Things that I did in March 2003

Posted March 31st, 2003 by Deepa and filed in Personal
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AR Rahman concert in NYC!

Had been to the AR Rahman concert in NYC. The show was awesome, inspite of the sub- standard acoustics. The array of performers was amazing, with each of them performing 3 to 4 songs each. SPB , Udit Narayan, Sonu Nigam, Shankar Mahadevan, Hariharan, Sukhwinder singh ,Mahalaxmi,Sadhna Sargam and Vasundhara Das. My pick of the evening was Shankar Mahadevan for the amazing “Ghanan Ghanan “ from Lagaan and Siva Mani for the wonderful performance on the drums!!!
The major irritant was Sukhwinder Singh who changed his costume 4 times within 4 hours , finally ending up in a total white costume and then blowing kisses to the crowd. I thought that was funny!!!
The sound system could have been better, though.For a musical show to have such acoustics is criminal. Unfortunately cameras were banned in the auditorium…Check out some pictures at rediff site

Philly and the Cheese Steak!!

Lived in Philly and not had the Philly Cheese Steak?? Well, I remedied that situation a few weeks back. Did some preliminary search via google (what else!!) to figure out that the best Philly eateries are in south street ,downtown Philly. Then I asked a few colleagues on suggestions for the most authentic Philly cheese steak in Philadelphia and surprisingly all of them directed me to the same place. Jim’s steaks in Philly downtown .
The place was overcrowded , with a huge queue of people waiting to order their steaks! The steaks were done well ( thank goodness!…I still can’t get myself to eat the rare steak) , loaded with cheese and have a pretty good range of toppings you can choose from!! It did convert me from a steak hater to a steak eater!!

Wildlife

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? It is a common tongue twister which I have used a lot when I was a kid. I didn’t know that woodchucks actually existed till i saw a woodchuck!! Fox Chase has a good amount of woods surrounding it and the wildlife it harbors includes woodchucks (before you ask…there are no foxes!!).Woodchucks look like overgrowm squirrels and they have a tendency to stand on their hind legs while eating their food!, which gives them a very playful look.

Trivia for the day: Woodchucks are also called Groundhogs. There is actually a holiday dedicated to these creatures in US called the Groundhog day. According to local wisdom, this is the day the groundhogs emerge from its hibernation and observes his own shadow. If  the shadow is visible, it means six more weeks of winter, if not– celebrate for Spring is here.

More conversations…but it is war time

Posted March 24th, 2003 by Deepa and filed in Personal
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Its more than a week since war began. And unlike Iraqis, the life of most Americans goes on almost untouched by miseries of the war. Except for the families of the troops that are stationed in the Middle East, the daily lives of most people here have hardly been disrupted. In fact from here it almost seems like a war between two totally unrelated countries. CNN got an interesting event to cover, protesters got a chance to protest…for the war, against the war…and the good Samaritans started making collections for “our boys out there”. And yes there was a fresh topic to discuss at the lunch break.

There have been some interesting conversations I have had with some of my colleagues here….most of which seem like statements culled out of watching too much CNN.

Some people actually believe that the war is being fought for altruistic reasons. I talked to a lady about the then impending war against Iraq, she said that she was against the war …As she put it “Why should our boys go there and fight to make someone else’s life happy? The Iraqis should learn to take care of themselves”. Till then I didn’t believe that it was possible not to mention Iraq, America and OIL in the same breath.

Some view it as completing unfinished business….Saddam should have been “finished off” in 1991. Its 12 years late now…. but better late than never. And of course most of them believe that Saddam was responsible for the 9/11 blasts. When it was pointed out that America had actually helped Iraq during the initial phases of Saddam’s “career”, the response was “I don’t believe that maaaan.,…I heard something like that too but of course the government could not be that stupid…what could they have been thinking of”
Touching , I tell you this faith in the American government.

