Nov 13, 2009

The Report Card Psyche

My mum is one of the smartest people I know. No, I’m not just saying it. She really is. She went to one of the best medical schools in India and is an amazing doctor. All through school and uni, she had the best grades possible. She started learning Spanish for fun a few years ago and did really well in her class and went on to the Advanced level. She knows so much about so many different things (mainly because she’s a voracious reader).

The reason I bring this up is because my parents recently moved to the UAE and mum can’t practice there until she passes these mandatory exams. She took one shot at them last month but she failed and ever since she has been down in the dumps. She keeps telling me she feels stupid because she couldn’t pass the exams. I tried telling her that it’s not so easy… yes of course she has been a doctor for over 20 years now but studying for exams is a completely different ball game. She said she felt like she was giving her med school exams again and I’m more than sure that wasn’t easy the first time around.

Anyway, what struck me is the dip in my mum’s self confidence. She’s a very confident and positive person so this surprised me even more. I realised then that no matter how old you are, academic success will to some extent always be tied with self worth. 

Considering how competitive the Indian education system and the employment scene is, I’m sure this psyche is stronger for Indians than others. Nonetheless, I’m sure every kid who goes to school in any part of the world is told they better get good grades or they’re not going to “make it”. History has shown us that people without good report cards have in fact “made it” but since this is usually the exception to the rule, academic excellence is still regarded as the only way to have a happy and successful career/life. As a result, failure to do well academically, depresses the average person because we feel like we’re no good and our life and other non-academic dreams aren’t worth anything. 

Good grades are important to me too but I have been lucky enough to be brought up by rational parents who didn’t threaten to feed my dinner to the dog if I didn’t get an A in chemistry. No I never got an A in chemistry, and although I would feel bummed every time I saw my chemistry grades, I moved on. What worries me is that some kids have their entire being wrapped up in the grades they get (or don’t get). For many of these kids, feeling down and dejected is not a momentary lapse of reason but it is the only way they know how to feel if they do badly in the academic field. Of course, not all children with this psyche are brilliant so some of them continue to do badly and sadly, they will forever feel inferior and less worthy than those who consistently produce A grade (literally) report cards. It doesn’t have to be this way but unfortunately that’s how the world is.

I am not discounting the importance of education and academic excellence… but we need to achieve some sort of balance. It is important to teach kids the importance of doing well in school BUT it is also important to help them understand that they are not failures if they don’t do well. It’s a tough lesson to impart but it’s not impossible. I just wish a person’s self worth and self esteem wouldn’t be tied to their ability (or lack thereof) to do well in school because from the way I look at it, for some people… it’s a lifetime in chains they never quite break free of.

Nov 12, 2009

Run Forrest Run!

I went for a run yesterday.
It was painfully obvious to me how unfit I am.

I’ve been going to the gym on and off for some time now but I don’t really take it as seriously as I should. More than losing weight, I decided to go to the gym to stop being so sedentary and get a little fit. But I fell in love with weights…and started doing lesser cardio. Stupid. Totally defeats the purpose. I look toned but don’t feel that fit at all.

Anyway, so a friend of mine wanted to rollerblade at this new park near my place and I thought I’d give her company. Since I don’t own rollerblades, I figured I’d try running. Needless to say, I was out of breath soon enough and didn’t really run for too long.

But, I actually loved it. Running near the water was really nice and it’s way less boring than a treadmill. I’m in pain today but I want to keep doing it so I get better at it. My sister has been telling me how addictive it is and after just one day of running, I can see what she meant. I loved the fresh air.

When I first started going to the gym, I was very conscious about myself and my body even though I’m not really fat. My gym has a ladies only area and I refused to work out anywhere but there. But after a few months, I became less conscious and would work out in the common area to gain some more confidence. Yes, its weird and I know I’m not that important but I honestly did feel like everyone was looking at me (like they don’t have better things to do). Plus, my gym is in the same building as work so everyone from work goes there and I felt like they would see how unfit I am and laugh at me. In fact, the reason I didn’t go to a gym for a long time is because I was so conscious.

Anyway, I am much better now and therefore more confident about running and not worrying about other runners laughing at me. It’s a big thing for me to have gotten past that. I will stop a million times to catch my breath. I will huff and puff. But at least I’ll be running and not sitting at home making false promises to myself. :)

Going running today after work. Alone this time, with no rollerblader in tow. Looking forward to it.

Nov 10, 2009

Reviewing ‘Unaccustomed Earth’

Note: No spoilers. I have tried to review this book without giving away any story lines or plots so even if you haven’t read the book, don’t worry I won’t spoil it for you.

It’s been a while since I read a book I found hard to put down. I mean, I read a lot… I’m always reading more than one book at a time. Some books I keep reading because I simply want to know what happens next but there is no real urgency; some I keep reading because I like the book but it’s not hard to put down or anything; some I keep reading only because I started it and can’t bear an unfinished story and then there are those I keep reading because I can’t bear to put it down and as much as I want to know what happens at the end, I keep wishing the book doesn’t finish because it’s so good. Jhumpa Lahiri’s ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ fell into the last of these “keep reading” categories… so not surprisingly, I finished the book in 2 days.

