"Nascent passion": My entry for the Get Published contest

The Idea
The story is about a young couple, new to the world of dating whose love is portrayed in the very urban times of India. Every event in the story, ranging from their first meeting to their first kiss is a moment of thrill for them.  The story highlights the development of nascent passion in two younglings which grows into an uncontrolled vista of love.

What Makes This Story ‘Real’
It’s a story that a close friend has narrated to me, and I was able to build upon some parts of it.

His vibrating cellphone under the pillow blurred his dreams and woke him into the reality. The scratched screen blinked madly and revealed 3:51 A.M.

It was time.

He rubbed his eyes, exited his comforter with much effort, and placed his feet on the floor below with a quick swinging motion to jolt himself up. The floor felt cold, even through his woolen socks. Grimacing, he threw back a handful of hair that blocked his vision and staggered towards the door.

Outside, the hostel's corridor was desolate with most of the hostellers deep in sleep with their rooms locked and lights off. Some of the rooms were still lit as their doors were lined with yellow light, pushing itself out in the dark night. Newspapers, soda cans swept the corridor that led to the bathroom. He almost made his mind to go back at once and rest a bit more. He finished on phone with her last night around 2 A.M. He needed more sleep.

But no, he went on. He began with brushing. And brushed twice. It mattered. There was no hot water for him to take a bath in this cold weather. He could try to check the geysers on other floors of the hostel but he was getting late. It was 4:20 A.M. and the direct bus to his dating destination left in a couple of minutes from now. And cold water, was what, he poured on his bare chest.

Carefully checking around four times that he had picked all the gifts that he need to carry with him, he bolted his door and nearly ran to the hostel's exit. The guard lay snoring on his seat and took no notice as a shadow passed into the night. (Story continues here)

Endnote: This is my entry for the HarperCollins–IndiBlogger Get Published contest, which is run with inputs from Yashodhara Lal andHarperCollins India.

If you like the idea, please like it here! http://www.indiblogger.in/getpublished/idea/283

A Lean Looser

I'm at another conference these days, and in the past afternoon a rather interesting event occurred. The last keynote speaker, who gave a brilliant talk on role of gut bacteria in promoting obesity (her last project funded by National Institute of Health,  USA - no surprise there), was caught mid way by my curious self who found her lecture quite inspiring. 

"It was great to hear about obesity. But in your data did you find any correlations with extreme leanness?" I asked her. 

She looked at me briefly, cleared her throat, and began in an emphatic tone, "It's quite sad that people started to focus on probiotics and gut bacteria, only when obesity became a concern. While in countries like India, where starvation has been a major issue, nobody cared about it. And I think starvation is an equally if not more important issue than obesity. But yes, I actually did find some correlations - but nobody is interested in them."

"Ah yes, I understand. And don't you think we've overcomplicated our life with bad food. If we eat good food, we won't have any such issues. And in India, we have these special herbal powders (churna) which we consume everytime our stomach goes bad - and they work well!"

"Yes, yes I know. There are indeed many herbs which are proven to have beneficial effects for your stomach. And I must say that Western thinking maybe too narrow minded in health research. I mean, India’s Ayurveda is thousands years old, and I have sometimes browsed that online for fun – I’m a biologist you know – and it really has great potential. Those people working with Ayurveda have observed people and their diseases for so many years, their cures must be definitely potent. But it’s quite sad, that it is all dying. I’m not able to find funding for my own research – we’re trying to gather money too – but things are too commercial now. Industries want to directly study human targets, but the science is not ready for that yet. And then the general public takes all sorts of risks with their health. Young men who take steroids for bodybuilding often end up with bulk and fat in unwanted places, and almost always in their cheeks.Yes, it is getting complicated ..."

And so I stood there, for about fifteen minutes, talking to this old, crazy, passionate biologist - trying to see life through her eyes. But simultaneously, her work and of many others, brought this state of depression in me that my own research is quite insignificant. I feel stupid you know. I'm not that smart, not at science. Perhaps I ain't good at anything. Because later in the evening, we had these competitive games. Our team came 2nd in the game of Scrabble out of 4 teams. We didn't come 1st, and thus didn't make to the finals. We lost it. I'm supposed to be good at English. Apparently not. Fuck, I hate being so average at everything. 

But in the end, when I look back at my average life in retrospect, I console myself as follows: When you can't do great things, you should take solace in the fact that you can appreciate great things. And that's all I can do perhaps. 

In the meanwhile, I'll keep fighting. My last month's copy of Scientific American is waiting to be read beneath my lamp. 

Current Book: "Silas Marner" by George Eliot
Current Music: "Castle of Glass" by Linkin Park (LOVE YOU LP)

Waiting For Batman

Life has moved on like it has been doing since eons, and I find myself trudging through it ever so slowly, clutching a handful grains of hope, losing them at every step that I take without a reward. I am now a hobbit on way to Mt. Doom, serving my own self to a greater purpose, with hardly any hope.

Things have been quite static in both my scientific and artistic career (Yes true, I haven't had any chance to perform any real science or art, but I like to put it that way) The paper I wrote for my Masters' thesis is still not submitted out to a journal, and even when it will be done, I know it's fate will not be good. The work has too many flaws. The current work in my PhD is too paltry on a universal scale and even that I find quit difficult to carry out.

And the novel, that I finished writing last month, requires revision before I can dare to send it out to publishers. While to me, the work looks promising, I'm deeply afraid that it won't look the same to others. I'm not trying to imply that people aren't worthy enough to appreciate my work; it's just that I'm caught too badly in the illusion that it's good in the first place. I'm sure, within a few months, this same novel that I'm proud of, will begin to reek unbearable stench that I won't be able to stand.

