Monday, October 27, 2008

They say that writing is soothing. They who? You know, they that said that time is a healer and also that good things come in small packages. They of proverbial fame.
I have been on edge lately. It is probably PMS. Maybe not but most likely it is. Things annoy me, worry me and put me on edge every time I try to step off said edge. So I thought I would listen to 'them' and write. Write because I have a blog and a keyboard, write because I can string words together and write because I don't need to make sense all the time.
See, I think this right here is the problem. My mother said to me today 'you have raised the bar and set standards' although she said it in another context. Of course what she didn't say was that once the bar is raised then one is compelled to make sure it stays that way. Which brings me back to the problem. In a rather philosophical way the problem is to 'make sense all the time' . I am harsh on myself, with myself and more often than not I believe that it is for myself. What I don't seem to realise is that the harsher I am with myself, the more I am going to rebel against me! Some day I am going to get sick of myself and turn around tell myself to treat me better!
I think that day is fast approaching. Where instead of reprimanding myself for not doing things better I will just say 'hey you are human, **it happens'.
I don't know if what I need is rest or work. I am unsure of whether immersing myself wholeheartedly in a thesis (which only has half hearted interest) will put me back on track or will it be better to get away from it all. Wonder what 'they' have to say about that.
What helps though, to a certain extent is, once again characteristic of me, taking the middle-ground. Immersing myself in a good book. 'immersion ka immersion aur break ka break!'.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

On Sunday I broke my vow to buy only second hand books this year and I an feeling a tad low about it. My sister and I have been feasting on Daphne Du Maurier's books ever since we read Rebecca and unfortunately, barring two novels, that were bought and devoured rapidly, none of the second hand books stores here stock her stuff. So one trip to Borders and I was $50 poorer but armed with 'DDM's Short Stories' and 'The Memory Keeper's Daughter'. The latter I have been wanting to read ever since it was released and after months of waiting for it to hit the 2nd hand stores I finally gave in and just bought it first-hand.
Finished reading it last night and I have this nagging feeling that I did not get my money's worth. I know it is a terrible way to think of a book - I feel unsatisfied about it.
The Down Syndrome angle was underplayed and the main character's actions seemed to lack enough reason. True they tell you that his sister was ill and that it changed his life and his mother's but it is always glanced over without being dealt with in enough depth. In saying that, maybe I just missed it. The book is beautifully written though and uses fantastic imagery. But in themes like this there is always a danger of not doing it full justice - in my case I prefer the abstract to be interspersed with startling revelations. Especially in a book of this volume.
This book was supposed to be about the redemptive power of love, according to the blurb, however to me it seemed to rush through this redemption in the last chapter rather than building it up enough. However, it is not a bad read.
Of course Kim Edwards can write and I am keen to read her other book 'The Secrets of the Fire King' I think it is called.
So tonight I shall make a start on DDM and needless to say her writing leaves me breathless. Bordering on bizarre it is amazing for a woman of her time. Just goes to show that the mind knows no barriers.
The thesis writing is progressing at snail's pace and despite having the thoughts in my head I am having serious trouble putting them into words. Scientific writing is lacklustre, without creativity. On a brighter note, my cousin arrives this weekend and the next month promises to be interesting!
Still, right now I would give anything for a good cup of tea and a rest. Both have taken a beating since I am down with hay-fever.

