Letters to Sia: Year Two. Confessions.

  1. I have cried way too many times since you were born. More than I ever did before. Or Mom, for that matter.
  2. I have used you as an excuse to get out of social events, beg for extra chocolate-mints at Olive Garden, and cut in line at the post office.
  3. I have no idea what you say sometimes, but I smile and nod along. Mom doesn’t know.
  4. I once googled “GPS tracker for kids”.
  5. I have occasionally spent a few extra minutes hiding in the bathroom, sometimes wished you would sleep all day, and once dreaded a long weekend because the daycare was closed.
  6. I don’t think anyone else can raise you better than Mom and I can. See #5.
  7. I don’t give Mom enough credit for taking care of you the way she does. Or at least frequently enough.
  8. Whenever someone says you look just like Mom, I cry a little on the inside.
  9. I sometimes wish appadams weren’t your favorite food, just so that I get to finish the bowl.
  10. I always thought you would outsmart me by the age of 10 or 12. You counted to ten in Spanish, long before you turned two. I only know uno, dos, tres, cuatro and cinco.
  11. I deliberately say “I love you” a little too fast for you to understand, just to keep hearing you say “i laa loo”.
  12. I have been repeatedly beaten, bruised, kicked in the groin, and punched in the face. By you.
  13. I think you have gained a little weight.
  14. I am secretly plotting to turn you into a big fan of Batman, video games and zombie fiction.
  15. I spent months trying to keep the color pink out of your life.
  16. I sometimes stood outside your door, listening to you crying. When you finally fell asleep, I ran off to watch Netflix.
  17. I have – against all my will – begun to gradually enjoy shopping. For you. Don’t tell Mom.
  18. I sometimes fell asleep trying to put you to bed. Okay, several times.
  19. Once I went to work with banana smeared on my pants.
  20. ‘Butt’ was among the first 10 words you learned to say. I am responsible.
  21. I almost dropped you once. Just kidding. Twice. Actually, a lot. But I haven’t stopped throwing you into the air and catching you.
  22. You are the person I am most terrified of.
  23. And now for some shocking confessions. My apologies in advance:
    1. The moon doesn’t go to sleep.
    2. We don’t run out of cheese every third day.
    3. The iPhone is in my other pocket.
    4. Papa is not always ‘too tired’ to play. Sometimes he is just lazy.
    5. I use YouTube to entertain you more often than I like to admit.
  24. I love you a teeny-tiny bit more than I love Mom.

Bheeshma

My grandfather once warned my dad that he would shoot him if he married my mom. When they eventually eloped and called home, he simply said “Congratulations on the wedding”. To me, this defined the man for many years. He had a notoriously short temper, and a scary one at that. Yet he also had a distinguished way of showing love and kindness when the situation called for it.

He was the grand patriarch of the family – the oldest of his generation, and a deeply respected man among those who knew him, and people who hadn’t even met him. He personified dedication to a cause one believed in. He spent his entire retired life in philanthropy, and religious and community service. At 79, he frequently rode long miles on his trusty old scooter to deliver groceries to a food shelter that he helped start and run. He cured jaundice in scores of people with a strict diet of cow’s milk and an herbal pill he concocted himself at home. None of us ever recall him being sick or exhausted. He had his shortcomings, but they were all redeeming in one way or another. He watched the TV too loud, but only because he couldn’t hear too well. He swore as a younger man, but never raised his voice on children. He proudly wore the badge of his priestly caste, but he accompanied it with sparkling advice from an exotic personal collection of idioms.

He shouldered the responsibilities for raising his brother and sisters, and supporting his step-mother, distant relatives and every unrelated person who came to him for help. His wife died 25 years earlier, and yet he always had a new fond anecdote to narrate about her. He raised his two sons with tough love, and they grew up to be tough men who showered their own sons with love. He went to great lengths to keep his daughter well-nurtured and cared for, and she transformed into an astonishingly resilient and kind-hearted person. He touched the life of every person he met, and always gave them support or saintly advice. Either way, he left an indelible impression. In my case, he left many lasting memories.

