Monday, 25 June 2012

Notebooks & I

I carry a notebook around. I am also viscerally attached to my laptop of course, and do lots of stuff on it all the time but my favourite thing to do is carry a physical notebook with pages, around. One of my office shelves is filled with my grad school notebooks, still. I used to use the long spiral bound ones with the school logo embossed on it. Lovely, they were.

The stuff inside doesn't make sense any more but I am loathe to throw them out. I am more ready to throw out the several shelves of research article print-outs I have in the office. Yes, this was a time when one had to go to the library, pull out thick volumes, take them down to the photocopy place, fight with the machine, and so forth. Yes, we had heard of .pdfs, but just about.

In recent times I like the several-subject notebooks. I haphazardly allot sections to different things. My own doodlings and thoughts and analysis for new research ideas go in one section. Student's work discussions go in another. The rest have various projects and so forth. I also have a completely dedicated notebook for the course I teach, of course.

The course notebook usually gets filled to the brim and, there are spill overs. I hate when I run out of pages just before the final or something. So I have to take care to allot a book with enough pages, depending on the course. And no, I don't use last year's notebook too much even if I teach the same course (so sue me).

Currently, since there is no teaching, I don't have a course notebook in my hand. My fat research notebook I put away over the weekend, into my bag. I allotted a smaller, handier notebook for current purposes. Which involve the making of lists. And more lists. This time I chose interesting ways to title each list, unlike the last time. "Absolutely critical things I have to do" "Things that the movers are likely to lose" "Precious things" (the last includes a bite-sized bottle of smirnoff, for one).

The last time I moved, it was across the breadth of the country. It was a nightmare to say the very least about it. We had part of our stuff in our flat in Hiranandani. We had most of our stuff in the IIT flat in Powai. The contractor we had hired for fixing up the rental house in Chennai proved to be an ass, and it was unclear if he had finished our work. Dust was bound to abound.

We had a US trip planned some 4 days after arriving in Chennai. Oh yes, I had stuff in my office to be moved as well. And my husband was traveling a lot in those days. It was summer, and I didn't have a class to teach and I had gotten rid of at least all my master's students, but still it was a pain as I also had to do paperwork at work for various things related to my sabbatical leave.

I still have that notebook. Lots of things are ticked off in my really voluminous set of lists of things. I feel good looking at it, but also, scared. The sheer number of things involved is just ridiculous. I have some pet obsessions, which are not easy to deal with. Gas cylinder and washing machine set-up come to mind. Not to mention lines for hanging clothes to dry.

This time the pet obsessions pale in comparison with the larger set of things that are going to hit us in the face. The cement, dust, wood splinters, weirdness of the doors, the fact that the carpenters are probably going to be honorary family members for the near future, the unfinished basement, Oh I don't even want to think further.

Yes, we are moving. Its best that I check out of regular life for a bit and concentrate on that upcoming ordeal, and use my organisational skills to ensure the family is not too pained overall during this time... 

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Lets talk about the weather

When I was a child, I lived with my aunt. Wait. That came out wrong. We were a joint family, so my aunt was there at home. But so were my parents. And my grandfather. And my big sister. And uncle. For the most part, that is. Occasionally, one or the other relative came and lived with us, briefly.

The aunt, though. She was the head of our household. And boy. She ruled with an iron fist. Margaret Thatcher would have been proud. Why? Indira Gandhi would have been proud as well. I am sure, if she could, she would have made us salute her every morning.

I am not sure why we all put up with her shenanigans. But thats how the die used to roll. Even my grandfather, who was often accused of being a bit of a patriarch, would crumble down in front of her beady, disapproving eye. My parents, they had no hope.

Sometimes I feel I inherit from my mum, not just genetically, but also based on watching her as I was growing up, that ability, maybe disability, to just allow others strong wills to wash over. I argue often that its because I truly don't care. But at the core is something else. Something not too nice, thats inside us both. Which was fostered by years of living in that household.

So the aunt, she was of course one of those traditional ladies of that generation. The kind that holds aloft the rules of bygone eras like shields. Dishes were triple washed. Once by the maid, in tap water. Then by my mum, likewise. One final time by the aunt, using well water (which stank though, again a matter that we were not allowed to say much about).

My sister is not like me. In fact, we are chalk and cheese. In adulthood, you would probably say that she is the easy going one. While I am the vociferous one who might get in your face (if I stopped living my life long enough to care). But when we were kids, she was really, all over the aunt. She tolerated very little nonsense and came up with stuff about all the rules of the household that sounded very hilarious if not for the outburst we were sure it would cause.

One for tantrums, this aunt. For the most insane things. I remember many of the big tantrums, the basic stuff like when my young uncle was to be married and something most silly transpired in that context, and one time when a visiting aunt took my sis and me and got our hair chopped off. Not to mention the time my dad refused to take the day off during a solar eclipse. Seriously, the most absurd things.

