Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Uterus Calling

My friend tells me this story of how she was running. Alone. She was in kilometer 15 of her long run that warm humid Sunday in Chennai when she was accosted by a buxom old lady. Who stopped her. Chow had to take her music off and cock a polite ear to said lady. She was informed that she should stop running, stat, because her uterus would fall out if she continued to gallop like a horse.

Chow is a nice girl so I guess she didn't smack the lady but smiled and continued to gallop in a distinctly equine manner. I cannot wait for her to come back to the circuit now, after her well deserved break for what else? Motherhood.

I am usually small enough to go un-noticed by passersby. In fact, I think I am well nigh invisible. The deshvaasi will tell you the story of how I went to buy tickets in a smelly sweaty office in IIT one time, with him in tow. People walked over me (literally), sticking their armpits in my face and stuff. So, except for a few stray dogs, I don't receive much attention from fellow citizens on the road.

But in general, there is a lot of gyaan dispensed over the years that rings in my head. This business with the uterus? Well. I was started on it a long time ago. I used to cycle a lot in my youth. Yes, yes, you are not surprised, I know. My parents bought me a nice shiny red bike when I was 12 or so. Sort of right on the cusp of adolescence of womanhood or whatever. I used to ride it like a banshee all over the city at all times of day (not night. I had 7 pm curfew. Seriously. I think I still have 7 pm curfew in my mum's house. For sure).

My aunt who lived with us was pretty upset at me. She was sure that I was ruining my body with all the cycling and running and so forth. I think she even tried to accost me one time to talk about my hymen. Thankfully I escaped her clutches and complained to my mum who had bigger battles to fight and some family thing or the other ensued and everyone forgot about me, my uterus and tubes and associated things and I was left to my own devices.

We should have a short race for women in the near future (March 11), in our campus - I am working on it. I hope we get rid, at some point, of all these stupid notions about the relationship between exercise and our bodies. I am not recommending that we all jump on the marathon band-wagon, and I am the first one to preach moderation (even if I don't always practice it). Also, I believe strongly in the power of training, good support, hydration, discipline, and taking small steps. But seriously? It is really unlikely that your uterus will fall out if you run.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Marching to a different tune

I used to run short races. Really short ones. That was my thing. What I trained for. Not trained in a particularly correct manner, no doubt, but as it were, those were the events that excited me in the field. The ones I felt the correct mixture of apprehension and excitement about. There was no boring talk about a mid-foot strike there. It was all toes. I do feel that there remains some unexplored potential there and sort of regret having to live in this nearly-forty-year-old body and have no more chance of chasing after that. But then, it is fine. Its just a life, half-forgotten.

800 meters was a long race for me. My friend Durga was the champion of that distance. She was thoroughly intimidating in a way that large, non-vegetarian people still are to me. She was built of sturdy stock, no doubt. She whupped my ass on a routine basis and it was through sheer grit and because of my low body weight (I was sure) that I could manage to stay a step ahead of her in the 100 m dash. I recall the introduction of a skipping race once. A race that Durga thought was stupid and therefore was goofing off at, knotting the rope into other people's feet and so forth. I was focussed as ever. She still won.

As we lined up at the OAT yesterday for a race, I cleared my mind of thoughts. The entire deal was too different from my recent race experiences for me to really connect with it coherently. I was still a bit woozy from my trip and that horrid flight back that I took (crying babies crying babies till I have to deal with being a real grandmother, I think I am going to dislike crying). We dropped the child off at her swimming. The husband was my running mate this time. Thats a big difference. He was not grumpy, despite it being an early hour of the morning. Another huge first.

I brought a bar of some sort of cereal with me. I find that I am hungry in the mornings, and unless I start running before I fully open my eyes, hunger pangs overcome me. In fact, at Auroville, I was pretty hungry and seriously considered stopping for a bite to eat, except for the fact that it was a 10k and seriously who eats in the middle of a 6-miler? I ate the cereal bar, except for a tiny bit that fell on the road and I refused to eat it (husband did eat that quoting the 5 second rule back at me). I took a sip of water and left the bottle behind in the car. Didn't think I needed that either. Plus some guy at Auro told me my stance was all skewed from carrying a bottle on my right side. So.

The place was packed with people I know. From every pore came folks I knew. The thing with middle-aged folks is that no one talks about goals and pace and such like. I harassed KP and the rocket about that and they made some non-committal noises. I asked the husband (who always has a goal in mind) and he growled at me. I plastered a fake smile as I stood around in my black shorts and considered whether my period was truly truly done with or if I had a last day to contend with. The MIT maroon T thats hangs a bit loose is a favourite these days, I could hardly feel it. But I felt bottom heavy, of course.

The course is 7 km long, they said. I wasn't too concerned thanks to Le Garmin. It was 10 mins past the proposed start time so a bunch of us got impatient and started a flux towards what we presumed was the start point. I was tempted to just flag off and run and in fact KP started a fake countdown. Then someone took the mike and counted us off finally. "I need to feel the air"I told the faces as I took off. I did a dancing toe strike movement for ten steps to get ahead of all the walkers and laughers and faces and found myself up ahead, as I wanted to be.