I remember while I grew up in his house, he would beep his motorcycle horn every evening as he turned into the street. I would abandon my toys and run to the porch steps to lay down a long wooden plank for him to wheel his bike up the stairs into the house. I remember he used to sit in front of the TV, wearing a dhoti and an undershirt, legs crossed at the ankles, one arm propped up at the elbow, and wearing a faint smile. I would watch him, an involuntary smile forming on my own face while I did. I remember the entire house reeking of ungodly smells from his druid-quality jaundice pills. I remember he took literally hundreds of photographs of us as a hobby – every single one of them a timeless treasure. I remember my brother once asked him what the greatest form of charity was, and he launched into an hour-long discourse on the virtues of feeding the hungry. I remember he remarked that my father and I had inherited his distinguished nose – ‘the trademark of the clan’, he called it.

I remember he took me a couple of times to a psychic, who I believe hypnotized me into seeing images of Lord Hanuman in an ink stain on my thumbnail. I remember he used to scare me when I was a little boy, that a frog was going inside my legs and it would ‘hatch’ out of my chubby thigh someday soon. I also remember his headphones – the very first pair I ever saw in my life, and I remember the first song I heard on them. I remember he used to take my grandmother and me to watch some unforgettable, classic movies. I remember he used to make all the four boys sit in a circle around him on the floor at dinner time. He would put gigantic balls of rice in our palms and we would hastily gobble them up before he came back around the circle to deliver the next one. I remember he would always answer the phone with a respectful tone, “Satyanarayana speaking…”

I remember the growing distance between us, as I moved away physically and emotionally from my extended family, drawn away by the circumstances of higher education, career and simply the pursuits of youth and life. Yet the few times I said “Hello, grandpa” on the phone, he answered back “Hi, grandpa!” every single time. I remember watching all my other grandparents die one after the other a long time ago, and being constantly reminded of this man’s mortality. In a way, I remember these words forming in my mind for several years now, like a morbid draft of his obituary. I remember hoping he would get to meet his great-granddaughter, as if to scratch that item off of my self-serving to-do list. It remains un-scratched forever.

The first time he fell ill in many years was merely a few months ago. His physical build and his endearing appetite were the first victims of the deadly disease. In the 17 days after his diagnosis, he slowly lost his strength, smile, the booming voice, and eventually his will to endure. But he never lost his mind. Even on the day before the end, he worried about the responsibilities my father and uncle would have to shoulder after he was gone. He politely endured the well-meaning, but increasingly depressing visits from all his relatives, near and distant – all falling over each other to get one last look at him. He became irritable and frustrated with all the pain he had to bear, but he never showed it to anyone who didn’t unconditionally love him.

The Mahabharata tells the story of the grand patriarch Bheeshma – he laid on a bed of arrows for days until the end of the Great Battle of Kurukshetra. He then literally willed Deliverance upon himself, surrounded by his kin. My grandfather endured everything that the cancer could throw at him while his family prayed for his relief, and eventually went to sleep in the loving arms of his three children.

Language fails us at the most unfortunate times, especially when it is desperately summoned. The job of a eulogist is to condense an entire human being and his life – all the memories, quirks, characteristics and events – into a single page. These pitiful lines do no justice to the man who was my father’s father. He was truly grand in several ways, at least to me. I have no pretenses about our relationship. I was not his favorite grandson, and neither was he my favorite grandparent. But I was his first, and he was my last. And that meant a lot to the both of us.

The Chivalrous Chauvinist

Earlier this week, I had to travel to Baltimore from Washington, D.C. (about an hour’s drive), where the missus would pick me up later and we would drive back home together. The original plan was for me to take the car, because I had to make it in time for an early appointment. She would reach later via public transportation: a bus, 4 trains and a couple of medium-distance walks.

I vehemently refused and insisted she take the car instead. And I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it, and about the kind of person that made me.

The missus lived in this country three years longer than I did. She came here on her own, with nobody to give advice, or even directions to the university. She found her way to the bus stop, classrooms, local train stations, her evening workplace, apartment for rent and grocery stores. She figured out how to get a social security number, apply for a telephone line, pay bills, write her thesis and go to the laundromat. She found her first job, bought a car to commute and then learned to drive it. All by herself.

At least three people I know came into the country after she did, but we all had her to show us around and teach us the ways of the new world. She taught all of us to drive, open a bank account, and look up the bus schedule online. I came here on a dependent visa because she was the breadwinner with a job.

And now, four years later, I drive us everywhere, but she still knows the best routes to avoid traffic. I fish out my wallet every time we eat or buy, but she is the one who does the taxes and knows the outstanding balance on each credit card. I pick the restaurant, and she’s the one who knows how much sodium goes into each ingredient. (Answer: too much).

