Category Archives: Bangalore
I woke up yesterday morning to a rather sensational news item on many Indian news websites. The headline had various versions of the following statement: “Bill targeting H1-B visas reintroduced in US Congress”. I was curious. For someone who considers himself quite well informed concerning legal immigration developments in the US, this was rather surprising. Even my dad called me up to tell me about it making front page news in the morning newspaper in Bangalore! So I decided to dig deeper.
I spent about half an hour on the internet going through the text of the actual bill, looking up meanings of certain unfamiliar terms, finding the specific paragraphs of the original law that this bill proposed to modify and fully understand what was happening. And then I looked up what the Indian main stream media was saying.
Wow! It was just unbelievable! What the Indian media was saying was absolutely nothing in line with what was actually proposed in the bill. They were not just twisting words to imply a different meaning. They were actually reporting completely false information! It is absolutely appalling! Additionally, there was not a single source that gave the correct information on the bill and what it actually stands for.
Which is why I have taken it upon myself to lay out the actual implications of the bill properly here. In the next post, I will summarize what the Indian media is saying and the incorrect information being dispensed will become obvious.
H1B Background and Purpose
The H1B visa is issued for high skilled foreign workers to enter the US and work on jobs for which skilled Americans are unavailable. The intent of the H1B visa is to complement the American workers with skilled foreign workers so that the American economy does not stagnate due to shortage of skilled labor. Typically, when an American company wants to hire a worker, they advertise the posting, receive applications, interview personnel and provide offers. If the worker being sought is a US citizen or a permanent resident, there is no issue and all is good. If the worker being sought is neither a US citizen nor a permanent resident, then the company can still hire the person under the H1B visa program. However, it has to follow some general rules and procedures to do so.
General Requirements/Procedures for H1B Visa
So what are these general rules? These rules are aimed at ensuring that the company is not misusing the visa program to employ low wage workers from outside the country when an equally skilled American worker is available or is being replaced. In summary, the following are what the company has to follow:
- Company must file a Labor Condition Application (LCA) which states the general information about the job such as period of employment, wages, location, and type of job. It should put up this notice at the work place so all workers of the company can see it and lodge complaints if there are any misrepresentation of facts on the LCA.
- At least the prevailing wage for that position in that industry is paid to the H1B worker.
- The H1B worker is not being hired during a union strike or similar situation.
If the company meets the above requirements/procedures, then the H1B will be granted to the foreign worker and he/she can work for the company. (This is of course subject to the lottery system). The key to note in the above 3 items is not what IS mentioned, but what IS NOT. The requirements do not specify that the job MUST be advertised in the US or that Americans must be given first preference during the hiring process.
Additional Requirements/Procedures for Certain Companies
All the above items that are NOT specified have made it fairly easy and simple for American companies to hire foreign workers. They are still required to pay the prevailing wage, so they cannot drastically underpay the foreign workers. However, over time, what has happened is that many companies have employed a large number of foreign workers without making any effort to hire American workers (and are termed ‘H1B Dependent Employer’). Specifically speaking, the H1B Dependent Employer (HDE) companies are those that have more than 15% of their work force under H1B visas. There are also many other companies who have actively abused the visa system’s requirements and have now been officially categorized as a ‘Willful Violator’ (WV).
Now, in order to discourage visa abuses by such companies, and to encourage companies to hire American workers (citizens and permanent residents) first (where available), the H1B visa program has additional requirements that the HDE and WV companies must adhere to prior to hiring a foreign worker under H1B. These are as follows:
- Advertise the job posting in the United States and make a ‘good faith’ effort to hire an American worker.
- If a qualified and eligible American worker is available, then the company cannot actively seek to hire a foreign worker in place of the American worker.
- The company cannot fire an American worker within 90 days before and 90 days after the LCA is made.
- The company cannot hire a foreign worker and post that worker in a location that belongs to a different employer.
Essentially, these requirements are targeted to ensure that there is no abuse of the visa program and that American workers are not discriminated against in favor of lower wage foreign workers. The potential visa abuses in the absence of these requirements are fairly obvious and as such, these requirements were considered necessary. Now keep in mind that these additional requirements are not applicable to all employers – only to those that fall under the HDE and WV categories.
The Exemption Loophole
But….there is always a but……there is a way out of these requirements for the HDE and WV companies. The HDE and WV companies can bypass these additional requirements if they hire a foreign worker who falls under the category of ‘Exempt H1B Non-Immigrant‘. So what does this ”Exempt H1B Non-Immigrant’ (EHN) mean? It’s actually very simple. A foreign worker is an EHN if:
- The worker has a Master’s degree in the field of the US job application for which the H1B is sought, OR
- The company is willing to offer a minimum of $60,000 annual salary to the foreign worker.
That’s it! If a foreign worker has a Master’s degree OR if the company is willing to pay minimum $60,000 per year, then the HDE and WV companies can completely bypass all the extra requirements aimed at containing visa abuse.
The Visa Abuse
To consider an example, a HDE company which has 50% of its workforce as H1B workers can hire another dozen of H1B workers, fire a dozen American workers who were working in the same company previously and replace them with the newly hired H1B workers – all by just paying them $60,000 per year or just because the H1B workers have a Master’s degree. (It is a whole other discussion on how easy it is to get a fake Master’s degree certificate for this purpose!) They could then also ship out the new H1B workers to locations of other employers and do their job for them. These other employers can then fire American workers at their company because now they have these potentially lower wage H1B workers doing the same job.
And if you think this kind of abuse does not happen, you are completely wrong. This is EXACTLY what happened when Cognizant and HCL – both HDE companies – sent their H1B workers to work at a Disney location where Disney had just laid off their American workers. What’s more? The American workers had to train the H1B workers as part of their severance package! Even as an Indian citizen and a holder of H1B visa, I would still say that is extremely unfair to the American workers. And how do you think the HDE companies got away with posting THEIR own H1B employees at some other company’s location? You guessed it right. The ‘Exempt H1B Non-Immigrant’ loophole! All they have to do is pay them $60,000 per year (which would have been significantly lower than what the American workers were making) and voila! You can displace any worker you like!
And the worst was still to come. The subsequent lawsuit that was filed by the fired employees was dismissed on the grounds that the hiring of H1B workers by Cognizant and HCL did not impact the firing of Disney workers because the Disney workers were not working for Cognizant or HCL. That is to say, one company can hire a H1B worker, post them to another company’s location, and the other company can fire an existing American worker – all within full legal means and with absolutely no consequence whatsoever!
Visa Abuse Impacts
What this does is two things. Firstly, it is inherently unfair to existing skilled American workers – citizens and permanent residents. But secondly, and more importantly, this abuse of work visas generates a lot of ill will among Americans and among the lawmakers regarding the utility of the H1B visa program overall. Over time, this ill will and negative perceptions will foster the bigger anti-immigrant rhetoric and discussion (as seen with the statements from incoming President Trump on H1B visas), thus leading to more protectionist measures being adopted that will benefit no one and in fact be detrimental to those who have been following the system the right way.
The New H1B Bill
Now coming to the proposed new bill, it offers the following changes to fix this loophole where HDE companies can bypass their additional requirements by hiring an H1B worker with a Master’s degree or by paying him a minimum salary of $60,000 pa:
- Raise the minimum salary for Exempt H1B worker to $100,000 and index it to inflation.
- Remove the Master’s degree exemption. This means that just because one has a Master’s degree does not make him qualified to be categorized under Exempt H1B worker.