This is not a casual saunter in the park Preeti, I told myself. I always start fast, the trick is to keep at it. I kept at it for a mile or two and saw all the familiar faces at the turn. I was running in my vibrams. I am not devoid of pain currently. There are at least four identifiable pain spots now. But nothing to complain about in a short race. I was breathing heavy. You are supposed to breathe heavy. No conversational pace today, I told myself. The route is familiar and I hardly had to look, my feet just took me. I glanced down at some point and registered a 5k PB. I claim this is a PB for 'this season' - but considering that I acquired Le Garmin in September 2011, I don't know. It could be a PB for life. Who knows?

I clung on then, knowing I had 2 kilometers (or less, surely the distance wasn't measured that accurately) to go. I was several minutes ahead of the rocket, and consequently of any other people of my gender. Not that I even try to keep that as a goal any more. Rocket was chilling in her new vibrams at any rate. This time my goal was to beat a whole lot of young boys in the race. To show them I'm the boss. And at the turn thats precisely what I was doing. Mani and Niranjan were up ahead - Mani a bit more ahead and Niranjan within my sights. It was good not to let our age get in the way of anything.

I slowed it down a bit as the finish slope is super steep. I recalled the last time I sprinted down that slope - back in January with MSB - in the finest physical fitness shape I have exhibited in a long long while. We sprinted right back up after that for a few further kilometers that day. Today I was content to stop and smile slyly at the look of total surprise that the young boys scattered around the place had on their faces. 6.5 km in 33:10 (per my Garmin, which I started a bit after the start point) is not bad for a has-been who started her early running career intimidated by large, rather solid women with long oily black plaits running down their backs.... 

Friday, 24 February 2012

Sum Total

Germany is done with. I returned home bleary-eyed last night in a real crabby mood. Showered. Kissed the people sleeping in my bed without waking them up & felt a bit better. Crashed clutching my hurting head and before I knew it it was 10 am and a new day had dawned in my life and in Chennai.

It was an awesome few days. I had good company when I wanted. Lots of alone time when I needed it. High speed internet. I exercised a number of times. I explored trails and tracks and the whole town on foot. The weather was crisp and cold but not altogether unpleasant. The conference went well and I talked research for many hours with many intelligent people.

I did some minimal sight-seeing. It was not my first time in Germany (third or fourth time I have been there). I feel comfortable in that beautiful country now. I feel like I want to go back. I like their history. I especially like their old people, and I met one wonderful old lady who had tears in her eyes when we left her. I loved your enthusiasm Eve Maria Star, maybe we will meet again some day. 

I loved the trains. I loved traipsing around in the wonderful Inter-City Express, but also the tiny trams that took me to the little town we stayed in. Bad Herrenalb (pop. <10000!). This is right in the Black Forest, and had tons of beautiful trails going into the forest. It was like living in a fairy-tale. With a happy ending. And beer.

The images above are a collage of my experiences there. Except for the fact that I did not drink all that beer - that picture is from the internet (sorry!). The rest are my own. I drank some wonderful beers, I especially liked a thin but dark beer called Kostritzer. The last time I drank a Pils I really hated it, but the Pils I drank this time I liked, also.

My running was not quality running. It was exploring a new place alone running. It was pushing beyond the envelope running. It was being Indian and living in Chennai but getting out there at 6 am before anyone wakes up to crunch on the snow running (it was not all that much snow, but the temperatures were a little below 0 C). It was 'lets figure out how much you love running' running. The little green google map up there doesn't do justice to the wonder I felt.

I'll be back someday. To walk amidst tall Germans. To see apple-cheeked children carrying toboggans that I would like to try someday. Auf Wiedersehen!

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Braving the snow

I climbed down a flight of stairs and stepped outside the main door. I breathed in the fresh cold air. I looked around and saw a light dusting of snow on the ground. I noticed that the sidewalks however, were clear, and that it was not snowing any longer. I estimated that the temperature was in the low single digit positive numbers...

I walked back into the hotel, thankfully having memorised the number code to get back in - easy because it involves my date of birth. A sprinkling of early morning risers making their way blearily to the coffee machine smiled at me...

Sure I plan to go running/jogging for a bit now, I said as they raised their eyebrows in surprise at me.  I meant it too. I was already partially dressed for the event. For years my Umass Basketball sweatshirt supported me in my brave attempts at dealing with the Massachusetts cold, I was sure that commissioning them for this trip was a good idea! My asics were a good call - thankfully Krishna had advised me against vibrams...

My sweatpants were going to be a bit of a challenge, I thought. They are nice basketball ones - the kind you can pull off at the start of the game in a flourish, hopefully you have remembered to wear shorts underneath!! I wore them a bit during my preggo days and now the elastic band has sort of expanded to a huge circumference....

I came back and bundled up as best as I could. Two pairs of socks. Black tights under the sweatpants (which served well and did not slip down). An additional tshirt. I picked up the garmin and the woolen cap and off I went. I was so super afraid of ice that I took really tiny steps. The pundits would have been appalled at my running stance. But what the hell.

This hotel I am in is surrounded by roads that climb up (or down) a lot... I don't do well on inclines. Some of these are serious inclines. Anyhow I was so excited about a couple of things that I did not worry about the slopes:
(1) the very fact that I was running in Germany of all places
(2) the feeling of running but not sweating
How different an experience from usual at home scenario!

