Monday, May 31, 2010

Of strangers ...

There is something about strangers and strange circumstances. I enjoy finding friendships in situations when people expect to get mugged - it is like finding a beautiful garden unexpectedly, when lurking at the end of a dark alley way ... or like finding a needle in a haystack. Always makes a believer out of me.

But then we wonder why we need to lurk down dark alleyways - even when we are really looking for beautiful gardens. And in the light of introspection comes clarity - and the joy that life always leads me to beautiful gardens.

Had a wonderful week (very good weather), and a great weekend. There was a thunderstorm last night - and Ernie had to be retrieved from under the bed (he is scared of lightning). The morning was fresh and clear.


Sunday, February 07, 2010

No pot luck!

I have on previous occasion pondered on the construction of individual identity. Personally it has been a very rewarding experience for me. I have borrowed a large slice from my family history, flavored it with my own experiences, lightly sauteed everything in the many interesting world influences around me, laced it with a heaped spoon full of love and humanity, a cup full of universal spirit and sympathy, and simmered all of it in a large cauldron - till it was quintessentially me.

And of course, I have always assumed that everybody else has gone through the same invigorating experience - and that life really is a pot luck where we share ourselves, learn from each other - every once in a while borrowing and further enriching our personal recipes.

So imagine my disappointment when I painfully realized that most people go through life with canned identities. Which is fine by me - even though the thought is as horrifying as canned food itself.

But people who choose canned identities have been bothering me of late. Having found fulfillment in their cans, they become incapable of thinking outside the can. As a result, they make assumptions about my identity and before I can protest, cook up a narrative about my life that couldn't be farther from the truth. Which is still OK, because who cares what they think, right? But no, they go the extra mile and make me defend this narrative that isn't even me. Or worse, they start taking decisions for me and try to apprehend my thoughts on a matter - because isn't that the what the ingredients on my cans say?? (like ensuring that my seat at the dinner table has the vegetarian tag on it - without ever having asked me if I was vegetarian!)

To put it simply, I find it oppressive. And unfortunately it brings out the worst in me. I try to defend myself, try to distance myself from this thrust upon assumed identity - try to explain ... and then just as I think I am getting into explaining the complex intersection of culture and experience - that I am reclassified into "oh he doesn't like any labels" - which soon becomes a "what a hypocrite" if I were to suggest kinship to some group - such as say, Nerds!


... and I am not even getting into the indignities that are thrust upon me when I visit India, where the cupboard of cans is a lot more homogeneous and neatly organized.
(For example, recently a college class mate - with whom I have not had contact in 10 years, wondered in an email why I was not married yet, and then promptly went on to satisfy himself with the explanation that Bengali men marry late - so I was still OK.)

Whats worse - the set of available cans to choose from are so inadequate - there is nothing exciting to choose from. For example, there are narrow cans that are labeled by nationality and race. That bothers me right off the bat, because it assumes homogeneity of experience based on descriptors that people have little choice in. Race is immutable - but nationality really boils down to paperwork - where as it should be based on where your life experiences lead you to live.

Then if you further examine the contents of these cans - you are left with an insipid and sometimes out right rotten fare. Like gay men are somehow not masculine - as if masculinity had anything to do with sexual orientation. (it also highlights the rather dubious definition of masculinity in relation only to femininity - rather than a set of meaningful character traits)! Ugggh!!

Anyway - I wish life was indeed a potluck, where identity was complex and constructed - rather than canned, assumed and imposed upon. It is a freedom we are all afforded, but very few are willing to indulge in.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Details ...

Ughhh!!! January is my most non-favorite month of the year. The holidays are over, work is piled up, winter is wearing me down, its dark and dreary, and the news (Haiti, economy etc. etc.) is all bad.

That being said, something green came in the mail the other day - unceremoniously and unannounced in an unimpressive white envelope - and it wasn't green at all! I had been waiting for the day for all sorts of reasons - from the down right corny and emotional ones, to the steel cold rational and practical ones.

But as with anything that I look forward to with great ardor - the arrival event itself was quite anti-climactic. It was an exceptionally cold and windy day, so I had to run up the driveway from the mailbox to avoid frost-bite on my un-gloved hands (that being an unremarkable winter event for where I live). After a couple of days, I checked myself in the mirror and noticed that I still had not grown the much anticipated green horns! In fact, all said and done I remain the same - very same person. Which, on second thoughts, I feel quite happy and reassured about.

Some of my insecurities are gone - on closer scrutiny I wonder why I ever had them - but they have been replaced by new ones. The list of things to worry and obsess about are endless and so even if one pops off the list, another promptly pushes up ... then I think of the real uncertainties in all our lives. They are incomprehensible and impossible to obsess about, and dwelling on them for long could drive us either insane or to paralysis. Events like the earthquake at Haiti, bring perspective to the essentials of life and how easily everything can fall apart in a matter of seconds ... that is probably why we must pre-occupy ourselves with the trivial - if only to distract ourselves from the real and the inevitable.

