Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Insights and inviolable laws

The thing is, I am reading this book, Fermat's Last Theorem. Someone gifted it to me. I started on it a few months ago, and gave up. Last week I felt super enthu about it and started it afresh, and have gotten through more than half and am half tempted to take the afternoon off and finish it all. Cannot remember how it is supposed to end (considering its a 'true story' much like the Drama in Real Life stories in Reader's Digest).

I have always loved math. Through school of course, despite the fact that I spent the entire year when I was in X std. in the school library during math class as punishment for being a smart aleck. Arithmetic, algebra, calculus, I adored. Geometry & trigonometry I just loved. When I came to college and met some vague Russian authored books that talked lemmas at me and did not have enough exercise problems, I lost a bit of it. Then, as an 'engineer' of sorts, I started treating math as a tool. You will hear me talk about its abstractness often. Dismiss it very often as just the means to the higher end (of technology, scientific understanding, whatever). Much of it would be sour grapes. There were those musty, yellowing books with the sonorous voice of our college teachers; and outside, the world was boiling hot; I was falling in love, there was music and acting and basketball; I was finding my niche in the world. Math took some sort of back seat.

In graduate school, I think I initially got part of it back. Grabbing the limelight in the Linear Algebra class (a subject that was, to me, so obvious, while others cursed everything in sight while doing the homework). I took this spectacular differential equations class, it was called Math II (duh!). The professor was this really old fossil of a person, but so bloody sweet. I adored him. In the final, he said, its infinite time. Wow! From Indian schooling and college-ing to this is a big step. Of course. I was SO excited about this exam, though my doubt was, what if I have to pee? (You could go out and pee and smoke and return back, no problems). It was also 'Open Book' - a concept that I had met a few times in college. In college, I had carried one text book and was busy thumbing through the index for most of the exam. One of my colleagues had brought a duffel bag full of texts. Anyway, this infinite time exam in grad school, it really was something else. I stopped in about four hours (one bathroom break) just because I got tired and was satisfied. Did not make a 100, but was really happy with the whole thing. Derived analytical solutions that when I looked at limiting cases, made my heart leap with joy. It was great.

But later I got sucked into that monster creation of our times. The computer. I started using it for every damn thing. I stopped searching for solutions, just code it in. 100 lines of FORTRAN code later, I had the answer. I must have had several routines in my folder for doing the stupidest things ever. Not to mention using 'Goal Seek' on excel. I had, of course, my pet creation, the monster 8000 lines of code that could solve for an elephant's ass (or something to do with premixed flames). I never bothered about the symmetry, the musical beauty of the equations. Just wrote them down, made them dimensionless at best, and dumped them in. Though, I do admit, the most fun I had was with those yellow papers (not yellowing this time around! Fresh crunchy yellow American stationery) where I wrote the equations first of all, discretised them and checked the algebraic form multiple times before coding it. At one point I found mistakes in the sign of the fourth term in the fiftieth equation in my dream (and no, it was not true).

Recently, I decided to give the computer-ese a skip and really do some math. These are partial differential equations. I found this spectacular paper from the 1950s that did it all so elegantly. I tried doing the same for cartesian co-ordinates (they had done it for spherical). I was partly successful, but found another paper that extended the analysis and got sucked into that, and pretty soon my time was up (although it was not an exam; in life there are no infinite time possibilities any more). But it was fun. I do think I love differential equations. I wish I could stop myself from treating them as creatures to be conquered using computers.

Anyway in Simon Singh's book (which is off in parts, his excuse probably being that he is writing for someone with a bit less math in their head than I) the historical thing he does, talking about Fermat and Pythagoras and David Hilbert and the Bernoulli Clan was so exciting for me. I also discovered Sophie Germaine, a pioneer and now my idol. But most of all I am really enjoying reading about people who love math for the sake of math. And this time around I don't mind them talking about theorems and corollaries.

But of a morning, one of lifes other inviolable truths hits me. Every mother has a daughter who embodies everything she (the mother) is not. If only some Andrew Wiles can now prove that one, I can lie down and rest, assured that there is nothing I can do to change it!!

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Summertime at MFM...

Yes folks, summer is here! There is no escape from the heat, there is that of course, but summertime also means a bit of free time for me. So yaay! This does not mean I do anything much with these two months, but still its a great feeling. People that meet me go, "WOW you are so lucky to have this break" Depending on how much I like them I tell them the truth or just let them be jealous. Of course the truth being that I have a fair bit of work commitment in this time, considering we put off many things to the summer months. In many ways though the days can be a little less structured, we are happy to have meetings a little later in the day, wind up a little earlier in the evening, and so on. This year I have so far managed to avoid my usual foolishness in signing up for a billion things for the summer, so that I can spend more time on research per se, which I am looking forward to.