I ran real slow and took in several early morning sights. I think I kept myself safe - sticking to well lit roads, ensuring I was just going radially out from the hotel so I don't get myself lost, and also keeping my eyes open, yes, no music or other distractions. I hung in there for about 45 minutes before returning triumphantly to the room for some light abs work...

I could get used to this. It was really pleasant and very beautiful... I am going to have to break my resolve to not run on consecutive days I think. Or wait. Maybe it would be prudent to check the local temperature out! Because the two hour walking tour we had this evening? Resulted in some serious frozen toes and ears!

Monday, 20 February 2012

Winter Wonderland

I find myself in Germany, for work. For a few days. My flight was as terrible as flights are wont to be these days. I was in the 'easy access to toilet' seat. The non-reclining one. At least I was in the aisle and next to a lady who was not super fat and spilling into my seat - nice, I thought, as I put my stuff down and fiddled around with blanket, ear phones, the case to put my glasses in, my neck pillow, and so on. But smaller the lady, smaller the bladder I guess. She had to pee several times, usually coinciding with the time I had just drifted off into slumber. I think its called 'a dose of one's own medicine' in some cultures. Though the crying children orchestra? That was just uncalled for, fate, just uncalled for.

On balance though, I got enough sleep. I saw a bit of Modern Family - which is my most favourite show next to Big Bang Theory. I ate some food. Not the disgusting veg puff they chose to serve at 2 am, but the breakfast they served in the morning before we landed in Frankfurt. That was okay, as airline food goes.

You know how I love traveling in trains? Well I love it more when I have less luggage. I have just a backpack and my usual pulling suitcase thing this time, and it was just awesome. I wouldn't much have minded doing this alone, but my colleague was with me and that was not so bad either. Four eyes are better than two in spotting track numbers and such! And keeping sight of which stop to hop off at. I thought wistfully about the beautiful German roads - how one might enjoy driving on it. But then not for long! The train wound its way up the mountains & forests - we are in the black forest region here - and it was all so beautiful and convenient.

We had a bit of hike to get from the train station here to the hotel (more like guest house) we are staying at. A steep climb! I am happy to say that I was only slightly winded. And that I blame on just feeling fat from reduced running mileage in the recent weeks. I kept glancing around, trying to see if running is even a remote possibility. Then it started snowing a bit and my fingers were really freezing and red and I forgot about that.

Outside my window, a little into the distance, I can see this ruin (or whatever). I googled this image as of course I don't bring cameras with me. At some point tomorrow I have to figure out what that is all about. And there is some talk about this town being a spa and a thermal cure place. Not that that interests me in the least bit, but ought to figure that out as well, soonish, out of idle curiosity and because it reminds me of Bath as depicted in long forgotten Georgette Heyer novels! (What? The empress was a die-hard fan and she told me its okay to read because its 'Historical Romance' back in college. And I actually liked them, so judge me!)

Meanwhile, its another day ripped out of the calendar of life. I am done with this one. My presentation is ready (finally!), my breath is caught (was a tough week in Chennai!), loved ones have received status updates, dinner is consumed (and, as a matter of fact, digested... these western 6 pm dinners take some getting used to!), and a tiny box of a twin bed beckons now... Who know what tomorrow will bring? I am charging my garmin at any rate!

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Party Pooper

"What do I wear?"  is not the first question that comes to mind when I get invited to go to a dinner or a party. Seriously. Before my friends completely disown me, let me forge ahead and explain.

"What is my long run plan for the weekend?" is the question I ask myself. Seriously. Now go ahead and disown me.

As I age, my ability to operate on fewer hours of sleep than usual is there, somewhat. But my ability to exercise on fewer hours of sleep has vanished poof into the void.

"At least you get out there" I tell myself. And this is true. It is a big achievement. I like my group of friends. I like meeting new people. I like all the chatter and noise and alcohol and food and so on. Up until 9:30 pm. I can drag on till 10 pm for special occasions. But after that, I hate everything and everybody. And I pull my hair out and drag my shirt out of my jeans and generally follow the child about like a lamb looking for a comfy mattress to lie down upon and sleep.

My brother in law, when they lived in the US, had cracked this problem well (though he was not motivated by long runs). He would disappear into one of the conveniently located bedrooms, claiming that his child needed to sleep. He would take a quick nap. If the child slept during this time, well and good. He was not too bothered by that outcome, really. Refreshed from his nap, he would emerge all gung-ho and ready for ice-cream.

My husband is absolutely the opposite of me. He will sit around slightly grumpy for the first hour or so of the party. He will have normal conversations with people - without excitement - just neutral-like. By and by he will overtake the party. The point at which conversations in new languages enter the mix is really when I start very quantitatively evaluating things like number of hours of sleep, converting 9:00-9:30 min/mile long runs to any LSD (long slow distance) I can muster, number of hours I can run, whether I can make up somehow through the course of the week, etc.

The sensible thing to do, in these situations, is what one of my girl friends does. "Preeti, can you guys drop my husband off at home?" she will ask, knowing full well that we are in it for the long haul. Then she gives a sweet smile at everyone and goes home to sleep, a fluffy mattress, sleeping children, and sleep, blissful sleep. Meanwhile I look daggers at my husband, who ignores me, and has the company of another night owl and an obligation to hang out till he is ready to leave. I find the child curled up in a corner and plonk next to her (she ignores me as well). Then some enthusiastic adult comes up to me to ask if I am bored, don't I want another drink, did I eat my dinner, etc. (no, no, sort of).