Friday, October 17, 2008

I thought long and hard before I wrote this post. It was triggered by some thoughts I had late last week while driving.
I can pinpoint the event that led to my studying Physics as a career. 7th Standard, Physics lesson, learning about how a thermos works. I can also pinpoint the event that led to my studying opto-electronics at university - the day I learned that it was a course taught jointly by Physics and Engineering schools, thus satisfying my personal need to study Physics (and NOT computer science) and satisfying the family by saying that I was doing 'engineering' of a kind that they would not comprehend.
Throughout my school and undergraduate years, even thought the work took its toll and there were times when I passed with flying colours and times when I failed miserably, one thing was constant, consistent - interest, amazement and wonder!
I can recall being fascinated by lasers and light. I can remember the tinge of excitement when I saw the HUGE particle accelerator at the ANU. I can recall with startling detail the thrill of actually watching light bounce off in semi circles through water that was saturated with sugar.
And then something happened that sucked this out of me - I started this PhD.
This very disturbing observation I made when I thought back to my friend and I and the conversations that we used to have. My friend is one of the smartest people I know. His grasp of Physics as a subject exceeds the understanding that most practising academics have! So here was this chap who could simplify complex theories into everyday analogies and of course this led to many a heated discussion. We would spend hours talking about Physics, the simple things, the complex things and of course the dubious things.
I has been over two years since we last talked about anything except how frustrating work is. It has been over a year since we last discussed a truly 'exciting' result of our work. I have myself to blame mostly for this.
Today was an annual celebration to mark the founding day of my workplace. So we sat through numerous, some surprisingly good, presentations. This, of course, is the perfect scenario for the mind to wander and it did.
Over the last three years I have attended several conferences, sat amidst the brilliant Physics minds and heard them spout words of consolation more than anything else. I have also heard a rather alarming amount of rubbish. I have seen how research is converted, if not reduced, to appeal to the masses and how this conversion leads to undeserving people gaining credit for half-baked ideas. I have learned that in today's world a successful academic is one that can appease the grant-givers and industry-men. I have understood that Physicists do NOT discuss the wonders of the world around us as much as they discuss the 'political scenario' that will influence their 'next grant' - over a cup of tea. I have seen that 'influential' academics will push their students regardless of talent and that those willing to be party to this will be duly rewarded.
However, this is a mere digression, it is not something 'new' neither does it warrant thought.
If I get this Phd - it will be my biggest gain and for it I will have paid with my passion. The excitement and wonder of yesteryears will be lost to cynicism and skepticism. Never again will I feel the sheer joy of reading Einstein's original paper on relativity, or the pride of meeting the man that invented the optical fibre. Why? - you ask. Why can't one get out of the rut and still take away a sense of achievement. Simply because it is fake.
There are several days when I feel that the 'thing' that I make at the end of my time here will in no way help a poor starving man in India who pulls a rickshaw in the heat and humidity of Delhi, gets spit on and abused by all and sundry and still does not have enough to feed his family. My work will in no way make those in power realise their follies and change their ways. And just when I am about to sink into the depths of despair I see a light at the end of the corridor.
It is the door. Leading out. And it is my choice to whether to walk out armed with an advanced degree. One that I have spent the last three years for. And right now it seems like the shortest distance between me and the door is through the thesis.
And beyond that I can do something that makes me happy. That gets me excited and fills me with wonder. A wonder that I once felt sitting in a classroom as a 12 year old learning about how a thermos worked.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

- Is it me or have clothes sizes changed drastically in the last three years? My sister and I went to the mall last weekend as I had to buy a pair of jeans. Now, people that know me know that I always need jeans and people that know me better know that I never find them! So we were checking out the usual stores as well as the unusual ones and chanced upon this lovely pair of Bardot jeans. So, as is the norm, I picked up a size 8 (about 1.5 for you Americans!) and proceeded to the changing rooms. Now I am not sure what happened between me picking up the jeans and putting them on. Did the act of touching them shrink them? The size 8s climbed half way and then stopped!
So I tried on the size 10s - same story. Now I know that I have not put on weight since I was last a size 8. Heck I have been a size 8 all my adult life and don't intend to change that! I left the store grumbling and then my fashion savvy sister informed me that since anorexia nervosa became the in thing size 6 is the new size 8 and size 8 is the new size 800! At this rate I will be shopping at the 'for large women' store pretty soon!
Sunday also saw me at the Indian store picking up a packet of MDH T-Masala. Fantastic stuff this! Imagine masala chai at work! Also, Drona was watched over the weekend amidst coughing and sneezing fits. Terrible movie which had the potential to be passable.
In other happenings I have passed up a trip to the US of A. I never thought I would say this but thesis writing has taken priority to say nothing of the fact that I would have to leave tomorrow if I do decide to go!
So in the blah di dah nature of things let us find solace in the simple pleasures that Canberra life offers, like when you walk along the parking lot and a bird does not swoop and attack you, or the fact that in spite of the creepy crawlies infesting your courtyard one has not crawled up your nose or into your ear and how you did not get lost on Canberra roads yesterday - Amen!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The long weekend and a gender rant

