Friday, July 27, 2007

My observations in this foreign land

So here I am in USofA, sitting in my apartment with my laptop in front of me, penning down my thoughts, six months after I arrived here. Affording all this, as a graduate student in India is almost impossible. By this I guess, anyone would know that there is absolutely no reason for me to complain about anything remotely related to my finances (presently). This is invariably true with most Indians who have come to US to pursue a career, which could not have been possible back home due to the prevailing circumstances.

As a recent non immigrant, I am obviously exposed to culture shocks (which in no way can be compared to what kids experience if they had come here during their childhood). Nevertheless it is a part of the sea changes that one observes after arriving here, having traveled half the globe. Non-chaotic environment, super pleasant demeanor of people around me (which I believe is done mostly through habit rather than through expression), girls(!), etc. are a few things that anyone would find uncomfortable living with, but eventually all of us learn to enjoy all the above(yeah...including the girls). Since there are so many Indians around me, I guess all the above mentioned changes which makes one feel out of home at every instant, are a temporary worry, until one finds his way into one of the Indian communities which are distributed everywhere, and which I eventually did. After this, no matter how long I stay here, I am pretty sure that I would never blend into this country and I can go on record saying that this is mostly true for most Indians who have arrived here after their adolescents. I believe, this is primarily because of our culture that binds us, and which, one has to relinquish in order to blend into this society. So without wasting much time on these trivial observations, I would like to delve into certain things that I had observed through my academic life and things which might go unnoticed by many immigrant Indians.

Before I can start off, I would like to confess that most of this thought process is a result of a recent reading of a book - "Identity and Violence" by Amartya Sen. As the names suggests this book is no way related to the field of economics which we relate Sen to. The primary question that this book addresses is the question of identity that an individual assigns to himself and the necessity to relate to multiple identities, which can even be contradictory but which can still coexist. Proceeding in these lines, Sen logically explains the reasons for the various problems, the present day man faces and had faced in the past. Out of many such discussion, the one which has most appealed to me, is on the development of science. Through this I would like to relate the role of culture which plays a crucial role on scientific development.

In my desperate attempt to define culture (the way I understand it), I am more than willing to modify my definition, if anyone can suggest me a better one. I would like to first define a 'way of life' as any set of 'practices'. Any particular action of any individual can be called a 'practice' (for ex. I being a vegetarian is a practice that I follow). From this, 'a way of life of a particular individual' is defined as the set of 'all practices', a particular individual follows (my way of life - non-vegetarian, lazy, short-tempered,...and the list goes on). A 'community' can be defined as a set of individuals. Now, a common set of practices followed by a set of individuals (or a community) is defined as a 'Culture'. Hence, from the above definitions, 'Culture' is a 'way of life of a community' (ex. The practice of not eating meat is a Culture, followed by all vegetarians and it is a way of life). Hence there are many cultures a particular individual can relate himself to, and this is a very crucial point to Sen's book. So is this is the culture I was talking about earlier? No! and I need a more precise definition for the culture I was talking about.

Note that as new 'practices' are added to a set of practices, the number of people in the new 'culture' that this new set defines, decreases. Hence the cultures that I had mentioned previously, pertains to only those cultures, which have large number of people with large number of practices. Although the last line is a little vague, we can easily relate to this definition - All Indians relate to the Indian culture which has many practices. All muslims relate to the Islamic culture. The anti-western culture which is proliferating in the present day, is a culture which many nations subjugated under the white man's rule in the past, relate to. With this definition of a culture, I would like to now explicate the role that culture played in the development of science in the past.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Eye to Eye

A Palestinian talking to Americans

By Gihad Ali (*)
I guess this poem sums it all up! The irony is I am living in the US and paying my taxes!!

By Gihad Ali (*)

Look into my eyes
And tell me what you see
You don't see a damn thing,
'cause you can't, until you try to relate to me.

You're blinded by our differences.
My life makes no sense to you.
I'm the persecuted Palestinian.
You are the American red, white and blue.

