Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Of Brown Diaries and Ink Pens


It has been an interesting week (the one that passed, that is). The elections were interesting - and that's all I want to say about it. Finally, after 43 years of existence, I have found my feet planted somewhat on real ground, but let me not push it and pretend as if I have deep political views! I am on top of all the trending stories, however, though I did manage to escape to the 1940s via a nice little novel about The Channel Islands, for part of the time. 

One of the recent things we have been doing is a Sunday family workout episode. We drop the child off to basketball and proceed to the gym. Due to some new rules they have brought in place there, I go to the aerobics room (which also, conveniently, has weights). So we are all in separate places. The duration of the class is sort of insufficient to have a satisfactory workout, so the best bet is to push oneself. The sweaty car ride on the way back when the child cribs about her team mates, and we both jump in as we are wont to and say "You see in the 1985 when I was playing at XYZ..." are good fun. I carry several towels 'cause I care about how my car smells later. 

Noting down the food, exercise routine, and something of feelings through the day in a diary - albeit from 2011 - has been an interesting experience. The online notings I have done while training for the recent marathons were alright and they are there for future reference, but this one, where I write alternately using blue and black ink pens, is better. I was writing in real small font though today I have decided to increase font size 'cause eyesight. 

The photography workshop that I was a reluctant participant at (because I was the driver and did not relish coming back all the way and going back all the way using googlemaps) talked about shots being framed correctly and the background cleaned of clutter. I went with a 'medium' distance shot above and I think to tell the story correctly I should have followed it up with a real close shot. Maybe of my brown 2011 diary which has my name embossed on it (with incorrect spelling). 

Next time. 

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

For the love of the art



I made this comic for my class blog. And since my students don't seem to care about it at all, I thought it will be interesting to use it here and talk about why I love teaching. I guess the short version of it is that it allows me to bring up all the (somewhat) repressed tendencies to be dramatic, crazy, and most of all to talk a lot. 

I have been teaching for a long while now. Formally, as Assistant Professor->Associate Professor->Professor etc. for 15 years now. But well before that I was informally teaching little kids whenever the opportunity presented itself (and it did present itself with some frequency). These past decade and half obviously have presented numerous challenging, frustrating, and rewarding experiences! 

I love Chemical Engineering, and especially love Reaction Engineering. In fact a few years ago, when we were working on Underground Coal Gasification, one of the things that most enamoured me to the topic was that we coined the term 'nature's own chemical reactor' and shopped that phrase in many conferences (of course to raised eyebrows and snide giggles). 

But mostly, I love teaching. I study diligently for my classes. I have fresh notes for every class I teach - both online and in a notebook (not necessarily overlapping). Based on a session I attended during my MIT days, I don't hesitate to use the chalkboard, though the convenience of PPTs cannot be always denied. I use my blog space and moodle, and (unsuccessfully) tried to use another platform called TodaysMeet to foster discussions (which did not happen). 

With pixton, the chance presented itself to augment something I had taught them in class with a comic, I jumped at it. And in case you are wondering, the "Doublets"(or word ladder) game was invented by Lewis Carroll and you can find tons of them online. And no, I did not first encounter them in wikipedia but rather in that GIGANTIC GREEN 'Complete works of Lewis Carroll' that we owned in the family (and which my sister and I read sooo much). *

[& no I owe no explanations about surface reaction mechanisms & elementary reaction steps here]

Monday, 27 February 2017

35 Pieces of Pasta


It was one of those mornings today. 
My maid (cook) called in sick at 6:20am.
Good news - I was awake and reading an unputdownable book.
Bad news - it was "Bad Mothers United" by Kate Long.
I didn't even work out 'cause I was lazy. 
And she had early school today. 

I ploughed on, I am 43, I can deal with one measly lunch box.
'How many farfalle does she need?' I mused aloud.
'35' he answered promptly. God bless him.
Sometimes your questions need precise mathematical answers.
'How do you know how much sauce to add?'
'Well, I just do' 
Sometimes I surprise myself with how good I am at food.