I think I work hard but perhaps I don't as much as I need to get all the rewards that I want. Otherwise, there is this tiny hope in the corner of my heart, which says that I may have indeed worked hard and my faith will be rewarded.

Sooner or later; it's just a matter of time.

Current Book: "Silas Marner" by George Eliot (another great text)
Current Music: "Nothing out there" by Hans Zimmer in Dark Knight Rises OST

The 5km Race

Sky slightly overcast, traffic routed through alternate highways, citizens terribly eager (40,000+ of them), me quite nervous but ready: the day had come. 

Giant banners and balloons loomed before the legendary 5km race path of the city, which once activated, stopped all other activity in the city. Every child, woman, and man came out of their houses on their houses on the day of the race, paid heavily just to participate (in my case my professor paid for our group :D) in a community race that was beyond anything I had ever imagined. 

It was thrilling when the pistol was shot, and I could hear thousands of feet, young and old, stamping on the ground, in an unsaid harmony, towards the steep hill, and my own choked breath was soon lost in the passionate crowd. I asked myself once again as I finished the 3km mark, "Why I was doing it? Why I was torturing myself?" - the same question I had asked myself 3 weeks ago, when I first began to train for the final day - the day when I broke down at mere 1km and had considered that 5km was impossible for me. But there was something in me that kept me going on, kept me motivated enough to keep training myself for this day, to get the best score. To save those few seconds in my total time. To win. 

And often I had quarreled to myself, why I'm running? Why not stop here now, lay down by the beach, and let it all go...But no, I had to run. I had taken it as a challenge. An impossible challenge. A fantasy. And then I had visions of people who came and told me, "You can't do this, Tanya. It's too hard for you." And maybe that is precisely why I had to do it. What is life without an impossible dream? 

And I did finish the run in the end. I was running 5km every day since past 1 week, steadily improving my runtime by a couple of seconds every day. On the final day, my run time was in the top 25% of 10,000 people who ran with me on the track. Although I killed myself in the process, legs are quite useless now, I was sick in the bed for 2 days, I guess it was worth. 

Do you like to push yourself very hard? Or is it just me?

Current Book: "Painless Writing" by Jeffrey Strauser (Some light stuff)
Current Music: "Brown Rang" by Honey Singh (;p)

Ayn Rand: An Ideal Remembered

I close friend of mine recently gifted me a documentary on Ayn Rand, and I decided to watch it this hot afternoon. As I got myself ready in a plush chair while the DVD churned in the laptop with considerable noise, I tried to remember why in the past 2 years I had almost forgotten everything about Rand and her writing?

At the time I had read Rand (Fountainhead & Atlas Shrugged), I was quite in love with it. My eyes were not keen enough to notice the wooden prose and straightforward style then, but my own intellect was alighted with passion. Rand, to me, was and is a great philosopher and story teller - her strong sense of characterization and portrayal of human reason & emotion is soul piercing. She is definitely not a literary genius as the ones that I’ve been reading in the past year – but that being said, she had a great influence on me as a person. But also, I wouldn't like to say that I am molded by her philosophy, because that's not the truth. The reason I like her so much is that she was one of the first and perhaps very few persons whom I have met, who happen to think quite exactly as I do. She fought for the same things that I've strived for. The importance of individual. 

I remember, reading through parts of Fountainhead and Atlas, I had almost cried. Because in those moments, I was suddenly not alone. I had a feeling that there was someone else in the world, who felt the same, who felt quite exactly the same. That one can’t be servile to other. That one has a right to one’s own happiness. And now watching her documentary brought all those passionate memories back to me. That Ayn Rand phase of my life. How did I forget all about it? 

It was also pleasantly surprising to know that in childhood Rand was quite anti-social, and did not have friends. It helps me to know that I have not been the only one living life in solace. And her ideas of Capitalism and selfish reason have never failed to rouse me. It's not surprising to see that her novels are on top list of modern library's readers’ choice (#1 and #2). For some reason, I've hopped on to pursuing the board's list on the left lately. But I have always wanted to find a guy like Roark; I never saw him so far, and perhaps will never be able to. I doubt if such a person exists. The world of Ayn Rand and her great men are now left behind in my memory. But why?

Oh yes, now I remember why I had forgotten all about Ayn Rand in those past years. Because you don't often are conscious of the ideals you inherently follow. You just believe. Because you don't count every breath you take. You just breathe. 

Current Book: "Mrs. Dalloway" by Virginia Woolf (Read Woolf and go to bed. Nothing more could be blissful.)
Current Music: "Titanium" by David Guetta ft. Sia (I listen to this when I'm feeling low)

Curiosity Rover Lands on Mars: An Inspiring Accomplishment

The most beautiful picture of the mission 
The past 24 hours have been quite unreal for me with all the thrill about the near impossible landing of the NASA's newest, 1 ton rover on the surface of Mars. I've been avidly following the built up of this excitement since the past 1 month, thanks to the amazing public outreach and killer videos by the JPL team at Caltech.

I can remember clearly, a dozen hours ago when I was watching the live stream from NASA TV, as the world entered the 7 minutes of terror. The look on the faces of those scientists packed in a single room, trying to accomplish the greatest achievements of mankind in space exploration, thrilled me beyond measure. And when, the announcement was made,

"Parachute deployed,"

Everyone in the room in California, USA clapped hard, and I, sitting far away in Europe, alone in my own room, clapped too. And when the final announcement of the safe touchdown on Mars was made, everyone in the room just went crazy with joy and tears, and so did I. Those final minutes of livecast from the EDL team were a better movie than the TDKR and HP7.