I think I am theoretically ready for parties and dinners and socialising and late nights. But my body is telling me something else. When I hit the big four-oh, I think I am going to hang up my socks and stay home in my comfy bed and read or sleep while you all waltz around through the night. We can always chat over email or something in the morning hours. I have 700 odd days to grit my teeth through then... 

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Excuses Excuses Excuses

I woke up this morning early but not bright. I did my thang and dropped off the child at the pool. Depending on my schedule, I swim for a bit. By myself, all the way over at the other end where I will not be intimidated looking at the little ones swimming like fish. I thrash around a bit. I wear my watch and feel somewhat happy to note that I have stuck it out in the water for - whatever - 40 maybe 60 minutes.

I am not a good swimmer. I learnt last year and have tried to just stay afloat since then, in a sense. I graduated myself fairly recently to the 6 foot side, having spent a lot of time in the 4 foot side of both the IIT and the Velachery pools. My favourite trick is to flip over in the water - which I can only do in the shallow part, however. I can barely swim one lap, but I am getting better. I swim, albeit inexpertly, freestyle, backstroke, and breaststroke- 20 meters at a time, then act like I am going to die and clutch the ladder.

So naturally the number of excuses I make to myself about swimming is fairly large. I have my period. I might have my period. I might still have my period. That one gives me lot of rope. And I merrily go off and run. Even in the nasty roads near the pool. I don't even mind that. But I resolved, among other things, to stop this nonsense and get to some reasonable level of aptitude in the water this year. So far, I have done okay - meaning I act like I am going die and clutch the ladder at 25 meters now.

Why the sudden fascination for swimming - something that has been a list item for years now - and which I have avoided for so very long? Lots of reasons. I would like to believe that primarily, I want to swim as cross training. If you are a runner or aspire to be one, you will instantly recognise that the most important thing to keep in mind with running is cross training. You can pick your poison (or sweet). I used to kick box for years. Biked a bit. Played basketball for years. But really, the most sensible option is swimming, no doubt about it. What does cross training do for you? Simple. Prevent injury. And keep you real.

Of course the child being such a water baby is an important reason. I still remember my shame at having to be dragged back on to the boat during that scary snorkeling trip in the Maldives last year. That drives me. Now I also remember the super fun we had snorkeling in the Andamans recently, and remember that we want dive sometime this summer. "You don't need to really know to swim to snorkel" - sure that might be true. But my mind doesn't know that. It thinks I am going to drown & die the second I hit that nasty salty water. So I have to convince it that I can survive. Thats the main thing.

But despite all of this, today, I dropped her off and returned home and snuggled and slept. "My back hurts" I say to anyone that wants to ask me. It was hurting all day yesterday, and it feels a bit funny today. I plan to evaluate it later this evening with a workout. Or at least tomorrow morning with a run. Which leads me to believe that it was just an excuse this morning. Damn.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Auroville 2012: My first experience running less

Pre-race excitement, saturday, Feb 11, 2012:
Can't wait! I am not running much in this race. Just a 10km foot race! But, an opportunity to hang out in the Auroville forest! And the Auroville aunties are my favourite. This year, I am looking forward to a different kind of Ted Talk.. with the one and only Barefoot Ted, as featured in Born to run - The modern day runner's bible!

Feet, flat feet
I absolutely love this years Auro Marathon logo. Except for one thing. I feel bad looking at the magnificent arch. Because I am flat footed. Yes, this is true. I have run all my life, despite my flat feet. Its not a worthy excuse, I promise you. (Of course, I have other things going for me. "Low center of gravity" for one). Auro promised to be fun!

The Auro Bruja
Many of my friends got on the injured list these past two weeks. KP succumbed to a monstrous run in vibrams. Krishna blames it on some jump squats he landed badly in. There was some talk of carrying garlic to ward off the witch. The Quadster was the worst of all as he took a spill over his bike and found himself with several fractures. Ludwig went through the ritual bug - or the ritual bug went through ludwig... The rest of us had the usual minor complaints - the kind you don't know whether to ignore or give some TLC to; to run or cancel.

My chill out plan
Auroville marathon is on Valentine's day weekend. Historically. I am not a big believer or anything. But I thought it would be cool to run a race with my husband for V-day. It sounded like a good idea at that time, at any rate so I enthusiastically signed us both up. I wanted to try out a 10k race anyway - been long since I did that. So that was the plan. Thanks to his injury, KP was going for the 10k as well. So the three of us head out in the morning from the hotel.

"Lets decouple"
We are arguably the most decoupled couple. I remember a long winded conversation where a room-full of our couple friends thought it most ridiculous that we were like that. But it works well for us. We are independent like that. I don't pack his suitcase for him when he goes on a trip, and he returns the favour. At least I let him carry my bag (if its heavier, which is not often the case any more), I used to cringe at that too in my youth. We decided to run our own race because he said my initial pace makes him uneasy. And I am all about initial pace.