Each day you wake in tranquility.
No fears to cross your eyes.
Each day I wake in gratitude.
Thanking God he let me rise.

You worry about your education
And the bills you have to pay.
I worry about my vulnerable life
And if I'll survive another day.

Your biggest fear is getting ticketed
As you cruise your Cadillac.
My fear is that the tank that just left
Will turn around and come back.

American, do you realize,
That the taxes that you pay
Feed the forces that traumatize
My every living day?

The bulldozers and the tanks,
The gases and the guns,
The bombs that fall outside my door,
All due to American funds.

Yet do you know the truth
Of where your money goes?
Do you let your media deceive your mind?
Is this a truth that no one knows?

You blame me for defending myself
Against the ways of Zionists
I'm terrorized in my own land
And I'm the terrorist?

You think that you know all about terrorism
But you don't know it the way I do.
So let me define the term for you.
And teach you what you thought you knew.

I've known terrorism for quite some time,
Fifty- four years and more.
It's the fruitless garden uprooted in my yard.
It's the bulldozer in front of my door.

Terrorism breathes the air I breathe.
It's the checkpoint on my way to school.
It's the curfew that jails me in my own home,
And the penalties of breaking that curfew rule.

Terrorism is the robbery of my land.
And the torture of my mother.
The imprisonment of my innocent father.
The bullet in my baby brother.

So American, don't tell me you know about
The things I feel and see.
I'm terrorized in my own land
And the blame is put on me.

But I will not rest, I shall never settle
For the injustice my people endure.
Palestine is OUR land and there we'll remain
Until the day OUR homeland is secure.

And if that time shall never come,
Then we will never see a day of peace.
I will not be thrown from my own home,
Nor will fight for justice cease.

And if I am killed, it will be Falasteen. (Palestine)
It's written on my breath.
So in your own patriotic words,
Give me liberty or give me death.

(*) Gihad Ali is a volunteer with the Arab American Action Network (AAAN) and the Palestine Solidarity Group

Sunday, January 21, 2007

My new home!

430, 8th Street, S.E,
Unit # 2, Minneapolis,

That's where I live now! A new place, new people...its like a different birth altogether. Every single step taken in the last few months , to get to this place was painful and I hope things will be better from now on! May be someone in India might say, 'You must be having a great time!', but honestly I still don't see myself fit into this place. Everything is great, right from the house, office, academics and friends, but its so different and I guess it takes some time to start living with myself.

The first thing one notices as soon as they step in this land, is that the environment itself is set such that you don't need anybody's help in any activity of yours. Therefore no one expects you to talk to them, or might even be surprised if you do so. Will be posting later!!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Rise of Spirits

Finally back in my home after an awesome trek. And guess what....I now have bsnl broad band connecton......Good bye to intermittent blogging...continuous thoughts would start pouring into my blog from now on. Firstly let me start off with my trekking experience.

As a trekking enthusiast, I wanted to go places, not for sight-seeing (This can be done even after you have grand children!), but exclusively as a challenge. Inspired by the previous trek....I came up with this idea of going on a trek to North India. Myself, KS and piddhi, all three of us wanted to get out of the monotonous life offered to us by our dept. in our final year. We had the passion....but we had absolutely no idea, where to go. We started searching in the internet, for places. It was very unfortunate to know that we had missed the bus to the himalayas, arranged by the YHAI (Youth Hostel Association of India). It was the cheapest way a student can go to the himalayas, as all the facilities provided by them are for subsidiced rates. So!...we had to fix our own intenerary now.

