Sunday, June 21, 2009

they say time may give you more than your poor bones could ever take

Last Friday, I had one of those days that made me quite grateful to have dropped out of Corporate America. I've never been particularly ungrateful about it, but last Friday was different. Some truck had tipped over on the freeway, and I was stuck in traffic for nearly three hours (this drive usually takes me about 30 minutes). When this happens, and you are sitting in gridlocked, stand-still traffic, even the calmest person starts to develop hypertension and smoke coming out of their ears.

But when I finally got to clinic, it took about five minutes to get into the swing of things, and I promptly forgot all about the miserable morning commute. When I was working for The Man, I would have spent the better part of that three hour drive contemplating whether I ought to take the next exit and simply return home. And I would have spent the better part of my work day annoyed by my late start.

It's obvious, of course, that this is because I did not really enjoy what I was doing for a living, and therefore all of those external forces and factors could easily encroach on the tolerability of my work day. Now it's so much simpler. No matter what is going on, when I get to clinic, I feel very much there and not much distracts me.

That last Friday, when I left clinic, I was feeling chipper even, until I was sitting in a ridiculous rush hour traffic jam on the way home. Since I've always had a soft spot for Falling Down, I decided I had better decompress before things got out of hand. I took a very early exit and spent an hour strolling around the local co-op, at which I bought overpriced cardamom pods. Yes, they were overpriced, and as an Indian and as a Guju in particular, I felt a measure of shame buying them. But I had decided it was my indulgence for the weekend.

Sort of. When I got home, I fixed myself a generous tumbler of Grey Goose and Hibiscus Tonic (it seemed like a good idea when I was at the co-op). Then I set to making the cardamom ice cream. It reminded me of childhood and home to some extent- the smell of the milk and cream scalding, gently crushing the cardamom pods and letting them steep, the fragrance of it as I cooked it into a custard. But it also reminded me of being an adult and having my own sense of home. When those smells were present in my childhood home, there was usually a frenzy and panic because my mother was frantically trying to do a hundred things in preparation for some large celebration. Instead, the scents wafted into the kitchen while I sipped a cocktail and erased all the annoyance of having spent over four hours in a car in one day. I felt very calm, and the process seemed very much mine, instead of me trying to reenact some fondly recalled memory.

And I got this out of it:

in the evening on a friday night

The picture, due to my horrible camera and photography skills, does not do it justice, but I was particularly pleased with the result because a) the flavor is very much like kulfi while the texture is that of ice cream rather than the icy consistency that kulfi can have, b) I had a nice buzz going on while the preparations were underway and c) I pretty much made up the recipe myself. These tiny ideas of mine don't always turn out so well, but when they do, it encourages me to keep tinkering. We'll see if that winds up being a good thing in the long run.

Monday, June 15, 2009

just a mirror of a mirror of myself

A conversation I had with a 6-year old who was tagging along with her mom at work today:

    kid: Are you... American?
    me: Yes... are you?
    kid: No.
    me: You're not?
    kid: No... (holds up her hand) see my skin, I'm Indian.
    me: What does it mean to be American?
    kid: I don't know. Wait, what color are you?
    me: (holding up my hand next to hers) I'm like you.
    kid: So you're Indian too?
    me: Yes.
    kid: But you said you were American. (I nod) You know, I was born in America.
    me: Me too. So you're American.
    kid: But my parents were born in India.
    me: Mine too. So we're both Indian and American, right?
    kid: Oh... yeah. Wait, you were born in America, and your parents were born in India?
    me: Just like you.
    kid: Cool!

And that concludes this episode of Pediatric Identity Politics.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

I could drink a case of you

Saheli recently tagged me on that always time-sucking addiction Facebook. While I try to avoid such things on Facebook, as a blog post, it's a happy excuse to have something to write. The idea here is to list 15 books that will always stick with you. I wrote them all down all stream-of-conscious-like, and made certain it was all off the top of my head by drinking a hefty dose of a Grey Goose concoction before starting. And the winners are:

  • The Sun Also Rises- as a woman, I know that I should not technically even approve of this book, but there's something very raw and truthful to it. And since I was once the reigning heavyweight champion of dysfunctional relationships, there's a lot about this book that draws me in.
  • The Little Prince- I can honestly say this book changed my life and me. It was given to me at a time when I was perfectly poised to be shaped by it, and so shaped by it I was.
  • Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man- there's a whole chapter of torrid ridiculous business behind my initial attraction to this book. I have a copy of it from the Shakespeare & Company bookstore in Paris, though I have never been anywhere in France. There are still parts of this book that elude me, but, still, it sticks with me.
  • Tell Me a Riddle, specifically the short story I stand here ironing- I think I stand here ironing might be my favorite piece of writing ever. It's not pretty or flowery. But it resonates like nothing else I've ever read.
  • The Year of Magical Thinking- this one is haunting, so much moreso than The Road. Both are about a kind of inevitability, but Joan Didion's book is somehow more piercing because she's telling her own story. Sometimes you think she is out of her mind, sometimes you think she is a genius. It perfectly recreates what happens when you suffer a major loss and are left behind to live.
  • Henderson the Rain King- I don't even know how to describe how much I will always love this book. There are characters in books that I've been fond of, and then, as I've gotten older, I've outgrown. Never with Henderson. If anything, I was amused by him when I was younger, and now I am convinced we are kin- messy, awkward, ambitious jacka$$es.
  • Beneath the Wheel- while a lot of people are found of Hesse's Siddhartha, for me, this book was a revelation. It was another case of reading it at just the right time in my life, but it stuck with me. Almost any Indian kid can appreciate this story, which is all about the crushing pressure academics sometimes places on young people.
  • My Antonia- I don't know. This book might stick with me for a single line in the novel. The writing is pretty, but also, I guess I am drawn to all of these stories that are about things not working out quite perfectly, quite ideally, but okay.
  • Bartleby the Scrivener- I aspire to dispatch people with a simple "I would prefer not to."
  • The Stranger- this book sticks with me because of the whole absurdist angle of it. There are times when we believe the universe is conspiring against us, but if you read Camus, you start to realize that the most important part is to be in on the joke.
  • Tales of A Fourth Grade Nothing- this is another book that changed my life. A auntie gave it to me when my mother complained that I kept getting in trouble for humming or whistling during class. A auntie took one severe look at me and decided I was bored and gave me this book when I was in second grade. I became an avid reader after that. Also, it was particularly perfect that the broseph bore disturbing similarities to Fudge.
  • Metamorphosis- another absurdist tale. I was tied between this and Gogol's The Nose, but it's Metamorphosis that has more of a permanent mark on me. Strangely enough, it reminds me of Office Space.
  • Persuasion- because I have enough alcohol in my system to admit that there is a romantic buried underneath all that cold black coal.
  • The Corrections- because every single character in the book is a mess. And Franzen makes a point of dangling each one out as possibly the one that deserves your sympathy, and then proceeds to tear them down.
  • The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao- technically, I may have read this too recently to claim that it sticks with me, but I doubt it. The thing is, I've searched writing by Indian or Indian-American authors looking for exactly what Diaz ended up providing. Wao has this fresh and new quality, and it encapsulates life in the new world, the real world. I don't think I'll ever lose my appreciation for that, even if I can't properly articulate it with a little too much Grey Goose in my blood stream.

Hopefully that's fifteen. May I make a small request? I know I probably have hardly any readers at this point. But, if you do happen to be reading, and are so inclined, please leave in the comments at least one book that will always stick with you. Or if you care to post an entire list, even better. I'm genuinely interested.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to find my battery charger, so that I can actually post pictures of the cardamom ice cream that will be churning tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

but what would you change if you could?

The thing is, I'm not sorry.

Every time I think of complaining or whining lately, this is what I realize. I could write about how I cancelled some plans to go away this weekend, to go to a super posh wedding. I could talk about how training for a profession that is ostensibly all about interacting with people has paradoxically caused me to become more and more isolated. Or I could write about how I am supposed to be studying right now and instead spent an hour making toffee, then bashing it to pieces with a rolling pin so that I could add it to cookie dough (I think that might be the very definition of insanity right there). I could write about how I try to go to bed early and still barely make it to clinic on time every morning.

But the thing is, I'm not sorry.

There's something I've had to square with recently. Despite how it may seem both to others and to me at times, I do not want for motivation. The problem is that I'm not consistently motivated by the same thing. I am motivated, but not single-minded. And even though it often means I'm a horrible person, I'm not particularly concerned about my rather whimsical life. Despite how exhausting and ridiculous medical school can be, I actually rather adore it, and there is never a day that has passed that I regret telling corporate America to suck it. And despite the fact that it means I am not the super-stunner-number-one-gunner extraordinaire, I am perfectly pleased with the fact that I 'waste' all kinds of time experimenting with various materials in the kitchen or knitting some random thing or listening to a string of songs for an hour.

