Monday, July 30, 2012

Cinderella Revised

For as long as I could remember, Lion King was my favorite Disney movie. The Lion King had no princess to be rescued, no knight that saved the damsel in distress and the family politics in the Lion King was as fucked up as that of any average family’s. Then, Mulan was released and I was ecstatic. I craved a female role that could stand up for herself, defeat her metaphorical and literal demons and triumph out of her own accord.
On the other side of the spectrum is Cinderella. I despise Cinderella. If I had to retell Cinderella to my kids, I’d have to revise it quite a bit. Then, curiosity got the better of me and I actually tried revising the story to something better. This was the best I could do (my edits are in red):
Once upon a time... there lived an unhappy young girl. Crabby Unhappy she was, for

her mother was dead, her father had married another woman, a widow with two daughters, and her stepmother didn't like her one little bit.

all the nice things, dresses, shoes, shawls, delicious food, comfy beds, as well as every home comfort was laid on for the step-daughters. But, for the poor unhappy Cinderella, there was nothing at all. True, there were women in other parts of the world who were poor and hungry, had no means to an education, and some had all their freedoms stripped from them. But all Cinderella thought about was the fact that she had: No dresses, only her stepsisters' hand-me-downs.

No lovely dishes, nothing but scraps. No nice rests and comfort. For she had to work hard all day, and only when evening came was she allowed to sit for a while by the fire, near the cinders. That is how she got her nickname, for everybody called her Cinderella.

Cinderella used to spend long hours all alone talking to the cat because she was neurotic. The cat said,
"Miaow", which really meant, "Cheer up! You have something neither of your stepsisters have and that is beauty."  “You need serious help, psycho.”
It was quite true. Cinderella, even dressed in rags with a dusty grey face from the cinders, was a lovely girl. While her stepsisters, no matter how splendid and elegant their clothes, were still clumsy, lumpy and ugly and always would be.  
PUKE!!! Who cares if she’s effing beautiful? Is that the only thing she has that her ugly stepsisters didn’t have? Omgg…Cinderella is screwed.
One day, beautiful new dresses arrived at the house. A ball was to be held at Court and the stepsisters were getting ready to go to it. Cinderella, didn't even dare ask, "What about me?" for she knew very well what the answer to that would be: "You? My dear girl, you're staying at home to wash the dishes, scrub the floors and turn down the beds for your stepsisters. They will come home tired and very sleepy."
OMGG…I can’t do this. I forgot how much this story sucked.
Cinderella sighed at the cat. "Oh dear, I'm so unhappy!" and the cat murmured "Miaow", which meant “Please…kill me. I can’t stand your middle school antics.”
Suddenly something amazing happened. In the kitchen, where Cinderella was sitting all by herself, there was a burst of light and a fairy appeared. That’s right: Cinderella’s addiction to heroin was kicking in.
"Don't be alarmed, Cinderella," said the fairy. "The wind blew me your sighs. I know you would love to go to the ball. And so you shall!"
"how can I, dressed in rags?" Cinderella replied. "The servants will turn me away!" The fairy smiled. With a flick of her magic wand... Cinderella found herself wearing the most beautiful dress, the loveliest ever seen in the realm.
"Now that we have settled the matter of the dress," said the fairy, "we'll need to get you a coach. A real lady would never go to a ball on foot!"
"Quick! Get me a pumpkin!" she ordered.
"Oh of course," said Cinderella, rushing away. Then the fairy turned to the cat.
"You, bring me seven mice!"
"Seven mice!" “Who are you talking to, Cinderella?” said the cat. “I swear, this bitch is crazy.”
"Good!" exclaimed the fairy. With a flick of her magic wand... wonder of wonders! The pumpkin turned into a sparkling coach and the mice became six white horses, while the seventh mouse turned into a coachman, in a smart uniform and carrying a whip. Cinderella could hardly believe her eyes.
"I shall present you at Court. You will soon see that the Prince, in whose honour the ball is being held, will be enchanted by your loveliness. But remember! You must leave the ball at midnight and come home. For that is when the spell ends. Your coach will turn back into a pumpkin, the horses will become mice again and the coachman will turn back into a mouse... and you will be dressed again in rags and wearing clogs instead of these dainty little slippers! Do you understand?" Cinderella smiled and said,
"Yes, I understand!"
When Cinderella entered the ballroom at the palace, a hush fell. Everyone stopped in mid-sentence to admire her elegance, her beauty and grace. question why a girl in rags just walked in barefoot with a pumpkin on her head and a trail of mice behind her.
"Who can that be?" people asked each other. The two stepsisters also wondered who the newcomer was, for never in a month of Sundays, would they ever have guessed that the beautiful high on crack girl was really poor Cinderella who talked to the cat!
When the prince set eyes on Cinderella, he was struck by her beauty pumpkin…for Cinderella had thrown the pumpkin with superhuman strength at the prince’s head.
Walking over to her, he bowed deeply and asked her to dance. And to the great disappointment of all the young ladies, he danced with Cinderella all evening. "Who are you, fair maiden?" the Prince kept asking her. But Cinderella only replied: "What does it matter who I am! You will never see me again anyway." Cinderella had a wonderful time at the ball... But, all of a sudden, she heard the sound of a clock: the first stroke of midnight! She remembered what the fairy had said, and without a word of goobye she slipped from the Prince's arms and ran down the steps. As she ran she lost one of her slippers, but not for a moment did she dream of stopping to pick it up! If the last stroke of midnight were to sound... oh... what a disaster that would be! Out she fled and vanished into the night. "Come with us, fair maiden! The Prince awaits to present you with his engagement ring!" So Cinderella joyfully went with them, and lived happily ever after with her Prince. And as for the cat, he just said "Miaow"!
Cinderella was taken to jail and held at a $1000 bail.