After talking to my uncle at Dehradun, who works as a forest officer, we had decided to go to the garhwal region of Uttaranchal. We were advised by him that Kumaon region does not offer so much for trekkers.
Trek Day 1, June 16th
All ready with a backpack, a hand bag...and a camera around my waist. Flight from hyderabad to Delhi. Departure at 5:45 a.m. This is my second flying experinece! I reached the airport with a cash of 5k. As soon as I approached the Air Deccan counter, the notice that all flights from 17th to 22nd have been rescheduled, caught my sight. Thank god that 16th was spared! Anyway hats off to Air Deccan for the promptness it maintained on this lucky day, which happened to fall in one of its intermittent days of consummate customer service. Once in Delhi, I had to wait for about half-an-hour for KS and Piddhi to arrive from Chennai.Luckily or rather I should say, surprisingly their flight was also right on time. Finally, the three of us were united.....and we were ready to rock (I was surprised to see Piddhi....his back pack was half his size!)
Next Destination: ISBT Kashmi
ri Gate - 230 bucks (pre-paid taxi)
Bus service in any state cannot be compared to that in A.P. Knowing this fact, it was no big surprise that we could not spot a single bus with decent comfort. Erra bassu dhinalu gurthu ochhayi!
Dehradun ISBT via Chutmalpur thus avoiding Haridwar - 7 hours journey

Once cramped inside this bus we swore never again to travel in any northie bus for such along distance! But who cares! All discomfort faded out when our sense of humour started kicking in. The only advantage of travelling with northies is, you can talk any damn shit. We were surrounded by so many people, even then, it was like we already owned the bus. The lost freedom of space appeared in the form of freedom of speech :)). We started talking about the moti auntie and her daughter sitting behind us....cursing them for the missiles they started launching making a huge gas tragedy (use your discretion), we also talked about a bomb shell sitting in the line of my view at the adjacent window. Once we reached the Dehradun ISBT, we had to find our way to my uncle's house.
Destination: Ashirwad Enclave - 200 bucks on auto.
We had entered a palace! Although my uncle's house was described by my sis, I had never expected that we would stay in such a big house. So far so good! Mesmerized by the climate we had immediately decided to go out for a walk. Night's dinner was awesome, cooked by the chowkidhar Rishipal. Made our back packs ready with all the required stuff.
Trek Day 2, June 17th
The next day morning started off at 6:00 a.m. We travelled to the taxi stand in a govt. vehicle, provided to us by Bupinder Singh (Uncle's friend).
Destination: Uttarkashi (200 bucks per head) -
6 hours

We were actually so ignorant that we expected Uttarkashi to be chillingly cold! To get a picture of our ignorance check out this pic!.....KS in a leather jacket!!

Uttarkashi: The temp here was actually 25 degress celcius!! LOL!. The first day of our stay at Uttarkashi was not as pleasant as it had been in the previous days. D.C.S Rana, the person who was supposed to guide us happenend to be in Dehradun, where we were in Uttarkashi. The worst part is that we could not contact on his cell as he was stuck in a remote place near Chamba. After our failure in getting an accomodation in Kot Bungalow (Forest rest house), we had decided to spend this night in some hotel room (200 bucks). The actual plan was to start trekking today and reach Agoda, midway to Dodithal and rest there, so that our bodies would acclimatize to the low pressure at such altitudes.

Uttarkashi is a very small and beautiful town on the banks of river Bhageerathi. he scenery was just awesome. After placing our luggage in the room, we had to take some rest and the best place to hang out was on the banks of river Bhageerathi. We could see many people meditating in this peaceful environment. But it was just not possible for three bachelors, deluged with so much beauty around them, including the opposite sex, to keep their racing minds on hold. Nevertheless I had decided to spend some quality time on these banks once our trek was over, hoping that we would get used to 'all' kinds of beauty around us. Its just that we had no patience to meditate then. At times we tried crossing the river by stepping on a few stones visible to us, but after a few slips here and there, while trying to step over stones engulfed by the gushing water, we realised the true intensity of the flow and decided not to do so. We were screaming, ripping on each other (espcially piddhi), making the place look like a kindergarten playground, at times getting a few wierd glances from the locals, but who cares!....we were having the time of our life!!

