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A Truly Depressing Winter in Iowa

I have been tested this time. I will admit that. It had been a while since I was made to go through something that demanded more than what I had been able to offer previously. Things that change me fundamentally, things that  help me appreciate the subtleties of my thoughts that much more. I am talking about things like the will power to see off persisting gloom, the determination to not let something overwhelm me. I am talking about faith in times of complete hopelessness, resilience in times of defeat, and self assurance in times of haunting solitude – it had been a while since I dealt with them.

But I have had to do it again. This time, the painful ordeal lasted for 4 months and had me go through a circle of emotions I never knew existed. Four months during which I tracked my graceful descent into the bottomless depths of melancholia. Four months during which I had no ownership over the state of my mind. Four months during which I came that much closer to accepting who I really am.

Sad Smiley is Sad

I think it must have been November when it really started because I remember I was happy in October. The degradation of the weather and the shrinking of the days were seemingly on a malicious yet purposeful loop. The numbers kept up too – falling steadily and offering no sign of ceasing. It might have all been gradual, like darkness creeping up on a cloudy day.  But it was heading only one way and there was no end in sight. Lady winter had just made it clear that there was no point looking for the bottom. There was never going to be one.

Denial: This is not happening to me.

Anger: Endless snowfall.

Depression: I hear my 2 year old cousin speak to me for the first time. Broken hearts. The price I pay. Not hearing back for several weeks from….

Acceptance: There really is no end.

The acceptance brought with it a sense of gloomy calm. A calm that revealed and reveled in the futility of hope. And there was something strangely satisfying about it. It was almost like I belonged there. No complaints or unfulfilled desires. Just a peace that comes with the true acceptance of complete loss of control.

Take me wherever you go.

And now I no longer wish to know.

For if I knew where you went

I would want perhaps to be somewhere else.

I was now celebrating tragedy and depression. Knowing now that it is OK to do so provided a clarity that had avoided me all my life after being told otherwise by every living soul. My mind now wanted something more profound and so I went about looking to satisfy my new needs. I found respite in books and music. A couple of depressing books and some really depressing music got me digging deeper, exploring the realms of the newly discovered rooms in my mind. But this time I was not falling into the bottomless abyss. I was going in search of it.

During my search, I wondered what it really meant to be ‘comfortably numb’. I think I did feel it a few days ago. I remember I was watching the snow falling endlessly and aimlessly on the barren trees covering them with it, listening to Kreng, had just finished reading ‘Snow’, and was reminiscing about all the things that could have been in my life. And it was at that point when I just smiled. It was such a beautiful thing to think about. All the missed opportunities, lost relationships, friends who have moved on without me, unfulfilled dreams, uncertainty about the future, and about that call that never came – it was simply the most beautiful collection of thoughts I had all winter.

I was always told to be happy. But by trying to do so, I realized that I was just running away from that one thing that made me ‘comfortably numb’.

Now I know not to run at all.

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Note: I had initially written a post describing my travails of the Iowa winter which was made to look like it was a ‘fun’ thing that I could simply just laugh about in hindsight. The weather is back in the 50’s this week and I was already feeling ‘happier’. But then today certain events got me back to a more introspective state and hence this version of my story.

The Stereotypical Dream

So I am having a good time here in Iowa. No no. It does not mean that I am having a good time BECAUSE I am in Iowa. I am just having a good time thats all. Actually, come to think of it, Iowa isn’t a bad place after all. There are many awesome places to see and things to do around it. Just nothing IN it. But I digress.

So I have a job here. And I have a car. And I have a new awesome camera. The immediate and implied consequences of those three facts are what I have been making the best use of. And as a result, I find that I am actually quite happy with my life now. Not needing to worry about money, having the means to travel around, meeting new people and spending good time with them, exploring a new hobby- everything seems to fall perfectly into place right now. And this got me thinking in a different direction altogether.