All about initial pace
Avg Pace

For reasons I find hard to express, I am not happy with my race at all. This year has been already great in so many ways already. But there are a bunch of minor disappointments as well. I have run three races this year. At the Mumbai full, my timing chip malfunctioned, so I don't have an official timing certificate. At the YMCA Republic Day half, the course was 0.5km short so I am not sure I met my timing goal. At Auro, yesterday, I felt as if my legs were not turning around fast enough.

Social aspects
The social part of the weekend was great though. I had some nice conversations. Chilled. I drank some beer, played with some cute kids, met a large number of my running buddies, found that after all Ted is another human being like us all (his feet look very thick soled though, I admit). Our hotel room was nice, and reasonably convenient. We checked out the floor tiles and bathroom fixtures carefully, for purposes of comparison as we reach that stage of our house.

Fat ass
I do feel like a lard ass now. I ate amounts of food not commensurate to amount of running, is how it felt. On the one hand it was awesome to finish the race and be all sprightly and not puky or anything. To be the first (among the) to eat breakfast and collect the t-shirt. To return back to the hotel room and be ready for breakfast buffet by 9:45 am. But on the other hand, both KP & I were feeling guilty for sure, though we made a good job of not telling our spouses about it - because they would make fun of us!

The morning after
And, as will be my routine for this semester, this morning, I was up bright and early to study for my class and then to teach it. I did consider canceling it but when it came down to it, I felt too guilty. Not when my legs feel just fine and my resting heart rate is back to normal levels. Also, I was really looking forward to today as I had planned to tell them the story of when my dad taught two classes on 'Chemical Equilibrium'  as I squirmed in my seat as a wispy 17 year old... 

Friday, 10 February 2012

Friends & Family

Yesterday was such an awesome day that I feel compelled to write about it in an unusually open and honest way. At the end of a long day of teaching and meetings and so on, we all (this year, including me, there are 13 of us in the group!) hosted this:

We publicised it on internal chemical engineering email groups, and that facebook page. I wasn't sure about how much food to order. Pulled a century out of my hat and had the usual tea person bring 100 cups of tea and some 25 packets of biscuits (only GoodDay! because Shilpa likes that, and that only). 

I was a bit apprehensive about filling the room. It is a fairly large room. Capacity of a hundred, I think. I was preparing a mental set of sentences to say to the kids in case the audience was very thin and sparse and countable on the fingers of one hand. 

When we started, there were about 30 people, I think. By and by as the evening wore on the room was full! Full of bright eyed bushy tailed Chem Es across all years and programmes. The presentations were all good, most of all, I liked how enthusiastic everyone was about their work. 

Then we closed shop, our voices a bit high with excitement, and went to dinner, just the 13 of us of course. It was a large spread of a buffet - which I never do justice to. But I think the rest of the group definitely did! My husband and child joined us as well and no one really talked shop (I resisted the temptation, for the most part). Many jokes were cracked and photographs were taken.

The best thing was, it felt like a nice family get together! Or like the dinners we have with our friends. Only difference being that the average age was much lower last night. It was so nice and relaxed. I am looking forward to doing this often, and in our home the next time! 

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Counting with Feynman

(From, "It's as simple as One, Two, Three ..." by Richard Feynman, as told to Ralph Leighton)

I was flipping through these essays by Richard Feynman recently. Not the physics ones. But the other, fun things that he writes about. I love his stories. The child doesn't like me to tell her stories. Ever since I can remember, she has insisted that I either read to her, sticking to the plot in the book and not making stuff up in my head, or just leave her alone so she can read. So it is nice for me to find something that she will let me narrate to her. We have spent a few days where I tell her one of the crazy things Feynman used to do, and before we know it, dinner is done, and she is giggling, and I get a hug out of it so I am not complaining much.

Now this particular story - the one in which he is trying to understand how people count (or think), by understanding how he counts (or thinks), is super simple, and really very fun. Despite the obvious, glaring loop hole here - an average human being's thinking strategy can hardly be compared to that of Feynman. What I personally like about Feynman in general is his inward looking-ness. I like that so much about him. I do find it hard to believe that he didn't care tuppence for the Nobel Prize. Things like that, I doubt, in these various renditions of his life story. But there is something about him that I absolutely love - and that is related to these 'experiments with himself.' Not necessarily in tribute to him or anything - but I love to experiment on myself, as well.

So the child & I decided to figure out this counting business ourselves too. We find, on quick analysis, that we can also count while reading. It takes extra concentration, however. We cannot count while talking (which is just about all there is in common between us and him, I guess!). We occasionally use our fingers for counting, and that makes it much simpler. We are working on figuring out how our respective favourite athletic endeavours - running & swimming - might fit into this scheme of things.

Of course there is a larger idea here. And that is about how different people think differently. One of Feynman's friends, could actually count while talking aloud, because he was visualising a tape (or ticker of some sort) running across with numbers, in his mind. Thats how that guy was counting. Which is super interesting. By the way, not in this essay, but in another one, cannot recall exactly which one, Feynman admits that to him, different terms in equations have different colours. And thats how math is organised in his brain.