Overall, globally, I feel every common man, who may having nothing to do with science or engineering, was filled with awe on the news of such an event. But of course, there's also a section of society which merely discards these successes as "waste of time", "trivial exploits", "better spend $2.5billion on something else". It saddens me to know the extent of ignorance that still prevails in the 21st century. But then, there will always be these kind of people. There were a large group of people who were cynic about the invention of electricity. Then I'm sure there were people who must have been irreverent of the first satellite launch in the space. Little they would have known the importance of science, while their younger cynical generation idles their time on their TV sets, listening to weather forecasts.

But nevertheless, my primary point is that so inspiring can be the feats of others sometimes, that they inspire you to do more. Dare mighty things, is the phrase that is stuck in my head. And I think it's truly fortunate to be alive in the 21st century.

How beautiful life becomes once you are able to appreciate the beauty of it. When you can look at the stars and see the patterns and constellations. When you look at a flower, you can see not only the colors but the intricate machinery behind its bloom. And then you don't need money to have happiness.

Current Book: "Dubliners" by James Joyce
Current Music: "Imagine The Fire" by Hanz Zimmer (best thing on the music planet out there, still)

The Art of Writing: Short Stories vs Novel

Unfortunately, this post is not a comparison between the two art forms of writing, but merely a brief pondering upon the subject in consideration.

I've always believed (having read more short stories than novels) that short stories are somehow, sometimes more effective than novels. They can leave you stunned in a matter of minutes, while the overall effect of a novel is slow and gradual. For comparison, consider the effect of a sharp, piercing arrow against a slow, heavy club. (Of course, it also depends on the kind of novels you read - for this is no absolute generalization)

However, keeping apart the facts and conflicting views, my point behind this post is, basically, I was really touched by this short story I read last night, and I'd like to make a fuss about it. So much it touched me that, when I was on the last page of it, I was trembling with emotion, eyes heavy and ready to pour out any moment, accompanied with a heart beat that I've experienced only on rare occasions of extreme physical exercise. And so moved I was when the story ended, that I sat in silence staring out of my bedroom window into the grim, darkening night.

It ought to be remembered that in creating a short story, a writer has to put an immense amount of effort, if not as great as a novel but still considerable and at times even more. A writer has to setup an entire character and the entire plot just for a particular short story, the materials then would be discarded and pretty useless for the writer's next story. And it doesn't ofcourse earn that much bread as a novel could. And then, the required brevity can be painful at times, when you're forced to tell everything in a very restricted length, whereas in a novel, you're free to meander and develop the characters and plot from all angles if you like, whether you must or must not, it doesn't matter.

And the best thing I like about reading short stories, and mostly the precious anthologies, is their effective edification. I feel as I've extracted the juice from a potent fruit, and had the essence of learning the art of writing, in a quick manner, without investing myself or my time excessively in a narrow genre. So instead of reading fat novels on selected genres, I like to read many short stories on diverse genres. This way, even though it's superficial, you glide through realms of literature faster. And in the end, you can always settle down on what you liked the most, and then pick the big fat books from there. Counterintuitively, poetry being much more concise, can actually be much more time consuming and difficult to understand. So poetry is perhaps not a good start, but you can work your way into it - and it highly depends on which century's poetry you're starting with. Well, I'm drifting from the topic, poetry is for another blog post perhaps.

Anyway, the more I read, the more I find, that I'm merely on the brink of my initial survey, I still haven't found my so-called 'genre'. Here's the sci-fi story(The Bone Flute by Lisa Tuttle) that I've been ranting about. It won 1982 Nebula Award for Best Short Story.

Current Book: "The Female Hero" An anthology on literary quests of females
Current Music: "Imagine The Fire" by Hanz Zimmer (best thing on the music planet out there)

The Dark Knight Rises fails to meet expectations but sweeps me off the floor, all the same.

I had begun the preparation early on to have the best experience for TDKR. I had watched the 13 minute featurette, listened to most of Zimmer's OST, and even read a bad review or two just to keep my hopes down - but it's Nolan's film, it's hard to keep your hopes down, so I failed at it anyway. And then when I heard the news about the Denver shooting, I was quite turned off. For about 2 hours, I think I did nothing, sitting in my office, just thinking - and didn't even felt like going to the movie later in the day. It was a frightful shock and am not sure how much I've recovered from it.

But I made it to movie, trying to flush my mind of everything that's unfair and unreasonable out there, getting in on time, with the trailers of 'Man of Steel' and 'The Hobbit', building the excitement. I can remember quite clearly, the moments in the movie when I almost jumped out of my seat, and wanted to clap so hard or shake a fist in the air, or just yell, "Hell yeah." The movie was stuffed with those "cool" scenes, the scenes that are perhaps the flesh of superhero movies. But what the movie sacrificed in giving preference for these uber cool scenes was it's blood - it's theme. Yes, true, I liked the finale, it was a decent ending to the movie itself and to the trilogy as well. But in parts, I could make out that the story is stretched and you can tell easily too, when a story is "made up" after a brilliantly written earlier story (TDK) just to make an installment or next version. So it's a hard job, I don't blame Nolan or underrate his genius, but also I would definitely not consider TDKR to be regarded as much as his other works like Inception, Prestige, TDK and so on.

Another major issue is the story arc itself. It wasn't quite perfect, with the end being predictable, and not as uplifting as were the ends of Nolan's some other famous works. If a story has to leave an impression on the reader, the end must be quite unpredictable - but when it occurs, it shouldn't look strange - it should look justified. You should be able to say, "Oh! But, of course! How did I miss that - the entire story was building up for this climax - I just missed the clues - ahh now I can see the beauty and the way it fits together..."