The good and happy position I find myself in right now is obviously not just restricted to me. Most of my friends with whom I did my undergrad are all similarly well settled in some job somewhere and are having an equally good time, if not better. Which made me ask the question:

What is it about my friends and I that has made it possible for us to be in this position in our lives?

Most of us are bright and smart. And where we are now must be partly attributed to that. Sure, we did make the cut in a few examinations or get admissions to some good foreign universities. But these are not really the sole factors which helped us to get where we are now. What I am trying to get my head around is the very system that facilitates this process.

The one common fact that I observe is the most obvious one. All of us started off in Engineering courses. After we finished our Bachelors in Engineering, we either eventually landed up in some management institute of repute or in some good university for Masters (in India or abroad). Subsequent to that, we found jobs and now we find ourselves in a good position. (Else, continue for a PhD if that is what is your calling.)

The thing that strikes me the most in that process is its ease and convenience. It is almost like there is a perfect flow chart laid out in front of those who study Engineering in India. Follow that flow chart where the primary variables are your effort, intelligence, desire and interest, and you are very likely to come out of the process successful. (Successful may mean more money to you. To your parents, it may mean that it is now easier to find you a suitable bride. If you are a Gult, it means your ‘value’ increases. The last two are for men, obviously. But I digress.)

My point is that in India, as long as you are not dumb, you have a good level of interest and are ready to put in the required effort, you are very likely to get to the position I am talking about  – if you are an Engineering student. I am saying that being an engineering student facilitates and/or expedites our journey through the above process. That there are extra advantages to studying Engineering that will help one come out to be financially successful. And I am also saying that not many other disciplines can claim the same.

Maybe it is because of a lack of people I know who have taken up other disciplines that I am unable to arrive at a different conclusion. But simply put, it is a whole lot more difficult for people in disciplines other than engineering to be financially successful to the same degree as their engineering counterparts.

And I do not say that with pride or happiness.

For I myself was a victim of getting brain washed into joining Engineering when my heart lay in pure science. That I eventually found a topic which got me interested and excited equally is what I consider extremely fortunate. But for those who chose to pursue their true interests (when it wasn’t engineering that is), I find it extremely disappointing that they have to tread a much harder AND longer path to be financially successful to the same degree as their engineering counterparts.

At this point, let me make it clear that I am not going to discuss about ‘true satisfaction’ in ‘doing what you really like’ and where your ‘heart lies’ etc. True, people choosing to pursue their interests in different disciplines will probably be more happy studying it. But here, I am only comparing  tangible parameters, and specifically financial success. ‘True satisfaction’ and such are subjective ideas and they warrant a different treatment.

People from other disciplines have to study longer, work longer and make decisions filled with a lot more uncertainty before they reach the same level of financial stability and success as we engineering folks do. (And by that time they are likely to be married so it will not count anyway!) I personally find this very discouraging and destructive.

In a society where we require specialists in all fields, this kind of a glaring contrast in the different options available for students to choose their area of specialization is definitely counter-productive. But fact still remains that engineering is indeed the easiest way to get to where you want to go. And though most of the other disciplines do offer ways to get there, you have to almost always tread a harder, longer and more uncertain path.

Make no mistake. I am by no means trying to suggest that Engineering is THE SHIT and that everyone needs to take up Engineering to be successful financially (as if thats not already happening). In fact, I secretly pray everyday (I don’t know to whom though) that people (mainly parents) come to their senses and encourage young students to study their discipline of interest. But the wide gap that presents itself saying Engineering-is-the-easier-way-than-what-you-want-to-study does not help matters. Of course, the way to narrow the gap is not to make the engineering path less easy or convenient, but to make the paths of all other disciplines free of hurdles and unnecessary social stigma.

Which eventually brings me to the title of this post. The Stereotypical Dream. It is a dream every guy has and cannot really deny. Financial freedom and being in a place where there are a lot of things to do and places to see. It is also a dream that every parent has of their children too. And engineering seems to be the only quick, easy and assured way to realize it. Sad but true.