Women of Consequence...and Cinderella

Monday, July 16, 2012

Memories I Wish I Could Forget

There is nothing like sitting down with your girlfriends, taking Jeigar bombs and sharing stories so embarrassing that it can make you cringe even after ten years have gone by. So here are a few cringe-worthy moments from my life: some that I haven’t even shared with my mom and others that are so impossible to erase from my memory that I decided I might as well make a blog post out of it.
1)      Grasshopper in the Metro
When I lived in DC, I commuted via metro (“subway” if you’re a New Yorker). As I sat down in the metro one day, a man sat across from me and laid his jacket on his lap. I noticed a huge grasshopper on the back of his jacket. That thing was the size of my face and probably had some mutated superhuman powers that I didn’t want to find out about. I told myself to remain calm and assured myself that the probability of the grasshopper coming at me was very low.
At that point, the man decided to move his jacket and all I heard was a loud buzz and flutter coming towards me. I screamed like a banshee because I knew it was on me; it was probably on my face but I couldn’t tell because my mouth was open and shrieking and my eyes were closed.
The same time that I had jumped and screamed, the woman sitting next to me did the same…simply because I had done it. While I frantically looked around to find the grasshopper, the woman kept yelling “Oh my God! What happened?! What is it?!”
“There is a grasshopper,” I yelled in anguish, like I had just encountered a pile of dead bodies. “I think it’s on me!”
A passenger spotted the grasshopper instantly and said “It’s on your ass!”
“OMG,” I yelled, “Getitoff! Getitoff! Getitoff!!”
He rolled up his newspaper and started whacking me on my ass until the grasshopper plopped onto the floor, and then rolled onto its back.
The man who had brought the grasshopper in on his jacket then proceeded to state (rather blandly, I might add): “It’s just a grasshopper.”
I had to stop myself from jump-kicking him in the face. I calmly picked up my purse and laptop, walked to the other end of the metro and imagined various ways of dismembering the man’s voodoo doll, which I’d make that weekend.
2)      Carrot squeezing in the grocery store
I hate even remembering this story because it is that embarrassing. I was about ten years old and I was beyond absent-minded. I had gone grocery-shopping with my mom and while waiting for her, I decided to day-dream. I picked up a bag of carrots and started pinching and squeezing them, while day-dreaming about how my Barbie shoes would be a smashing hit at middle school tomorrow. When I was done mutilating the carrots, I noticed a father and his 4 year old daughter stare at me like I was crazy. It was then that I realized that it was not my shopping cart that I was fucking around with, but somebody else’s.
To this day, that memory haunts me and I invariably think the following things in the following order:
- Why was I mutilating carrots?
- I wish I could apologize to the dad and her daughter and say Indians are not that crazy. I have tarnished their images of brown kids for many years to come.
- A four year old was looking at a ten year old with a “WTF” expression. There is no recovering from this.
3)      Interview Jitters