On the home front, I usually take a few weeks of vacation. In the past six years we have had two weddings in the family during summer, which have been fun things to do with the vacation. I have had a couple of weeks of relaxation at Mysore, with visits to the zoo and hanging out with my extended family and so forth. Some other functions (the monster's first birthday for one). A few trips out to watch kiddie plays at Horniman Circle Gardens. A few times of hanging out with my sis and the little ones. We went off to Romania & Greece last summer - part work, part vacation. Till now, since the concept of a vacation was non-existent as far the monster is concerned, we could pretty much figure this stuff out based on our schedules, mostly mine.

So what will this summer bring? A baby in the family (my sis-in-law) for one, which I am looking forward to. I have been racking my brains (and googling) for a week long break to some place cooler than Mumbai, but that has not gone far thanks to too many moving parts (i.e. the husband's work schedule). The usual options of Chennai & Mysore are out for a variety of reasons, one of them being that they are not particularly more cool than Mumbai. :-) Exotic foreign locales are out because of lack of enthu to deal with visas and so on. I am getting a tad pained and impatient, do want to get away from this flat for a bit, but first a short trip to Bangalore, then we figure this stuff out.

Meanwhile, I have to get my driving license (don't ask), do some dentistry, and above all ensure that the monster is healthy and curb its tendency to mouth off, get it to learn swimming and practise its school stuff (!) Its a time of some changes at work, and since I find myself in the thick of the planning, some interesting things are in the offing. Adventure and experiences-wise the summer promises to be quite boring, though rest, relaxation and recuperation-wise it holds promise.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Life is so complicated...

I have been debating the whole entire day now. From the moment I woke up and saw the husband moonwalking out with his backpack. To my one open eye he whispered 'I am staying over there tonight' Its a testament to the solidity of our marriage that I did not bat that one open eye. Even as the mists of early morning sleep cleared, I knew what he meant. He is working late tonight and has a dinner to go to after, he has an early morning set of things at work tomorrow. So, on my expert advice, he booked himself a room in swish south bombay hotel.

Which sounds like a real sensible thing to do if you have ever met the Mumbai traffic. Or had the privilege of living in Powai and hauling ass to Nariman Point every single day of your weekday for six long years, morning and night. (Gosh! It feels almost like I have done this commute when in actuality its the husband person.)

So, coming back to my debate and complications pertaining to my life. This dinner tonight. It turns out, I am invited. Its late, so of course, the monster is *not* invited. Its in someone's place, I am getting the jitters thinking about how spectacular that house (not sure if its a flat, could even be a bungalow, rowrrrrr) must be, considering the guy (and his wife) are so so hep. I would usually dismiss this invite with a laugh and some snide remarks. Mentally filing away brownie points for myself about my whole attitude to parenting.

This time around is a bit different though. My mum is around. I am a bit worn out from the semester. My exam just finished today; the class is small. I am up-to-date on several things at work (which also goes to show that I have the time to write this blog post in the middle of an afternoon). The experience could be fun. But then, it means, leaving the monster back. Going away for the night (OH MY GOD!) Although its just here, it makes virtually no sense to get back late at night by myself. What about her potty? Night-time susu breaks? Dinner? Will she miss me? Will she mind? Will she cry? Will mum get really stressed out managing her? Will she be rude to my mom? Will she be mean & show her true colours and embarrass me thus? Will I regret the whole entire thing? Am I just doing this for the sake of a couple of drinks and a half an hour of conversation with my husband? (provided he does not get a phone call or email during that time from Singapore) How will I get there? Carbon foot-print issues?

For a girl, the only question I could answer comfortably and easily was, What will I wear. Yeah well, I thought about it. My orange shirt will be fine. Screw you for remembering that I bought it in Filene's Basement about ten years ago, I still fit in it (sort of), so there. There is nothing to think about in terms of footwear 'cause obviously my well worn Liz Cs are the only decent things that I own. I tend to slip a little in them since the heel is so worn out, but thats fine, manageable! Those other questions though are killing me.

But I am going anyway. Mum is game enough to manage the monster for one solitary night. And if she starts something or refuses to sleep, there is always the option of making her skip the creche tomorrow and just relax at home. Considering that mum had a good relaxing day today (apart from a trip to the supermarket in the middle of the day), and is lounging around in her brown nightgown, I am sure she can handle it. And one day, I will pay her back for it by being good and putting my clothes away as soon as she reminds me the second time...