And then the character of Miranda Tate girl wasn't at all fleshed out, Bane - uh Bane - I did not get any of his dialogue (perhaps that's just my problem), and the subtitles in a strange European language did not help at all. And then I guess, for me, it's all about the integrity thing which the movie lacks, if only every character would stay true to himself/herself - the entire story might have worked out quite well. And in that sense, the young cop - Joseph Gordon, was the only one who got lucky with a solid characterization. But the rest of them, even Bruce Wayne/Batman, faltered at some points. I think things would always be much better, if all characters stopped trying to be a smart ass in front of the camera. (Same prob. with HP7 - but by no means, HP7 or the likes of Avengers stand any close to TDKR when it comes to pure spectacle)

But again, who am I, to pick on these details, not every single work of a great artist is equal in impact or magnitude. And instead of all those minor flaws, TDKR did sweep me off my feet. And if I couldn't earn much food for after-thought from the movie as I usually expect to do from any brilliant artwork, I did learn the lesson this trilogy had always been giving us: Get rid of your fear. If the motive of the shooter in the US was to inflict terror, we must not fear - it's the least we can do. Be cautious in life, but not afraid of anything, never. Only by fighting our strongest fears, we can Rise.

Current Book: "For The Love of Physics" by Walter Lewin 
Current Music: "Rumour has it" by Adele

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James: A Terrific Masterpiece

I first came across Henry James through his short story "The Madonna of the Future", which I had found so splendid and touching that I had made a decision that 'One day I shall pursue a novel by James', for his longer works are known to be quite long (but perhaps not as difficult as those of Joyce, Woolf or Faulkner), but nevertheless, since I'm often too picky about what I read, I had not ventured upon James so far.

And this summer, almost a month ago, I came across "The Potrait of a Lady" and gathered courage and time to read the 600 page mammoth. And today, when I'm finally done with it, I don't really feel I'm done with it. The world of the protagonist, Isabell Archer, is still vivid in my mind. The troubles of Americans and Europeans, and the mingling of their cultures, is neverending. And the most beautiful thing about the novel? It's the beauty of the portrait James paints as a true artist. He shows what a lady is and, is perhaps, supposed to be, in the times the novel is set. His multiple page long descriptions of the psychological working of a character's brain mesmerizes me to a trance of appreciation, appreciation of himself and his genius as a writer.

The reason I say a "terrific" masterpiece is open to interpretation because there might be readers who may not like the novel, for digging through it's prose is not fun. But I must say, it may not be exciting, it is indeed rewarding. The sense of accomplishment and learning that you gain from it as a reader and a writer, is infinite. So if you're up for some hard core workout, and have a plenty of free time, pick it up, otherwise go around, have some light warm-up with other books, but do come back to James one day, eventually, as I did.

Current Book: "For The Love of Physics" by Walter Lewin (Hehe, this one, just for fun. And I need a break too. :D)
Current Music: "Why Do We Fall" by Hans Zimmer, The Dark Knight Rises OST (@The world, are you ******* ready for this biggest, global phenomenon next week?)

What are we writing?

While the context of this post might appear similar to something I posted recently and thus this piece is highly prone to being considered as another load of extra kilobytes on the fattening Internet, I'll not make any point in it's defense, accepting that yes I didn't have anything special to write this time (so I thought why not give some banal lecture on writing), except that I'd like to make one excuse for this post's existence by saying that this useless piece is indeed going to make a useful point on the art of writing. 

My point, never write pieces which are of no use or never write without a purpose.

We often (at least me) find ourselves in a situation when we yield, "Oh that, oh no, no, no, that was just for fun. I mean, I wasn't really serious about it while writing it, you just wait for my next story, or my next book."

Well, first of all, if we're lying, it's better we start acting (if not actually being) modest right away, and if are previously novel/story/work-of-art sucked, we should accept the fact right away, keeping in mind that at least our art and our style has improved, allowing us to criticize our works of past. We all try to be cool and hide our flaws, and try to make people believe that we're actually smarter than we appear but it's just that we didn't feel like putting all our smartness out there because we're feeling lazy or something. Yeah sure, I buy that. The truth being - we did the best we could at that point of time, and that's how it was, and we should still be proud of it - especially if it's an art form we worship.

But, but, if we're not lying, then we better be damned. That shows, we purposely invested lesser effort in an art form we love - wasted our time, and then hoped to dominate the world (which didn't quite work), and then on top of all that, we even lost our modesty. Pshaw! Shame! If you love something, why would you make a half-assed effort on it? It almost sounds like making love without passion.

So remember, writers, readers, no matter what you do in life, do it fully, do something which you'll be proud of in the years to come (especially if you have grand illusions in life - like me). If you write something, put your best foot in making sure it shines as bright as hot steel. The first drafts are often in bad shape, they need to be hammered and chipped to perfection.

Current Book: "The Portrait of a Lady" by Henry James 
Current Music: "Where have you been" by Rihanna (Okay, this one is killing me. <3 Rihanna)

Scenes From Europe

Disclaimer: The scenic rendering and subsequent comparisons between various cultures and continents are the result of author's limited experience and biased perspective. Peruse Wikipedia if you like to read facts. 

# 1 I recently attended a conference in the new country (which I intend to keep anonymous - as long as I can) in Europe where I've started my PhD. I can say that here food and wine are more exquisite, and especially the food has actually salt in it as compared to the bland American food to which I had grown so accustomed lately, and as for the wine, there were hundreds (yes literally 100's) of wine glasses set bordering on the circumference of long tables, shimmering together under candle light - but of course no matter how lucrative, they were equally useless to my sober tongue. 

