Friday, August 28, 2009


I have a fairly severe addiction. To the above mentioned substance. While I don’t abuse the substance per se, I definitely do need a fix on a diurnal basis. As BigGeek and Chip have learned through hard and nasty experience, its best to stay a few arm lengths away until I have imbibed my daily quota and my brain cells have all been sorted out nicely.
This morning as I drove to work, my head ached, my feet tapped themselves. Thank god there was no traffic, I would not have hesitated to run people over. Just kidding. Or not.

Withdrawl looks like this and does not feel good at all.

I went into my cube, fished out my bag and counted dimes and nickels and pennies. I needed $1.60. I found it, ran back down and entered the cafeteria.

Oh! Blessed Caffeine.

Here I am now, bright and chirpy, having downed 16 oz of the finest Columbian that has made its way here through Seattle. My brain can finally get down to work, and people around me are safe. I am fairly tame when I am well caffeinated.

I have been drinking coffee ever since I remember. No, seriously. My mother, many decades ago, weighed the cons of coffee to the pros of milk and decided there was absolutely no harm in stirring a small teaspoon of NesCafe into my morning milk. Which was the only way I drank it. And wait, before you roll your eyes at me, my mom prior to the NesCafe, would try and stir malt-extract-with-fish-oil into my milk.

Anyone remember what it was called? Gluta-something. Blech. Tar tastes better. I still carry emotional scars of the Gluta-something days. After that, I refused to drink milk. My mother claims I refused to drink milk way before that and that Gluta-something was a way to improve its taste (what was she thinking?) and get the additional nutrients into the skinny-minny that I was (I am not any more; I wish I were, but am so not).

So, after going down the rungs by trying to get me to drink Horlicks (yuck), Complan (still yuck, it should be named Complain, not Complan), Bournvita (not bad, but still a bit yuck), she finally settled down on Nescafe. Which sowed the seeds of my addiction.

I try and wriggle my way out of staying overnight in households where they don’t worship the altar of caffeine. Or at least brew a good cup every morning. My dad makes a mean cuppa of filter coffee and my mother-in-law is kindly disposed to it as well. She drinks Bru – which is not bad at all and she whips it up to a nice froth.

In our household, we are a bit snobbish. Beans are carefully selected. We are partial to Colombian. Freshly ground every morning and then brewed with two unbleached filters into a thermally-insulated carafe. Not the hotplate ones – they burn the coffee. Any variations in the quality of water (yes), coffee or filters is met with pouring the brew down the drain, intense cursing, severe withdrawal and re-brewing.

Which is what happened this morning. BigGeek half made the coffee. He rinsed the carafe, and poured water and left it at that. When I came down, I rinsed the carafe, filled the water, ground the beans and brewed. The resulting brew would have put dishwater to shame. It was dilute and BigGeek had used “smelly” water and so I had to throw it out (or water my plants with it). There was no time to re-brew which is how this post started.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


I am sitting in my car on a bumper-to-bumper road, on my way to work, listening to the local station trying to tell me how the roads are all clear. Yeah, right. Look at those darned cameras, now, you. Just as I am about to switch to my friend of misery, I hear an interesting tid-bit. That the class of 2013 was born in 19-fricking-91.

Let’s do the math.

In 2013, when the class graduates, Chip himself will be only 10 years away from being a freshman. Which is how long I have been living in this country and have very little recollection of how the decade whizzed past.


When these kids were barely out of their babyhoods, I was a freshman myself. In the time, these babies cut their teeth, learnt to walk, talk, read, write, do math (or not) , date and apply for college and basically grow 5ft at least, I have graduated, and post-graduated, met a guy of my dreams, married, got a job, bought a house and spawned.

Now that I think about it that way, it makes me feel a wee bit better. Also makes it easier to ignore the fact that I have also grayed, put on 30lbs (and that’s all I am really going to admit to) and wrinkled like a shirt that was not removed from the dryer promptly. I am a bonafide auntie now.

So, for the class of 2013, the following has always been their life.

  1. Salsa has always outsold ketchup
  2. Text has always been hyper
  3. They never had to “shake down” an oral thermometer
  4. European Union has always existed
  5. Cable TV has always offered phone service and vice versa
  6. There have always been flat screen TVs
  7. Smoking has been uncool
  8. There has always been a computer in the Oval office
  9. Britney Spears has been always heard on classic rock stations.
(See the complete list here)

For my generation, living in India,
  1. Internet was unheard of,
  2. PCs were rare, we worked using “dumb terminals” in colleges
  3. W used Pine for email.
  4. Sundays meant Ramayan or Mahabharat or Star Trek re-runs on Doordarshan
  5. MTV was the new fangled “western influence out to corrupt young minds”.
  6. Floppy disks (the 5 and ¼ inch) ones were the rage.
  7. USB was unheard of.
  8. CDs were criminally expensive and tape was the way to go. There was no random access and you had to change sides. Chip, has seen my old tapes and thinks they are “funny” and wonders what their use is. When I tell him they play music, he looks for a button on the cassette, a la ipod.

For Chip, the idea that someone does not own a cellphone or an ipod is unthinkable. Everything can be found “online”. And “online” is a button away with the iphone. So are games, music, photos and videos. CDs are so 20th century. Tapes can be found in museums. You never print directions, you just punch the address into the GPS. If you don’t know something, you don’t look it up in a book, you ask your mom to just google.

Oh, Chip! How will the world change when you go into your Freshman year? How, indeed?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Women, fire and other dangerous things

When we look at a sweeping landscapes, gory accidents or even a common object like a desk or a chair or a key, does the language we speak matter? I stumbled upon a very interesting article on EDGE that seems to think so. For years famed linguists like Chomsky and Co. were like, “Dude, no way!” and I daresay that’s still pretty much their stance in the matter, but after years of being swept under the rug, the question is being aired again by a Stanford professor Lera Boroditsky.