I blundered on after, all a-tizzy, 'cause today was going to be a good day.
I was going to make up for last week's unproductivity at work. 
The sambar thingie splattered down as I picked it from the fridge.
There was sambar (small onion) pretty much everywhere.
Including the ceiling, oh heaven help me. 
I calmed down as I cleaned. 

I think I deserved it 'cause I was whining. 
About the fridge which is over-flowing with stuff. 
Shouting in my head at the maid (cook).
Anyhow the kitchen got a good wipe.
The cloths are all done for & I found sambar in the MnMs.
But order prevails, generally! 

As for the lunch box? 
It went with a long note from her father.
It was all ignored. 
She shared the sandwich with a small boy. 
She rolled the used fork in the cloth napkin.
She brought back 10 farfalle, if you must know. 

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Togetherness

How to get a selfie together? 
Some of our most memorable times have been when we are exercising together. Over the years, we have had basketball, running, volleyball, gym, long treks, p90x, and more recently, walking (!). All of these have been fun in their own way, and though we do a number of workouts separately  as well, I feel like these together workouts are an important component of our lives. True, we have never run a marathon together like some of the other couples that we know. We haven't even run a half marathon together, though, compared to the former, the latter is not too far-fetched as a possibility for the future. The photo is from a gym session yesterday.

We had a schema for our weekend treks during our Massachusetts days. I remember agonising for days over the what-to-wear what-to-pack questions, while he just threw some random things together in like 5 minutes. Sandwiches, water, trail mix, some chips in a backpack. An insanely long trek which I remember now with only pleasure. Reaching the summit. The exhilaration at seeing the vistas at the top. Me, always impatient to climb back down. Chinese take-out at night. Waking up with really sore limbs the next day. Such a long time ago it all seems!

Nowadays we have our very short morning walks together, that's it. So far it is something we manage to do after dropping the child off, a time to breathe a bit. The whole child-house-work-deadlines-morning meetings saga has put paid to anything more than that. And our running goals are not yet aligned well enough that we do that together. I do my strength training on the terrace for expediency. He prefers the gym. I am still an impatient sort who always winds up at least 10 mins before him and sort of breathes down his neck, at any rate.

So it was a pleasant thing overall that we found ourselves with a nice hour long window (not more not less 'cause the child had to picked up from her basketball session) on a Saturday morning. We went together to the gym, and though we exercised separately, he on the treadmill and me doing my workout in the "padded" section, it still was reminiscent of that past life. I suddenly felt very grown up. And not for a second did I ponder the 'What-To-Wear' question. In fact, I think I picked out my workout clothes (blue TWCM volunteer tshirt and a pair of Nike running tights), with my eyes closed.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Bloody Hell!

I had a blood test recently - a routine check up which revealed routine things about my body and so forth. Before you ask, yes, it involved a urine test as well, which - however many times I do it - is a major pain. Anyway that was all fine, I don't want to talk about peeing though I just did.

There is a snatch of a memory from my childhood, I was very small, at least in size if not in age. We used to go to our family doctor - named Subba Rao - a super old gentleman who gave us those red tonics and half a 'celin' [Vitamin C] each. It was generally assumed that I got half portions 'cause I was one, but I suspect that the guy was just cautious about loading up the body with chemicals - a thing I appreciate a lot now.

The memory, yes, was about a vaccine I had to get. Mom told me about it and we walked from our house to my grandmom's house first (the good doctor was en route). And I was so excited throughout the whole outing. I could hardly think straight. I dragged mom out of the grandmom's house quick quick double quick so we could get the injection.

"Maybe she will become a doctor" I think they said. "Maybe I will" I remember thinking to myself as I inhaled the deliciously decrepit odours of the doctor's clinic. I had no use for the prattle that they use to make a patient comfortable. I didn't mind one bit the injection - not even the initial pin prick.

During my teenage years, thanks to the braces I had on my teeth, it was all those injections in my gums. I did not mind them, though that slurpy feeling in the aftermath was not desirable. I got four teeth removed in one shot one time, and no worries. The dentist was a very nice (and handsome) man but that was not the point, really.

In recent times, I am a bit more wary. I looked carefully as he broke the seal on a brand new needle. I watched him dab the antiseptic. I decorously looked away as he poked the vein. I only peeked a glance when he was a little rough during the vial change. I still am unafraid of injections - though I did not "become a doctor" - at least not of the variety they were referring to. 