# 2 After owning and driving my own car in the United States for two years, which was a huge shift already for a person who rode a rickety bicycle in India, I'm finding it a bit inferior to step down again to the lowly level of a bicycle-riding-person. But the biking culture in this place is slightly amazing if not overwhelming, and it's almost beginning to affect both my sense and perspective. It's helping me stay slender, giving me that daily exercise which I used to often plan in my schedule but never actually accomplish it, and saving me some money on gasoline. And yes of course, when even professors are driving these bikes, I don't feel so bad (besides it gives one a false sense of pride and importance that one's not screwing up the environment and stuff)

# 3 Well, I really want to keep this blog clean and shouldn't really say this, but perhaps I can't stop myself already. The guys are sort of cute in this area of the world. And quite different from the mixture that you get in America. No cases of obesity so far have crossed my vigilant eye. But of course, some of the male population with overly hot features and lean body structures, tends to remind one of gay people.  I mean, happy people. And the ladies are a bit too fashionable, being typical with their angular features housed in leather jackets and huge sunglasses, which often helps in kicking up my inferiority complex whenever the superiority one is on rage.

# 4 The foreign, undecipherable language is the biggest challenge for living in Europe. At times, its interesting to explore all those little shops and restaurants with mysterious names, for mind is a curious organ indeed. But at times, it becomes a frustration, when one can't read any notice on the department's wall, or one can't figure out the nutritional/expiration traits of a food product, or one feels left out from a spicy conversation around the corner. 

And as for my PhD project, I am still not sure, what I've gotten myself into, for this field and area is supposedly new and intricate for me. And it's a nasty project, with different PhD students from collaborating universities handling different sections of the main work. Then, on top of that, they tell me, soon after I've started, that I'm handed the most difficult part of the project and if I can solve it in 3 years, only then there's some hope. And it's a fool's hope, they say, because they themselves know that it can't be done. So I feel like this little hobbit, who has been asked to destroy the ring - and instructions for the job are written in elvish.

Current Book: "The Portrait of a Lady" by Henry James (Why Sir James, I LOVE YOU, is your ghost still around by any chance?) 
Current Music: "Castle of Glass" by Linkin Park (mindblowing stuff, as usual)

Alcohol vs Scientific Research

Recently, a fellow blogger, Mr. What Ho made a nice gesture by asking me to do a guest blogpost on his super-famous humor blog (which I find truly comic), and I had two pieces for him, one is on his blog now and the other is here (it's an old post written a few months ago). I like the idea of doing guest blogging on other blogs (so contact me if you want me to write for you) but it becomes awesome when you're doing it for an upcoming author

I was at this giant conference a few days ago where I learned the unique symbiosis between alcohol and research. No kidding. Believe me or not, it's true. But yes, your mommy might not like this fact. 

My purpose at the conference was to acquaint myself with the current state of the art research and listen to as many presentations as possible. And like a good and sanskari kid, I've been staying away from alcohol, parties and similar shit. Turned out, staying sober may not be the best thing to do in Amreeka. 

So there was this nice young professor who was discussing his research with me, and I like a sincere graduate student was appreciating his intellect. And that's when he turned all weirdo, 

"So Tanya, what are you doing this evening?

"Uhmm? (Insert awkward expressions and inarticulate sounds a socially inadequate being could produce)"

"Well, there's a party organized by __ organization. There's gonna be free food, and free drinks too. Would you like to join? WYQ Conference is all about drinks."  

I was then in this quandary to say yes or no. Saying an immediate yes might have sounded desperate and an immediate no a bit rude. And also, I didn't have any party dress with me. My European friend had advised me to bring a piece or two but I am good at ignoring good advice. So I paused and reflected, but eventually said a yes, calming my conscience with the notion that my motivation to go to the party was only food, and nothing else. 

I accompanied the guy and found the party to be horrible. No free food at all! Liar, that bloody...Only drinks! How useless are unlimited margaritas for a person like me! In a small suite, 30 people were packed in darkness, drinking and smoking like the world's coming to an end. In about 30 seconds, I said goodbye to the professor and ran back to my own room, while on my way I dodged several lovely ladies dressed in golden gowns as they were scattered randomly all around the five star hotel the conference was organized at. 

I went to sleep after planning the next day's research sessions I was going to attend, when after a couple of hours the European friend I was sharing the room with, entered our room, mouthing expletives. She was heavily drunk and was staggering on the floor while undoing her high heeled sandals. She looked quite skimpy tonight and I slightly felt jealous of the life she was having at this conference: going to several parties every night, drinking heavily, dancing, rejecting cute guys, being happy overall. And then she started muttering something, which made me feel a lil bad first, but it countered the jealousy feeling I had before and I guessed that staying sober and nerdy wasn't that bad after all. 

"I hate these fucken old men. They keep staring at my goddamn legs. I want people to like me for what I am, not for my, my..." and then she passed out on the bed. 

And I went back to sleep, wondering if I'll be able to attend the next morning 8 AM paper presentation session. Some big shot from MIT was coming to present. 

Current Book: "The Portrait of a Lady" by Henry James
Current Music: "Call me maybe" by Carly Rae Jepsen

Trivialities of Life

1 week ago...

The little things. It's always them. Them, little things.