I stay home sick, and she juggles work, daycare, feeding-bathing-diapering the little one, laundry, cooking and cleaning – all in a single day.

And yet I find it hard to let her take a bus at 8:30am, switch a few trains, and walk a few blocks in downtown Baltimore in broad daylight. I still can’t figure out if I’m treating her like a Lady, or as a Woman.

There’s a world of difference between the two, and that’s the problem.

Batman No More: A True Story

The room was dark except for the bleak glow from outdoors, sneaking in through the curtains. He knew the room quite well, but had never really observed his surroundings before, especially in this alien light. He had all the time in the world now to take it all in, as he lay waiting in the shadows.

10:09 PM. The clock ticked away on the wall, almost too loud for the absolute silence around it. He could see the faint outlines of the pictures on the wall, the smiling faces in them eerie and unsettling. The people in those pictures intended to be appreciated and adored in the warmth of daylight, not stared at this other-worldly bluish glow. He stared at them for lack of anything else to do with his time. Waiting was his primary objective at this point. Waiting for the right moment. And it was finally here.

He had settled himself into a state of complete relaxation. It was an important part of the wait. Perhaps the most important part. Now he had to practically summon his muscles to wakefulness, but without moving the tiniest bit. It took a while before his body was fully alert and ready to spring on command. The transformation was completely oblivious to his immediate surroundings. It was a valuable skill he had developed all by himself over several hundred nights of training.

The first step was the most dangerous part of the whole plan. The slightest miscalculation would certainly set him back by several valuable hours and possibly put the entire mission at risk. He could not afford to repeat that failure. Pretty soon he would be too old for these missions and he was fully aware of it. If his body didn’t give up first, his family would certainly see to it that he was no longer fit to do this. They never protested what he did, and they never really knew what really happened on the missions. But he could see it in their hearts that they weren’t completely on board with his night-time adventures.

10:23 PM. It was time to set things in motion. Still unmoving, he scanned the room one last time to visualize his escape. He almost had it down to a science – every single step, the angle of his foot-fall, the pressure on his feet. He had memorized the ‘creakiness’ of nearly every floorboard. With extreme caution, he began shifting from his position at a near-glacial pace. His environment was highly sensitive to the slightest change in pressure – something he learned from several failed attempts in the past. Every few seconds he would pause, observe with all his senses on high alert, recalibrate and start moving again. He began sweating from the effort, a new dangerous ingredient in this game.

When he finally broke his left arm free, he began looking for objects he could use to speed up his escape. A cushion! Not the ideal candidate for a switch-and-bait, but he could definitely work with it. After a few tense minutes, his legs were free as well. So far, so good. And now was the time to free his right arm, pinned down in the most impossible manner. This is where the cushion could come in useful. Over the next half hour, he carefully wedged his arm out while replacing it with the cushion. He knew it wouldn’t really compensate for the texture and density of his body, but if he was lucky he just might be able to make a break for it.

After what seemed like an eternity, he was physically free to move about. The next step was quite unlike the first – he had to be quicker than he ever was in his life. With feline skill, he dropped to the floor on all fours without making so much as a soft thud. Brilliant work! He was farther along than he ever got in the last few weeks, but he knew freedom has not been won yet. He slowly stood up, took a silent step towards the door and heard a loud crack.

DAMN! Was this a new floorboard, or one he missed before? How could he have, for all those past months? He waited for the inevitable shrill, painful sound of failure, but it never came. The clock ticked on incessantly. The night was still his, after all. He cautiously stepped towards the door, careful not to repeat his last mistake. Or any of his mistakes from the past few weeks. It was like a deadly version of a lab experiment with a mouse in a maze. The mouse would make it out this time. He owed it to himself.

The thought of liberty was too distracting to the task at hand. He forced himself to concentrate, carefully edged his way across the room and finally reached the door. He put his hand around the knob and turned around one last time before he left, to look at the only other occupant in the room. His captor.

The sweat on his skin cooled off rapidly, perhaps from the temperature outside, or from the rush of adrenaline. He felt lighter with each step as he made his way downstairs, still trying to avoid making a sound. He could now afford the luxury of carelessness. He had planted a bug in the room, and he held the listening device. He finally reached the place he was trying to find for weeks. And sitting there in plain sight was the disk. He smiled at how light it felt in his hand, and how he nearly broke his back trying to get a hold of it. Breathing freely now, he first got himself a drink of water, popped the disk into a player and turned on the listening device for his bug. Silence.