One day, Lera packed her bags and travelled to Australia, to Cape York to meet a small, interesting Aboroginal community – the Kuuk Thaayorre.

Instead of words like "right," "left," "forward," and "back," which, as commonly used in English, define space relative to an observer, the Kuuk Thaayorre, like many other Aboriginal groups, use cardinal-direction terms — north, south, east, and west — to define space.1 This is done at all scales, which means you have to say things like "There's an ant on your southeast leg" or "Move the cup to the north northwest a little bit." One obvious consequence of speaking such a language is that you have to stay oriented at all times, or else you cannot speak properly.

As BigGeek reads this, I am sure he is Googling (or Binging) to enroll me in a Kuuk Thaayorre class. But jokes apart, when they put the Kuuk Thaayorre on unknown streets and unfamiliar buildings, they did not go “Huh?” as I would definitely go, but had a keen sense of direction, just like a compass, and far, far more impressive then the your usual Joe. Amazing or what? So tuned into space they were that when asked to order cards like a baby growing older or man eating a banana, they ordered it not left-to-right as we would, but east to west while facing south, west to east while facing north and so on. And while in a closed room.

Note to Garmin: Don’t even try and sell GPSes in Cape York.

Lera and her team also tested people speaking other languages by doing this experiment. They chose objects that had different genders in different languages. For e.g. “key” is llaves in Spanish and is feminine but masculine in German (what is it called in German?) And here is what they found-

German speakers were more likely to use words like "hard," "heavy," "jagged," "metal," "serrated," and "useful," whereas Spanish speakers were more likely to say "golden," "intricate," "little," "lovely," "shiny," and "tiny."

Key is also feminine in Marathi, and I would definitely jot use jagged and heavy to describe it. Actually, if you ask me, a key is intelligent and elegant :-) There are other aboriginal languages where they don’t have 2 or 3 genders for nouns, but like 16 (at this level, we should call them classes or bins, right? Calling them genders is a bit creepy). They have separate genders for totally arbitrary stuff (arbitrary to us, ok to me, at least)

For example, some Australian Aboriginal languages have up to sixteen genders, including classes of hunting weapons, canines, things that are shiny, or, in the phrase made famous by cognitive linguist George Lakoff, "women, fire, and dangerous things."

Other interesting points – in Turkish, a verb form HAS to have information about actuality. In a sentence like “He drank water”, the verb “drank”, if it were in Turkish would have a different form if you actually saw the action, another form if it were hearsay/second-hand information. Or in Spanish, where “to be” has two forms – one for long term, one for short term. So if I say “Soy contenta” it means I am a happy, have always been one and will be in future – in short, I am a happy person. Now, if I say “Estoy contenta”, it means I am happy at this minute, no telling how I was in the past or will be in the future. Does thinking of “being” in short term or long term or looking at events to see if they actually happened or someone just said they did, not in abstract terms, but as an essential part of language that is a must to communicate – does communicating like this impact how we “see” the world?

Would you start looking at the world differently if you picked a new language?

The only language I have somewhat learnt in adulthood is Spanish and I must say, I do miss the Soy and the Estoy bit in English/Marathi/Hindi. It’s just so convenient, you know? But another question that popped into the aging mind was this – Why did the Spaniards in the first place feel the need to have two forms of “to be”? Why didn’t English, Germans and Maharastrians didn’t feel that need? Why did the Turkish feel the need to add information about if an event actually happened/it is second hand information in their grammar? Why is “key” masculine in German but feminine in Spanish? Are these things arbitrary or is there more than meets the eye?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Summer will have its flies

The summer is passing by and I am simply watching it go by. Come to think of it, I like nothing about the summer. Except that it gets Chip out of my hair and on to his bike. Or except the veggies in the backyard produce a bounty and make shopping for vegetables eye-rolling-oh-so Winter ‘08. Or except that the sun lingers and doesn’t go to bed until, much, much later. Or that I can find a cushy parking spot right by the elevator even if I reach work late.

So, what am I exactly complaining about?

That we never take a vacation. When the sun comes to town, the deals go away as they say, ok, really it is as we say, so we go into a self-imposed-expedia-exile. While the world – and owing to the small fact that this old bag-bones has lived in the U.S. for over a decade now, the world solely consists of 50 states and Canada, and those tropical countries where monsoon comes in summer, do not exist beyond the pages of “My First Atlas” – so while the world suns on the lush, palm-fringed, expensive beaches of Barbados and Cabo San Lucas, sipping drinks with little hats on them, I meant the drinks, not people; but maybe people wear hats while drinking drinks with hats too. Which they should especially if they are fair skinned. So while the world sunburns tans we slog away in our temperature-controlled, gray cubes, counting pennies, because, who needs a tan? It simply does not go together with “Fair and Lovely” anyway.

So while “others” clutch surfboards, I clutch the grimy gray mouse, clicking at pictures wishing I was a permanent fixture in this landscape.

*from Denali National Park and Kenai Fjords National Park , Alaska. Visited May 2004, just before Summer started. Sigh.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Birthday Clubs

Ok, I am not saying where or how, but some people who know each other only remotely through the intrawebs have come up with an idea of a Birthday Club. What is a Birthday Club, you ask? Well, according to one young parent, their child’s toddler birthday had no guests because they did not know any children that age. So appropriate aged birthday guests were being solicited over the intrawebs. The parents who participated in the Club would invite other member’s kids to their offspring’s birthdays. So that the birthdays would look like birthdays and less like a farce. I laughed but people signed up. What have we come to?