I have neither loved nor hated Jhumpa Lahiri before this. I honestly can’t remember much of ‘The Interpreter of Maladies’ so I’ll leave it out of this discussion. I read ‘The Namesake’ long after it came out and had heard rave reviews from friends and family. Despite these or maybe because of these reviews, 'The Namesake' failed to live up to my high expectations. Coming from a Bengali Indian background like the characters in the book, I think most of my family and friends liked it because the book was about Bengali characters more than anything else. I liked it but I didn’t think it was all that fantastic. In fact, I liked the movie more… may be because the actors did such a great job.

‘Unaccustomed Earth’ however has been a different experience. It is a collection of short stories about the Bengali immigrant’s life in USA. I love the name – in two simple words, Lahiri explains her book – a book about living and growing up in a culture that you adopt, but somehow doesn’t become your own. The book is depressing, no doubt but it is very real too. I love how the author concentrates on various human characteristics and traits in each of her short stories. Some of them are very typically Bengali, some characteristic of most Indians while some others more universally human.

My immigrant experience has been very different from the characters described in the book… for many reasons, some of them being:

a) I am a first generation immigrant of the 21st century… the characters are a generation or two ahead of me. Many of them suffer the identity crisis second generation immigrants do.
b) I don’t live in the USA… Bengalis haven’t adopted Australia (yet) the way they have USA & UK.
c) I don’t limit my social interaction to a Bengali/ Indian crowd only.
d) My upbringing hasn’t been as traditional and orthodox as of the characters.

Yet despite these differences, I can relate to these characters, not just because they are Bengali, but also because they are immigrants.  I miss India but I don’t think I could go back to living there. I love being in Australia but there IS a reason I call myself a Legal Alien ;-). Therefore on some level, I can identify with the characters a little.

I love it when authors paint a vivid picture… but I love it more when they create strongly etched characters. I think what I liked most about this book is that in each of the short stories, Lahiri not only creates a beautiful picture of the surroundings, the culture and the general atmosphere the characters inhabit but also creates strong, real characters and situations that one can identify with. Usha, Hema, Kaushik, Sang, Rahul and all the rest are not just destined to live within the pages of the book – to be forgotten once the book is closed but come to life and tend to stay with you. 

When Lahiri describes the close-minded & judgmental Bengali, the loveless but respectful marriages, the haunting sense of “duty” that plagues parents and children, the head-in-the-sand approach to family problems… etc… I did find myself thinking of my own family (immediate and extended) and friends and that is what made me realise that Jhumpa Lahiri has done an amazing job of creating fictional stories to portray cultural issues that are very real and very much the norm. Through her stories, she courageously talks about various cultural issues that Bengalis (and Indians in general) prefer to brush under the carpet.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and true to form, find myself wishing there were more stories in the collection. Stories of immigration and the identity crisis that follows… what’s new you may ask? I agree it does get old if you don’t create a new twist; if you don’t tell the story from a new angle. But if you open a new window for the readers to look through, it doesn’t matter how many such stories have been told, yours still stands out from the rest. I believe the short stories in 'Unaccustomed Earth' have managed to do just that.


I took up this tag from Psych Babbler. It doesn't really have any rules except that every answer must be in one word. So here goes:

1.Where is your mobile phone? Couch

2.Your hair? Long

3.Your mother? Strong

4.Your father? Optimist

 5.Your favorite food? Indian

6.Your dream last night? None

7.Your favorite drink? Coffee

8.Your dream/goal? Happiness

9.What room are you in? Bedroom

10.Your hobby? Blogging

11.Your fear? Death

12.Where do you want to be in 6 years? Newspaper

13.Where were you last night? Home

14.Something that you aren’t? Loud

15.Muffins? Chocolate

16.Wish list item? Couch

17.Where did you grow up? Calcutta

18.Last thing you did? Gym

19.What are you wearing? Purple

20.Your TV? Sony

21.Your pets? Jingle

22.Friends? Support

23.Your life? Awesome

24.Your mood? Bored

25.Missing someone? Sis

26.Vehicle? Holden

27.Something you’re not wearing? Makeup

28.Your favourite store? QBD

29.Your favorite color? Blue

29.When was the last time you laughed? Sunday

30.Last time you cried? Friday

31.Your best friend? A

32.One place that you go to over and over? Beach

33.One person who emails me regularly? Sajani

34.Favorite place to eat? Bar-B-Q

Nov 9, 2009

The real meaning of Christmas

This is part of Challenge 24 at Blog This. This is the first time I'm participating in one of these challenges.

The Challenge:

  • What does Xmas mean to you and your family?
  • Have you got some traditions?? 
  • What will you cook?! 
  • Who will you spend it with? 
  • Got a favourite Christmas memory? 
  • How are you decorating??