I used to be horrible with interviews; primarily because I couldn’t speak half as well as I could write. Several annoying little memories still linger in the dark corners of my mind that I wish I could scrub clean. The first time I had an in-person interview, for example, the interviewer walked into the room to shake my hand and said, “Hi Shilpi, I’m Jim.”
I immediately replied, “Hi Jim, I’m Shilpi.”
Damn you! My brain would yell. Damn you…ugh…let me handle the rest of the interview.   
4)      Aliens in the Sky
For a long time, I was convinced I had had alien encounters. Without a doubt, I can blame X-Files for this particular phenomenon. One evening after school, I finished watching an episode of X-files and wondered where my parents were. I went onto the balcony to look for them, thinking they had gone out for a walk. That’s when I saw a circular, suspiciously UFO-like, shape floating through the sky. Wouldn’t it be funny, I thought, if that was a UFO?
Right at that point, the UFO stopped mid-air and started coming towards me. My mind did two quick mental calculations:
“Do airplanes usually make sharp right-angle turns like that?” my mind asked. No, I replied out loud.
“Okay, are you on crack?” No.
“Definitely Panic.”
I whipped around and ran back into the apartment, running face-first into the screen door that was in my way. When my parents returned, they found me hiding behind the couch and the screen door lying on the floor with my face imprint on it.
5)      Balcony Ablutions

When I was five, my primary goal in life was to outsmart my mother when it was time for me to eat. To help expedite my eating (I would take 3 hours at a minimum to finish a meal), I would think of various ways to dispose of food while mom was distracted with motherly tasks.
Now, my mom is smarter and scarier than the average mom. So crap like spreading the food around the plate to make it look like I ate it didn’t work.  So I would hide piles of food in a bowl and keep it under the table, or in the tea cups displayed in the showcase. Sometimes I would even hide it in my fist and rest my head against the closed fist, announcing I was done, while my mom suspiciously wondered why I was posing like Auguste Rodin’s “The Thinker”.
Mom figured out all my schemes in less than 5 minutes, except for one. She would peek into the living room every two minutes to check on my eating progress. In those two minutes, I proceeded to fist a bunch of food into my hand, run into the balcony, and throw it over the balcony wall with the skill of an Olympic shot-put champion. This lasted for an entire week, after which I was grimly betrayed by the neighbors who lived downstairs.
I remember the scene vividly. I was walking from one room to another when I overheard my mom speaking to someone at the door.
“No no,” she said, “These days my daughter eats everything. “
“Hmm,” replied a voice from behind the door, “Well, we are…pretty sure she’s been throwing food out because we hang our clothes to dry under your balcony…and we have stains of daal and rice on it…..I think this one right here is paneer makhni?”
Rats! My brain said. I knew it’d be a problem if we couldn’t actually see over the balcony!
My mom then turned her head to look at me and it was something like the woman in Exorcist, where the body doesn’t move but the head makes a 180 degree turn and makes you wish you were never born.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