PS: This post is not my attempt at a  “In your face Manu Joseph” response. Yes. I read that article and found it amusing to say the least. It is not even worth linking to.

Of Haircuts & Atlas Shrugged

So I needed a haircut. When it comes to haircuts, my policy is to get it cut as short as possible, the only objective being to avoid going to the salon for the maximum time possible. And if you are in Des Moines, Iowa, if you want to get a haircut on a Saturday evening, then apparently the only way to get it done is to go to a small shop in the biggest mall in Iowa.

And so I found myself at Jordan Creek Parkway Mall, wearing PJs, a Tshirt and sandals. I was extremely tempted to walk around the mall with a White Russian in my hand. But alas, I found my ‘shop’ much too early for that. 10 mins and a bunch of hair lighter, I found myself standing in front of a movie poster and staring at it.

Apparently, there had been some things going on in the world of cinema while I had forgotten about it. There was POC-IV, there was Hangover 2, the mandatory sequel to a successful movie, and a bunch of other movies. And then there was Atlas Shrugged, the poster in front of which I was standing. I had absolutely no idea whatsoever that a movie was being made based on the 2nd (unfortunately) most influential book in the world. I looked at my watch. It was 6:50 PM. The movie was going to start at 7:10. At this point, I looked at myself in the mirror next to me. And this was what I found:

A T-shirt saying “My Phone number is 17. We got one of the early ones.” A blue pyjama clinging onto my waist. And a pair of brown sandals which could very easily be mistaken for my bathroom slippers. But more importantly, I had just had a haircut.

And where I am from, the only thing that should be on your mind after having a haircut is taking a headbath after making sure that you do not make any contact whatsoever with any household item, living or non-living. Your clothes need to be set aside and soaked separately. And only after the headbath will you be allowed to re-engage your sense of touch and taste.

So there I was, just after a haircut, in my to-be-discarded-separately night clothes, with all these thoughts going on in my head. After thinking for all of 5 seconds, I just said, “Ah! F*** it!” and bought tickets for the show and a big scoop of choco-nut ice cream for timepass.

Remember, I had no clue that this movie was even being made. So when the first scene showed that the movie was set in 2016, I feared that I was watching a movie which was mistakenly named after the book. But then I figured out that the writers had cleverly worked around the irrelevance of the railways in present day America by creating a partly dystopian world where trains are the only feasible means of transport. So this way, the main theme of the book was made to seem relevant.

The movie was good. I really liked it. One of the really good things the producers have done is to split it into two parts. Again, I was not aware of this until the screen showed “End of Part -I” at the end of the movie. Another really useful thing about the movie was that the cast does not include one single well known actor. This works for the better as the on screen persona of a well known actor could have easily spoilt the character’s true image in the movie. That being said, the casting is almost inch perfect. Dagny Taggart and James Taggart, Hank Rearden, Ellis Wyatt, Wesley Mouch all seem very much the part. Special mention to Francisco D’Anconia’s role. There could not have been a better casting for that.

The acting is quite convincing too, for the most part. And again, that is largely helped by the actors actually looking their parts. John Galt’s character is still kept in the shadows and is not revealed fully. The movie as such goes on until Wyatt’s Torch. (You will know what it means if you have read the book). There are some truly well-shot sequences in the movie. First among them is the train journey across the first Rearden Metal track. Really well shot, exploring the Colorado landscape to the maximum.

Even though the pace, characters and script stick true to the spirit of the book, there are a few things that I was really hoping to see. For instance, Francisco D’Anconia’s speech about Money is totally ignored. I was really looking forward to that. But having said that, the movie does cover most of the important aspects of the book.  And I am already looking forward to the 2nd part.

But whatever maybe the case, there is still no substitute for actually reading the book.

Updates: Des Moines 101

“…or how I got a job, got a car and got desperate…”

Ok. So I got a job, here in the US of A, the Land of Opportunity, the place where dreams are made, the place where you get to make a lot more money than you care to spend, etc. Well now that I have blurted out the reason why 99% of Indians come here to do their Masters, lets move on.