11:17 PM. He knew the mission was a failure even before it began: the listening device cracked to life just as the words “Batman: Arkham City” appeared on the screen. A shriek pierced through the night, paralyzing his body and mind. WAAAAHH!! He turned off the baby monitor, switched off his Xbox, and silently walked up the stairs with a bottle of milk. Not tonight, Batman.

Facebook

Types of Facebook friends, in decreasing order of preference:
  • Spouse/Partner
  • Kids
  • Siblings
  • BFFs
  • Close friends
  • Parents (*groan* and yes, i do see #2 up there)
  • Cousins
  • Aunts and uncles (seriously, why?)
  • Random relatives (who are you again?)
  • Crushes
  • Exes
  • Not-so-close friends
  • Acquaintances, but not really “friends”
  • Virtually unknown friends
  • Colleagues
  • Former colleagues
  • LinkedIn contacts
  • People you don’t know but accepted the friend request just to avoid coming off as rude (good excuse for explaining all those exes)
  • People who imported all of their Gmail contacts (somebody yank their Broadband cable off, please!)
  • People who you friended because you liked their profile pic (read: good-looking women)
  • Acquaintances who share mutual friends with you
  • Strangers who share mutual friends with you
  • People who share/like your pics/posts that your friends shared/liked
  • Complete strangers
  • People you forgot even existed
  • People you don’t ever remember meeting or knowing
  • People you friended but actually hate in real life
  • People who you would wish a zombie herd upon
  • People who never speak a word to you in person but send invitations to play games/apps
  • Stalkers and trolls
  • People you unfriended because of annoying topics/frequency of posts
  • People you unfriended because of INCESSANT sharing of a specific kind of posts (see below):
    • Sai Baba’s blessings of the day
    • I’m a proud Indian
    • Switzerland Tourism Official Facebook Page
    • Auto World
    • Love from Hallmark
    • Like if you love your mother/brother/maternal aunt/neighbor/principal’s daughter/etc
    • Fathers’ Day, Women’s Day, Brothers’ Week, Second Cousins Day, Godparents Week, Hot Neighbor Month, etc.
    • Cute cats and cute (unknown) babies
    • Official Hrithik Fan Page, Anushka Hot Forever, Shakira (Unofficial)
    • Click Like and then see for yourself this amazing trick!
    • If you have a soul, please share this picture of a malnourished kid with at least 7 people in the next 1 hour
    • Did you know that Pepsi can dissolve a car in a month? and other hoaxes
    • Regional languages and hieroglyphics (Facebook is English medium!)
    • 35 minute cellphone footage with grainy video and aviation-standard decibels and simply say ‘MUST WATCH!!’ or ‘THIS WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE MORE DRASTICALLY THAN YOUR MOTHER, EDUCATOR OR AA SPONSOR EVER COULD!!!!!!!’
That being said, without FB I wouldn’t be able to

  • Remember most of my friends’ birthdays (and some faces)
  • See amazing sights from all the exotic places they visit
  • Keep in touch with at least half a dozen people a week without making a single phone call and without getting off the toilet seat (TMI?)
  • Steer clear of emotional blackmail from comments like “you’ve forgotten us!” or “share some pictures of your baby with me too!” with minimal effort. Select > Upload > Share. Done!
  • Witness surprisingly great sense of humor from a few seemingly unassuming people
  • Share, offer, and (God forbid) ask for guaranteed help when someone is in desperate need of a roommate, advisor, guide, foreign city/country host, or even a blood/organ/bone marrow donor
  • Share this kind of insane brain-crap with you

Status update: theishu is in a love/hate relationship with Facebook.

Like. Comment.

Satisfaction Index

Satisfaction IndexHere’s a valuable life lesson: print the graphic you see here and put it up on your desk or fridge or the wall facing your toilet. This is what your future looks like. Here’s how it works:

Do you see the cute little ‘O’ standing at the corner of Satisfaction and Time? That’s when you will start something new in your life – something small, most likely. As with everything new, your satisfaction levels will jump up like a kitten on a trampoline until you get used to this new adventure. That’s when you reach A. Here the satisfaction levels are pretty much constant. Maybe they even drop a little before they flat-line for a couple of years. Your new stuff no longer occupies all of your waking thoughts, but it does make your life a bit more comfortable than you were used to.