God just told me that he doesn't exist

I promised myself I wouldn’t blog about religion or God, but damn it, I can’t sleep and I’m having some existential issues. My road to Atheism has been rocky. I was born a Hindu. For a long time, I was agnostic. I despised religion; it frustrated me to no end. But I accepted that there is a supreme power that was responsible for everything; I acknowledged that the complexity of the universe begged for a higher power to be responsible for it.
Over time, even that stopped making sense to me. Atheism is treated like a swear word by most people. When I tell people I’m an atheist, they stare at me like I just told them I’m a rapist. For a long time, I wondered what about these religious scriptures made sense to others. I read the Bible, the Koran and the Bhagvad Gita, and they were filled with convoluted logic.
To be good is to follow the path of God; to heed his commands. Only then can one achieve Nirvana.
The above is a common thread across most religions; and lacks an incredible amount of logic. I will acknowledge that some people need a bigger reason than themselves to lead their lives and God offers that. In many cases, God has allowed people to be good, help others, and create structure within society. But God is just that: another political or social structure put in place to contain the anarchy of human psychology.
God is the largest symbol of humanity’s self-appointed self-importance. We need to give meaning to our life, need to believe that there is something bigger than ourselves. Otherwise our shitty lives will be insignificant and meaningless. But, wait, God is there. He made the waterfalls, and the mountains and the world around us! If we’re good, we can become angels or can be reborn to a higher life or even achieve nirvana!
“Awesome!”, my mind would reply. “What about animals? Do they achieve nirvana too?!”
“Uh, maybe. Christians sometimes talk about a doggy heaven. “
Ah, so separate but equal?”
“Something like that. In the Western world, humans are more important than the rest of the animal world. We don’t believe in evolution (Us come from monkeys? Preposterous!) And our pro-life beliefs stop at humans. Animals can go to hell.”
“Ah, but isn’t the Eastern world kinder to animals? Can’t animals be reborn as humans and achieve nirvana?”
“Yes, our souls can travel between various bodies. It could take an ant’s form or a human’s form.”
“That must be comforting to know.”
“Not really”.
I will say that the downside of not believing in a God is that it is incredibly lonely. Oh, how I would like to believe that I will die and go to a better place, and be able to meet all my loved ones and live happily ever after. I have stayed up nights wondering if I will ever meet my granddad again or see Neil again and be able to talk to them. How lovely it would feel, how incredible it would feel to know that there is something beyond what I feel and see right now.
But no matter how good it feels, I can never convince myself to believe it. All we have is the here and now. I don’t know how much more time I have, but I’m going to be the best I can be during this remaining time. I don’t need God as motivation to do that and neither do you.

Monday, July 9, 2012

A Dream Project

I went into Consulting right after college. I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to travel to incredibly glamorous places like Monaco, Barcelona, Hong Kong, and <insert other awesome city names>.
I readied my passport and looked up all the nearest embassies in New York to streamline my visa processing times. A few days later, I ended up in my first project…at Rochester, New York…in the middle of January.
Rochester in winter - they called it the "Lake Effect"...those bastards