Nourishing by the mother, support by the father, care by the sibling, and love by the lover (?) - summarizes the littlest things in my life and which very rarely makes me pause, and wonder why I'm running the way I am, and why ain't I taking life slow the way everyone else is. The recent 1 month spent in India has been full of such little things, things which are almost impossible to find anywhere else. The relaxed atmosphere of spending every day doing nothing, really nothing, watching time pass-by by idling on the endless list of TV channels, lying on the cushioned sofa with feet pointing towards the cooler, savoring the makhan on fifth and sometimes sixth aloo paratha, going to bed without an alarm clock on the side, and the mobile switched off and thrown in some forgotten corner of the house, waking up late and finding food set on the dining table, seeing others doing chores and not participating at all in anything that's going around, and lying sprawled on a floor mat in pyjamas on a hot afternoon reading that long lost book that you always wanted to read in the summer...

But well, now I must say goodbye to all this, and resume the hard path that I've chosen. The self-afflicted horror of pursuing a PhD in science awaits me and I must part with all that is little, and seek all that seems so grand, at least for now. And everyone has illusions, perhaps this is mine. After all, what is life without a sweet, impossible illusion?


It's been a week that I've been in this strange land in Europe. There is no time for little things, only a soft remembrance lurks in my vision that once such things were.

Research has gripped me early on, but what's more impacting is the strong culture shock that I'm now going through. This shock is stronger and deeper than the one I felt in United States two years ago, and it is full of events that leave me sometimes in exultation over my choices in life and sometimes in this powerful kind of agony that is hard to tame. . . (to be continued)

Current Book: "The story and its writer" edited by Ann Charters
Current Music: "Somebody that I used to know" by Gotye

On returning to India

It doesn't happen very often that you find an email sitting in your inbox from a complete stranger in which that person is requesting you to update your blog, and asking you to talk about how does it feel to be back in India, while simultaneously he's expressing his adoration for your writing. A rare email of this sorts is then starred, and my inner lazy writer wakes up at 7am in the morning to write.

How does it feel to be back home, after much struggle and adventure in the US? There is no single word or sentence to describe that feeling. It's different here, definitely, much different. Perhaps not different than it was 2 years ago, but to me, it's again a whole brave new world.

As I sit in the open verandah on the second floor of our house, I can smell the fresh morning dipped in a hue of smoke. I can hear the sound of distant horns, blaring in perfect chaos, dampened by the chirping and twittering of many odd little beings that I have not seen or heard since long. Life seems to be slowed down here, yet the traffic on the road is ever-accelerating on twisting, narrow, unknown katcha-pucca roads. I am no more able to cross the roads or sit behind the car driver with ease. People stare at you here for no reason, and their faces look so tense or sometimes so serious, but perhaps this is so because their expressions are genuine and they are not trained to wear plastic white smileys as several are in the US. I could notice by the glare in their eyes, while I was showering a "thank you" to everyone who interacted with me, that there were many people who have not been thanked yet for their silent, lowly jobs.

Everything, everyone seems to moving, rushing past each other, heading for sliding into those closing doors before anyone else, and yet there is this strange stillness in this country. A stillness of a relaxed, and unorganized bachelor's room, where things lie as and where they can, without much care or order. This emptiness has ridden my personal daily scheduler of ink, so I don't have anything to do in the next few hours, or tonight or tomorrow, or the next two weeks, as per the blank entries next to the columns of days and time slots.

But no matter how difficult it maybe for adjusting to everything that was once my own, and perhaps still is, nothing, no developed nation in the entire world, can offer or defeat the savory, sweet-warm taste of gujiya on my early morning dry tongue.
Gujiya, my favorite Indian sweet. 

Current Book: "A Brief History of Time" by Stephen Hawking
Current Music: "Jaage Hain Der Tak" by A.R. Rehman in movie "Guru"

I don't feel like doing anything

I want to go back to India, lie in ma’s lap, curl up inside the comforter and watch TV with half open dreamy eyes all day. I want to eat mithai dammit. It’s one of those times when I just don’t wanna do anything. Anything means no bloody studying or anything productive. Guh, I hate this. I want to scream out the F word so bad that everyone who’s in the vicinity should reduce to dust and all those great people who did great things should vanish from the history books and especially Wikipedia, and then I wouldn’t have to work so hard to beat them. I do not want to read this crappy paper (paper is a casual word for a scientific research article). I want to go home and eat that huge cake lying in my fridge (my roommate had a birthday recently). My stomach is squirming. I’m squirming. Somebody, just please hit me. Hit me, hit me, hit me. Hit me so hard that I go unconscious and I go to sleep for a while and when I wake up, lots of days and deadlines should have already passed. And on top of all this workload and tension, I just came to know about a famous blogger who recently sold her book to the nation’s topmost publishing house. I saw her struggling since 3 years and now she finally got what she deserved. I’m happy for her but not so much for myself. I feel like slitting my own throat with a darn nail cutter. Look at me. I’vent got shit done, haven’t even written something worth publishing. What I had written, is under review since 3 months, and has been rejected from everywhere  else anyway. I haven’t read a single goddamn book in the past 4 months. Why? Been too busy earning a Master of Science. Hell yeah, Master of Shit. Look at yourself in the mirror. Just take a look. You’re nothing. And you will be nothing. And nobody cares about you, you back in the mirror, pile of junk. Nobody's gonna read your 150 page Masters' thesis. Never, ever. I wish I was that little 1 year old baby like the baby girl of my friend doing a PhD. The baby girl gets all the attention from her PhD parents all the frikking time. She doesn’t have any reports or papers to submit. Hell, I wanna be a baby. I don’t know where this post is going, I don’t know where I’m going, prolly you’re not reading this anymore. If you’re, well, screw you. Why are you so happy and glum, reading shitty blogs on the internets and not have any work to do? I so much hate you for your idleness. Jealousy, yes, bitch. I wish I could read some shit around. I wish I could see some America in the last two weeks before I leave it for forever. But no, I’ve to kill myself first. And before that, in this week, I’ve got to submit two papers to Prof. X, take two final exams from the hardest courses outside my department which were not required but I took them just to add some stress in my life.