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Of Careers and Creches

Today I want to muse a little on parenting - as loyal readers know, it is one of my favourite topics. Mostly, it's a chance to say unkind things about The Child, who is, thankfully too preoccupied with a pile of books borrowed from the library last week, to get back at me.

I attended an interesting session at IIT today. I was the "Chief Guest" at the creche in the campus. I agreed to go simply because a friend of mine asked me and I found it hard to say no (she is most accommodating and I owed her one). I was a bit hesitant at first, 'cause I didn't have a ready made speech to give. I know, I know, that has never stopped me before, and it did not stop me today either.

I laid out a salwar kameez to wear then on the spur of the moment ditched that and wore a sari. It was a purple-ish one and I wore matching earrings and a bindi. My parenting moment involved the walk to school to drop the child off, during which she laughed loudly and informed me that all three were different shades of purple, and nothing matched. Oh well.

My parenting philosophy has mostly revolved around Role Modelling. I can't for sure say that it has worked out super well for us or anything. But it is something that makes sense to me, and it gels with my own personality. Some aspects of role modelling are such that it can backfire on you - for e.g. the fact that I wake up early and run regularly leads to a certain disdain for running, for sure! But so be it! I am hopeful that in the future she will be somehow inspired by it, and last week I distinctly heard her say "I need some exercise now, it has been a while since I had a proper workout."

Speaking of creches, I think an important thing to bear in mind is the fact that all the feminism and equal rights and lack of a glass ceiling and so on falter at the altar of early motherhood. I know that in the absence of a high quality day-care center, on campus, right close to my work place, with a reasonable philosophy of child rearing, I would not have managed to have a career.

I could have handled a job, yes, I would have worked for sure, maybe simply because I am not very good domestically, but having a full fledged career would have been well nigh impossible without a set-up such as the one I was at this morning [My own early motherhood was dedicated to a sister concern that is in IIT Bombay, where the child went from the time she was 16 months old].

For that reason among others, I am immensely grateful that such things exist today, unlike when I was a baby. While the grandparents are super awesome and are any day better at parenting than any creche (or myself), the guilt I felt for putting them through the whole feeding - diaper changing - nap-time - and other routines of babies, was strong. Plus I think for a single child, having a set-up outside the home and some friends and non-family adults to interact with, were valuable.

It was a great walk down memory lane for me today. It was nice to introspect a little and tell the eager young parents that were in the audience, that the "Food Battles" are really not worth it. It was so hilarious to think about how much I used to agonise over her food, considering that she is 3 inches taller than me now!! I tried to convince them that it has been one of my failures as a parent.

Most of all, it felt good to do this informal session and spend the rest of the day mulling over the various things said and heard this morning. As we move on to Phase two - 'Parenting a Teen' - due to happen soon, while all is said and done, it has been a really wonderful journey. Although it sounds geeky to say it, the apple of our eye has grown to be a good (if distinctly disobedient) friend, and perhaps when she reads this she will recall those early creche days with fondness...

A long-ago memory captured for posterity
   

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Rejection

I was contemplating rejection, mainly in a work situation. We write all these manuscripts all the time - by and large we have been lucky, but a good number of them are returned back, rejected. My co-workers and I go through a period of dejection then - if the reject is with good, stated reasons, we can at least sit down and address them - but many a time no details are provided, and we don't even know why it was turned down! In any case, I convince everyone to think positively and move ahead. It's definitely one difficult aspect of my work, but we generally move on ...
(From New Yorker)

I read this nice article about the New Yorker cartoon rejects - check out this awesome blog:
"Rejection as Creative Catalyst: A Lesson in Entrepreneurship from New Yorker Cartoon Editor Bob Mankoff". It has nothing whatsoever to do with my work life, but it was still interesting to read! I stumbled upon it when I was searching for information about Gold Catalysts for my class, of all things! And it reminded me of a recent rejection I had suffered (not that I have found a way to make money off of that! Though the idea of a web portal of rejected manuscripts in Chemical Reaction Engineering would surely be cool! 😛)

As I was discussing something with the child, I remembered, due to the context, the  basketball games I have lost in over the years. It is quite a substantial number! But I had to dig deep in my memory for that - I was trying to convince her of the usual - that failure is sometimes a stepping stone to success - and no one wakes up and starts winning things, games in particular. The importance of effort, and dedication, and a good dose of luck cannot be under-emphasised, I was saying.