Technically speaking, Christmas is not a festival I should be celebrating. You know, not being Christian and all. But I come from a land that celebrates some festival or the other every month and although religious traditions and customs are the main reason for the festivities, the end result is a getting together of the community, of friends and of family. Of course, growing up in the northern hemisphere, one of the most important ingredients of Christmas was the cold. Albeit it wasn't freezing, the slight chill in the air made Christmas what I remember it to be. The Aussie Christmas I celebrate now is of course is all about the sun and the warmth. :)

I went to an all-girls Catholic school run by Irish nuns hence learning about Christianity and secretly being indoctrinated was the norm. ;-) We painted Easter eggs, got a week off for Easter (not normal in India), got 3 weeks off for Christmas (as opposed to 10 days for other schools) and participated or watched the Nativity play being performed every single year. I enjoyed it and that was my first initiation to Christmas.

In Calcutta, India where I grew up, there lives a large community of Anglo-Indians and as a result, Christmas is very big in the city. While many Anglo Indians have branched out to other areas of the city now, the area near my school was known for its Anglo Indian residents and in the weeks leading up to Christmas, the neighbourhood would have a magical aura about it. From shopping and candy, christmas trees and tinsel, bright lights and presents - I loved the feeling of Christmas in the air.

Every year, my my parents would help us a decorate a Christmas tree and we even had a (slightly freaky looking) Santa Claus figurine. Christmas Eve is a night for parties and as children we would look forward to it, as my parents would be out for the night leaving us children (my cousins, my sister and me) at home to have our own little party. Those are my first memories of Christmas. We would wake up on Christmas day to the excitement of presents under our pillows from Santa Claus. Yes, I loved Christmas.

In the evening, my parents would take my sister me out to see the beautiful lights that lit up the city on Christmas day. Traffic was terrible and a journey that would usually take about 30 minutes, took 1 hour and 30 minutes but I never remember my father complaining about the drive. It's a tradition we carried out every year until I left home.

Growing up meant my cousins and sister started heading out to their Christmas Eve parties. Somehow I never ended up going to those. But what I did enjoy more is heading out for Midnight Mass one year with my family with my mum being the most enthusiastic and even helping us sneak into the church from a side entrance even though we were told the church was full! My school has its own church and we watched the service there. Not being particularly religious, I didn't care so much for the service but more for the warm feeling the festivities gave me. I liked watching people bow reverentially, innocently praying and seeing so many families together made me happy.

So although Christmas is not technically a festival I should have been celebrating, I did celebrate it. I loved to celebrate it with traditions my family created over the years. When I look back on Christmas today, I think of my parents and how they did the little silly things like Santa, the busy Christmas day drives, the midnight drive to the Church... just to make us happy and help us feel part of the general festivities in the air. Christmas to me is family, and I think in that sense, my family and me definitely managed to live the spirit of Christmas.

This will be my third Christmas in Australia and I will miss home, school and the memories I have of the wonderful times my family and I spent. I will miss decorating the tiny tree we had, the Christmas day drive and  my mum's penchant for Christmas cake! But, instead of living in the past, I will recreate that Christmas warmth at home this year by getting a tree, getting some presents for my boyfriend and me and simply spending time with each other the way a family should at Christmas. If I can do that this year, I think I will have had a great Christmas.

identity crisis

My bosses at work recently spoke at a fraud convention and because of the line of work they are in, they did get a lot of media attention. (excuse the vagueness, I'm still not sure if I should be talking about work in more detail). Being the writer in the company, I had to update a lot of content related to fraud and scams and though this meant a hell of a hectic week at work, I actually learnt a lot.

In specific, what I found interesting was identity theft and fraud. I remember watching a movie ages ago that dealt with ID theft and I found it strange and brushed it off as something that either happens only in the movies, or, was one of those strange things Americans had to live with. This of course was at least 8 - 10 years ago.

Anyway, so while researching for the content I was required to write for work, I realised that I could just as easily become a victim about ID theft. Apparently, in the UK, the easiest way to steal someone's identity today is by hacking into their Facebook account. We give out so much of our personal details on Facebook.. like date of birth, phone number, work details etc... so imagine how useful that info would be in the hands of a hacker/ scammer? A former ID thief has said that a date of birth and a phone number along with the person's name is all one really needs to steal someone's identity and apply for credit or open utility accounts in their name. Hmmm... guess what I did after I wrote all this content? ;)

Anyway, so maybe I was being a little paranoid but I don't care. My bosses told us about all the people they met at this fraud convention who had lost thousands of dollars due to ID theft or a scam, and though I don't have thousands of dollars to lose.. I still don't want someone else pretending to be me... I have enough of an identity crisis any way.. ;-) For once, I'm letting the paranoia get the better of me. May not be such a bad idea.

Nov 8, 2009

I'm back!

The past couple of weeks have been stressful. I've had exams, work and a lot of other things happening but I'm just glad its over. I'm working on a post for my other blog. It's taking me a while to write because I don't want it to sound like I'm just complaining but want to present a valid argument. Anyway, more on that later.

Even though I've finished exams etc... it still hasn't sunk in. I guess when I don't have to go back to uni in February, I might realise it then. Hehehe..

I have nothing interesting to report really so will stop before I ramble on unnecessarily. I do want to thank Psych Babbler however for giving me a couple of blog awards. :) As I have been so inconsistent in the blogging world, I don't really have too many blogger buddies but when I do, I will pass on these awards.