Current Book: "The Best of O' Henry" Selected Short stories by O' Henry
Current Music: "Hum Kis Gali Jaa Rahe Hain" by Shaan

The Horrors of Final Oral Defense

PS: This is a very memory recording, personal journal type of post and you may not really get anything out of it, unless you're genuinely interested in the fine details of my mundane life. 

After about 7 hours of sleep in past 48 hours, the Judgement day finally came. The table was set with strawberries, donuts, cupcakes, cookies and juice. The audience and the three professors sat there, eating, relaxing, their eyes on me and their minds on food. And I stood alone, in the corner, holding the laser pointer like a sword, with a pack of 50 colorful powerpoint slides as my arrows, defending my past two years worth of masters research.

The presentation went for an hour. Nevertheless, we moved on, the public part of the defense was over, and as people left, the grilling private session with the 3 professors began. I could answer most of the stuff but at one point I was sort of tired and pissed, and thus did a major screw up.

Prof. X is my major prof., Prof 1 and Prof 2 are the other two.

Prof. 1: I am a bit disappointed Tanya, you presented everything fine but you didn't explain any basic concept of how your results have solved the problem you presented early on. I mean I have no clue what is that, what is this, and why getting that is helping you solve this problem. 

Me: I didn't cover that because I covered that in detail in my last POS meeting, so I assumed everyone would know the basics. 

This was perhaps quite arrogant of me which I didn't realize then. The moment I said the damned word "assume" he raised his eyebrow in a manner that showed his ego was deeply hurt. He stared at me in disbelief, and perhaps slight contempt, for a long 30 seconds.

Prof. 1: That was 6 months ago, I had 8 proposals, 17 presentations in the meantime. I can't keep track of all the students I interact with. 

I kept silent after that, and then he gave me a real hard time. There is a major lacking in my research and that's something I fought over with Prof. X 6 months ago, warning him again and again that people will argue why we didn't fulfill that gap in our research. But Prof. X just doesn't have a single, freaking dollar to fulfill that gap. He even suggested me, back then, to use my own salary or fellowship to fulfill the gap by paying myself for all the costly experiments but that is just unbelievable. So the ego-hurt Prof. 1 stuck on to that precise gap, and tortured me why it wasn't even considered. Anyway, I didn't reveal the real truth on our tight financial budget to the committee, and din't say anything about the stinginess of my professor.  And Prof. X took care of them, telling we can't do it, because we didn't have enough time and money (the money word he said quite softly)

After an hour of grilling, they sent me out, to discuss the final decision of the committee among themselves (Pass vs Fail). And even though most defenses usually get Pass, and I was sure I will pass, but those 10 minutes of wait outside the room I felt I was gonna be failed, especially when those 10 minutes felt like an eternity. And I could her loud voices of my Prof. X, probably defending my case to the other two.

Finally, Prof. X opened the door, greeting me in with a smile, saying "Congratulations!". And all three of them shook my hand, congratulating me, with that ego-hurt Prof. 1 saying, "So when are you joining that other university? August?"

"um-no, in June."

"Oh-uh, so fast, well, good luck."

And then I left the room, and the building with a yellow form, tightly clutched in my sweaty fist, that had their signatures on the section "Pass", and I didn't feel as happy as anyone would after their oral exam, due to the unfortunate events involving the Indian bitch and this ego-hurt prof 1. But as I pour this all out, I feel relieved. That's the power of writing because I can vent all I have inside. On the other hand, this lame, average student who sucked at studies since childhood, has finally learned something and feels empowered.

And now I'm done. I'm through. I'm free.                                              

I leave United States of America behind, very soon, for good.

The curse on the ugly people

I have always believed that ugly or plain looking people like me are in someway cursed. We were not meant to enjoy the trivialities of life as most other people do.

Often people come and ask me, "What's the purpose of life?", and I stare right back at them in reply and penetrate my gaze deep down their eyes to check if that's really what they're asking. Because if they are, it's too trivial a question to ponder upon. "What's the purpose of life?" Don't you know? Don't we all know? Inherently, aren't we equipped to answer this? Aren't we fulfilling that very purpose, silently, every day, every moment?

We are the ants. Not the grasshoppers.

The purpose of life is to live. It's that simple.

Biology has defined this purpose and we, as living beings, adhere to it, no matter we realize it or not. We live, and we want to live incessantly and that immortality is achieved by producing work or offspring.

The people who look plain/ugly/not-beautiful and also believe that they are so, suffer from this coupled inferiority/superiority complex which makes them think that they are different from rest of the beautiful people. Their inferiority complex makes them work harder to achieve the same level of happiness they think others might be having, and their superiority complex encourages them to achieve a different or an elite bliss which, according to them, others might not be destined to have. And then, we, ugly people,  pursue science or art and excel in such arenas so that our beautiful peers can reproduce and their children may prosper. We must then stay in our labs, in our closed cubicles, away from the world, because if we went out to flirt and fool around, who will save the dying world and solve the upcoming energy crisis? Who will write great literature that will teach the upcoming generations the important lessons of life?

After all, we want immortality and for our species to live continuously, each of us must play our part. When I see a very hot girl or a handsome guy working hard alone on creating great work, I deem it as an insult to his/her fate. That's wastage of gifted talent. Or perhaps, they also "believe" that they are not beautiful enough and hence have joined the crowd of ugly.