So what this bill proposes to do is to close the loophole by raising the minimum salary for an EHN and by removing the Master’s exemption. Keep in mind that these HDE companies can still continue to hire H1B workers as long as they meet the other requirements. And it is also important to note that this provision does NOT apply to any company that is not on the HDE or WV list. Those companies can continue to hire H1B workers without any additional requirements. It also does not mean that EVERY H1B worker will have to be paid minimum salary of $100,000. (Every H1B worker will, however, be paid the prevailing wage at a minimum – which varies based on location, profession, level, etc). The HDE company will have to pay minimum $100,000 pa salary if they want to bypass the additional requirements listed above. And the bill definitely does not mean that the Master’s degree is mandatory to get an H1B visa!
So after studying this bill in full detail, I have to say that even though I am an Indian citizen who is on an H1B visa in the US, I support this bill. It does cut down a major loophole in the visa program that lets HDE companies to abuse the system. And it pains me to acknowledge that, yes, most of these HDE companies are Indian companies – HCL, Cognizant, Infosys, TCS, Wipro, etc. and get close to 80% of the H1B visas every year.
With regard to the bill itself, I would remind all that this is just introduced. The same bill was introduced last year and was scrapped. So I don’t think it will actually pass this time either, but I hope it does. Because if it passes, then there is going to be a bigger chance of these H1B visas going to those who play by the rules and truly deserve it. And in the long run, visa abuse will reduce thus fostering a positive opinion of this important program among the American people and lawmakers.
In the next post, I will discuss all the incorrect information that the Indian media has been reporting.
I finally went back home to Bangalore after a gap of almost exactly 3 years. I had never been so long away from home prior to that. Even with my parents visiting me in between, that long gap didn’t lose its significance on me. I stayed there for 4 weeks, visiting friends and family and spending time with myself at home. I had no real agenda apart from that and the 4 day trip that my parents had planned. Mostly, I just wanted to sit at home, eat my mom’s food and not worry about work or any of the many other aspects of my existence. But there was perhaps one thing that I was indeed looking forward to.
I just wanted to talk to people around me in my own language. I just wanted to talk in Kannada.
Perhaps the biggest handicap I have faced after moving to the US – and especially Iowa – is the complete and absolute absence of my ability to converse in Kannada with the people around me. Simply put, there isn’t a single person I have met in all of Des Moines who speaks my mother tongue. I am sure they exist, but the probability of them being someone I get to meet, develop a friendship with, and have conversations with them in Kannada on a regular basis is minuscule. Maybe if I lived in a big city, I would have stood a much better chance, but not in a city the size of Des Moines. And as a result, I have had to accept and live with the handicap of being unable to talk in my own mother tongue. It has never been problematic – considering my command over the English language – but it is something that I have constantly missed.
I have mostly dealt with it through secondary means. I speak to my parents, my relatives and a couple of my friends over the phone in Kannada on a regular basis. I also watch Kannada movies on Youtube or Videogirmit, listen to old Kannada songs, and read Kannada books. But none of this has ever come even remotely close to giving me the fulfillment I get from talking to someone in Kannada in person. Which is why when I went back home, the thing I was most excited about was just being able to talk to the people around me in the language that is my mother tongue.
Everybody from the immigration officer at the Bangalore airport (who began questioning me in English and happily changed to Kannada once I gave my responses in Kannada), the local grocery store guy who was trying to find me a pack of cards, the owner of the local medical shop (whom I have known since I was in high school), the guy serving me extra sambhar for my Idly at the fast food Darshini next to the bus stop, all the neighbor aunties who had differing opinions on the changes in my body mass, the old man at the small clothing shop where I bought part of my new wardrobe, the waiter at Vidyarthibhavan, all the nice folks of North Karnataka who made my vacation-within-a-vacation a memorable one, the guy who helped me get a Vodafone cell number on my Verizon Galaxy S5, the BMTC bus conductor who gave me a free ride to the next stop when he realized I was on the wrong bus, the auto driver who had Ambarish pictures all over his vehicle, the guy who cut open an extra coconut (eLaniru, or coconut water) for free because he felt he had given me a smaller-than-average coconut the first time around, the guy selling liquor on credit at the local shady bar, the bartender at Arbor Brewing Company (to whom I bragged about having visited the original one at Ann Arbor in Michigan), the guy who gave me all the snack goodies at Subbamma Store, the local gym owner who had a hard time understanding why I needed the membership only for 3 weeks, my friends from Undergrad and before, my family members of all ages and degrees of separation, and before I forget, Blackie – the creatively named black colored dog of the Black Dog fame – I took great pleasure in speaking to every one of them in Kannada (including Blackie).
It was something that I had taken for granted all the time I was in Bangalore, and something – whose absence – I refused to acknowledge after moving to the US. During my visit, I sometimes almost forgot that this ‘return to how it used to be’ was only a temporary thing and something that I would very soon not have in my daily life. But I suppose that is what happens with the things I took for granted. I tend to trick myself into thinking it was all going to be OK every time I got to experience what I had missed for long. But the eventual and inevitable return – from nothing more than a vacation to the true consequences of my choices – never fails to expose the glaring deception my mind has me in. And I find myself looking to the past or to possibilities in the future when I get to experience first hand all the things I grew up taking for granted, and whose absence I am yet to come to terms with.
I am now back to talking to people over the phone in Kannada, watching Kannada movies, listening to SPB and S.Janaki’s old classics, and reading a Kannada translation of Kalidasa’s Meghadhootha when I get the chance. I do not know when I will get my next chance to converse in person in Kannada, but when it does happen, I will very likely just trick myself again into thinking it’s all back to the way it used to be – at least for the duration of that conversation.
And then I will go back to reality.
The irony of choosing to write this in English is not lost on me. But such is the circumstances I chose and find myself in.
It was May of 2010 and I had just landed at the Bangalore International Airport early in the morning. I was coming back home after my first two semesters at Virginia Tech. By the time I reached home, it was about 8 AM and I was already hungry. My mom was clearly enthusiastic about cooking for me, but that morning she mentioned that I would have the Idli & Chutney that my grandmother had cooked an hour earlier. Apparently, my grandmother – who lived just a few blocks down the road – had woken up early just so she could cook breakfast for me. And she knew exactly what to cook. The Idli and Chutney that she used to make was the kind of stuff that could fix anything and everything. I think the word I am looking for is ‘panacea’.
So here I was, not having eaten ‘home food’ for over 10 months and my mom served me my grandmother’s best creation for breakfast. I sat in my chair and broke the first idli into a small piece, took a generous dipping of the chutney and put it in my mouth.
To this day, I cannot think of a more profound moment I have had when I ate something. Before I could chew the food and swallow it, I had broken down and was crying like a little baby. It was not just the feeling of experiencing something after a long time that made me cry. It was the realization that I was experiencing after a long time, something I had just taken for granted all my life that hit me like a cannon ball. And I didn’t have to tell my mom anything. She knew exactly why I was crying and that there was just no consoling me at that point. I cried for some 10-15 mins before I resumed eating my breakfast. Needless to say, I stuffed myself with what would have otherwise been a sizable breakfast for 3 people.