We had all these rooms in the house one inside the other. The last one being the puja room which was super sacrosanct and you couldn't randomly enter it during your period or if you visited someone's house where there was a death, and I am not sure, if we ate at a hotel or something like that. She would just go off, like crazy.

I am sure that we all did stuff to irritate her, dad being all rebellious and always insisting that science trumps religion and tradition and stuff, and granddad also being a bit like that. And mum working outside the home wasn't helpful. Not to mention my sister who questioned things all the time. [I was a nice girl also very young at that time, but am sure I got on her nerves too. My squeaky voice for one was enough to irritate anyone, I'm sure].

Dad would return home from college and ask, as he took off his shoes "Hows the weather down south?" That was code for how the mood of said aunt (usually lurking deep inside the house in the puja/kitchen area) was. We came up with various. Sunny. Cloudy. Thunderstorms. Stormy etc. and got a good laugh at that. The mood would invariably reflect in the dosas she made for us, so sometimes I would beg my sis to lay off and not irritate her in the morning time...

I suspect I imbibed some of that, however hard I have resisted it - again, I cannot blame my genes as I don't share mine with her... I am continuing to have a stormy sort of mood. Who knows. Maybe its mid-life crisis. I feel that mid-life crisis is unavoidable, you know, like menopause. When you storm, it leaves a wake of sadness too, right? I feel bad for her now. I am sure no one showed her any love during that time. 'Cause we all just remembered the tantrum and not the person hidden inside it. Anyway she is gone now, very long gone, so really, no point worrying about it... 

Friday, 15 June 2012

The Dark Cloud

I am not a moody person. I am irritatingly positive most of the time. Of course I complain about admin and taxes and the condition of the roads and there was a period in my life when I was deeply rooted in a cynicism of some sort, about the state of the world. But I got over it. For the most part, its because I don't care. As long as my routine is not massacred, I am fine, let everything outside go to hell.

But then, there are times when I get really abnormally sad. Dad used to get it too, but then it was related to his being sick, and as he often said, not being able to read because the words swum around, made him feel really really horrid. It comes from the pit of my stomach, a feeling of melancholy, he used to say.

I got an ultrasound one time. No, not the pregnancy ultrasound, a general ultrasound. My hair was falling out in clumps and the doc wanted to rule out anything related to things inside. The ultrasound person asked me why I was getting said U/S. To keep things short, I said, I am a super stressed out person so the doc wants to make sure I haven't messed something up because of it.

The U/S person laughed out loud. Yes, one is allowed to say laughed out loud without saying lol. Yes, I am aware that this is the 21st century. The argument she had was this. If you can SAY so casually that you are a stressed out person, you cannot be SO stressed out. Or something. I was pissed off to say the least, though her argument made sense when I thought about it.

Likewise, if you claim to be depressed, you are not so far gone, I guess? I don't know. I am new to this game. I am overly positive generally so I don't function well in this space. Where every few hours I feel like the weight of the world is upon me and I lack the inspiration to do anything, anything at all. I spent about a week sleeping too much and rather arbitrarily. Then a week getting to office and just sort of staring.

Thankfully, a few things happened this week that made me break out of the rut a bit. For one, I had a bunch of meetings with lots of people in it that I couldn't skip out of. I felt fine sitting there discussing. Then I had a severe deadline yesterday. I hid in my bedroom and cranked out the thing for the deadline. I thought I would feel good that I got that out of the way, but I only just felt tired.

Today I attended to another deadline immediately after school drop-off, that didn't feel great either. I walked (slowly. Walking slowly is important to ensure that you don't die from the fierce noon sun. A lesson I learnt very recently) around the campus finishing up more things and skipped out to lunch. Then in the afternoon it came again. That thing that dad used to claim. Same thing.

My head has been hurting pretty constantly for like three days now. I blame sweaty hair for the most part, but I am not sure. Sweaty hair headaches usually go away in a day or two. And this is a dull ache that seems to come from deep within. Like a dark cloud that is expanding inside me. Oh well.... 

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Women Runners

So, this was another thread in my thoughts in the recent past. I was thinking that its SO OBVIOUS. Instead of investing in Oil of Olay Secret Formula Containing Titanium Dioxide (which, in case you don't know, is what makes white paint so..uhh..white), the thing to do to battle various things that happen to our body and mind due to pregnancies, and child birth, is to RUN.

But then I look around me everyday. And I just don't see enough number of women running. People my age, typically have children that are not so small. I am not thinking crazy amounts of running or races or things that can hurt you. But just a regular 5km 2-3 times a week. The mind and body benefits are immense, and the best part of it - ITS SO EASY TO DO.