Yes, I have a job here and I have a job in Des Moines, Iowa. Don’t worry, I hadn’t the slightest knowledge about the existence of this place either. In fact, when I first applied for this position online, I thought IA referred to Indiana and was harbouring thoughts of watching the US F-1 Grand Prix sometime in the future. So when I was contacted and asked “Are you still interested in this position at Des Moines, Iowa?”, my immediate response was : “When on earth did I apply for a job in Iowa? What was I thinking?” (The fact that I got that job should make it clear that I did not actually say that out loud).

And so to anyone whom I shared this news with, their immediate response went something along the lines of

“Iowa? Dude what are you going to do in Iowa?”

But at that moment, I was just friggin’ happy that I had a job and didn’t care a damn about where I was headed.

So I arrived in Des Moines on a bright and sunny day. The next day I would realize that that was an anomaly. Cloudy, gloomy, cold, very cold, extreme cold and snow…lots of snow- now that got people to feel more at home. (Just suffice to know that I am not a big fan of snow). Well eventually, I got a place to stay and that too pretty close by to the work place. But perhaps the most significant part of where I am staying is that I now get to watch Premier League, Serie A and Champions League matches on a TV in my room. No more streaming issues!

And yes I eventually got a car too. And got a mega-awesome deal at that too. Brand  new 2010 Toyota Corolla! The biggest handicap of my past 1.5 years was now taken off of me. I was now able to actually go places. Well I didn’t really go anywhere initially. But at least I knew I could go somewhere if I wanted to.

Well that was about as excited as I got for the first few weeks in Des Moines, because after that, the reality of the place began to hit me hard. For some vague reason, and I noticed this only after 2 weeks in Des Moines, I had not met a single person who was older than 6 years and younger than 35. This appeared to be a very dangerous trend and it became even more scary when it eventually became the norm.

I found myself ‘hanging out’ with Indian families- people who had gotten married a few years back and had a toddler in their hands. – on weekends. Now don’t get me wrong. They are all nice people who helped me a lot in settling in here. But it is hard to miss the part wherein I DONT get drunk and let myself loose on topics which would perhaps give rise to an awkward silence among the ‘family’ members- you know..the kind of stuff guys of our age tend to talk about.

And its also hard to miss the WTFness in my thoughts every time it is drilled into my head that

“Des Moines is the best place to start and raise a family! You should really think about getting married soon!”

Thanks for the information. But I think I will pass on that one. No offence meant.

The way I see it, in all seriousness, when I was studying, I had all the freedom but no money. And when I get married, I will have money (or not) but (and) no freedom. These few years in between are the only times I get to have both money AND freedom. And I plan to make the most use of it.

And so my hunt to meet new people began. Initially, it was in slightly optimistic places such as bars. The closest I came to meeting somebody new this way was this very lively bartender at a British pub. (Not a good sign). Then it went a notch lower to just waiting to be introduced to some people of my age by the few people I already knew. And then when that didn’t work out, I hit the lows of desperation a.k.a online forums.

And trust me. That was NOT a good experience. It is really scary the levels to which people are desperate. Every time I realized that, I wanted to take a gun and blow my brains out point blank. It was almost like every time I looked at some person’s profile, some of my self esteem was getting sucked out. And so I put an end to it pretty fast.

But I was still desperate. Never had I drunk so many beers alone without anyone to talk to. Nobody to even have a normal conversation with. For someone who was surrounded by people of my age all the time for the past 6 years, it was a really scary picture that I was seeing myself headed towards. But in all honesty, there are a few things here in Des Moines I would not trade for anything. First up, the cost of living here is simply put, Dirt Cheap. Ok may be not that low, but definitely low enough for me to spend less than 1/3rds of my income on all my needs.

Which gives me a lot of money to go somewhere AWAY from Des Moines and have some fun. And which is exactly what ended up happening in the past one week. One week where everything went from rock bottom to super awesome and more! All that in my next Updates post. So keep reading….

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