In hindsight, that realization seems a lot more obvious. But it does not make it any less significant. Food is one of the things that we are conditioned to take for granted (unless you are in a poor financial situation or related circumstances) while we were growing up. We always assumed that no matter what happens in this world – barring a natural or man made disaster – we would always have dinner served at the time we expect it to. So much so, that we even felt entitled to complain when it was delayed by a few minutes. Breakfast was always prepared 15-20 mins before we left for school or college. It just had to be. There was no other option. It would be an apocalyptic hell if it was delayed even for a few minutes. And all the food we were served had also better be something we liked to eat.
And so being served food that I preferred, at the right time, day after day for over 20 years was something I had gotten so used to that I had never comprehended the idea of anything different. Even when I lived in the hostels during college, the hostel mess always had the food ready at regular times. In any case, I went back home every 2 or 3 weeks during my undergraduate years. So it was only when I moved half way across the world here to the USA did I face the extremely strange situation of nobody serving me my preferred food 3 times a day at my new home.
In hindsight, the way I initially reacted to that is almost comical. I was in complete denial for the first couple of weeks and just did not eat any breakfast. I ate out for lunch and made some makeshift dinner (read cereal). It was at least a month before I came to terms with it and started cooking. Fortunately for me, I found that I took immense pleasure in the act of cooking. And after that there was no looking back. I learnt – mostly through experimentation and long phone calls with my mom – to cook most of the dishes that my mom made on a regular basis and took great pride in sending her photographs of my cooking. Needless to say, she was very impressed and very happy that I was eating home cooked food. And so after the first couple of months, I rarely ate outside and continued to get better at cooking. I even became popular among my Indian and American friends at VT for my cooking!
But when I had that first bite of Idli Chutney on my first return back home, I also knew that I would never ever match the taste that my mom or my grandmother made. Because you see, the dishes my mom or my grandmother ever made were not just made up of spices and vegetables. They were always made with unconditional love. And I suppose it really was THAT ingredient that I had taken for granted in all the food I had ever been served at home. It was also the ingredient that I had missed the most and could never put into my dishes. No wonder I broke down when I had that breakfast back then.
A few months after that, when I was back in the US and having just graduated, I learnt that my grandmother had unexpectedly passed away. I will never see her again and that pains me to no end. I will also never have her Idli and Chutney once more, but I know that she is still out there helping me to recreate that taste I fear I will never get to experience again.
So yes, we take a lot of things for granted and don’t even know it. It only comes to the surface when it is absent and absent for a long time. So enjoy it while you still have a chance. But also, always pause to appreciate its existence while it lasts.
Being half way around the planet from all the NaMo and RaGa and MaBa and ArKe waves during the election campaign, I have had little to no direct exposure to the ground realities in India. All my ‘information’ came from Facebook status messages, newspaper headlines quoting politicians out of context, memes, satire posts on Faking News and some input from my parents who are seeing all this first hand in Bangalore. So in order to get real information, I have had to make additional effort to look through the biased media, read a very long list of ‘expert’ opinions on both sides of the story, find compilation of statistics on so many issues that are being debated and of course, frame my own opinion at the end. In any case, the general gist of what I am hearing is this:
There is this NaMo dude who is the Uber Dude and who is expected to simply win the next election. Then there is RaGa who is going all out to let people know he has an IQ less than Timmy. New kid on the block ArKe is trying all in his power to just play spoilsport. Didi MaBa just wants to run for elections. The Left parties – wait, do they still exist?
The common thread running through all the bits and pieces of information I am getting is not regarding RaGa, ArKe or Didi. It is almost exclusively about NaMo. But before I get to that, a little bit of football.
When I started watching football, it took me a while to start supporting Chelsea. Everyone around me was either a Manchester United fan or an Arsenal fan. The Arsenal fans were mostly proud of the whole ‘youth development’ ideal that the club apparently stood for. All good. The Manchester United fans on the other hand were mostly proud of their trophy collection and were generally branded as glory hunters. I get it. Every fan wants the sport team he supports to win trophies on a regular basis. It is a very natural state of mind.
But what was different with United fans was the unquestioned glorification of the club and everything associated with it. Most of the fans were convinced that Manchester United was the only true club in England. They would quote the rich history associated with the club and also point to the massive trophy collection. They would also point to one Sir Alex Ferguson as a ruthless winner who would stop at nothing to win trophies – and all the fans were proud of his long tenure at the club. But it didn’t stop there. United was considered to be a team that was beyond criticism. Going a step further, no other team was considered to be a valid team to support. If you were new to football and were still looking for a team to choose to root for, you would be made to believe that you had no choice. You would be made to believe that Man United were the only team worth supporting and it was some kind of a default choice.
United was also the club which had the largest fan base (and still does) in India and Asia. There were definitely reasonable United fans here and there that I have gotten to know over the years but for the most part most of them were just plain cocky about it. They just refused to even entertain the idea that the club was anything less than just the best damn club on the planet. There would never be any admittance of any imperfections in any of the club’s aspects. Nobody could level any amount of criticism without getting a good amount of backlash from its supporters. Moreover, supporters of all other clubs were looked down upon as if they did not deserve to be a fan.
All this inevitably led to a lot of distaste among a lot of fans who supported other clubs – including myself. So much so, that there was a fair amount of hate brewing against United. These people were our friends who we got drunk with and whom I am still in touch with. But the dislike and hate that was brewing was directed more at the club than at the supporters. Sure the schadenfreude that we experienced whenever we saw United lose grew exponentially. But the important thing to note was the strict polarization that Manchester United’s image had created. You either fully embraced it and considered it to be the flawless club ever, or you considered that to be the most vile, cocky, exaggerated, pretentious, falsely publicized, all powerful, corrupt sports organization in the world. There was almost nothing in between. And all this was a creation not of the club. (I am sure the club wouldn’t have wanted it this way). But this big divide was really a creation of the supporters.
And now I see the same exact thing happening with NaMo in India. He is considered untouchable and beyond criticism from the eyes of his supporters. There is so much pro-Modi rhetoric that there seemed to be little that he could not accomplish. He is treated as the solution to all problems. There is not a single ounce of criticism that can be thrown at him without ten counter responses coming from his supporters. (In the eyes of the supporters, they feel they are right because they are offering the statistically proven, reasonable response to a guy who is just making wild accusations against Modi). He is considered to have zero imperfections and his supporters quote the ‘development’ that has taken place in Gujarat over the course of more than a decade as proof of his awesomeness. And just like United fans sing the ‘Glory Glory Man United’ chant, there is now also a NaMo NaMo (and many more apparently) chant/song that all the Modi supporters consider their war cry. There is even a Modi-Brigade that you can join by giving a missed call or something.
All this isolation from criticism, unquestioned glorification of his past achievements and a level of expectations never before associated with an Indian politician have inevitably generated a strong anti-Modi fan base – just like it happened with United. Endless arguments and debates – both online and offline, opinion pieces from every Tom, Dick, Harry and his brother-in-law, articles listing statistics that prove the point each side of the argument is trying to make (never mind that they contradict themselves) – all have contributed heavily to the strong polarization of the Modi image.
You are either a strong supporter and think he is the panacea all Indians have been waiting for, or you think he is the nightmare scenario waiting to happen where he ends up becoming India’s Hitler creating a Hitler Youth organization equivalent and there will be a genocide in his first month in office. The stronger the isolation and glorification, higher is the criticism and hate. Higher the criticism and hate, more is the isolation and glorification. It is like a feedback loop which just feeds one off the other but they both grow in size and content. And just like United, all this is a making of the supporters. Modi for one would have never wanted this divide. Part of it, admittedly, can be attributed to the hate against the UPA Govt and our current impotent PM. But most of the responsibility of this rests on the supporters.