There's something else I want, something about which I am sorry. I can feel it. It's in there somewhere, buried underneath all this contentment. But it's there, and at some point, if I could just freeze time for a second and let myself breathe in and out, I should probably put my finger on it. And yet, it's so much easier to contemplate cardamom ice cream instead.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

yeah, they'll stay with me until the end

Everyone, I like to think, grows up with some form of comfort music. Van Morrison has nothing to do with the corner of EBF where I was raised. And really, when I was growing up there, the radio mostly played things like Gloria, Brown-Eyed Girl, and Wild Night. But somehow it seeps into your bones just the same, so that, when I heard the rest of Van's rather extensive collection later, it felt like coming home. Home is like that, after all. There's the home you thought you had, and then little pieces of home you glimpse when you're a long way gone.

I've been thinking of home lately and the different people I have been. Home, because I realized recently that I had a sense of home only because I had a sense of family. The different people I have been, because it's nearly laughable to think of it now, but there was a time that I was ruled by a sense of family obligation. I used to drive 6 hours just to go to a birthday party. My cousins would call and invite themselves over for dinner or for brunch, and much to my mother's chagrin, I could never say no. It was all driven by selfishness, really, the same selfish impulse that always seems to spur most of my tendencies. I wanted to be of some use, I wanted to feel needed. And my cousins were exceptionally good at that, the way they'd grab my hand to show me something or the ease with which they'd nestle up next to me to watch television or the false flattery they'd heap upon me to coerce me into baking them something.

It's hard to trace the exact moment when everything changed. Some moved away. Some of us grew apart, as they became their own, distinct people and we had less and less in common. And some was my doing as well.

I got an email from a cousin recently, chiding me for drifting out of touch. It is sort of hilarious, because my cousins have been sort of mortified by me in the past few years. They are used to getting regular phone calls from me. They are used to me spending vacation time visiting them. They have been a bit bewildered that I'm not the person I used to be. In a way, I suppose it's a good lesson for them, the one I learned from them as well, after all. We're always changing, relationships are redefined, they sputter and resume. We grow apart and then something brings us close together. We hurt each other one day and comfort each other the next. I don't know if it's too bold to say that family remains, weathers the changing winds. But so I hope.

In the meanwhile, I see them, my family, my home, in all kinds of things. When I bake a batch of cookies and my friend AB gives me a bear hug, or when my friend BB prods me to knit her a camera case, or even when a friend is being bratty about something. I catch a glimmer, just a little, but enough.

Monday, June 01, 2009

just when you think you've got enough, enough grows

This was probably supposed to be an email, but instead it's turned into a blog post. The emails were about the struggle- the futility of all these beginnings, given how many of them lead to endings. What's it all about? They scream and then they shout.

It's a strange thing, because I feel I've had this conversation more than once and with more than one person. Echoes reverberate. Strange because there are these scotch-soaked discussions I've had with Seekers, people on a quest they sometimes do not quite recognize. Stranger still because it makes no sense that I'm in their company.

My ambitions are so small, to me. I'll take a quiet life, a handshake- I'm not looking for a rollercoaster, I'm okay with no alarms and no surprises. But then again, apparently I am a liar. No matter how little you long for in life, as long as the longing persists, I suppose the size of your ambitions hardly matters.

In short, I have no words of consolation. I can empathize with the frustration that comes from the fall. I understand how, even though it's most of the time exhilarating to want, all that yearning can often be exhausting. And I especially know what it means to want something and not get it. I know that disappointment.

But what would you rather? Throw down your anchor by some dreary shore and punch the clock every morning with the lunch pail in hand? There's an undeniable dignity to that, to the kind of steadfast existence that such constancy requires. But the trouble of it is that you've got to have that in your blood. You can fight it, but we're all just a bunch of molecules- eventually, we go back to our thermodynamically stable state, the place where we are most us. I guess, from time to time, it's natural to flog ourselves a bit, bemoan that we're not other people, people who don't have to dwell on such dilemmas, people who go from point A to point B to point C in a straight line without the hint of a doubt. But when that's over, it always comes back to- would you rather be someone else?

I'm perhaps sheltered and stupid, because I, for one, believe that if the answer to that question was ever yes, then I would start pondering whether it was time to become someone else. I've been a lot of people before, so I can't help believing it can always be done if necessary.


Sorry. Listen to the song of the week this week instead. It is much perkier than all of this noise.