Friday, March 28

Saturday in the park

Considering it doesn't have much to boast about, it was rather a surprise to learn that Birmingham actually had a spring season. After having lived here almost 2 years, I can testify to the fact that there is a period of 2 months that carefully and quite hopefully gets demarcated as such.

Officially fired off by spring break week, and pursued relentlessly by spring fest, blast, outing and thingummybob, its a wonder there's actually any time for summer at all. I actually feel sorry for summer, which has to creep in almost shamelessly and endure the curses of the local inhabitants since this state is going through what was supposed to be a passing drought.

That was 4 years ago and it doesn't look like the drought is planning to 'pass' by any time soon.

A typical spring week will begin with bright sunshine, constant 22 degree weather and a refreshing breeze on Monday. This generally cheers up any and everyone suffering from the Monday blues. All and sundry bring out their most ragged t-shirts and shorts, suitably accompanied by sandals and shades / glares. On Tuesday, everyone marches out of the door smartly in same attire and just as smartly marches right back in. The sky is speckled with grey clouds and the wind, refreshing yesterday, effortlessly slices though cloth, skin, tendon and other paraphernalia. The whole effect is accentuated by the temperature which is a bird-song silencing -2 degrees. Wednesday, it rains. Thursday, the sun peeps out hopefully but is horrified by the blasphemies it is subjected to, considering the oppressive humidity cloaking everything. On Friday, just as people are badmouthing the 'spring', the weather resembles the one on Monday.

It seems that spring is also the time heterosexuality (publicly) comes into fashion, especially on campus. Faceless masses, huddled in the labs and classrooms all winter suddenly discover that not only are there other students under those heavy jackets, these students are also of the opposite sex and attractive, to say the least. Ergo, any patch of land with even a hint of grass on it will now find itself sprawled upon by bodies coochy-cooing away. Joggers and walkers find that their daily route has turned into an obstacle course as they not only have to watch out for the lounging multitude, but also for the starry-eyed, arm-in-arm couples barrelling their way through without a care in the world.

As if this wasn't enough, people who have found the library perfectly adequate for reading, studying and whatanot, now insist on reading (or rather squinting at) their books and holding pointless 'study' sessions in the middle of this public circus. To each his own and all that, but really...

This festival atmosphere is not helping moi. Yes, there's the cricket on the weekends and the beer in the balcony. But, faced with all of the above, one admits to a slight hankering. It had to happen some time I suppose. I mean, its not exactly Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness' in here. Not always, anyway. Since I suspect I was on the assembly line on the day the heavenly father's consort pleaded a headache, I am the inspiration for Murphy and as a bonus, get accosted on the street with the usual "Aren't you that Rumpelstilskin bloke who...". Ergo, my looks and personality are not exactly bringing in the ladies.

So, I'm brooding about fate, justice, lady luck and all that when I discover the result of some calculations I was doing on the side. Apparently, the Cambodia trip is running a wee bit over budget. Just a tad. Enough for a bead of perspiration to magically appear on the furrowed brow. As if this was not enough, I see a flyer for a talk to be held on campus.

Topic : Who am I? What am I doing? Why am I alive?

Copyright: Bill Watterson

Song for the moment: The Tea Leaf Prophecy - Joni Mitchell

Saturday, March 22

The thorn within

The worst of times is at 4:00 pm on a Friday afternoon. I'm stuck in a windowless, narrow room with only the glare of the computer screen for company. Not 20 feet away, in the lobby, are large windows that almost sadistically point out that its a sunny, pleasant day outside. The kind of day made for cricket, football, or anything else that involves not being 'here'.

There is not a person in sight because any and all sensible beings walking upright have cleared out for the weekend. The phone has not rung in hours and I know for a fact that it will not do so till closing time. I have trawled though websites and blogs all afternoon, reading desperately to quell my boredom and rising frustration.

The only reason I haven't bolted for the elevators myself is because the over-zealous dragon passing off as the office secretary will kick up an almighty row if I leave a minute before 5:00 pm. I have a book that I can read, but the deathly stillness in the air and a rather heavy lunch ensures that I begin to nod off halfway through the page. This has happened 3 times already. In the last hour. If I sleep off... enter the dragon, again.

I've worked at this department exactly 1 year, 4 months and 9 days. Another 40 days to go. Another 6 Friday afternoons of this funereal atmosphere to live through.

A 25 year old man wasting his time in this fashion every day for heaven knows how many months, strangled by boredom and simmering at the uselessness of it all. Or at his helpless need for this job.

And people wonder why I chose Phnom Penh.

Copyright: Bill Watterson

Song for the moment: Time drags by real slow - Cliff and the Shadows

Friday, March 14

Grand illusion

The precious few readers of this blog may have noticed my infrequent references to employment - basically how I'm about to complete my second master's degree (yes, I am the masochist as a certain reader has been advertizing to all and sundry) and how there are no real job prospects in sight. In the past, thanks to my talent for indolence and procrastination, I've been in the soup as far as deadlines for assignments and exams are concerned. Recent scenarios: Two 10 page assignments to be submitted on the morrow. Where is moi? Hard at work, drinking beer and reading a book of course. Repeat formula during exams.