I suppose there is a cut off point beyond which there would be no significant growth of pro-Modi or anti-Modi rhetoric. Perhaps that point will be reached after he is elected PM. Or Not. I for one can only hope that his supporters and haters can get to a more reasonable level of opinion. The worst outcome of this would be an American styled Democrat-Republican divide.
If you have not been able to figure out yet, this post is nothing more than an observation. It is not a criticism, support or judgment of anyone involved – from the politicians to the avid supporters and haters. It is merely a perspective which I have been looking through for a while. A lot of Modi and Man United supporters will inevitably disagree with me and some will even offer detailed explanations of their disagreement which are supposed to be interpreted as their idea of reason. First of all, do check out this thing called the Backfire Effect. Secondly, if you have you gone as far as trying to dispute what I have pointed out, you have already proven my point. So just calm the fuck down and think about it for a while.
In all seriousness, I personally want to see Modi in the PM office and am really curious what this guy is all about. And at this point, I offer no response to speculation or the possibility of a genocide happening in India as a result of his election. But really, considering his competition is a circus clown in a politician’s disguise…..
…well you get it.
I follow one principle when buying vinyl records:
Never order online.
There is no romance to it. The real excitement lies in digging through hundreds of used and new records in record stores and finding that one awesome album that you never expected to find. Every time that happens, I feel like a kid in candy land.
However, after over 2 years of unsuccessful search across the country to locate this particular album, I had to give up on my coveted principle and order it online.
The one that made me compromise: The Man Machine by Kraftwerk.
I just received this record in my mail and I headed straight to frame the album cover on my wall. Then I headed to my record player and started the record spinning. And then those sounds – possibly straight out of a Stanley Kubrick movie – a prolonged bling, then another and another, and then…..
We’re charging our battery
And now we’re full of energy
We are the robots
As far as I am concerned, The Man Machine easily has the best album cover ever made. A minimalist photograph of 4 expressionless German dudes in blood red shirts with black ties and faces as pale as they had seen a ghost – or maybe they ARE the ghosts – standing one behind the other and staring sideways at something that appears to be commanding all their attention, respect and admiration. The inner sleeve contains more haunting photographs of what appears to be wax models of the 4 men playing instruments and posing for photographs. Try coming up with something more awe inspiring and profound than that and you will make your mark in history.
There is something otherworldly about this album art. Holding it in your hand while listening to the music makes you feel like you are holding a product – a creation – from a world far far away in both space and time. While this music is definitely not from the present, it definitely makes you wonder if this music is from the future or from some mysterious time in the past when 4 strange looking men envisioned how music in the future would be.
To me, the reason this album holds special significance is because I was exposed to it when I was a kid. Of all the people, my dad had brought this album home on cassette. Till today he does not remember how or why he got hold of it. He has not heard to any other Krafwerk’s albums and he does not even recollect the exact name of the band. But when I asked him a month ago here in America, he distinctly recollected owning and listening to the album (in his own words, it was an album “which showed 4 white faced men staring blankly away from the camera”) when I was a kid of maybe 5-6 years old. For reasons I do not recollect or comprehend, I did not play that tape a couple of years after I first listened to it and had never listened to any of that album since then – even by accident.
As a 5-6 year old kid, The Man Machine had captivated me to no end. I remember playing it on a loop for hours together. It transported me to another world – a world in my own imagination filled with space ships in which 4 strange expressionless men in red shirts captivated thousands of people with their hypnotic music. It filled up my imagination with the same intensity as comic books or sci-fi cartoons.
It is hard to describe the sudden and intense rush of memories from the past that comes about when I listen to a particular song or album – something that was strongly associated with that particular time or person. It is stronger than nostalgia. The Man Machine took me back to a time when the biggest worry in my life was to do my homework, eat my vegetables and polish my shoes. It reminded me of squatting in front of a Phillips 2 speaker system, putting in the cassette, rewinding it all the way, hitting play and then just staring at it in eager anticipation for that hypnotic bling to take me to a spaceship far far away. And it never failed to do so.
And then today, almost 20 years after I had last listened to that album, when the needle of my record player landed on the brand new vinyl, I was back on that spaceship. I was back on that spaceship and I did not get back to Earth for more than 2 hours.
There are a few people and things on this planet who/which can make me smile and laugh and feel happy in an instant – just to have known or experienced them or to be able to experience them again. The right music can definitely achieve that for me.
The Man Machine by Kraftwerk had me smiling and laughing and dancing in a spaceship like I had not done in almost 20 years.
It is now a little more than 4 years since I set foot in America. The last 2 of them have been under far more financial freedom and stability than ever before in my life. It was during this time that I traveled significantly – taking in new experiences and dwelling in the wonder of what I saw. I went to dozens and dozens of concerts, visited big cities, explored national parks, discovered places that even none of my American friends knew about. At no point in time did I forget to appreciate how fortunate I was to be able to do all those things that I did and to visit all the places I wanted to. Yes I had to work hard and go through significant troubles and bear through uncertain times to get to where I am now – like so many of my friends who chose the same path. But behind all of that was this one constant, unchanging thing: the support, encouragement and trust of my parents. Having always been very close to them since as long as I can think of, they gave me a sense of belonging and a platform I always knew I could fall back on in times of need. I have absolutely no hesitation in declaring that I would not be where I am today without their effort over the past 25 years or so. And so, during my travels in America, everywhere I went and felt the wonder of having discovered something beautiful, I ALWAYS imagined myself sharing that same experience with my parents – to bring them there and show them what they had helped me to do.
I finally got the opportunity when my parents’ visa got approved (in what ended up becoming a 1 minute interview with exactly one question asked). They arrived in the second week of July and I immediately absolved myself of all responsibilities related even remotely to the kitchen and other household stuff- including but not limited to the maintenance and upkeep of the house, laundry, dishes etc. My mom was more than happy to take over for the duration of her stay and I just let her run the house – like she has done for the past 27 years or so.
I was more than happy to have them at my place. But there is no denying my apprehension about how my lifestyle would be affected with their arrival – especially with having lived by myself for over 2 1/2 years. Fortunately, I was able to work my way around it and my parents were understanding of my evening disappearances to see my friends. And I have to admit, just the food almost made it worth it. I had long forgotten about the idea of a proper breakfast during weekdays. There was also the whole thing about someone actually serving me food – that felt like a long forgotten experience. My mom’s cooking also reminded me about the existence of so many different dishes that I immediately decided that I would simply over eat at every single opportunity and not care one bit about potential weight gain. And today, I am extremely happy to have over eaten (to the point of feeling gluttonous) at least 3 times a day continuously for about 2 months straight.
There were exactly 4 places I wanted to take my parents to. And I am very happy that I was able to accomplish all of that and under very pleasant circumstances. I got my parents to ‘hangout’ at the Old Market district in Omaha – something they never got tired of. It was and still is one of the most beautiful few blocks of downtown I have ever seen, and my parents clearly shared my view. The 3 days we spent in Chicago was extremely fulfilling too. More than the downtown boat ride, Navy Pier or the Shedd Aquarium, I had one specific thing in my mind that I wanted to do. On the second night, I took my parents to the Observatory on top of Hancock tower. A mind blowing night view of the captivating Chicago skyline – especially when you get to look down upon it. But it was not just the view that I had in mind. Yes, both my parents were thrilled beyond words at the sight in front of them. But it was only when I got my dad a glass of Jameson, right there in the Observatory, did I feel the experience complete. Sharing a drink with my dad at the Observatory was the first thing that had come to my mind when I had visited the place previously. And finally being able to do it felt like a landmark moment and a perfect celebration of my relationship with him.