As I shoveled my car out of 5 feet of snow, I told myself the next place would be better. Years passed and I worked at Richmond, Connecticut, Jersey, but never Barcelona. When I ended up in Wilmington, Delaware, that was the last straw.  I said “Fuck this” and I quit.
For a year and a half, I worked at a place where I went back to my apartment every day after work. But soon, the travel bug in me started to stir. I got an offer from a consulting firm and I succumbed!
This was where I got the opportunity to be part of a “Dream Project”. I call it the “Dream Project” because that’s what it was: I traveled the world on somebody else’s money.
My client was an oil and gas company with various manufacturing plants around the world. We were to travel to those plants, interview the business units and understand how well or poorly they managed their documents. It seems like a trivial problem to solve, but when companies have to manage several terabytes of data, they end up wasting tens of thousands of hours and money trying to find the right documents (I promise that’s the end of my sales pitch).
My first stop was Hamburg, Germany. It was cold, I was incredibly jet-lagged and I had insomnia-induced heartburn all night. When I reached Sens, France, I hadn’t slept for 4 days and my heartburn still danced around my chest all night. I finally called home and yelled at my Bengali father for passing down his weak digestive genes to me. This made me feel slightly better.
I finally decided to find a pharmacy store to get some Zantac. Sens was a small town situated two hours from Paris, and had a population demographic of 50 people.  They only spoke French there. Realizing I will need to climb over the language barrier in order to get my medication, I decided to bring some reinforcement with me: I dragged my analyst, Brandon, to the Pharmacy.
As we walked through the street, Brandon asked: “Why do I need to come with you, again?
“Because I said so,” I replied.
“Oh, right.”
We reached the pharmacy and I said “Bonjour” and the pharmacist replied, “Bonjour!”
Then I stared at her awkwardly, unsure what to do next. Brandon decided to help by pointing to my stomach and making a puking face. The woman looked confused. I told Brandon to stop that because it clearly wasn’t helping. Then I proceeded to point to my stomach and made a puking face.
The woman frowned slightly and then went to the back wall to look for the medication. Brandon and I high-fived as we always did when we were successful with something. The woman came back with two boxes, one that said “Constipation” on it and another that said “la diarrhée”.
“Hmm,” I replied, “Close but not quite.”
Then I started to point to my chest, making pained expressions until the woman finally understood and gave me the French version of Tums. Technically, I wanted pills like Zantac, but I settled since this was the furthest I was going to get with my French-speaking and miming skills. 
By the time I got to Paris that weekend, I felt like a new person. Those must have been Tums on steroids! I started eating everything that came my way, which, in France, was invariably delicious.
 Brandon and I went to a crepe place and I decided to order a crepe with Nutella. I saw the word “fraise” and thought it was “whipped cream”, which I thought would be delicious with my Nutella. So I pointed at the menu and said I wanted that too. The waiter looked skeptical but complied. Brandon decided he wanted the same thing in the exact same combination and the waiter looked even more unhappy. Turns out, “fraise” means “strawberry”. 15 minutes later, Brandon and I were met with FOUR large crepes: two Nutella crepes and two Strawberry crepes. I ate one of them and I forced Brandon to eat the other three, promising him great ratings during his performance review. He realized halfway through the third one that I had absolutely no say in his performance review, but it was too late. I felt bad and I gave him my French Tums.
Endless crepes
After France, we went to Scotland, which turned out to be one of my favorite places. The majority of our stay was at Dunfermline and after meeting the friendly people and eating the delicious food, I decided I would love to find myself a Scottish husband and settle down in Edinburgh. I quickly created a profile on (the results of which I will divulge in another blog post).
Finally, we landed in Kongsberg, Norway, which is about 2 hours north of Oslo. It’s a ski town and we lived in a place called “Grand Quality Inn” situated near a huge river that frequently had slices of iceberg float past you.  Any hotel that has to convince you of its grandness or quality through its name is usually not the best place to stay at, and, in this case, it was completely true….not the best place, but it sufficed. 
Apparently, kebobs in Kongsberg are famous and we quickly found the most delicious kebob place ever! I seriously have never had such good kebobs in my life. We ended up going there day and night and became great friends with the owner, who we called “the kebob guy”. Since we had an Indian, a Chinese and a Singaporean in our group, he specially made a hot sauce for us, which he called the “Super Spicy Sauce”. We put that shit on everything: kebobs, pizza, pasta, ice cream. Everything!
Hot sauce ice cream...mmmm