I was thinking this morning (as I was driving, clearly two things that I can manage to do simultaneously), about how I think. I definitely don't see equations in colour (I have tried, unsuccessfully, to build that into my psyche, but given up as it was not natural to me). I don't see much colour at all in things, really, except for cars. I totally identify cars by colour (and nothing else, pretty much), I think. I have people's faces come up in front of me when I think about something they might have said. When I look at a face after a long while, a little visible balloon/blurb pops up on top of their head, with a name on it.

And the way I count depends on what it is I am counting! Feynman never said that. When I count pages, I say the number out loud (softly). When I count to get an idea of time when working out, I watch that timer like a hawk and always try to stay behind it. When I am counting to get the child to finish her task, I skip count. When I am running, depending on how tired I am, I say the multiplication tables in my head, starting at 16 and working my way down to 1 as I tire. When I am counting big solid objects, like people invited to a party, I use the segments on my fingers. And I count in English, except when I am counting the clothes for ironing - which I do in tamil (very inexpertly), for some reason... How do you count?

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Little known facts...

Stupidity through the ages...I really have do a better job at living life on earth... I start with these confessions... 

* I was training to be a gymnast. Had the build for it for sure - though at that age it wasn't clear. What if things changed and I became this amazon of a person? Not that I was thinking about such. I used to enjoy it. Was excellent in floor exercises. Pretty much like a little ball rolling down that dusty mat all day long. I quit because the coach was being mean, a little bit. Mostly because there were all these beautiful girls he was paying attention to and I was (am) an underdeveloped tomboy.

* I once was in a tournament where our school was rocking all the prizes, sort of. My friend Smitha, who was a couple years younger than I, and I were in contention for the high jump medals. Along with a few others from other schools. Who were sucking it up big time. My teacher came and said 'you knock the bar next time, so we get both gold & silver, that will give us maximum points in the tally' I am ashamed to say I listened to him. Could have taken that height easy, was top of my form that day. And rationalised it by saying that kid deserved it better.

* I once ran a 100m dash on some species of artificial turf, barefoot. I didn't own spikes till I got to college. Because no one thought I should have it, and I was not pushing the agenda so much. Didn't think I was good enough to deserve it. Fucking 80s - everything was so screwed up then. The soles of my feet went black and blue and were incredibly painful for days after. I was proud of myself for it. I won a lot of medals in that tournament and had to walk up in school assembly many times to the front. Painful as hell, stupid as fuck.

*  I once fainted on that bridge across the Charles river behind my place in Harvard Square. I was running, and I just...blacked out for a second or two. This is a cause of much mirth for my husband who claims I fell down limp asparagus style on the bridge. Yes, I was fine after that and we walked back home and thats the day I discovered the joys of hot sunny days and dehydrated bodies. This is why I like running in Chennai. Its the real deal, I tell you. Also, I hate running at any time except early mornings.

* My name is up on some board in the IITM campus because I won that medal when I graduated. I am getting better about taking visitors to show that thing off to. However, when I showed it to my daughter, she said 'big deal its all the way in the corner.' A quick gender count reveals a startling fact (not). There are  like 40 names there. 38 names are of boys. On some days, even now, I am sick of fighting the gender fight. On other days, I am super happy that I am not a guy. I couldn't deal with the simplicity of mental thoughts.

* Speaking of names, my name is Preeti Aghalayam. I work as an Associate Professor in Chemical Engineering at IIT Madras. I was at IIT Bombay before this, doing the same thing. With this, I out myself.

Who knows, someday, you might find some photographs of me here, that proves that point? Meanwhile, you can call me Kenny. In real life too, many people call me that! 

Sunday, 5 February 2012

In which we channel the inner Murakami..

I did a guest post at Bhamla's. Want to read it? Its about life and running and usual things like that. With apologies to the great man.

Inner Murakami

Friday, 3 February 2012

Madam Please Sorry Thanks Oh no!

Its simple, really. As lone adult in the household, I crave company. Thats why I have been here so often this week. Not that I have any dearth of things I want to say, generally. But I choose things like sleep or hanging with other adults over hanging out here in my little web-space. Not this week! Despite the very timely occurrence of Comedy Central channel on Indian TV (good for us in general, but too many fucking ads already. And much as I love Cyrus Broacha, and that shade of red, boring now).

So, usually, I am all about the gentle touch. Of course I am not the calm, collected, mommy person with an apron on or anything. But in my interactions and in situations of strife (as I am going to describe in just a second below), I tend to be a little quiet and use my key words a fair bit. As opposed to some others who come in all belligerent and demand their rights and damn you if you don't give it to them. I guess I used to be loud in my arguments, once upon a time. Especially about things related to my gender. I was super sensitive about that (still am. you would be too if you went to college at a place where you were called 'non-males' on a routine basis). I would fight tooth and nail many a time.

I really don't care so much any more. If you say something slightly disparaging, I might even *shockingly* not react. Just I G N O R E. Its like this. You have to be really stupid to think that men are superior to women. Even more so if you think that YOU (a male person) are superior to women (in general). What is the point arguing logically with stupid? I would much rather bang my head on the wall, thank you very much.

Chennai, people will tell you, is awful for women. You get no respect, they will say. They will not even consider your request unless accompanied by some man, they will say. And sure, I joke about that too. Like how I stood in line for about 100 days in a nasty passport office while a large man pushed me down and told the officer he was here to apply for a passport for his wife who was chilling at home because she is a woman. Or the time the guy on the phone asked me 'is no man there in the house?' when I asked him to help me figure out what the fuck was wrong with the gas cylinder he had supplied.