As far back as I can remember, my dad has always wanted to see the Niagara Falls. My mom too. So I took them there in the Maid of the Mist. For about 5 minutes, we were completely transported to a different world – one where all you could see was this gigantic rushing mass of water. It really is one of those out-of-this-world experiences when you are at the foot of the falls in that small boat and looking up at this massive sea of water falling with an incomparable intensity. It was there at that moment that I asked them to remind themselves of where they came from, how and where they spent their childhood, and all the things they went through. And with that as the context, I asked them to look around and see where they were at that moment. The contrast dawned on them immediately and with that, a strong sense of fulfillment took me over.
Our trip to New York City happened mainly because my parents wanted to go there. I had no intention to visit the place as a big city experience has never been my idea of travelling somewhere. If you want a tip, here it is: Don’t go to NYC unless what you want to see is swarms of tourists every step of the way, a big gaping hole in your pocket and generally nothing to admire. (I will admit the Museum of Modern Art was a clear exception. I saw Starry Night and THIS painting which I now have on my wall). But my parents wanted to do the tourist’s trip which inevitably included the Empire State Building (and the mandatory 2 hour waiting period), the Statue of Liberty (an eyesore that is to be avoided under all circumstances), a drive through Wall Street (the only place where it is OK to openly admire the testicles of a bull) and the Brooklyn Bridge (good engineering, no aesthetic offering). So clearly, I did not enjoy it (and I would definitely not be going back) but I was fully aware that this trip was not for me – it was for my parents. And so it never occurred to me to complain at all.
But perhaps the best was really kept for the last. I took my parents to Wisconsin over Labor Day Weekend. Arguing against my parents’ wishes to see another big city in Minneapolis, I took them to House on the Rock, Madison, New Glarus (including the Brewery there) and Lake Geneva. The House on the Rock was where I really wanted to take them. It is a place which nobody can ever satisfactorily describe. It is a celebration of humans going beyond the limits of imagination. It is a reward for those who seek something beyond the mainstream offerings of tourism. And my parents were left in complete awe and wonder – and rightly so. Trips to New Glarus, New Glarus Brewing company and Lake Geneva was really an eye opener for my parents with regard to the other side of America – the one with the small town, antique shop and record store feel to it. My dad was particularly pleased with the New Glarus Brewery – a place which felt more like some ruins in an old Mediterranean city than a brewery where you could sample some of the best beer in the Midwest. Lake Geneva was perhaps the best portrayal of a small town American city which had maintained its small town feel in spite of the popularity of the place among tourists. Both my parents enjoyed it and the whole trip was an extremely satisfactory end to their travels here.
In addition to the travels, I was particularly happy that my parents just took in what the American Midwest – and specifically Des Moines – had to offer with great satisfaction. The extremely good nature of the people, the laid back lifestyle, a complete lack of noise or air pollution and a beautiful and safe suburb experience – all served as the perfect getaway from the stress of working life. My mom declared her love for Dunkin’ Donuts, making that her first go to place for breakfast in Chicago and NYC. My dad had never been spoilt for choice in beer before he came here (For one, he was not even aware that there were options beyond Lager). So I took him to the El Bait Shop on his birthday and he was clearly overwhelmed at their selection of beer. But perhaps my dad’s biggest achievement during his stay here was his discovery of Pink Floyd and his strong desire to see The Wire. Clearly, my dad is going in the right direction.
They left a couple of days after the Wisconsin trip. My mom made sure I did not have to cook for the following 2 weeks and I still have quite a bit of her cooking in the fridge. They took back with them bags loaded with goodies for all my family back home (including what is perhaps the best of the lot – a ‘Better Call Saul’ shirt for my cousin) along with some memorabilia from every one of their trips. But to me, their trip was more about all the things that they had always wanted to do, all the places I wanted to show them and all the experiences I wanted to share with them. It was also an opportunity for me to connect with them after a long time. And I can happily say that I was able achieve all of them.
All in all, very satisfying experience for my parents and me. Now I am back to living my old lifestyle and still savoring my mom’s cooking.
Before I say anything, let me get the context perfectly clear here. I am right now in the USA and have been here for the past 1.5 years. I woke up today morning and on my news feed, I saw that MCC’s Cul-Ah had been going on since Monday. This brought back all the nice memories of the Cul-Ah! that I had been to when I was in my PUC. So I decided to give it a read. This post is a result of the profound WTFness that I experienced subsequent to reading through those articles. READ ON…
For the uninitiated, Cul-Ah! Is the annual cultural fest that is conducted by Mount Carmel College, Bangalore, at their own campus. Usually they hold it in the month of January and this year too was no exception. This fest is considered to be one of the best fests in the city and is in high demand. (Hmm…I wonder why..). Perhaps the fact that MCC is a girls’ college with a continued reputation of housing the best chics in the city has something to do with that popularity. Anyways, I got to know about this year’s fest through this and this article on DNA.
So this year, MCC has gone on and made the effort to theme their fest. The theme chosen is “ELEMENTS”. According to Andrea, general secretary of Mount Carmel College students’ union,
Our college is completely eco-friendly, and hence we came up with this theme. Considering that this year is the year of ‘biodiversity’, we have begun a number of campaigns in the college that encourage students to be more eco-friendly and to save the earth. For Cul- Ah, therefore, we chose the five elements of our planet to define and categorise our events.
The United Nations has this to say about the International Year of Biodiversity:
….that humans rely on the diversity of life to provide the food, fuel, medicine and other essentials needed for life… this rich diversity is being lost at a greatly accelerated rate because of human activities, such as the expansion of cities and farming. International Year Of Biodiversity is aimed at raising awareness about the loss of animal and plant species and organizing action to halt it.
Looks like a responsible thing the fest organizers have done. Starting a number of campaigns and getting their main fest to be themed that way to create awareness for the ‘Year of Biodiversity’. Just ONE small problem I came across:
The Year of Biodiversity was LAST YEAR, 2010!!!
Yes, yes..this is the point where you go WTF???!?!!!??
I mean, seriously, what were the organizers thinking? I can imagine people messing up on some small aspects of the fest, but screwing up the very premise behind the main Theme of the fest, now you gotta be really messed up to do that!
I am now trying to reconstruct the discussion that I believe, took place, during the planning of the fest (in 2010).
Chic1: Girls! We gotta do something different this time. Something that will capture the attention of everyone for a very good purpose.
Chic2: Save the Planet!
Chic3: Oh my God! That is soooooo original! Lets totally do it!
Chic1: Wait! Save the Planet doesn’t sound fancy enough. Lets give it a different name.
Chic2: Hey look! This year is ‘Year of Biodiversity’! We can use that as an excuse to get this totally original idea on to our theme! This is so awesome no??
Chic1 and Chic2: Yay! This is going to be the best fest ever!
Chic4 (with mega-inferiority complex issues): Excuse me girls… err..hmm… but I was just wondering.. ummm.. since we will be holding our actual fest, like, next year, you know, 2011, don’t you think we need to consider that also?
Chic1: Did we ask you your opinion?
Chic4: Err…I was just saying…you know, that you had to consider…
Chic2: Are you suggesting that we don’t know how to do this?
Chic4: I am sorry.
