound artists, jewelers, and even Pink Panther, himself. A quick trip to Michaels and my bill was as follows:
- 2 boxes of beads: $ 5.98
- Earring hooks: $2.99
- 2 sets of silver wire: $7.98
- 1 Tool set (6 pliers): $9.99
My total came to $28.83, incl tax. If I made 6 earrings, the average cost of each earring would be around $4.08, so I decided I’d sell my waiting-to-be-famous pair of earrings for $8.00 each.
The heart of jewelry making is, of course, learning how to twist and turn the silver wire around the bead by using 2 or more pliers. As soon as I started twisting the wire with my pliers, I realized that the wire width was too thick and I could barely make the shape I wanted. After an hour of twisting, turning, grunting, stabbing myself with the wire, and then with the pliers, and almost poking my eye out, my wire took the following shape:

My right brain, unable to blossom, nodded in bitter disappointment at my lack of motor skills while my left brain quickly tried to suggest possible alternatives:
Why don’t you reduce the number of beads in the design from 6 to 1? Simplify!
Why don’t you outsource the actual wire wrapping to Freddie?  
I paused to consider that alternative. Freddie is our gardener, but Dad uses Freddie for everything, from mowing the lawn to filling the air in our bicycle tires – it was only a matter of time before Freddie started making earrings for us.
A true consultant, my right brain sneered: first you mess up, then you want someone else to fix it, and I’m sure you still expect to get paid for your ‘services’. Meanwhile, my left brain suggested I pop some Zoloft pills to take care of ‘Debbie Downer' on the other side.
So after gulping down pills, smelling some magic markers, and sniffing some glue, I decided to not give up and finish at least one pair of earrings no matter how long it took me. After some amount of determination and perseverance, I actually ended up making a pair of earrings that I was unreasonably proud of:

Sure, the lengths are different, and yes, the workmanship is shoddy and, duh, the creativity behind it is subpar, but look! Now I have semi-homemade earrings! And it only cost me $28.83.

After this stint of lucrative meandering, I decided my jewery-making career had peaked. I stared at the disarray of pliers and wires resting on the table and wondered: what was I thinking? Of all the things I could have distracted myself with, I chose jewelry making? Without further ado, I reached between my round-nosed and flat-nosed pliers, picked up the TV remote and proceeded to watch an episode of Modern Family, instead.  
And, Neil, I still miss you bud. 

Friday, February 25, 2011

Dear Neil,

I remember driving down the roads of India with you. I had to really go to the bathroom, but there were still a few hours left until we reached home. You laughed and said, “I don’t see what your problem is. In India, the public bathroom is all around you. Go join that guy urinating against the wall that says ‘Do not urinate here’.”

You were five at that time. We laughed for hours, but I remember thinking: not many kids have such an amazing sense of humor at such a young age. And while there is no dearth of humor in our family, what set you apart from the rest of us was your sense of adventure, your zest for life and your confident and positive outlook.


Bengalis are normally very lazy people and are so scared about everything, including their own shadows, that they rarely get to experience life to the fullest. But you, Neil, you always pushed the limits. You started winning Golf and Cricket championships at the age of seven. Meanwhile, I was still figuring out how to not pee in bed.

And this is why I was always amazed by you. You were fearless: you played like you would never lose; you desired like you would never be disappointed; and you loved like you would never get hurt.


I owe my childhood to you and your sister. I never realized I was an only child because you treated me like your own sibling. And God knows we had enough sibling rivalry between us! Remember that time we were playing table tennis and we got into a fight about who won the last point? Right before the game, we had gotten hot oil massages, so even as we tried to put each other in a headlock, we kept slipping and sliding out of each other’s grasps. Once we realized we couldn’t even stand up without slipping, we each grabbed a tree and decided to stare each other down instead.


Every minute I spent with you was incredible. Screaming down roller coasters; singing Punjabi songs loudly while cruising down empty roads; swimming in the calm Bangkok ocean and laughing while throwing gobs of wet sand at each other, and then yelling curses at each other because getting hit by wet sand turned out to be extremely painful; and then getting beaten up by our parents because we tried to beat each other up!


How about that time we met up at Koeli's place in Florida? You spent hours trying to convince me that there was a possessed stuffed animal haunting the little storage area outside her apartment. And after all that effort you put into scaring me, you ended up getting scared yourself! Yeah yeah, you'll always deny it, but you were supposed to sleep outside in the living room, near that storage closet. Yet, when night came, you quietly slinked into our bedroom with your sleeping bag, claiming it was "too cold" in the living room. Really? In Florida? It was "too cold"? I guess some Bengali genes never go away!