But, seriously, its not. I have had a large number of experiences here, and the sum total of them is quite pleasant. If you don't act like a floozy (I usually don't), they are all just fine. Like when I run anywhere I please wearing shorts (shorter and shorter ones as I age, I am afraid). In the initial days I am sure people hooted a bit. Or stared. Now, they pretty much ignore me. All the guys who deliver water or gas cylinders or repair inverters etc. - all of them are nice to me. As I am, to them. If they dawdle, delay, don't show up, etc. I am pretty sure its not because I am a woman. Thats what they do. They are unprofessional. Doesn't mean they are awful to women. They can be just irresponsible like that, thats all.

The day's story, finally. The child had its swimming class on Wednesday. If you were in my house at 8 am that day, you could be forgiven for assuming that we were about to launch a rocket. A number of bags were packed and lined from the main door all the way to the side-board in the dining room. The troops were gathered around filling water & juice bottles and snack-boxes and what not. The items were individually counted and checked and moved into the car. Which creaked under the collective weight. The astronauts (child, me), buckled in and 3-2-1 took off. School. Office. School Pick Up. Dress Change. Curd Rice. Re-pack Swim Bag. Collect Swim Food + Drink Bag. Get hold of Swim Board Paddle Pull Buoy (also known by the evocative name of Pool Boy, giving one visions of an oiled, muscular, dark-ish person in tiny red swimming trunks). Hold Child By Hand. Enter.

When we went to the pool, three guys were barring our entrance. Upon enquiry, it was revealed that we had to show our membership card. A simple enough thing, you say? Yes, if the rocket launchers had remembered to bring it. Or, going back further in time, some unspecified member of the family hadn't GASP lost it (I blame Potus. He must have thrown it out in one of his cleaning fits). No amount of reasoning was heard so we returned, all upset and stuff.

I searched high and low at home for the card, to no avail. So I called them yesterday. Some positive noises were emitted. So today, with similar launch detail, we went over again. I admitted to having lost the card. I mentioned the name of the person I spoke to on the phone, and about how positive noises were heard. I worked very hard and made several sentences in tamil, expressing my admiration for sticking to rules. I apologised for troubling them repeatedly. I commiserated with them for the problems they must be having dealing with all of us. And suddenly, I was allowed to search through the fat register for our names. I did a brute force search thanks to foggy memory.

Date of membership:: Between May and July
Was photo given:: Most likely
Amount paid: 10000 INR (I remembered this well because I made a draft).
Membership number:: 1075, 1057, 1750, 1705 or something like that.

So I flipped some 20-30 pages, and found us finally. To say we were jubilant is an understatement! The guys, thanks to all my gentle niceness, were also happy for us. They took the new photos I had brought along and let us into the hallowed portals finally!

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Below the limit...

Hand in hand we went to the blood bank. Yes, this is our idea of an interesting date. Our goal was simple. We wanted to donate blood - to the bank - to the hospital - there is a story behind it. Potus' grandmother was in the hospital, sort of on her last legs. She had been given a couple of bottles of blood overnight by the ICU folks, who requested us to replenish the bank if we could, kindly. Of course we could, we said, and looked around expectantly at the waiting family...

Flashback to when dad was in the hospital for his surgery. I was at home, being cared for by an aunt, attending school, wearing my uniform, and crying at the lightest comment by anyone. So the story was narrated to me later. A friend of dad's, upon hearing of the usual plea for donating of his cells, had loudly (and rather too relievedly) proclaimed that he was diabetic, and therefore, couldn't. It didn't matter much as there were hordes of people young, healthy, and not scared of the act over there that day so it was a virtual party. And the old man told the story several times for years to come.

Back to the present day. The waiting family did the tortoise. Crawled back into their shells at the mention of the act. So potus & I went on by ourselves, not in the mood to ask anyone else. Potus is not a small person. He looks like a healthy adult human being and was welcomed into the fold of the blood bank with open arms by the very Mallu lady nurse sitting there. He glibly glided over the form with pen. I was given the once over by the lady. Another lady was called in for assistance.

My finger was pricked and inserted into a machine - presumably to get my hemoglobin count. My protests that my hemoglobin count was rocking, and that I am a runner, and I eat heart healthy foods, and such like were ignored. My inserted finger beeped and the number was 0.05 lower than their (in my opinion) arbitrary standard. I insisted that they do the test again, offering up another finger for the same. I am not queasy about this things, you see. This time the number was 0.1 higher than the standard. "So there" I said to the reluctant looking nurse.

Grudgingly she set us up for our date on adjacent beds. Wheeled over various contraptions and set the thing going to extract the red stuff from our bodies. She switched the TV channel to tamil songs (oh my absolute favourite. fuck. so. not) and took off to twiddle thumbs/read about Mohanlal vs. Mammooty or whatever. We joked around about this and that. Hey. It was the first time we were alone together in a long while, thanks to a very long hospital duty jaunt that potus had to do and the various things I had to do meanwhile at the back end to keep the wheels rolling.