Chic3: Yeah! Who the f*** cares anyway? As soon as they see something even remotely associated with Save Nature stuff, they will think we are doing a very responsible thing.
Chic1: So where were we? Ah yes! So lets make the theme as those 5 elements that make up nature. Earth, water, fire, air and space.
Chic2: Oooooooh! I so love Captain Planet! Go Planet! This is sooo good!
Moving on, we now come to the events. The events are categorized with respect to the different ‘elements’. Here is the idea behind the classification:
Fire will include high energy events like dance, mad ads and mock rock, whereas music and poetry are in the category of Air. Water, with its characteristic intelligence, will include events such as quizzes and pictionary that test your intelligence and creativity while events such as vegetable carving, cooking without fire and flower arrangement fall in the category of Earth.
And here is the clincher, really. If you were wondering what they came up with for the ‘element’ of Space, this is what the Gen-Sec, Andrea, had to say (brace yourself for the profound WTF moment):
All these events will be conducted in the element of space, which in this case is MCC.
You know… if you really wanted to find an excuse to somehow include that 5th element, I am sure there was a less retarded way to do so. Let me reconstruct the discussion that led to this:
Chic1: Ok, now that’s a great idea. Year of Biodiversity, and ELEMENTS! I think we are onto something totally awesome here. Now how can we structure these events so that all the 5 elements are covered?
Chic2: I think the best way to do that would be to classify the events among 4 of the elements and treat the 5th element as something that will encompass all the other 4! I am so awesome no??
Chic3: So for example, we can put our events in Air, Space, Fire and Earth, while saying that we are holding our fest under Water. And then we can say that this is symbolic of how global warming is going to get all places under water soon if we do not do something about it! Isnt that a great idea? We can also use the Global warming excuse to put Fire as the 5th element saying we can die of heat and stuff.
Chic2: Oh my god!! There are so many options here! Lets draw lots!
Ok. So enough with that. Lets now consider the actual events and their classification. Honestly, I really don’t know where to start. Fire is supposed to represent High-energy events? When exactly did rewriting a rock song in a funny manner (Mock Rock) become a ‘high energy’ event? And so poetry and music events are classified under Air? Oh I get it! The vibration of air is required to create any sound and so music events come under Air. What about poetry? Oh I know! You need air to breathe while you create poetry! Epic!
So Water has ‘characteristic intelligence’? Hmm..lets see. Googling ‘characteristic intelligence of water’ yields results describing the Goldfish and the Portuguese Water Dog. I am sure the organizers found a way to link both these innocuous animals with their events. So quizzes and Pictionary are supposed to test your intelligence and creativity? Ok..so then why is the Kannada quiz in Air and not Water? You suggesting Kannada quiz does not require any intelligence or creativity? (Kannada Rakshana Vedike anyone??)
In fact, here is my alternate proposal for classification. Fire is generated by sparks. So a spark of the mind is related to the Fire element. Spark of mind also gives rise to creativity and intelligence, as seen in lit events such as quizzes and such. So classify all ‘intelligent and creativity’ based events under Fire. Then look for the real dumb and retarded events. Like Antakshari, where only the dumb get excited playing. You can classify such events under Water. Why? Because water destroys fire, the spark, the same way the dumb cancel out the intelligent!
“I am so awesome no??!!!?”
It is fairly obvious what has happened. The organizers somehow want to tag their fest with some kind of a socially-responsible message. And once they do that, they had to find ways to relate each and every event to the theme somehow. And so they come up with these ridiculous ways to connect their fest with the ‘Save the Planet’ message. And they know nobody is going to really question it or think too much about it as it is, by default, supposed to generate a feel-good factor. This whole thing, I have to say, is a perfect scenario to explain the idea of Subjective Validation.
Moving on, lets look at the Twitter account that MCC opened up to publicize and market their fest. Not a bad idea as a lot of people use Twitter and word gets spread around faster through it. There are 12 tweets in the account, the last of which was on Jan 3. Now I am not going to comment on the inefficient usage of the account. Instead, the followers of this account tell a very good story. (At the time of posting this) There are 21 followers, some of whose descriptions are as follows:
- I’m a 17 year old girl. I Love Music. Met Jesus when I was 11. Living life in His grace and love. Servant, Daughter, Sister, Friend. =)
- hi im **** a.k.a chikku.. im a huge fan of linkin park and edwars cullen.. i love playing different sports….well thats it for now… cya later……:-)
- everything must be proportionate. your chicken and your rice must both last till the end. one must divide the bites of chicken evenly among bites of rice
Well, I guess I am done with the organizers and the college. I have nothing against them really. I am sure they had a great fest and a lot of people had a good time. Come to think of it, I clearly remember to have had a memorable time when I went to Cul-Ah! 2003 edition when I was doing my PUC at St. Joseph’s PU College. But all that aside, I really cannot tolerate mediocrity. And hence this post. But I am not done yet. So far, I took care of the college. Now let me turn my attention to the newspaper- DNA.
Substandard or unethical journalism is something that really gets on my nerves. I have written about them before here and here. And I continue to see this even today. The DNA journos Merlin Francis and Vidya Iyengar have written the two articles that I have quoted here. In each case, I would like to know what the journos treat as their standard.
First up, with Merlin Francis. This is the dude who has got the Gen-Sec of the fest to quote that the Year of Biodiversity is this year. And he just took it for granted, making zero effort to check the factual accuracy of what he was quoting in his final article. All he needed to do was spend 15 seconds to google ‘Year of Biodiversity’ and he would have everything he needed. But no! Why? Well, I guess the standards differ, don’t they?
And now, with Vidya Iyengar. Call me a stickler for accuracies, but I really have a zero tolerance for inaccuracies in newspapers. The Fashion Show event is listed under the category Earth in the article.
The theme ‘Earth’ will be reflected in a fashion show that will sport rich, Indian ethnic wear.
However, in the actual brochure, the event is listed under Fire. This may look extremely trivial to some. But there is no guarantee that the above line was not just made up to suit the article. Maybe it was the fault of the organizers who fed in wrong information to the journo. Or perhaps, the organizers messed up their brochure (in which case, I would not attribute any wrong doing to the said journo). But these factual inconsistencies are not excusable in any form.
However, there is an even more WTF thing involved in these 2 articles. The General Secretary’s name is said to be Andrea D’Silva as per Vidya Iyengar, while it is Andrea D’Souza as per Merlin Francis!! Now, seriously, who f***ed it up? Poor Gen-Sec. You have my sympathies!
And I guess I am done. I am feeling good. Having said that, let me also add that I would like to thank all those involved in this awesome mess for providing me ideal fodder for a blog post! Please keep it coming…..
UPDATE: The MCC folks have left a few comments below (along with the inevitable brickbats). Read them for their response and how all the facts did NOT go into the newspaper article. Also, since I am exercising my freedom to criticize people here, I also realize that I am open to criticism as well. I will not be deleting any comments here, even if they clearly show me in bad light. I will probably not be responding to them.
All of us have our own addresses. If an Indian is asked where he lives in their city, the response ranges from Bandra to Basavanagudi, from Gurgaon to Gorguntepalya, from T.Nagar to Thodesandhipalya (Ok that last one was made up). And if you are familiar with the area given as a response, you ask “Where in Basavanagudi?” or “Where in Thodesandhipalya?” (You really dont have to answer the last one). And if you are familiar with even the second response, you keep narrowing the location until you have convinced yourself that the other person is your long forgotten neighbor.