But then again, if somebody, somewhere in some organization had spent time worrying about such trivial things as building codes, then maybe collapse would have been less inevitable - or at least delayed. Maybe talking about our inevitable fate is but a way of escaping responsibility from the reality of now - maybe nirvana is in the moment not in some far away non-existent spot in space. Maybe they lie when they tell us that we need to be unaffected and rise above it all. Instead, maybe the need of the hour is to drown ourselves in every trivial detail of the now. You'll know what I mean if you have seen a structural design hand book, or a regional building code!

Which brings me back to my unmarked white envelope - no matter how trivial, I guess every little thing - even the not-green thing in the unmarked envelope is worth celebrating. Celebrate today lest there be no tomorrow ...

... what were they doing when the earth shook?

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Events and Refelctions

I have been meaning to update my blog for the last couple of weeks but stuff has been getting in the way ... and now I have so many thoughts to register, that I do not know where to start.

Fall my favorite season of the year is almost gone. The forests were ablaze with color, the last hooray before the winter sets in. This year the weather has been a bit odd - we had an early fall snow, which melted away in a day - but left behind a cover of gray dreariness and slow drizzle that lingered right through October. And now in November - that the trees have lost all the color we have been having beautiful - albeit windy - fall days. So we are enjoying the last of a series of beautiful fall days.

I mentioned in my last post that my parents were visiting. Truth be told, I was a bit nervous before they arrived - as this was the first time they were going to see our shared life, our house and our dear pups. Would they approve? Well, I must say - it was an absolutely wonderful visit. I am very very thankful that they got along very well with my partner T' and vice-versa. Our families met each other as well - and it was such a beautiful get together. Somehow it made it all so very real - and even sacred in some sense. I am terribly proud of my parents, because in-spite of themselves, they have journeyed with me on my quest, and I feel honored to share every aspect of my life with them. While they were visiting, the four of us visited Yellowstone National Park (YNP) - and I must say YNP is the most amazing thing I have ever seen in my life. The trip went off quite well and I think my parents enjoyed it quite a bit. T' was enjoying all the wonderful food Ma was cooking (excepting for Karela). He seemed to like Payesh - a good old Bengali favorite - very much and has learned to make it (unfortunately I am lactose intolerant). And Ma would make it a point to make puppy sized parathas for B' and E', as well. They completely loved having Baba around - 3 walks a day does not compare with anything they have had before. It was definitely difficult to say good-bye, when their 6 week visit came to an end - we had gotten quite used to them being around.

So that was a busy and eventful fall. The best part for me was to go to sleep each night with the secure feeling that my whole world was warm and cozily tucked in under the same roof.

... and now to the reflections of the season. Just simple ones - enjoying the moment, knowing that its all we've got - and that before we know it, all will seem like a dream. I sit at my window and watch the wind sweeping the dry leaves in the yard - gathering them up in neat heaps - only to swirl them around its finger like eddies, carelessly undoing its own hard work. The wanton ways of the whistling wind speaks to me of distant lands. I hear the rhythm of drums - a harmonious blend of many narratives, punctuated by the silence of wisdom and the music of the spheres.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Fall Family Fling!

... So ... my parents have been visiting us for the last two weeks and life has been GREAT!! :) All my different worlds are converging - and I must say I'm a bit amused and overwhelmed all at the same time. Here are a few highlights:

1. T' and my parents are getting along like a house on fire - they have finally found the obedient son in him they never had in me!!

2. All the parents met the parents - i.e. my parents met T's parents and exchanged gifts - and had lunch. Both the Moms had gifts for each other - and both almost forgot to give it to each other.

3. We all took a trip to Chicago last weekend.

4. I had a proposal deadline this week and almost died under the pressure - T' took care of my parents - making me look progressively worse.

5. Ma has been knitting sweaters for Bert and Ernie!! They love Baba - because suddenly they have realized that walks have become a 3 hourly event rather than a rare weekly outing.

6. Ma and T' agreed vehemently that Indian men are incapable of taking care of themselves :(

7. Today all day has been a big cooking fest and next weekend we are all off to Yellowstone!

... so ... I guess that's whats going on at this end - we had scallops and prawns for lunch and plan to have luchi-mangsho for dinner. As Ma and T' are busy exchanging recipes - I've retired from the kitchen for the time being - you know how we Indian men are, right ;) - might as well enjoy the reputation!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

They are back ...

Remember my post about the illusion of stasis - that nostalgia tinged email about how wonderful it is to teach and see 'the kids' move on as we grayed over the years!!!

Well, yesterday while driving across the bridge we were accosted by this:

You guessed it! The students are back - new school year starts next week.

This is orientation week, so the entire town is full of fresh faced 18-year olds with a flock of over engaged parents in tow!!! This means that we have to cross the bridge and go to strange out of the way restaurants to escape from the flood of said parents and freshers.

New school year is upon us. I am teaching two senior classes this semester and advising three graduate students. Then of course there is the usually slew of proposals, papers etc.

Cynicism besides, I must say the excitement in the air is exhilarating and the energy is difficult to ignore :)