We had tired ourselves so much by now, that hunger started calling upon us. We had a good dinner in one of the road side eating stalls. Most of our food during our trek consisted of paratas with was a good feeling for me, getting a break from eating rice all the time (consider the last 5 years I spent in Chennai, where people eat rice and only rice!). Paratas in these stalls tasted awesome. Looking back, now I feel that there was a kind of purity that dawned upon me when I had reached Uttarkashi. Back in the city, now I dread eating in a similar road side stall, referring to the number of e-coli bacteria present in the crap they make! As a matter of fact, we cared so little about our hygiene, it was like we had entered a place so pristine! Now comparing this with our c(sh)ity life, where we hold ourselves from eating mouth watering dishes made in dinghy places, wash ourselves with anti-bacterial soaps, and staying paranoid of catching cold......, it makes me feel that we are indeed in a shitty place!

Hoping that the next day would bring all our plans into action, we had a good sleep, although I cannot resist myself from writing about a dicovery we made in the small room we were resting. We spotted two holes in one of the door closed from other side of the adjacent room, tiny enough to conceal the viewer, and large enough for a lens to fit in! Ever wondered how hidden cam porn videos are made?! Well, we were in a place where such videos were without doubt made, atleast in the recent past! After a while in the night, we heard some tourists entering the adjacent was then, our raunchy little brains started working!...BUT after a few peeks, unfortunately, we learnt that the adjacent room was filled with boozing MALE SARDARS!!

Trek Day 3, June 18th

Destination1: Sangamchatti (about
10 k.m from Uttarkashi) - By jeep
Destination2: Dodithal (about 22 k.m from Sangamchatti) - Trek

The next day, went as planned. Rana was back in Uttarkashi, and he promptly came to our room at 8:00 a.m, accompanied by Binor Kumar Butt, who would be our guide for the trek. Soon we were on our way to Sangamchatti on a jeep arranged by Rana. With our backpacks and two beddings...we were 'all ready' for the trek. Lifting our backpacks, we were sure that it is impossible for us to carry our backpacks and trek, as we were supposed to trek 22 k.m in one day, which is generally not advisable, to avoid fatigue. Hence, we hired two mules called kacchars in hindi. The mules left before us....and their speed was just unbelievable. Our crazy guide wanted to catch up with them, even after started so late. He made us literally run for about 400 metres uphill, which drained us in the hot sun. Now I could see with my own eyes how people living in the mountains have such a good stamina! Soon we had to open the Tang that we had brought with us to quench our thirst. Me and KS had decided not to follow Binod, coz we had to climb 22 k.m, and at this pace it was impossible. We preferred a layed back trek.....enjoying the nature....and capturing every intriguing aspect of it on our camera, while Piddhi followed Binod...only to realise later that he had missed out in being a part of the pictures we had taken in the initial stages of the ascent and also the energy drain he had to go through during the fast paced trek!

The kacchar guy had left early with his mules to reach Agoda in advance and make the arrangements for lunch. To our surprise, our ill luck continued as all the places where we could get food were closed as this was the rainy season and the number of people who trek are very few at this time of the year. We reached
Agoda at around 1:00 p.m and were really pained looking at the situation, as we had only tea and a few snacks that morning. We have decided not to stop, as the guide kept luring us that we will soon find food. During the trek we were accompained by three couples, who had good stamina, as they were from Uttarkashi, similar to Binod. They had brought their lunch, as they were aware of the situation, while we guys were starving!! After a one hour trek, from the time we reached Agoda, we started cursing Binod for not providing the promised food! (This was only we were really starving!). With increasing altitude, we could feel the lowering of pressure, our hunger intensified, and our hands began to get cold.

On our way to awesome feeling!!

Piddhi down and out of enthu with energy drained out!

KS: Bhagwan ke naam pe thoda chaaval babaaa!!!

Finally all of us were drained out, and our limbs started getting chiller, when we could find the much needed respite at Manji, a small village. The villagers cooked food for us....believe me! no food in the world could replace what we eat! We had a good nap along with all the others, who had accompanied us through out the trek. Guess what!... We got an opportunity to try the HUKKA!

Monday, March 06, 2006

A mental strain so similar to the JEE days

Got a bump from Pennstate and Northwestern Univ. It really sucks! A series of admits from OSU and UMINN got me to a 'so far so good' state....but now it really sucks!!