I guess I should have added that the memory of happy situations can be more prominent than that of unhappy ones, and while I know that pit of the stomach feeling of disappointment very well, I think I know the thrill, the exhilaration, the joy of a good job done to completion much better. And the happy moments can easily dislodge those unhappy ones in the long run! I don't think she believed me.

My student graduated and the committee was very respectful of him, unlike in previous encounters. We had a great lunch together where a visiting German professor gave the boy a hug. After the number of times we have had rocky meetings and the amount of heart ache I had suffered thinking about his thesis over the past five years, it was such a pleasant experience! I came out of it feeling super strong and ready to deal with stuff, after all, these young folks deal so well and come out happy, why shouldn't I! 

So here I end, on that pleasant note. If I had applied to be a Spice Girl and was rejected on the basis of my height (or unruly hair), I would be one of several, and all of us would go out into the sunset in companionable silence, heads held high and positive thoughts in our hearts! 

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Short Shorts

At the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon 2016

Running shorts are my favourite thing in the world. Though I have never found a satisfactory pair of them in India. As in the past, in my recent trip to the US, I obsessed over it for days and finally ordered a bunch of them on amazon, to my hotel room. Only to discover a rather nice running store round the corner... 

It was heartening to read this article making a desperate plea for better shorts for women:


The options in India are generally pathetic as far as women's running shorts are concerned. I admit having to resort to men's shorts - they rarely fit well though they at least they are longer. I occasionally succumb and buy the latest model of Nike or adidas shorts since they loudly proclaim that they are for running, but they are all uniformly disappointing. 

I am seriously contemplating moving to those three-quarter tights that seem to popular among women runners in India (and beyond). I may even be okay with the weird patterns that these tights seem to possess. Maybe then my daughter will stop teasing me about my 'thunder thighs' - at least they will be decorously swathed in colourful polyester... 


Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

At least there are no cats

(From: amazon, not my copy - which is anyway from the library)

I have stopped myself from buying any more Murakamis. I still like him fine, I assure you, despite the fact that he was yet again passed up for the big prize & yeah, sure, I have listened to Bob Dylan for a long time now and love him and his voice and his weird lyrics. At any rate Dylan is not a runner like Murakami so there is that corner of my brain that is going to always pro-Murakami despite what the Nobel Prize committee feels.

At any rate I rapidly read this anthology of birthday stories and all of them without exception were decidedly scary. Ranging from that one about a king without skin to the absolutely outrageous one about the two call girls and the Italian husband, they were all, on some levels, scary. The worst was the one about the ageing parents and their only son, and that birthday meal in that distinctly bleak Irish village setting. That one I narrated to my husband (to his horror) hoping that our future is not that.

I waited anxiously for the one authored by Murakami himself, and of course he saved it for the very end. I read with interest that it was written exclusively for this anthology, and that it was triggered in his mind by his own experience of turning twenty. I tried to recall my own 20th birthday and frankly, I just don't recall a single detail of it. Likewise my 21st. Anyway, I hurriedly read it through to the end, and of course, did a double take and read it again to make sure that (a) I understood it somewhat and (b) the story had really ended.

I was a bit disappointed with that one, I admit. I expected something poignant, thought provocative, with a hidden depth that I would explore at length in my mind later, and yes, the word I am looking for is haunting. Instead I was left with something that felt, for lack of a better word, just plain unfinished.

Before you accuse me of it, no, I am not a fan purely of the long form, I like short stories. I read them quite often, especially when going through a busy stretch of life, they are the best. I like the suddenness of them, the inherent unpredicability, the comfortable lack of deep character exploration, and ultimately the fact that they allow me to imagine beyond the typed words.