However, in the USA, things, as always, are a little different. Say you approach an American living in New York City, one of the largest cities in the world. And you ask him where he stays in New York. The most likely response you are going to get is “Oh I stay in Perry Street” or “My house is on Graves Avenue” or “I live right by Richmond Lane”! You see, the address of a house in the USA has just two things on it that help you to locate it in a given city: the house building number and the street where the house building is located. Thats it! So in an area of about 800 square kms, all you have with you to locate one single house is the name of the street its on??!!?? That surely helps doesnt it??? Its equivalent to saying “My house is next to my neighbor’s house” or “I am my father’s son” etc. It doesnt tell you anything useful.
Yes we all know there is this invention called GPS which can take you from anywhere to anywhere with just the street name as input. But seriously, what if you dont have one? Let me elaborate on this a bit. Imagine you have just arrived in New York City and take a cab to get to your apartment. You tell the cab driver “Take me to 4800 Eastland Drive” and just expect to be dropped off in front of your house? Well if the cab driver does just that, then either he has an awesome memory or his house is within a 2 block radius of your house. But then what happens if neither of the above “totally-possible” situations prevail? Then I guess you have to start looking for a map. Imagine this. You are in a cab and the cab driver spends the first ten mins just figuring out which part of the city he is supposed to be taking you!
Not implying that this is the only way things happen around here in the US. But seriously imagine something like that happening in India. I mean, you go and ask a Bangalore Auto Rickshaw dude to take you to 8th Cross Road, WTF do you think he is going to do? Of course he is going to look at you like you were born a retard and stayed that way for good!
Perhaps one of the direct consequences of American addresses having such small number of characters in them is seen when you are trying to fill out a form online- like an application for the college, GRE, TOEFL or any other thing that is based out of the US. You see the website creators make this sincere and totally pointless effort to restrict the number of characters in which you enter your address. So when your address goes into describing just your house number and street name, there really is no problem. However, unfortunately for all us Indians, this poses a problem. Especially if your address involves your house name, house number, Cross Street number, Main Street Number, Layout, Stage, Near some landmark, Block and lastly Area name- as is the case with most Indian addresses- you are in for a small problem! And it is really amazing how I have learned, over the years, to express words in much smaller forms without failing to convey its intended meaning!
Getting back to ground reality, more and more people are having GPS in their cars and it is available for dirt cheap prices at WALMART. But that still doesnt justify having only one street name to describe the location of your house in a mega metropolitan city. ( You might argue that the Pin code narrows it pretty well but seriously who knows about the postal code apart from the post men?) I sincerely hope I dont have to go through any circumstances involving hunting for ONE street name amidst hundreds if not thousands in a city.
Feel totally free to get fully emotional and sentimental about the American address systemand pass judgment on my assessment of it- but make sure you do that on your own blog.
All of us have our own local Iron man. He comes once a week to iron our clothes. Whether you wish to admit it or not, he forms a very integral part of our lives. Where would we be without those clean, wrinkle free, perfectly creased clothes? This blog post is a recognition and tribute to all those Iron Men/Women who have helped me get through all these years-wrinkle free and perfectly creased!
NOTE: This song is to be sung to the tune of (what else?) IRON MAN by BLACK SABBATH.
THE REAL IRON MAN
I am the REAL IRON MAN!!!
Here comes the Iron man
To iron their clothes as per plan
Pushing his cart on the road
Even if he is really bored.
Parking under a tree
He gets ready for his ironing spree
He don’t need no seat
He just makes sure of the coal’s heat
Then he collects their clothes
Back to the cart the iron man goes
And as he starts his job
He turns up his radio’s volume knob
Nobody cares for him
They just pass him by
Nobody notices him
Unless he doesn’t come by
Wrinkles have no place
They just vanish without a trace
He finds the perfect crease
Then he folds them in a breeze
He winds up his work
He smokes a cigarette as a perk
Showing no signs of rage
He now goes to collect his wage
Taking their payments
He just makes his living
Feeding his family
Next week he will be returning.
PS: Thanks to somebody for giving me the idea for this song. Unintended help is still appreciated. 🙂
The process of ANY Hindu ceremony inevitably involves waking up at least 4 hours (or in the Vatu’s case, 12 hours) before your usual wake up time. So now you know where the Vatu’s problems started. Waking up early in the morning and being expected to stay hungry for over 5 hours after waking up was not exactly high on the Vatu’s agenda. But, as with the way things were going for him, the Vatu knew better than to argue this time around. And thus started the day when the Vatu would eventually make the transition from Vatu-ism to becoming a Brahmachari.
The “ceremony” started off with the same self righteous Shastrigalu (priest) with the same 2 sidekicks continuing where they left off with the “Pleasing of the Gods”. This time, the GOD referred to a small fire or HOMA as it is called in Hindu circles. The ceremony immediately ensuing the Vatu’s awakening (from sleep that is, not the spiritual thing) involved pouring miniature amounts of ghee and oil onto the fire every time the Shastrigalu ended a sequence of necessarily undecipherable sounds with a prominent and loud “SWAAHA!”, at which point even his 2 sidekicks would join in with a loud “SWAAHA!” of their own. Three very distinct things seem to take place with the sidekicks every time they joined in with their own loud “SWAAHA!”.
- It appeared that saying “SWAAHA!” was as close to exciting as they ever got.
- Their lives seemed to get some meaning and purpose every time they chanted SWAAHA!
- Their self esteem seemed to undergo a delta increment, which I believe was a direct consequence of 2.
But now back to the Vatu. The Vatu was also expected to undergo the process of Mathrubhojana, which loosely translates to “dining with your mother.” This happens to be an event wherein the Vatu and his mother are expected to have their breakfast served on the same banana leaf. Also, the Vatu is to be actually “fed” by his mother with her bare hands. The idea behind this process, I believe, lies in implying that this is going to be the last meal that the Vatu (child) shares with his mother. The Vatu did eventually agree to undergo this seemingly ridiculous procedure, largely due to his hunger breaking tolerable levels.
Now there is one aspect of a thread ceremony that every single guy wishes to avoid. This is the shaving of the head. In olden days, this involved shaving the entire head except for a small round patch of hair at the very top and centre of the head that was to be left untouched. This would render a half-ponytail kind of a look to the Vatu. However, with the passage of time and the demands of modern society and the preferences of young boys of this age, this criteria was relaxed to just a few strands of hair taken from right above the forehead in such a way that it is hard to spot anything out of place. My own thread ceremony involved this and so did the two previously mention dudes’ and most of the other boys in the family. At this point, it is relevant to reveal some more facts about the Vatu.
The Vatu is widely acknowledged in the family to possess hair of the highest quality. And the Vatu likes his hair. He totally despises people meddling with his hair in any form, including just running their fingers through his hair. The Vatu also delays visiting the barber shop because he likes to keep his hair (it is also sometimes attributed to the Vatu’s inherent laziness).
The Vatu was then promptly asked by the self righteous priest to shave his entire head for the half-ponytail look.