I stop for a second to point you to this one I wrote:

Hyderabad Marathon Running Ambassador Thingie

Lets see. What do we need to run? Shorts (I strongly hate pants in general, and would totally live in shorts and wear shorts to work if I wasn't afraid of my mom). Tshirt. Sports bra. Shoes. Socks. Road. Pretty much thats all!

If I put my mind back to the time when my baby was a tiny rat, my main consideration was that the exercising ("me time") shouldn't be an expensive proposition - in terms of time invested, money spent, and general turmoil rest of household is thrown under.

Running met with these criterion superbly! I could start running the minute I stepped out of the elevator. In fact, after I got a little fit, I climbed down my 24 flights of stairs, and that was super interesting and fun (saw all the debris from previous night's parties!), as well. If I was worried about jiggling all over in my fatness, and people laughing at me for it, I managed to not worry about it. Kept my head down.

I have seen my husband get fit. Like visibly fit. With toning and muscles and all. It used to take him 3 weeks. Now it takes a little longer, as he grows old. Me, on the other hand? It used to take long, and it takes EVEN LONGER now. I am sure its to do with how women's bodies are constructed in general. But then all we have to do is just keep at it! One foot in front of another. That simple.

Which is why I am very very surprised to not see more women runners. I just don't get it. I am not the kind to push people into it. But I am tempted to! My own family, my sisters etc., no one runs. I occasionally feel like I must DO something about this. But I am reluctant to, as I said, push people into it. So I write this, and hope you read it and respond and help me understand why we are so few of us out there in the roads... 

Monday, 11 June 2012

Transitioning to a distance runner

I have been ruminating of late on the whole running thing that I do. Another race is round the corner. Not exactly round the corner, but close. After I registered for the race, they asked me to write something about what running means to me. The Why Do You Run question that is popped often. I'll link up what I wrote once they put it up on their web-site.

But as usual it started me thinking in many different directions. Stuff that cannot be captured in 300 words. Thank heavens there are no word limits in this space of mine! So brace yourselves. I will try hard to keep to one thread at a time and not wander too much.

Lets get the setting right though. I was on my long run yesterday, early morning. We started off as an as-usual-insanely enthusiastic group (for that time of morning). I was running with a friend of mine. Ahead of us was The Quizzer. Behind us were a few others, including dear KP, the Run:Walk specialist.

At some point, I found myself alone. So I of course got lost in thought. The weather was good and considering how bad it was the past few weeks, this was awesome. With inputs from The Quizzer, I am attempting, as I said in an earlier post, to keep my splits even. To not succumb to my natural tendency of burning myself out at the beginning. Thus I found myself at a comfortable uniform steady pace.

There is this whole sub-culture of social animals on Dailymile ("facebook for runners", my dear friend The Painter, recently relocated to Texas, and very sorely missed in Chennai, called it). On Dailymile, I feel like a hero. Okay I am going to get back to this point later, as it feels like a digression.

And the point really, is this. I love training for the races. For years now, I have been getting myself out there, usually in the early mornings, with thoughts of upcoming races, and some vague goal for the day that fits into a vague goal for race day. I started putting my training in a spreadsheet fairly recently. Till then I just remembered what I did the week before and did something related to it, in the current week.

Training for the various Mumbai Half Marathons, the broad goal was just pure unadulterated fitness. Defined as get aerobic exercise. I did few days of Kick Boxing a week. I went through a patch where I did a few days of an Aerobics Class at the gym. I played basketball, at least, I took the pumpkin and shot a few hundred baskets till I sweated a lot.

Once in a while, I ran. I only started running, as training for the HM, after the rains cleared out. So, in October. For three months, I ran on Saturdays or Sundays, starting with a 7 km run and ramping up to 20 kms, adding on 2 kms every week. I had no idea of speed, pace, or even the distance really. If my friends called me for it, I ran up a little hill at the back of the campus, once in a while.

When race day rolled around, I was excited. Also worried. About waking up in time. Hydration. Food. Potty. Sleep. Cramps. Loo lines. Weather. I wore cotton three-quarter pants one time. Tied a full handed tee round my waist another time. Wore too small shoes the first time. A black hat one time. Drank too much Gatorade one time, too little another time. Non-sports bras for the longest time.

Considering that I did okay anyhow - my timing improved with every race, I felt strong even after the race, no sustained injuries were acquired, I always placed within the top-30 recreational women runners, etc. - there was no motivation to figure this stuff out, really.

When my fitness started plateau-ing though, I started thinking about this stuff more scientifically. In particular, I have been working through my training more obstinately than before now. Starting with the distance. I think this is flak that ultra-marathoners get all the time. People say that they are too slow to do well in the marathons, so they go for these crazy ultra marathon distances. I feel like it might be true of me.