Just one person admitted that oil “could” be one of the reasons that the war is being fought but then “We have got to have oil right….I mean oil is almost as important as food…and after all that’s been the way of the world…might is always right”

Some want to find those weapons of mass destructions fast. It took a Canadian research scientist to explain to this American guy that Iraq with all the sanctions and difficulty could hardly make any major WMD’s . So it’s going to take some time to discover what is not there in the first place. …Because you see if there is nothing the Americans will have to plant something there wouldn’t they?

I don’t support the war. I think the America’s “We can do it but you can’t” attitude is pathetic and I am disgusted at the total one-sided description of the war by the American media. And I am amazed at how the media can manipulate the thoughts of the American citizens and essentially brainwash them into believing that Osama=Saddam =evil=must be killed.

But on the other hand I did have a colleague here who was an Iraqi citizen. He was an Armenian by birth and was brought up in Iraq, did his medical school there and later was stuck there unable to get out of the country. He told me the tale of how he managed to escape from Iraq in the middle of the night along with his two sisters. He had to pay 1000 $ per person to reach Jordan where he worked for 2 years for an American visa. He said that on account of his last name, which was a prominent non-Iraqi name, he was routinely harassed by “Saddam’s people”. His house was searched constantly, he could not go out of the country, there was really no Internet access and even the e-mail sites were government controlled. When I asked him “Is Saddam really that cruel?”, this was his response “ If that man can turn off the air that you are breathing, he would do it”.

Hoping for peace.

Conversations!

Posted March 3rd, 2003 by Deepa and filed in Personal
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It is a busy Thursday afternoon at the Fox Chase Cafeteria. People are queuing at the cash register, eager to fill their hungry stomachs and a little irritated at the long line in front of them. The African American woman at the register is working briskly ringing the purchases of each customer. It is the turn of an old man, who is trying to clutch and his walking stick and also pull out the required change. The people behind are getting impatient with the old man’s clumsiness. Finally he manages to get the money out and pay the cashier who bids him good bye with her customary “Thanks baby!  Have a nice day”. The old man smiles wistfully and mutters “Wish I really was a baby”.  The woman at the registrar doesn’t miss a beat, “We are all babies in the eyes of God”.
All the people in the line smile spontaneously, their minor irritation vanishing abruptly at that interaction. Sometimes that’s all that takes to get a smile on one’s lips!!

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I am walking to office, head down trying to stop the wind from whipping around my ears. I take each step cautiously, testing the sidewalk for ice. Last week, in my haste to catch the bus I slipped on an icy patch and went sprawling down. I did not want to repeat that experience again.. Cars are whizzing past on the road beside me. I pay no attention except to cringe at the torrent of air that whooshes past me. A gray van pulls up next to me and I hear somebody shouting. I don’t look up. I did not want to raise my head and miss my stride. I keep walking. The voice gets louder and I start making out the words. Somebody is speaking Malayalam. I look up quickly. There is a lady in the car who asks me in Malayalam “Are you going to the hospital, Do you want a lift?”. I goggle at her. She has to repeat the question thrice before I comprehend what she is telling me. I juggle the offer in my mind…Childhood lessons have instilled the fact that “You Shalt Not Accept Lift From Strangers”. But then again how often do you meet a fellow Malayalee in a new town”. I accept the offer …she asks her driver to move the pile of magazines in the passenger seat next to the driver. Before I get in and compose myself …she fires a volley of questions. Siddharth Basu couldn’t have done better in the final round. Where am I from, where do I stay here, when did I join, which department am I in, where are my parents, what do they do, why am I here…..
I try to reply to that quick fire round. But the buzzer goes off before I complete. We are already at the hospital entrance. The driver, who turns out to be her husband (the only information she revealed about herself), leaves us at the hospital entrance. I turn to thank her for the lift. She brushes my thanks off and rushes off to her office. I go off towards mine….I stop and turn around to ask my benefactress her name and some questions that suddenly occurred to me :How on earth did she know I am a Malayali and a FCCC employee but she has already vanished.