I am ridiculously silly, I think its safe to say. Someone cut the cord already.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Clothes For Sale!

My aunt is visiting me. Mum noticed a flyer in the hallway announcing sale of exclusive kurtis. I hmmed and hawed but finally relented and took aunt to this place, she wanted to buy some stuff for her daughter and grand-daughter. The sale was in a flat in the building next door. The flat was spectacular with those small touches that scream 'Interior Decorator' (at least to me). White pebbles (which I dislodged due to clumsiness); a turtle (with a turtle food box next to it; strategically placed), giant-ass plasma TV; lights being part of some wall decoration in maroon. I was going 'wow' in my head. You know, cause I live practically next door and my house looks like a refugee camp most times.

The kurtis were hung all over the living room. The very special ones were up near the French windows. The rest were spread around. Comfy couches were provided. We could check out the fit in one of the (three) bedrooms of the flat. The kurtis were not my style at all but I had to behave and help aunt look through them. They all had some beads and stuff sewn on the neck. The suits cost some 5000 bucks each, the tops upwards of 700. The lady was nice, she made some self-deprecatory jokes about Patels; was well groomed; and very enthu to show the collection. She clearly liked what she was doing so I was very happy, you know, since I keep telling people they should follow their dreams and not worry about the making money part (as in, advice I give people when they ask me for it...).

I concentrated my brain on looking un-critically at the clothes and picked up a couple of things my cousin would like. She is tall and can carry off this stuff. Plus she lives in the US so this would be kind of novel. That was okay, not difficult. Her kid though is skinny and very tall and I really wanted to find something comfy and summery for her. Thankfully I found just the thing, a narrow waisted blouse in bright colours. We kept these two-three things aside and were looking through suits when a whole bunch of ladies came in.

I gave a vague smile (should probably know a few of them as they live in my building or the next one; but can never be sure since I am so a-social of late) and continued my browsing. Aunt was asking me if I would like anything and I was saying that it was all a bit much for me since I anyway am trying to cut kurtis out and wear shirts instead. Then, we looked around for the things we had picked up, and the bright blouse was gone. I prowled around and found it under a pile of other stuff and casually took it up.

That started a furious round of Gujarati. I had not paid attention of course but one fat girl had picked up that blouse for herself, from the pile that I had kept aside. Anyway, such stuff happens, right, not as if this was a store or anything. I just smiled and took it up and told the lady, look, we had picked this up and would like to buy it, its just perfect for my niece. The lady was nice, she said Sorry to the girl and we were just about to pay and head out. Aunt was vacillating a bit checking out other stuff. Women do that. Me, as recently accused by my neighbour (under incitement by mom) am such a guy that I am like Zip Zap Zoom, shopping is done, I am bored of looking at things, have picked up a couple, let me pay and get out. But I do recognise that everyone is not like that. So I hung around patiently.

Suddenly the fat girl takes up the top AGAIN and goes off into a room. I raised my eyebrows at the lady and she sniggers and says she just wants to try it. Hello? Why would you want to sweat into something that I am surely going to buy? I mean, I even had the money out in my palms (pretty much). Again, since this was not a store and I was not sure of etiquette and since all this Gujarati was going around me, I just gave one of my silly smiles and waited on the side. My aunt did not get upset either, I thought she would say I won't buy this for the child now that this one has sweated into it but she said the contrary! So that decided it for me, of course, being non-confrontational and all I just stood on the side, once the girl took it off I figured I would pay and get the hell out. A kid showed up, around four, and I tried to play with it a bit to take my mind off this crap.

The girl took her time. Preening in front of the mirror or whatever. When she finally emerged with the crumpled blouse in her hand, she had such a look on her face, I just could not believe it. Is a simple blouse so very important, I was wondering. And so young too, I mean, hardly fifteen years old and able to openly scowl at a grey-haired old lady & a frumpily-dressed middle-aged lady for the sake of one top? Seriously upset about the whole thing, we just paid up and left. On some levels I do feel like if it was so important to her I should have just given up on it. If I was picking it up for myself I surely would have done that. But it was a nice top, and so very perfect for my niece, aunt liked it a lot too. You know how I usually avoid going to such places, shopping by itself is such a nightmare, and shopping when there are people like this around is just impossible. What do I care for genuine ethnic embroidery or bead-work or what-the-fuck-ever. I am going back into my hole and hiding for another ten years now...