Practically the entire congregation present there went WTF??!!??!? The Vatu just presumed that the priest is only suggesting the option of reverting back to the practices of olden days, as a show of good faith. And hence, quite a few of the family members spoke to the priest (whose self-righteousness level had increased significantly) to convey the fact that it is not a practical suggestion as the Vatu is likely to travel around. But much to the surprise of all the family members advocating the loss of fewer strands of hair, the priest just refused to budge from his initially stated position. At this point, more family members began to join the cause for loss of lesser hair while some sadistic and hypocritical aunts simultaneously teamed up to counter it. Their argument was essentially based around the age old “we-should-not-give-up-our-customs-and-traditions-even-if-they-don’t-mean-shit-today” diatribe. But amidst all the shoutings and counter-shoutings of family members of the female kind, the Vatu just went even more WTF??!?? The reason? The self-righteous priest with a pronounced smug, had just resorted to direct and open blackmail about his preferences! He had simply declared that unless the Vatu shaves his head fully with just a half pony tail dangling from the centre of his skull, he the priest would stop the ceremony and just leave!
Yes now even you, the reader, can go WTF??!!??
So as you could have expected, the Vatu did end up having his head shaved and did have a small patch of hair on the top of his skull with some hair dangling around more than the others. This seemed to feed the priest’s ego and arrogance as he continued to direct the proceedings with more vigor and attitude. ( Of course, all this time, the sidekicks were just fantasizing the day when they would be in a position to make someone lose more hair just by blackmail!)
However, the remarkable redundancy the priest seemed so keen to exhibit did not end there. He took the Vatu on a trip to show him the sun. That’s right. He helped the Vatu to spot the sun on a cloudless day at 11 in the morning! (Go Figure). The priest “explained” that the Sun contained GODS and so it was important to look at the sun during an auspicious event like a thread ceremony. This was later followed by the priest ‘educating’ the Vatu about the relevance and importance of chanting the Gayatri Mantra. This essentially included a story about how a small boy was able to make an idol of a Goddess move from one place to another just by talking to it while old priests couldn’t do it themselves (the explanation being that the small boy used to chant the said mantra a lot). However, the issue of why the Vatu would ever be interested in moving the idol of a Goddess in the first place was never raised.
Coming back to the ceremony itself, after donning the sacred thread, it was now time for the “enlightenment” of the Vatu by revealing the sacred Gayatri Mantra to him. The Vatu’s father was expected to do the honors with the priest guiding him (read directing him) all the way. The actual revelation process involved making the Vatu sit on top of his father’s lap while his father whispered the erstwhile mantra in his ear! And as the Mantra was being revealed to the Vatu, all the “guests”, who had so far been involved in intellectually stimulating activities such as passing comments and judgments on people they meet only on such occasions, were called into action and they promptly obliged by throwing yellow powder-flavored raw rice grains (also known as Akshathe) at the Vatu with purposeful missile throwing actions. Of course, the Vatu was no more a Vatu as he had stepped up a rung on the Brahminical ladder and was now officially declared a Brahmachari (celibate till marriage).
YAY! I guess…..
Of course the end of the Upanayana only meant the end of the Upanayana. It did NOT imply the end of the pursuit of redundant practices. And so the Brahmachari found himself in front of a large banana leaf meal, expected to finish every bit of it after having gone through the pre-meal ritual of water-sprinkling and food donation to God (Go Figure). Surrounding him were fellow Brahmacharis including the dude who felt at home donning the Adige Bhatru (Cooks’) Uniform and carrying out their activities. The first meal the Brahmachari has must be in the company of fellow Brahmacharis of the family and Yours Truly was expected to be one of them. But rest assured, all precautionary measures were taken for my notable absence during the lunch ceremony.
And finally, the Vatu-turned-Brahmachari found himself done with all the inane rituals and simply ‘escaped’ to his home nearby. But alas, his father who spotted his son’s absence and MY presence, gave me the ultimatum to drag his son back to the ritual arena- if it came to that- as some of his office colleagues had decided to show up exactly at the lunch time. And so I found myself convincing my cousin to show up back at the ritual arena, which thankfully he did oblige, thus saving me a possible tricky situation to cope with.
More random family introductions followed for the Brahmachari with most of the conversations following the following pattern:
Brahmachari’s Father (extremely excited): This is my <insert random family relation position> who shows up only on occasions like these.
Random Relative: Do you remember me? I had seen you last at your naming ceremony or <insert other random relative>’s marriage! You were so small then! Look at you now! All grown up and all!!
Brahmachari (thinking and faking a smile): Somebody please put me out of my misery…
Eventually, the Brahmachari found his way back to his house for a much deserved break, courtesy a bike ride from Yours Truly. After some insightful conversation into the working of the hindu practices amongst ourselves, the Brahmachari’s father came home with more of his colleagues who had showed up a little later. After more random introductions, there was an uneasy silence that was hanging in the room when the Brahmachari’s father decided to introduce me in the following way:
“This is Akshay. He is….errr….umm….err…..” “I am the Brahmachari’s cousin” I finished. The father continued “He is doing his Masters in States!” I gave a Hello smile to everyone present there who returned the gesture. But then one person decided to go further and make an ass out of himself. Out of nowhere, he quipped “So you are with Samsung is it?” Well first I couldn’t figure out what he was trying to convey but then I realized the true WTFness involved. You see, I, being a hardcore Chelsea supporter, was wearing a Chelsea jersey which as you may know carries the logo of SAMSUNG in the front and the number 8 and the name Lampard at the back. And this douchebag kinda presumed that I was somehow “with Samsung”. I immediately clarified saying “No no this is just a Football jersey. I am still studying” which I believe he never really quite understood.
But perhaps, the most remarkable piece of conversation that took place during the entire thread ceremony was between the Brahmachari and his father towards the fag end of the day when almost everyone had left. This conversation perfectly epitomizes the present state of the stereotypical Indian nuclear family with regard to keeping in touch with other family members. The Brahmachari’s father came rushing into the door with a clear purpose in mind and appeared to be in no mood to be disobeyed. He found the Brahmachari and immediately instructed, “Come down now itself. X is waiting for you!”
Brahmachari: (WTF???!??) Who is X?
Father: X is Son of Y.
Brahmachari: (WTF???!???!!) Who is Y?
Father: Y is my <Insert Generally unknown Kannada Family Relation Terminology> who you get to meet only on occasions like these! Now come down and meet X.
Brahmachari (thinking): WTF??!!??
I, of course, was just left speechless! But more was to come from the stereotypical Hindu religious ceremony. My cousin and I later learnt that there had been an altercation between the Adige Bhatru (cooks) and the organizers of the ceremony regarding the (lack of) quality of the lunch and breakfast. And the altercation had apparently taken on the physical component as well with one of the organizing committee members (read random short tempered relative) (almost) slapping one of the cooks for bad mouthing the Brahmachari’s father! This having taken place at the ritual arena, both my cousin and I missed watching it first hand and regretted not having spent more time at the arena.
Random Observation: There was this one 50-odd year old dude who (I had never seen in my life before) just showed up at the ritual arena, looked around, sat for a while, ate lunch and then promptly left! So to put it in the cliched form, He Came, He Ate, He Left! The surprising aspect was that apparently this dude was actually invited!
And thus ended my encounters with a typical Hindu religious ceremony. 2 days where I witnessed the most inane and redundant of what Hinduism has to offer in terms of practices and customs. 2 days when I saw how judgmental and hypocritical relatives tend to be. 2 days when I met some of the most awesome characters my family has to offer (including and especially the two recurring dudes). And as far as the Brahmachari is concerned, well, it took him all of 2 days to pay a visit to the barber and have his half pony tail shaved off, thus revealing a uniformly bald skull. And it was also later revealed that the Brahmachari had initially made a deal with his parents that he would obey them completely for a duration of 4 days for which they would have to give him whatever he may ask for. Last I heard, the Quid Pro Quo was still yet to be determined.