In Kongsberg, we met users at each end of the technology spectrum: some were extremely knowledgeable, and utilized all available systems and tools to quickly do their work, and some could barely put a desktop and a mouse together in order to use it. I was presenting to several users about the merits of an Enterprise Content Management system: “you can not only categorize your content with metadata, you can also search across repositories, run reporting and other metrics on your logs and automatically archive any documents past your retention policies!”
At that point, a user, who looked bored and unconvinced, interrupted me and said “This system may help me find a document, but can it help me find a word within the document?”
“….sure,” I replied, “…but…. you can do that right now, too.”
“Oh,” she replied, now awake and excited, “How do you do that?!”
“Well,” I said, “it’s ‘Crtl-F’.
She nodded vigorously and wrote that down onto her notepad. I looked at Brandon then and saw him trying to keep a straight face. 
No need to spend millions of dollars if you have the power of "Control F"
At the end of the trip, we had to catch a train from Kongsberg back to Oslo. We were running a few minutes late so when we reached the train tracks and saw the train’s wheels slightly hissing, like it was just about to leave, we panicked and started running with our very large suitcases. The client grabbed my suitcase since I couldn’t run with a 70 pound bag.
We had to run down a flight of stairs, cross the tracks and run up another flight of stairs to come out on the other side. My middle-aged manager ran ahead of us like a mad man with his suitcase balanced on his head, both, surprising us with his sudden speed and agility and humbling us with his single-minded determination to go home. He leaped into the train, threw his suitcase inside and dramatically held the doors of the train open, yelling, “I won’t leave without you guys! Hurry!”
Brandon, with his analyst’s drive to always please his boss and get a stellar performance review, did as our manager yelled and dove into the train. My client stumbled and tripped with both his and my suitcases and fell into a crumble inside the train. I finally joined the lot of them and we all took turns wheezing and high-fiving each other.
That’s when we looked up and saw the Norwegian passengers look at us like we were crazy. Turns out, the train wasn't about to leave for another twenty minutes. Right after our dramatic entrance, we saw an old woman with a walking stick shuffle up the steps of the platform towards the train. Each of her steps was about a minute long and we wheezed and panted as we watched her take all twenty minutes to climb the stairs, cross the platform, and enter the train in excruciating slowness.
“Well,” my manager replied in his usual succinctness, “that was the dumbest thing we’ve done in a long time. I’m exhausted.”
“So am I,” agree the client.
“I can barely breathe,” I wheezed between breaths.
“Wait a second,” Brandon replied, and looked at me in confusion. “Why are you tired, Shilpi? You didn’t even lift any suitcases.”
“I...have no idea," I wheezed back.
“That’s unacceptable, soldier” replied my manager, “Drop and give me 50.”

What my client looked like carrying our suitcases (minus the heels)

A week later, we were in Singapore. Singapore is crazy hot. As usual, I spent the first few days jet-lagged and cowed down by indigestion. I then spent the next few days walking between air-conditioned buildings. Singapore is known for its food courts and it, singlehandedly, redefined the term “food court” for me. I had no idea it could be this amazing. The food court I went to had an Opera-theme, so the ceilings were draped with fake chandeliers and there were sculptures and plush seating around the food courts. Lining the walls were stalls with cheap, incredibly delicious food from every imaginable place in Asia.  I ate the best crawfish of my life, and then I ate Thai food, Korean food, Singaporean food, Indian food, Chinese food, and finally finished it off with a fresh fruit juice consisting of carrots, tomatoes, dragon fruit and various other ovaries from various other plants.
Finally, I landed in Brazil. We stayed at a place right across the beach. The weather was 75 degrees Fahrenheit.  There were half-naked people walking around. And there was fresh seafood at my disposal. I was in my element. Every day after work, I dashed into my hotel room, put on my swimsuit, changed into my flip flops, and ran into the sea like a crazed dog. The waves were incredibly strong and I invariably lost my flip flops in the water and had to walk back to my hotel barefoot.
And there it is; the end of my dream project. It was amazing while it lasted and I can only thank my lucky stars that I got the opportunity to do something like this. I met a lot of great people along the way, and when we had a final week in Houston, all those people came to the meeting scheduled by my client. I looked around the table and saw those familiar faces, each face reminding me of a place and a memory. It was an incredible feeling.

Cheezy picture to get my point across