But all this sinful living caught up with me sometime around November, leaving me feeling rather guilty about neglecting my responsibilities (yes, I am guffawing helplessly...). A somewhat haunted feeling enveloped me... a worried frown would break out now-&-then and I'd find myself contemplating the view outside the window pensively. Rather like the sword of Damocles was preparing to descend... fast. So, end result? I looked up internships that I could do in order to give something to prospective employers to read about on the resume. After plenty of searching, collating, analysis and selection, I found myself looking at 3 places. All of them were with the United Nations, but were on different continents; Vienna in Austria, NYC over here and Phnom Penh in Cambodia. With very little actual hope, I applied to all of them, reasoning that one of them might successfully sneak past Lady Luck and land on my plate.

Apparently, madam was having an extended siesta because all of them accepted my application leaving me with a decision to make. This was after all the crossroads of my possible future career we're talking about... not to be taken lightly. Right? Right.

Although Vienna had by far the best work profile, it would also require the selling of one or more of my organs to afford the trip. (Oh yea... the UN doesn't pay interns... charming situation, really) And, not surprisingly, I'm rather attached to my organs... in more ways than one. So, Vienna was out leaving me to choose between NYC and Phnom Penh.

Department chairperson downwards, every professor I discussed my choices with said that it was obvious; "Go to NYC"... the chances of networking with researchers there was enormous...the work opportunities later would be better... no better testing ground for success, etc. What they didn't mention was that it'd be summer in NYC then i.e. beeauteeful women (and all women in NYC are gorgeous... its like a rule or something) would be strutting around in next-to-nothing and the whole city would be blanketed in sunshine and fun. Besides, I've always wanted to live and work in New York... it sounds so cool.

Pubs... did I forget to mention those?

Contrast this to Phnom Penh. It'd be the monsoon season i.e. dull grey skies with incessant tropical showers. The local humidity has a nasty reputation. Cholera, malaria and japanese encephalitis are very common. Roads get washed out often and landmines abound in the rural areas. Yeesh !!!!

I actually gave both places some thought, but I knew where I wanted to be. Once again, gentle reminder - this was a career move which could make or break me. So, I weighed all the pros and cons, went through all the excellent advice I'd received, thought about my dreams, and made my rather easy decision yesterday. It was no contest in the end.

Next stop, Phnom Penh.

Why? Because.

Song for the moment: I am mine - Pearl Jam

Thursday, March 13

This one time, at band camp....

Grandpa, or Bachelor no. 3 to you dear reader, is the poster boy for the school of though which maintains that age and wisdom do not necessarily go hand in hand. And, as grandpa presently looks like he's pregnant with twins at least, we are talking of a rather large / wide poster. None the less, he trots along on the marathon of life, blissfully unawares that wisdom or something resembling it is prostrate on the side of the road about 10 years worth of distance behind.

Now, until I met grandpa, I always maintained that everyone has a 'few' idiosyncrasies up their sleeves. This man however, is the very essence of the words 'eccentricity' and 'idiosyncrasy'. Let me put it this way - these words in the dictionary are one day simply going to have his mugshot posted next to them. As a teller of tall tales, he has no equal in Birmingham. Initially, not knowing him as we do today, we guys even believed a few of his fishier ones. Eventually ofcourse, we realized that this fellow is Baron M√ľnchhausen's father. He also has this quirk of having a personal parallel to any story or experience that someone else is narrating. His version, which never fails to begin with the words "Arrey, this is nothing... when I was in Raipur / Indore / (add place as required)...", is ofcourse crazier, funnier and, it being him, more dubious. And rather raunchy. Very.

His gastronomic philosophy is about as eccentric, changing in phases to suit his whims and fancies. When we first met him, grandpa went on a pulao-making binge that has left Batman and I having lifelong nightmares about that dish. His idea of 'pulao' being rice, peanuts, chunks of potato, turmeric and sometimes, salt. Ye Gods ! Just as we were recovering from this one, he calmly announced that he was adopting a 'Jain Dharm' attitude to food; no non-veg and, for months on end, he insisted on having dinner before sunset. This phase coincided with late fall & winter here, when the sun sets anytime between 4:30 - 5:45 pm. Sigh.....

His latest gimmick involves only making non-veg food during his turn to make dinner. Moi is vegetarian. 'Nuff said.

To be fair to him though, grandpa does have some serious culinary talent which has seen some unforgettable meals made in the kitchen we share with the roaches. He's also very friendly, generous & quite loyal, making him exasperating at times but hard to completely dislike. Grandpa's philosophy of life is simple - he will not 'take any tension' (as he puts it) no matter how messy the situation. No crisis or problem fazes him. Ofcourse, there is a parallel school of thought here which opines that his serene expression in times of disaster is because his train of thought has derailed before it has left the station.

