Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Not single, and yet ready to mingle (or talk at the least)

Being a doctoral student with busy advisors means that there are many glorious hours to be wasted in googling, reading meaningless and occasionally funny banter on e-forums and attending the erratically timed graduate party. Self-discipline has never really been my anchor, but a constant source of guilt due to its lack. I make fantastic, ambitious schedules that I proceed to slowly wash out of my memory over the next few days. It is only my dark Indian middle-class guilt at neglect of education (and childhood trauma of many tears spilt over textbooks) that keeps me going at this exercise in perpetuity. Hopefully, I'll emerge with a degree.

In the meanwhile, the graduate party. It was fun. And no I'm not trying to convince myself that my time away from books was well spent, it truly was a great evening. Suzy and Nerd Girl was with me and everyone else bailed out. Overall, women are the real winners in grad school by the grace of sheer demographics. I stress overall, because there is an imbalance between the engineering school (probably med school too, but doctors-in-training tend to be rather isolated) on the one hand and the social sciences and humanities on another. In most engineering schools, the testosterone in the air makes you dizzy (not exactly, but then it's mostly quantity over quality). In the social sciences though, grumpy female twentysomethings sit around sipping wine and complaining about how hard it is to get laid (if you are straight).

Now the European Students Association draws a majority of its members from the engineering school and we arrived to find out that men outnumbered women 30 to 1. Well, almost. But what this means is that as a woman all you have to do is make an appearance, and you would not lack company through the evening. Of course I met many old acquaintances, and they all asked about S, and the fact that he was luxuriating in his bum status and enjoying himself in Greece was cause for much heartburn all-around. Met some new persons, no one spectacularly interesting, but then probably my boredom threshold has really gone up (or down?), because I've spent time with and dated some crashing bores in the past.

Small mercy that they kept talking to me and didn't turn tail and run in the other direction at the mention of my boyfriend. I've found that for many, there is no greater conversation-destroyer. Cannot recall the numerous occasions that I've been having a wonderful conversation with a man who excuses himself and disappears when the boyfriend crops up in our talk. I whine to S about this, but then logically if a great part of being at a party for these men is about getting a date or getting laid, then I'm probably wasting their time better spent dazzling someone else. I'm a sucker for good conversation, but the buzz and goodwill of being among happy, chatty people from around the world (often conversing in different languages) is something I enjoy and appreciate on its own. I know I can always be the fly on the wall and soak in the headiness that is part alcohol and part freedom and promise.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Who am I

This does not seem obligatory, but I'll shoot off anyway, just to make my agendas (evil or otherwise) transparent and save a lot of heartburn for those cats whose curiosity is their poison. And it would give an idea of what's to come, so a handy reference for those who want to either bookmark or block this blog. I was born in Delhi, India and grew up as a fairly law-abiding Indian citizen. In fact so law-abiding that I'm probably one of the few Indians who can claim to have never offered (or received for that matter) any bribes to get service that is their right as citizens and consumers anyway. But to be fair, only once did someone demand a bribe off me, and my experiences with the great Indian bureaucracy have been spectacularly good so far.

So I grew up in Delhi with Bengali parents for whom the move to Delhi from Bengal was no less than an exile. It was voluntary, both my parents come from West Bengali families that were not forced to migrate by the Partition. In fact, socially and culturally we remained isolated from the Bengali enclaves in Delhi that mostly had migrants from Eastern Bengal, which became East Pakistan and subsequently Bangladesh. My father had moved to Delhi for work and we travelled annually to Bengal for vacations. But my parents were living the diaspora experience.......I digress, more about this later.

Suffice to say that I grew up negotiating many different cultural threads, and I would like to believe only more enriched because of it. I regret my linguistic limitations though. I am fluent in Bengali, Hindi and English (uniformly), and speak (and read and write) passable Urdu. I can understand a bit of urban Punjabi, which I found out was utterly useless for making your way through Punjab. Being friends with impressive polyglots, I regret I didn't take up German when I wanted to. I am trying to rectify by learning modern Greek, and there would be Farsi and Spanish lessons later. In any case I had access to a wonderful array of cultural production in Bengali, Hindi and English, and I made some use of it. For most of my life I was trilingual, effortlessly switching between the three languages, though predominantly using Hindi and Bengali in everyday life. That hasn't been the case in the last four years in Los Angeles, where Bengali has been reduced to weekly conversations with parents and Hindi sporadic encounters with a friend.

Speaking about my passage through school and university is tedious, so I'll skip that. I did the needful, the bachelors degree followed immediately by a masters. Worked for three years and absolutely loved my workplace and colleagues. Would have vegetated there for the rest of my life, but then folks at work hatched a conspiracy to throw me out. Started saying what a pity it was that I was throwing my life away as a lowly research assistant when I was destined for greater things. Show me a sucker who doesn't fall for that! But four years down the line, I am so glad and grateful that they gave me a strong enough kick in the butt to make me land half-way across the world in Los Angeles. So ha ha, take that! You thought you were getting mystery woman, and I turn out to be your average below poverty doctoral student.

How did I end up with this?

Seriously, how? Because all I wanted to do was post a comment to someone else's blog. And next thing you know, I'm saddled with my own blog. Which is rather curious, because in the last few months, I've been trawling the net, poking into reams of blogs written by folks who seem to be quite ambivalent about whether what they write is a soliloquoy or a pamphlet. And of course I've been tempted to have a blog of my own. But then, I suck at this. All through my teenage years, I made earnest attempts to keep a diary. Nothing profoundly angsty, just dilemmas over men, homework and snooping over classmates. But I could never keep it in any regular use. And so I started and abandoned about a dozen diaries. I know a blog's more flexible, which is what tempts me to give it a shot. And besides, there are times when the friends are tired of the same old fulmination for the nth time and I need to unload. I'll try to inform as well, but I didn't make any promises did I?