And you'll always see that people who make it to the very top or to the very bottom have always found themselves lost in a combination of inferiority/superiority complex and it's a fine ratio that governs the slope of life. Those who are too satisfied, too happy, and too content with what they have, continue to live happily ever after and prosper as a family does. But we, the ones with this gnawing rage, this maddening thirst, and shimmering desire, must continue to look for answers.

We suffer from this disease, this disease called "inspiration" and I must suffer and toil till I find my treasure.

This is my curse. And this is my gift. How about you?

Current Book: "Selected Stories" by Edgar Allan Poe (Haven't read single page in past 4 months)
Current Music: "Yahan ke Hum Sikander" from Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikander

How things come full circle?

I am at this super famous conference for 3 days and its funny how things are unfolding in my nascent research career.

SCENE #1: At the bar
Light lamps are dim, wine glasses are glowing. Tanya is somehow at the same table with Prof. Goswami (who is a demigod in her field) 

Prof. Goswami: So how are you Tanya. We met before right? Yes, yes I remember you. So are you finished with your masters?
Tanya: Umm, yeah. I'll be graduating this semester!
Prof. Goswami: You're not continuing to a PhD with Prof. X?
Tanya: Umm, I applied to a couple of places and am waiting for some and deciding on some, umm-
Prof. Goswami: Which ones are you deciding on?
Tanya: Uh, I got this fellowship from Awesome University and an offer from this school in Europe and am waiting from one more in UK, so -
Prof. Goswami: What? You should go work with ___ at Awesome. She was my PhD student you know. No, no, don't think about it. I told you. You must work with her, join Awesome at any cost. What will you do in Europe? Nothing. You can't live there forever. Stay in US. Look, you'll be associated with "Awesome's" brand once you graduate from there. Who will care about Europe? Here, you're confused, I know a guy from Europe. He was in Europe earlier. Let me fetch him. Hey, JJJ, tell this young lady, why Awesome is better than ___ at Europe.
JJJ: Well, it depends what the young lady wants from her life.
Tanya: Uh-um-uh, I-I-
Prof. Goswami: She's confused of course. She's young and doesn't know what's good for her. I'm just telling her, Awesome would be much better for her career.
JJJ: Well, Goswami, if that's what you want me to speak, I'll yield. But its really her choice.

Prof. Goswami laughs and exits. Tanya moves to talk to JJJ in private. A professor from Awesome university who's interested in Tanya lurks in background, overhearing everything. Tanya feels uncomfortable with all the unwanted attention and escapes the scene with a crushed tissue paper on which lies written JJJ's email.

SCENE #2: At a meeting
All participating elves are from the Awesome University. 

Elf_1: So, did you hear back from any school?
Elf_2: Oh, you were one of those visiting candidates, are you getting anywhere?
Tanya: Yeah, um, they're giving me a fellowship!
Elf_3 scoffs.
Elf_2: Oh really?
Elf_1: What's the deal? How much?
Tanya is red cheeked and speaks after much hesitation.
Elf_3 scoffs.
Elf_2: That's what I got as well, a while ago. Hmph.
Elf_1: So you're coming to Awesome right?
Tanya: Um, well, I'm kind of waiting on this Europe one. And -
Elf_3: What? You're not sure about joining Awesome? Huh.
Elf_3 scoffs again and exits.
Tanya: How's the sessions going on for you guys anyway? Which ones you attended?
Elf_2: I went to X, Y and that..that. Z.
Elf_1: I went to A, B, and C, D.
Tanya: So um, you guys don't, like, attend together? I have no one here from my university :(, but we used to kind of go all together in common sessions. I can join you in whichever one you're gonna go, if you like.
Elf_1 and Elf_2 exchanged a condescending look, scoffed and left Tanya alone.

SCENE#3: In the hotel room
Tanya sits facing the glass wall in her hotel room on the 17th floor, looking out in the shining downtown. 

Tanya: Things don't seem right. I don't know why. I should be happy. I have got an awesome offer from
the Awesome University. I'm finally getting a chance to leave behind Prof. X and my Jaali university. But things appear so strange. The people at Awesome, they are kind of so bitchy. They are this, really, elvish people, you know. Really competitive, and with no emotion whatsoever. But elves were supposed to be nice and kind. Maybe only the wood elves. I don't know, frikking orcs they are. They would kill the other guy to get their paper published and stuff. They have this stench of rivalry emanating from their soul. I don't know if I can live in that kind of environment. And then US is also getting on my nerves. I'ven't seen much of it but whatever I've seen haven't turned out as rosy as I had hoped it to be. It's too pompous and glitzy. Nothing real really.

And I remember, exactly two years from now when I had applied to Awesome University for Masters degree, they rejected me. Rejected like I was some lame shit. Perhaps I was. Perhaps I still am. But now they want me. They want me like anything. And I had figured, it would be a nice ending to the story that first they rejected me and then after my hard work and subsequent attempt they would accept me. But then, somehow the story's climax isn't as good as it should be. Something's missing. Something.

They rejected me once. I guess now it's my turn. It's I who should now reject their offer. What if I? Perhaps go Europe, you know. Future will be uncertain after going there. Entering US will be much harder then. But that's fine. At least the story would be nicer. Rejection replied with rejection. And then things will come to a full circle. It will make sense.

Lights go out and Tanya's silhouette is last seen staring out in the North-East. Outside her window, the city is still alive and vibrant in its illusive light and false music.  

Current Book: "Selected Stories" by Edgar Allan Poe
Current Music: "Nadaan Parindey" from Rockstar

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