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Della Street

Mum hates dust. Dusty things are up there in favourite dislikes. Our library stands on a main, crowded, jostling, nasty road. Even the leaves look brown and nasty. Few as they are. Its called the L'Amour Circulating Library (approximately). To me, it sounds poetic and romantic and brings childhood memories of Cavitha Circulating Library from a long ago growing-up age. To mum, her nose screwed up, it brings visions of buckets and cleaning cloths and covering her nose with her handkerchief, tucking her sari in at the waist, and getting down to some good old cleaning. I think.

At any rate, I drag the two generations of women, one above and one below me, to this alcove. My eyes big as saucers, I scan the racks. I know I can always fall back on the PGWodehouse on the left. He has a good collection, better than mine. He assures me he is not selling it in a hurry. I tell him to think of me if ever he wants to sell it off. I have several of them already but that will not prevent me from buying up the entire three racks. He knows it. He nods sagely. Says, you must be South Indian. You South Indians are crazy about books; and not necessarily romance novels. I nod to the South Indian and smile at the over-generalisation. I let it go.

The monster invades the Berenstein Bears (finished the series last week) and Clifford (which she pronounces as Cliffort for some reason). Mum and I desultorily discuss that maybe we should read the romance things. There are like a billion of them there. Far in excess of all other genres, including Westerns (despite the name). They are less dusty. More colourful. But I cannot do it. They look too silly and uniform. We try the desi-ish versions, some Nisha somebody some chapati something. Try as in, pick it up. But the eyes flit away to the Rushdie, the Ghosh, even Kushwant Singh.

Mum picks up a Ludlum. I don't read that stuff either. I pick up a random book about Flight Attendants on vacation (it turned out to be quite random after all). We ask about any 'new books' Nothing. Mum chances upon Agatha Christies. I say no, have read all of them. Cannot stand thinking of Poirot's moustaches. I find him faintly repulsive now. No, not that, I say. Okay then, lets take this she says. I am tired. The monster is a little jittery. Fat aunties are crowding the place up and eyeing us, with our strangely green cloth vegetable bag and that look in our eyes we get when we see books, with curiosity. Okay ma I say. We leave, having coughed up a three digit sum of money and being admonished for salivating over Suddenly Sam for two whole weeks (it was a pleasure; even if I paid a late fine for it).

I discover, upon returning home, that its a blast from the past. A Perry Mason! Sights, sounds and smells of my aunt's flat in Bangalore where we used to spend an occasional couple of days in the summer, assault me. She had some of them. I used to try desperately to read them, far before I was old enough to understand or appreciate them. Of course in later years I did read a fair collection of them from various places. But it was still a refreshing memory, taking me back to the time when my love of cream and basundi and chocolate was the stuff of family legend, along with my tendency to get 'good marks' in school and to be, err, very short and thin.

Della Street, calling the man chief. Paul Drake and his detective agency. A murder. Lt. Tragg. Members of the jury. A judge. Beautiful women. They were all there, integrally in the story. I really quite enjoyed it. I would have thought that the Los Angeles and the Las Vegas of the story would be more real now than all those years ago in that Bangalore flat. You know, 'cause of having been there so many times now. But nope. Same thing. Same disconnect with everything. Same feeling of suspended reality. Assured that everything would fall in place. It was good, however, I won't deny it. Fun. All very expected denouement and what not, but still enjoyable.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Jumpin' Mango

Anyone remember that cool tetrapack of mango juice we used to get called Jumpin'
I used to be so fascinated by that, and also by Great Shakes, which was a sort of a Soy drink or something. One year in school our lunch break was long enough so we used to cycle down to this place near by and drink this stuff. Used to cost Rs.5 I think. My mum would she give me a few bucks when my aunt (who ruled the kitchen with an iron hand) created something monstrous for the lunch box.

So it was a hippety hoppy weekend. Friday night I dragged ass to South Bombay to meet up with friends. We had a gala time. I stuck to Bloody Marys, arguing against the calories in beer. The chairs were a tad too high for me. But they had a gigantic-oh TV screen where they played song videos. Rather strange to look at Michael Jackson for sure. Oh yeah. The DJ dude, when not harassed by my husband to play something totally dorky (such as CCR), was going nuts with 70s and 80s pop and rock. Initially I was like, oh my god, where are we. But then we are all in our thirties right, so after a while since we could like hum along (hum along? knew the entire sets of songs, I have to say), it was OK. Of course, there was this one time he played that hilarious song from that hilarious movie with that hilarious dude from Saturday Night Live (Mango). Which was kind of cool. We also did tequila shots though that felt like water (ha!) for the most part for some reason. Maybe it was because the pepper from the B.M. had lined up my stomach nicely. A bit on the wild side for oldies like us, friday night was. I wore a Tshirt that said 'Its Not PMS, Its You' but no one believed it per-se, I got wished 'Have a Happy Period' many times though (ArgH! Hate those guys for that line).