It has been a week since that incident. I have not seen her again.
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Radio Bakwas , a Princeton based radio station , is airing the live commentary of any cricket match that India features in. I figured that out while we were driving back from office during the India-Pakistan match and I let out such a cry of delight that David (my colleague from PEM Technologies) thought he ran over a doctor (or worse a lawyer, in his words) . After I explained to him the significance of the match and the fact that India was winning THE match, he tried to enter into the spirit of the things. But in vain!!David was totally amused at my exclamations and reactions on hearing the commentary. The commentators were biased, kept talking about the “tenacity” of the batsman, virtually appointed Rahul Dravid as the next Indian captain and applauded each shot with the classic American “There you go!!..it’s a four” . Add to that my own excitement as the winning runs were scored, it is not surprising that David was totally amused.
The pièce de résistance came fittingly at the end of the presentation ceremony. After the man of the match awards had been presented, the Hindi commentator decided to add his own thank you speech…through a song. In true Indian spirit, he reworks the famous bhajan “Sabarmati ke sant, tune kar diya kamaal” to something like this

John wright tera ehsaan hi ehsaan
Saurav ko hataakar tune Sehwaag ko khilaya
Sachin tere balle ka kamaal hai niraala.

I couldn’t really finish hearing the whole thing before I was clutching my stomach and trying not to roll off the car seat. We reached my apartment before the guy reached Srinath ke karnaame ,where David gladly deposited me before zooming off to sanity

The National Pledge

Posted March 1st, 2003 by Deepa and filed in Personal
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I was trying to see if I could remember the Indian pledge and still say it by heart. I could. And this is the reason why!!
When I was in school we had two Physical Education periods. One was called P.T and the other games. The difference between the two was that we played Games in the games period and we played games in the PT period after 15 minutes of obligatory exercises. Our P.T teacher was Ms.Pyareji ( I wonder what her first name was….nobody called her anything other than that) and she ensured that we did our routine PT exercises (there were 12 0f them…taught in the 5th standard and then simply repeated year after year after year),

We also had P.T exams twice a year, which was very entertaining. Each class genrally had students from 4 houses (Red, blue green and yellow) and the exams were taken house-wise. The 12/13 girls belonging to a house would stand in a semi circle around Ms.Pyareji. She would call out a random number between 1 and 12 and then all of us would proceed to do that particular exercise. This was followed by a nails inspection where she ran a cursory glance to check that our nails were in order (clipped and with no nail polish!). Then depending on whether it was the finals we would also have to perform a group folk dance which we would did with maximum of enthusiasm and minimum grace. Generally like the exercises, these too were decided in the fifth grade and then just repeated year after year.

Then would come the pledge saying. After we had arranged ourselves back in the semicircle she would ask each one us to repeat the Indian pledge. …in Hindi!pledge_hindi

The version we used was similar to the image on the right in meaning, although certain sentences were constructed differently .  This one is the Kendriya Vidyalaya pledge while we repeated something that sounded as below.

bhaarat mera desh hai. Sabhii bhaarateeya mere bhaaii-bahn hai. mujhe apane desh se pyaar hai aur apane desh ki samrruddhi tathaa vividhatao se vibhuShit paramaparao par mujhe garv hai. mai.n  un paramaparaon kaa safal anuyayii banane kii hameshsa prayatna karoongii.  mujhe apane maataa-Pitaa,  Gurujano aur badon kaa sammaan karoongii aur har jan se saujanyapoorna vyavahaar karoongii. main apane desh aur deshvaasiyon ke prati niSHThA  rakhoongi. Unke bhalaaii aur samruddhi main hii meraa sukh nihit hai.”

Translated:

“India is my country. All Indians are my brothers and sisters. I love my country, and I am proud of its rich and varied heritage. I shall always strive to be worthy of it. I shall give my parents, teachers and elders respect and treat everyone with courtesy. To my country and my people, I pledge my devotion. In their well being and prosperity alone lies my happiness.”

Some things are just difficult to forget.