These were the memories that lapped like gentle waves against my mind, as I saw the silhouette of your father drifting quietly in a small canoe, and pouring your ashes into the cool, watery depths of the Bangkok river.

My baby brother, I love you and I miss you. And while my greedy heart always yearns to see you; to touch you; to laugh with you; I know that time always disintegrates the tangible. But the intangible—my memories of you and my love for you— will hold stronger and last longer than time, itself.


Monday, February 14, 2011

I Hate Valentine's Day.

Holidays are supposed to bring everybody together; not exclude a subset of people. Anyone ever heard of the White Supremacist's Day? Or I'm-a-Billionaire-and-You're-Not Day? Or My-IQ-is-Over-144 Day? I googled it and the answer is no. Most of the world is not caucasian, rich or intelligent so we don't need Hallmark to remind us of that. By the way, if you're male and have actually celebrated all three of the above holidays, please email me at I'

So...why do we need a day to divide people into those who think they're in love and those who know are not?

In high school, I remember sitting in the cafeteria with a bunch of my single girlfriends and, as we looked at all the couples around us, my friend said, "Every f*cking year, Valentine's day has to come."

Though I've been in relationships and dates in the past, I've, somehow, always managed to be single through the month of February. Finding, or being in, love for me in February is analagous to getting my tubes tied and then giving birth to Angelina Jolie's adopted Nigerian child: painful, futile, and biologically impossible.

But there was one year--one year out of twenty-five years--that I was not single, and it was February and it was Valentine's day. Let me tell you about it!

I was dating this guy back in college. A few days before V-day, he told me "I hate V-day." And I looked at him and said, "Me too! Gosh, we're soulmates!"

So when V-day came along, we spent the entire day at the library studying electrical engineering and Thevenin and Norton circuits. Meanwhile, all my girlfriends (even the single ones) were getting flowers, chocolates and all this other crap. Finally, at the end of the day, I snapped, turned into a crazy psycho bitch and yelled "WTF?!!! You didn't get me ANYTHING!"
 He yelled back, "I thought u didnt want anything?!"
"That doesn't mean I don't secretly want it you sonofabitch!"

Then the librarian kicked us out into the frigid Pittsburgh winter. It was fantastic.

----- <3 <3 <3   ------  <3 <3 <3   ------  <3 <3 <3   ------  <3 <3 <3   ------  <3 <3 <3   ------  <3 <3 <3   ------

Indeed, there are V-days that make you realize it's better to be single with a bottle of vodka than deal with the expectation of expecting nothing is going to happen but hoping that something might happen.

So, on that note, here are a few additional anecdotes from my friends about their Valentine's day experiences. Thanks, in advance, to all of them for sharing! (for the sake of privacy and the preservation of my frail friendships, I've changed their names).

Friend 1:

"Jake and I have never had V-day together alone.  Somehow or another its either a blizzard that keeps us apart, or we end up taking his aunt out for her bday - cause yes, her bday is vday. 
And I did the same thing as you in college. This guy I dated said he doesnt get valentines day.  I agreed that it was too commercialized.  Then, i got upset when my sister was getting things and he got me nothing.  He ended up getting me a teddy bear the next day that was marked 75% off - in front of me. So romantic. 
But the best one was the following year, when another guy actually made me buy him chocolate.  Yes, I'm a loser." 

Friend 2 (actually, she's the same as Friend 1 ...I need more friends):

"My friend was telling me how he had to do V-day with his gf the night before the actual date because they both had to study on V-day.
So he called up this restaurant he wanted to go to a few days ago to make a reservation for sunday.  The guy on the phone is like we dont do reservations on sundays.  So, my friend is like, ok we'll just show up there.  So he and his gf get all dressed up to go to this restaurant in the middle of nowhere.  When they get there, they realize its closed every sunday. The reason they dont take reservations on sundays is because its closed! They ended up going to KFC instead."

----- <3 <3 <3   ------  <3 <3 <3   ------  <3 <3 <3   ------  <3 <3 <3   ------  <3 <3 <3   ------  <3 <3 <3   ------

Alright, enough. Time to end with a famous, witty quote:

"We had a lot in common. I loved him and he loved him."
- Shelley Winters