But this book left me - not - as I expected -  in a thoughtful mood where I would sit around and think about the stories and try to pick at them in my head, but in a hurried mood wanting to pick up something else to read and replace it all with. Nevertheless, there was one saving grace in it all, and that was that none of the storied featured cats! Cats! I have had enough of and will take Dylan's 115th Dream over anything to do with cats, anyday! 

Monday, 23 January 2017

Hydrating for a marathon

(source: not me)

I usually carry a water bottle wherever I go. Especially if I am running a marathon the next day, and all my friends are busy hydrating for what seems to be a week and I figure I may as well do that too, 'cause you know, you never know the day before the marathon that you may twist your ankle and throw 16 weeks of training (even if desultorily done amidst much stress).

But I forgot.

Plus the rule in the airport is never really clear. Can you carry your bottle through the security if it's empty? Or should you take a sip and show them it's potable? Or will they chuck the damn thing into the trash? So of course I don't dare to carry my good bottles. But a random one lying around the house can be recruited for this purpose easily.

But this time I forgot.

So I sucked it up and bought a bottle of water paying an astronomical amount in both paper currency and mother earth screwing up currency. I drank up a bunch and decided to save the rest for the car ride in Mumbai (bound to be long).

I got on the flight and proceeded to do my usual thing of sleeping from before take off to just after landing, waking up only to scarf up the breakfast they provided (don't recall what it was, I was awake just long enough to consume it).

When the flight landed in Mumbai I woke up and twiddled my ears a bit 'cause they were blocked and looked for my bottle. It was all crushed like. I guess they make these water bottles from cheaper and cheaper plastic of late, and plus all the pressure changes or what not. A bit of OCD made me try to straighten it out a tad but it wasn't important so I left it.

Then this stranger woman sitting next to me says "here, let me". I was fine, I DO NOT MIND I wanted to say but before I could capitalise my letters she grabbed the bottle. And believe this. A stranger of a woman who I had had no relationship with up to the point we boarded that 1.5 hours flight. SHE BLEW INTO THE BOTTLE.

I am not known as a good poker player. She must have seen the emotions clearly go across my face. I am not violent by nature so I could easily resist the temptation to slap her on the cheek. But I was so so annoyed! I am pretty easy going among friends and family about sharing food or what not but *shudder* what was she thinking! I pictured all the germs in her mouth, all the cooties and what not.

I reached my room and gave that bottle a nice big rinse. And yes, I did not hydrate (at least not from that bottle) for the rest of the day.... 

Saturday, 21 January 2017

For the love of writing

At the end of it all, when I think about the reasons why I love this little space of mine, it boils down to just that. The love of writing. The joy in seeing words form in my mind and find their way to the keyboard and then on to this nice little template on blogspot.

Admittedly, 2016 has come and gone and I have very little to show for it. I used moodle a fair bit for my course and even that was not with the same degree of enthusiasm as usual. Aside from that, I wrote a number of articles of a general nature for The Wipro Chennai Marathon's public outreach. The most fun I had was when I wrote for our magazine The Rundown. Here have a look at something I recently put together, just some irreverent stuff in the context of The Wipro Chennai Marathon.

From The Rundown, Dec 2016 Edition

I like my alter-ego Maami Thayir Saadam, or MTS. She has gotten around to saying things that I wouldn't have said as Preeti, or KPBM, for that matter. But it's a tag team effort with the one and only ludwig for the column (not that he is a Maami, though he could be I suppose!) and so it may be that we have to fight it out for our space there at some stage, we'll see!

Meanwhile, having finished with the myriad responsibilities of 2016, which left me breathless and with barely a minute of time for myself, I am glad to be back here, doing what I like to do on a Saturday evening! (Having spent Friday evening putting together a little space for my course, over here). 

A page for my current course


I am also determinedly attending to my twitter and facebook handles, I won't repeat what I said over there about the annual pilgrimage to the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon, go see it over there, instead! 

Oh I suppose I will do this. The child, monster, as it was referred to earlier times, does occasionally use the opportunity to diss me in public, on her own blog, at The One Blog To Rule Them All  as she likes to call it. Do have a peek and give her some back pats once in a while. I do rue the day I set up the page for her occasionally, as my name is dragged through mud, but I guess it's all a part of the joy of motherhood! 

Till later then.