Meet the turning point, X. This is where you see something better come along. While this ‘better’ something occupies your mind and turns it into an obsessive freak, your satisfaction levels slowly fade away to nothing until you finally acquire the ‘better’ something. Let’s call it an upgrade, B. The story repeats now: satisfaction skyrockets and then stays constant (C). And all is well for a few years.

One fine day you will arrive at another turning point. I call it the Point of No Return. By upgrading, you pretty much neutered your chances of ever getting something even better, because you blew your money (or your last chance) by going for B. So after point Y, you will kick yourself in the buns, screaming “Why? Why couldn’t I have waited a little while longer?” Needless to say, satisfaction crumbles dramatically until you find yourself in despair until the end of time.

Feel free to apply this proven and tested, doctor-recommended, NASA-certified formula to any part of your life. Apple devices, digital cameras, cars, career choices, tattoos and hairstyles are some examples I would suggest. Girlfriends and kids are not. Imaginary girlfriends: acceptable. Here are some of my own examples.

Satisfaction Index - HomeSatisfaction Index - TVSatisfaction Index - Gadgets

Note to aspiring thieves: All electronic devices, expensive equipment, property values mentioned in this article are fictitious and bear no resemblance to any real-life possessions whatsoever. Any chance encounter where you may witness me in possession of any of the aforementioned objects is purely coincidental. Also please note that as of last week, I have moved to Tokyo with all of my imaginary, expensive belongings.

Mind Tech

This is a weird train of thought. You have been warned.

What do Inception, Terminator, Minority Report and Total Recall have in common? They all involve different forms of awesome and futuristic technology that plays with the mind: shared dreaming / hypnosis, Artificial Intelligence, pre-cognition and memory implants respectively. I find that some of the most interesting sci-fi plots (outside of aliens, dinosaurs and fem-bots) are those involving the mind. And I just discovered a big, fat void in the sci-fi plot universe!

Mind-reading as a concept has been around for a really long time (think psychics). For some strange, unknown reason, it has been largely ignored by the elites of Hollywoodland. Granted when I give it a cheap, abused name like ‘mind reading’, grand plot devices and complex science are not really the first things that come to mind. However it’s the one concept that’s closer to reality than all the ideas mentioned above.

While you and I have been watching Gangnam Style parodies on YouTube, some brilliant geek gods were creating unbelievable things. Stuff that we only fantasized about while sitting on the toilet (before the Holy iPad arrived, obviously).

These things are no longer the potential; they have already been realized, commercialized and now advertised. For instance, you can buy some of this stuff right now for less than $100 (that’s the closest I’ll ever get to sounding like an infomercial, I promise).

So what’s the new ‘potential’ now? What’s the stuff that the geek gods fantasize about today? You know, apart from schematics for several anatomically correct android girlfriends. A couple of years ago, I read a New York Times article about an ongoing attempt to ‘photograph’ a passing thought.  (I know I’m breaking a cardinal rule of the Internet here: “Pic, or it didn’t happen”, but I really couldn’t find that article anymore. Thanks for nothing, Internet!)

Imagine the possibilities once you can actually start ‘reading’ minds – capturing the words, images and thoughts happening inside someone’s head. Here are some applications I could think of, ranging from the closest to the farthest from potentially seeing the light of day:

- Psychology: therapeutic peeping into someone’s mind, reading dreams (ok, I’m getting into psychic turf again), behavioral therapy, possibly crime-prevention too.

- Thought recording: the ultimate form of data storage, and maybe even transfer from one person to another!

- Individually customized entertainment with awesomely rich ‘brain media’ experiences: think video games, movies, new forms of art and music. And why not? My favorite video game maker Valve is already working on an Augmented Reality console, so I bet someone is already thinking of this (Hire me, whoever you are!)

And now we’re getting into the really crazy stuff. You were warned and you’re still here, so this one is totally on you.

- Haven’t you always wondered what your pet thinks? Does your dog see you as a giant body-pillow? Is your cat secretly plotting to kill you?

- Ooh, babies! I know I’m not alone when I say I’ve always wanted to know what a baby is thinking. No verbal skills, no understanding of the physical world – Dear God, what is happening inside that tiny, hairless head while she stares at you, simultaneously pooping her pants?

- One day someone figure out a way to read the mind of a ‘foetus’ or that of a dying person. Oh, the possibilities!

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Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic – Sir Arthur C. Clarke

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