We were offered a couple of biscuits, and some juice at the end of it. We compared the colours of our blood and made some comments about it. She had finally extracted less from me than him and so that was annoying for me, funny for him, couldn't care less about this shit for her. We sat down and drank the juice while a nicer lady showed up and made us a certificate. Seriously, I am pretty proud of that one. We vowed to come back often and donate. 'Only once in 3 months' admonished my one true believer.

The family, admittedly, were in shock and pain and grief about grandmom. But still they came up with the funniest. Mostly, they were asking me these weird questions. 'Did it hurt?' "Don't you need to lie down?" "Do you feel your head spinning?" "Shouldn't you eat something right away?" I was like dude, whatever, lady dying 5 meters away alert. Lets worry about me later. I'll be fine - I'll eat some, get some sleep, and yeah, it will be okay tomorrow. I am 37 and an athlete. And I am going to come back and donate in 3 months...

I haven't done that, should go do that again. Should put that on my list. Maybe not once every three months, but once a year. My parameters are good but perhaps not fantastic and also I run too much sometimes, and things like that, so once a year sounds fine. I don't know why there is so much fear about things like organ & blood donation, even in this day and age [I might joke about it but of course its just as important to keep oneself safe while at it and if your hemoglobin count is really low you would do well to avoid taking the risk].

PS: And it reminded me of that one awful time in college when I was almost rejected from this Engineering job that was my one hope in case grad school didn't materialise, because I was underweight. Damn. I have worked hard on losing that tag. 

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Monster At Large!

I have to note this somewhere, lest I forget. So here I go, taking the plunge...

POTUS has been away for the past few days. We are struggling a bit to manage - like Bannu, I ought to give myself a quantitative evaluation criterion for this - but instead I get the idea to have a spiked drink from her blogpost. Vodka Sprite with ice hit the spot really well last night. I would hesitate to call it a 'celebratory' drink, as yet, but improve my spirits, it sure did that. And I slept like a log of a baby.

Our lives are generally chaotic. Both potus & I are like that. So naturally we have the child also on this treadmill, set to warp speed. The details of WHAT we are up to that keeps us so busy has changed over the years. But the speed remains. We all need a fair amount of sleep - I guess we sleep 7-10 hours per person per night - which is a lot (at least for the adults), but if you need it, you need it. This shortens our day just sufficiently to make you feel like you are living in fast forward mode if you happen to, per chance, stay with us in our large but routinely messy home.

The child (I am typing 'monster' here and going back and deleting and saying child. Yes.) has adjusted well to this format of doing things. Right from the time we came back home from the hospital. I remember one time when she was three months old, feeding her, bundling her and mum into the car, driving to work, attending an evaluation I couldn't miss, coming back to bundled person waiting for me in my office, locking the door, feeding her again, changing her, collecting all the associated bags, child, mum, etc., getting back into the car, driving home, stopping for groceries on the way, and generally going nuts like that often enough through the week to give someone the feeling that our feet don't really hit the ground.

In the midst of all this chaos, how does this child read? She reads and reads and reads. Her father, being potus, this type of thing is fully expected of him, has banned her from reading. One time she broke down and cried and said that she cannot survive without books and she would rather read than do anything else including eating. So we talked and so on and now the ban is sort of an 'in-principle' thing that she knows we bring up if she troubles us too much and won't refer to it if she is being reasonable otherwise.

Generally, I guess because she is a reader (and maybe perhaps just also because she is a single child who hangs out with adults - really insane adults like her parents and ludwig and msb who are her especial friends), she is shy. Doesn't come up and start talking immediately to you. In fact, she mostly doesn't even deal with adults too much. She has her close friends - the ones she plays and fights with - all of them having the common feature of being kids of our close friends - and generally also makes friends easily with children. But adults - she mostly ignores - to the point of rudeness. I still remember tripping over words enough because my parents would insist that we formally welcome guests to our home etc. that I don't scold her too strongly for this. In passing, I tell her that she must not mewl like a cat when my colleagues say hello, but she does it anyway so I have mostly let it go and make stupid statements like 'yes she is a bit shy'

We were out with a couple of our friends recently at Vedanthangal. And I couldn't believe it, riding in the Innova. The child of mine was ALL OVER the other kids. One of them is much younger so that was sort of okay, but this 'shy' girl was bossing over even the older kid (who is very paavam and super sweet). And not to mention dealing with the adults and shooting her mouth off big time. Not yet to the point of being super rude, but at the edge. You know, like 'precocious kid alert!'. She usually gets smiles from the adults because of the vocabulary. She chooses the strangest of words to express her - rather strong - opinions. One of the ladies gave them a puzzle to solve. They didn't come up with the 'right' solution but this girl of mine retorted by handing the ladies two puzzles to solve (and she was impatient enough to not let them even attempt to solve it - reminding me of the times we would solve jigsaw puzzles together and it was a race against time. I never cut her slack for being 30 years younger).

I should be more bothered I guess by this teenage-ish, idealistic (you should hear her about trees and tigers and the environment and how much she harassed msb about him not switching off lights and fans upstairs), opinionated, strong, girl that lives with me. But for now, I am just going to enjoy it. Except to admonish her if she starts on me. Like the time she gave me a detailed set of steps to follow for something recently - don't recall what it was - but something clearly I should know better about than that little minx...