His latest extreme act is taking sauna baths. Nothing so sinister in itself, but he takes one every day for an average of 30 minutes. Now, if any of you have been reading the papers or journals, too much steam or heat isn't exactly ideal for...umm... the family jewels. Since the stubborn bugger won't listen to reason, we lot have shrugged our shoulders and let him be. However, I couldn't help but think that if he carries on broiling himself in this fashion, his 'jewels' won't be 'taking any tension' when push comes to shove either. Hehe...

Song for the moment: Phatela jeb sil jayega - Aankhen (2002)

Sunday, March 9

Can you please crawl out your window?

There are times truth sneaks up upon us and delivers that knockout blow; that perfect jab into the plexus that leaves us floored, breathless and clawing desperately at nothing. While we indignantly try to mouth the word 'cheat' or 'unfair', truth nods, satisfied at a job well done, notches up another one, and leaves.

This is spring break week, the annual period that universities across the nation down shutters and take off. Most campuses, buzzing with activity right up to Friday, resemble a ghost town on the 1st Saturday of spring break. Texas probably even has the occasional tumbleweed. Anyway, this being Birmingham, there's barely any difference between spring break and the rest of the year. Allowed, this is hardly the university's fault... not even the city's. But, it does clearly elucidate a point, no, dear reader ? (speaking of which, who actually reads this blog, I wonder)

Again, this being Birmingham, the day spring break is declared, the weather forecast promptly predicts rain and snow, with temperatures for the week in the high 20's. That's Fahrenheit, in case you were wondering wtf... which roughly translates into an average of -1 degree Celsius to look forward to... Oh joy !! It doesn't help that my roommates have taken off for Florida and the sun-kissed beaches, leaving self contemplating moong daal for dinner... again. (Yes, contributed by Bachelor no. 4. His consistency leads me to contemplate slaying the *%#@!%&)
And why am I not travelling with Mr. Galliano's circus, you ask ? Enter Mammon and his slave - self.

Since my degrees haven't amounted to anything so far, I've had to take drastic steps this semester, namely by applying for the most impressive Summer internships I could think of, all 3 of which were with the United Nations. I've been accepted by all of them, but before starting out on the whooping and the hand-stands, discovered that that august body doesn't pay interns. Yea... you want to do an internship, you can damn well pay for it yourself. I ask you !! Ergo, I'm still here... writing this post. And will be working this week.

So, Vienna, much to my regret, is out. Too expensive. Left in the fray are New York city and.... wait for it... Phnom Penh.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia.


Where will I be going ? Well... NYC hasn't let me know about its work profile yet, so until that happens, I'm waiting. Grinding my teeth all the while, I might add.

Decisions, decisions....

And about truth assaulting us and leaving ? The following conversation took place last week. Sigh...

(At work, me and other student employee, K, are talking)

G: Those are some...ahem... 'interesting' socks you're wearing (they were a ghastly shade of 'rainbow', I kid you not)

K: Thanks.

G: Hehe... reminds me of these mustard-yellow socks I used to have when I was in college (dreamily referring to my B.A years in Fergusson... and yea, I actually did have those socks... no comment)

K: Girish, you still are in college.
F#@K !!

Song for the moment:
Dust in the wind - Kansas

Saturday, March 1

Animal song

MOD, our resident bachelor no. 4 (yes, Mr. Moong-daal himself) has been sleeping on the living room couch for the past week. When asked why he was doing so by Batman (about 4 days ago), he shrugged his shoulders and nonchalantly said something about needing a change.

Admittedly, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with sleeping on that couch or any other, for that matter. I can personally attest to the fact that it is an excellent piece of furniture and carries out its duties without protest. Still, as readers may have noticed from previous posts, no action in the place I live in comes without its very own sinister meaning.

Since I am the first to leave for work every morning, I am therefore invariably greeted by the sight of sprawled limbs and a blanket rising up and falling to the tune of tympanic snoring. Not the prettiest sight one can be greeted by at the crack of dawn or thereabouts, but, as I have discovered, wishes stubbornly refuse to turn into horses. At least this not-so-panoramic vision serves to ensure that I am wide awake or startled by the time I leave the house. But, I digress.

I was admittedly curious, but chose not to ask either him or the other two specimens about it. A man has the right to sleep wherever he wants, especially after he's paid up his share of the rent. Yesterday evening however, my curiousity was satiated... with vengeance. Batman, Grandpa and I are sitting at dinner and the topic of bedbugs came up. Something to do with irony and the song 'Kuch kuch hota hai'. Anyway, as I sniggered and said something about bedbug numbers in the U.S, Grandpa smiled. It was not a nice smile. In fact, it was a downright diabolical smile and it generally does not bode anything remotely well for anyone.

He says "Bedbugs are nothing new yaar. There's a mouse in my room."

The silence that follows this declaration is ghastly. I look at Batman, who proceeds to smile serenely, which tells me that this is old news to him. I look back at Grandpa, who's still doing his 'Prem Chopra leering at hapless village belle' impression. I ask him how long its been there. "A week" comes the casual reply.

MOD is Grandpa's room-mate. The mystery of the sofa sleeper has been solved. On a side note, out here we sleep on the floor, in sleeping bags. Oy vey!

Rimbaud once said "What am I doing here ?" I concur.

Song for the moment: Rat race - Bob Marley