On Saturday on the other hand, I had to be on real good behaviour. We met up with some colleagues of my husband in their real swank Bandra place. I was zapped out of shape with how nice their home was, and how enthu the lady was to have cooked for us all. The people were all older and I really had to behave myself. Once when the monster ran out from the bedroom insisting that Bluffmaster (which the other kids were watching) was too scary, one of the ladies were shocked that I had a child. Oh well. I wore a shiny lucknowi kurta mum bought for me. I did sip a bit of beer but mostly I was real quiet and smiling and listening attentively to the dispensed gyaan and oohing and aahing about the house.

On Sunday I went to visit an old uncle in the hospital. He was OK but my aunt looked totally worn out from the experience. I tried very hard to drag out old stories about my dad (aunt is his sister) from her but my cousin kept butting in and asking me about this and that in this vague way that he has (he uses a lot of pronouns so its always a big gamble to figure out who and what he is talking about). Kind of hard it was. But we promised to go back sometime next weekend when I can hopefully get some stories out of her. He was real mischievous growing up, my dad, and while it is clear that in terms of parenting my grandparents sucked big time, it is kind of interesting to hear and correlate with my and my monster's behaviour.

In between all this stuff I had to work. A meeting where a guy I suspect of wearing a wig droned on and on. I was like dude where is the tea already. Another where we had to sit down and really finish stuff. And yet another where I was so damn dehydrated from the nights excesses that I had to really squint my eyes and drink lots of Tang to focus. At any rate, work got done, which is good I suppose.

And here we are on Monday. In a strange twist, the husband has covered me with gifts (yes! Its that unmentionable thing today). I got a Tommy watch (hinting that my days of wearing the man-watch are behind me :-() and an IPOD shuffle (okay I know you youngsters will say that there are better products than that nowadays, but we are old and we think this is pretty cool plus I am not the kind to look a gift horse in the mouth, so lay off eh?) Mum made me Basundi, which used to be my favourite thing in the world before I fell prey to fears of Cholesterol and weight gain and what not. She also bought me tons of clothes which is typical of everytime she visits, in addition to a handbag (hints again that the ratty cloth bag I carry around is no good). So much for my existentialism and what not. The monster made me one of its cute cards which always say I am a super star and that it loves me. Plus the little runt told everyone in its creche that its wearing new clothes and flowers in its hair because of amma's birthday. Most embarrassing this child is I tell you... While having a quiet little day did not work out, I am feeling quite happy, people do love me you know, they remembered and messaged and emailed and called, this despite the fact that I am horrendous-iferous in such things. Hope I get better with age...

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Read my eye...

To be precise, read my eye. My left eye. All red and streaky with lines. What does that say to you?

My colleague came into my office and we were cribbing and sighing that its just a few more weeks to go of this semester. We went through the usual motions of how this one did that and that one said that and we are enormously busy with all kinds of random stuff going on. Then on to how we came here because we loved the job (in its ideal), and blah blah.

Suddenly she says, whats up with your eye. Then I recalled. It was red when I woke up in the morning. Remained so through the day, was also sort of burning. I mean it was nothing, just because I have not been sleeping so well of late thanks to my neck crick. Which, I do hope, is not spondolo-whatchammaycallit. That would be real funny. Anyway, it was only this eye thing as far as I was concerned, the neck felt reasonably better anyway. So I explained to her. She says, how about you go home and take a nap?

Well, theres a thought. I had woken up early, studied some, did the crazy morning stuff (thank god my mum is around! would have been a lot crazier if not!), shipped the monster off to 9 am school, arranged for her to be transferred to the creche at 11 am, did this that and the other. Meeting minutes. Notes. Class. Emails. General Stuff. Went to the creche at 1 pm, fetched the monster home. Shovelled lunch into my mouth. Extracted myself out of the home. Back to the hole thats my office. Counted spiders. Notes. Emails. Meetings to discuss earth-shattering stuff.

Then she showed up and gave me this splendid idea. Of course, I did not take it. I went with her and drank some over-sweet tea (Rs. 2.50) and returned to my hole. But it made me think. This is what I always tell my husband. OOH if you don't show up in office today its not as if the Indian economy is going to come crashing down. OOH if I go home and take an afternoon nap ONE DAY in six years the earth is not going to shatter. Seriously. I have gotto loosen up. Get that stick out.