Monday, February 27, 2006

Just Love this!

This poem is a gift from a mother to her son for his birthday. Got this from epinions. Its so simple, yet conveys so much of emotion.

You came into my life so long ago
I counted your fingers
And your little toes.

Your first smile at me
Truly captured my heart

Our bond had been sealed I
t was only the start.

Your first steps amazed me

You were wanting to run
With sparkling bright eyes
You were looking for fun.

Your first words were like music
They sounded so sweet
And when you said "MaMa"
I felt so complete.

Your first days in school
Were frightening, no doubt
It didn't take long, though
Your talents soon were sought out.

Your first competition
In Geometry, no less!
You brought home the gold
Proving you're simply the best.

Your first try at typing
Your fingers showed what they could do
You became the State Champion
Not just one year, but two!!

Your first job brought money
and your very first car
It was old and it rattled
But it took you so far.

Your first love is music
With the joy that it brings
And I proudly tell people
"You should hear when Tim sings!"

You're first in my heart
As you always have been,
With hugs and with kisses
Happy Birthday, Tim!!

Sunday, February 26, 2006

A National Geographic Experience

Poetry is something which I try very rarely. I don't know about rules of poetry, but I write the way words come out and as long as it sounds good, it goes onto the paper. Probably if I had followed certain rules it could have sounded a lot better. So if u have any fundaes please leave comments.

Had the slightest idea on what I was trying to narrate in the poem? Here's the story:

Myself, Mr.T,R,and B were walking by the tarams bus stop after having a hearty meal last week. This is when we came across torams, (the name sounds so stupid.......but who else can come up with such a name than our Mr. B, the FAG!) the tortoise. Beside it we found this dog, posed with a tilted head, bulbing on how exactly the stone before it was moving. So we came up with this brilliant idea to take torams along with us and leave it in no better place than our own jungle campus. Moreover that would save the tortoise from the hungry dog, which was still wondering if its a stone.

So!....of what better use is my digicam for?!.....We started off with a spree of "National geographic level" photographing of torams.(you see....the idea of naming it was also truly professional!). We took torams to our room....photographed it and did all kinds of giving it some obstacle course, turning it upside down...........studying the cause and effect of its stimuli(basically paining it to the max!...although only for a while. INSPIRATION: ANIMAL PLANET's CROC HUNTER STEVE). The remaining story is self explanatory I guess.

Note: There are few words (such new words are in bold italics) which would not be found in the dictionary. They are borrowed from IIT Lingo. But believe me....its very simple to know what they mean. You only need to feel the pronunciation. If you have problems understanding them, refer Student Slang At IIT Madras: A Linguistic Field Study

Life through the eyes of Tor(toise-in-tar)ams

Thrown in an unknown territory, with danger lurking around,
My natural instincts tell me not to fall as a prey.
All I can see are humans on this ground,
I hope I am not a bait, and this is what I pray

Take one step, sit tight, take another step, sit tight
This is my strategy, hoping not to catch anybody's sight
Moving ahead with a desperate fight
To the corner of the street, my shelter for tonight.

But before I can take any step, all my efforts are in vain
As I find myself lifted off the terrain,
By humans in a group a four,
To make this night even more sore

Made blindfold and thrown in a sack,
I try to wallow to find a crack.
But my strengths sag, as I try to break the seal,
My only choice, to not to end up in someone's meal.

As I see my efforts nullify,
I sense my fate, is to die.
I wanna let out a huge cry
And ask God, Why!

This journey to the gallows says,
To live a life there are many ways,
If not in real, at least in dreams,
So I dream to taste a life flavored by so many creams.

I dream of plants, I dream of springs,
I dream of endless harmony, that this wonderland brings
What a utopia!
Anything you want....Is in cornucopia!

At last
The seal is opened, and my dreams broken.
As I open my eyes, completely shaken
I don't see the gallows but I see grass!
Wait a sec!, I know this place...This is IIT Madras!

What a utopia!
Anything you want....Is indeed here in cornucopia