For years, I ran Half Marathons, falling just short of my stated goal of 2 hours. I have run 2:02; 2:03; 2:05; 2:07; 2:08... Frankly, its not as easy as it seems to shave off those last few minutes. I  had to shave 30 - 40 seconds off each mile. Which is not as less as it sounds, at least for me.

At some point, I stopped worrying about my times. Looking honestly at my training, I realised that I was not doing a good job of it. As with everything else in my life, I was spreading myself too thin! I was doing too many things, most of them irrelevant as far as improving my running was concerned - if that was indeed my goal. I thought it wasn't, but I found myself disappointed when I did one more HM at 2:05 or something.

Upon analysis, I had to say, a sort of yes, to that question. Yes, I wanted to improve my running, in some way. Most important at that mini-turning point of my life, was to avoid all the stupid injuries I was getting. These are the mysterious things that happen to me. Since I don't go to doctors unless its unavoidable, they remain mysteries for the most part. And I really wanted out from all that. Blisters. Bruises. Knots. I strongly believe that these minor things, which nevertheless set your training back by weeks, happened 'cause I was idiotic, & not focussed...

Thats when I truly transitioned to a distance runner, I think. A slow one if you look at world stats on this matter. An old one, if you put into the bucket my historical injuries (the real ones, like my ankle ligament), my current mysterious ones (yes, I still have them, but I just manage them better now), and my years of haphazard exercising. But always, a distance runner that loves the sport. Even if it is "the most boring thing in the world" as the child said yesterday....

Friday, 8 June 2012

Is it PMS?

(thank you

I remember reading this strip back in 1994. I remember walking through an aisle filled with pain medication at the local CVS and thinking 'lets give this midol a chance.' That was not a good idea. It only made me feel more weird and crazy and sent my stomach into complete turmoil. 

Aside from colic and runner's high, PMS must rate as the biggest mystery/con in  the human world. No one understands it, really. All the offered explanations and solutions ring false, and sound stupid. And these three things are what I like to deny the most. Denial! Yes!

This morning as I was screaming like a lunatic and running up and down the stairs like a banshee, I looked at my husband and dared him to call it PMS. Of course, he is well-trained. He learnt years ago to shut out my voice completely. (Its another matter that I am a slow-learner. Dammit).

At any rate, day 2 of the new school year is off to a decent start (despite the, well, banshee-ness of yours truly). The new uniform has been worn and declared to be more 'tent-like' than the previous one. The new shoes size has been compared to mine and the words 'almost there' uttered with triumph. 

What pearls of wisdom did I impart to my child as I waved her off into standard IV? 
1. Clarify to your teacher that you are a girl, and not a boy. 
2. Tell her you need to sit in the first row because your doctor refuses to correct your sight fully.
3. Remember to eat lunch.

Yes, we are Keeping It Simple Stupid this year. 

Monday, 4 June 2012


The school start date is upon us. The clock is ticking. My heart rate went up a notch at the mere thought of it. Seriously. Its the most stressful thing ever. On the one hand, I am happy that she will be out of our hair and involved in 'doing something useful' with her time. On the other hand, I am afraid of the whole process of schools, mornings, lunch dabbas, new class teacher, etc. 

Usually, I LOVE LOVE LOVE everything associated with the end of the summer. I love the smell of new books. I love wrapping them. I love reading them (yes, yes, even if they are of the child, and not mine. Mine, I used to start with the Math. She, she starts with the English. I read the Sanskrit one this year, at least, I tried to). I love new uniforms and stationary and bags and lunch dabbas and so forth.

But not this year.

I haven't wrapped the books yet. (No, the father is not going to contribute to this one, its not gender discrimination or anything, it just works better this way, believe me). I haven't bought a new bag. I have a bag, somewhere, I haven't found it yet. I haven't bought a lunch bag either. No new dabbas. Or water bottles (those are the worst, I swear. Smelly things). No juice bottle. Or snack box. I did get a few pencils, but my heart was not in it.

I don't know any mommies in the new section. Heck, I don't even know the new class teacher's name. I am having a hard time keeping in mind the new timings of the school. Its a full half hour earlier. My mind is not able to process what that implies in terms of leaving for school. Y'know. Considering traffic patterns.

Thanks to the metro activity, I am not even 100% sure I know the correct way to get to school. We went on Saturday to get the books but I was not paying much attention, I guess. I surely don't know how to get back, even if I manage to find my way over to the school. One ways everywhere, you see.

The uniform doesn't fit. Its tight. I have to bring it back to the tailor to get it altered. I don't even know when I will do that. The socks are all last year's and nasty. I have to clorox them (seriously). The white uniform skirt is loose. I can do some repairs with buttons etc. but it might be best to take it to the tailor again. We didn't even buy her new shoes. "Those must fit for sure" the husband insists. He is often wrong about these things. 

What is wrong with me?