Yesterday was Labour Day here Down Under and it was a long weekend. Now long weekends are a very rare occurance in this part of the world and so one duly warrants celebration. For me 'celebration' constituted doing nothing at all. Well not 'nothing' entirely or I would not be writing this post:

1. 'A Wednesday' was watched on Saturday. I was blown away by Naseerudin Shah's acting, as was everyone else that watched the film. I was also blown away by the pace and the simplicity of it. By the wonderful predictability. By the fact that the 'final speech' made me think 'Yes! That's it exactly, you tell them!' and finally I was blown away by the last line 'log naam mein mazhab dhoondh lete hai'. So true, so very true. And in this day and age, so appropriate. We live in dangerous times, in times where our name could be held against us, let alone our religion and our beliefs.

2. There is a Harry Potter game out for Wii! Yippee! So it has been decided by mass consensus that the game shall be purchased, it is just a matter of speaking with the expert and sorting out the whens and hows.

3. I was stitching a pair of pants last night when a thought struck me (No I am not skilled enough to actually stitch myself a pair of pants, I bought pants that were a tad too long and so I was just hemming the bottom). I know people who do not know how to stitch a button onto a shirt. Boys and girls, men and women my age, who think that it is either below their dignity or a waste of time to learn how to stitch back a broken button. I am not sure if it is a 'status' thing with my generation. Just as cooking, cleaning, draping a saree or a dhoti or reciting a mantra/prayer is considered to reduce your 'coolness' factor. I disagree. Just as I disagree that only women should know how to sew, or knit or darn or cook.
My parents have not brought me up as a girl - or a boy for that matter. We were not thought to think like a person of a gender, we were just taught to think! Just as we were taught that if your shirt has lost a button, stitch another one on. If you are hungry, learn to cook a few basic things. If you buy a car, learn to fill fuel in it!
I cannot understand that modern mindset of girls and boys who choose to be girls and boys or men and women. Girls that take pride is being treated 'like boys' -what does this mean exactly? Maybe tasks like stitching or cooking or cleaning were considered to be for women when women did nothing else. Even today if I was married or lived at home and did nothing but sit home all day I would consider it but practical to cook, clean the house and do the chores. It saves time and makes sense. Just as my husband or father or brother would do if they were without a job and were at home. I do not consider it womanly or unmanly to stitch a button just as I don't find it manly to climb onto a chair and cut the bushes on the porch fence! To me it is a matter of survival and practicality. I am proud that I can drape a saree albeit not very well, I am proud that I can mend my own clothes and that I can cook a decent meal. Just as I am proud that I can fix broken cupboards and cut down overgrown bushes.
I just hope that I someday I can pass on this upbringing to a fellow human being - the idea that we can all be just people, humans with genderless brains, genderless ideas and thoughts.

Friday, October 03, 2008

The songs my children will sing

When I was just a little girl
I asked my mother, what will I be
She said I can be whatever I like
'Just don't live off your dad and me'

Que Sera, Sera,
Whatever will be, will be
There's money in the bank, you see
Que Sera, Sera
What will be, will be.

When I was young, I fell in love
I asked my sweetheart what lies ahead
Will we have rainbows, day after day
He looked scared and ran away

Que Sera, Sera,
Whatever will be, will be
madness runs in the family
Que Sera, Sera
What will be, will be.

Now I have no children of my own
to ask their mother, what will I be
Good thing is that I'm not around
to bring them up poorly.

Que Sera, Sera,
Whatever will be, will be
this is an epiphany!
Que Sera, Sera
What will be, will be.

*Copyright Amrita Prasad