Revisits

Hello blog! I haven’t seen you for the entirety of the first month of summer. So let me recap what happened to me this summer.

Things changed enormously. My  internship at an insanely cool start-up didn’t work out. My parents, as I discovered, developed a borderline paranoia about my health because of my cringe-inducing eating habits. Summer school has proven to be not only too expensive but also a drain on my time. This means that after a long time I am literally sitting at home with figuratively nothing to do.

Home is currently Delaware, a painfully stark contrast to the noise and bustle of the Big Apple. So besides shopping and eating, and spending hours and hours on Facebook wondering why everyone else was having the time of their life either in the sun or at a fancy job, you would think that I had become a potato altogether.

Surprisingly not.

Things I've been doing for the summer: The Cloisters, The Barnes Foundation, The Franklin Institute, Nigerian Food, My mother's harmonium, a sari that I was gifted and my currency collection

Things I’ve been doing for the summer: The Cloisters, The Barnes Foundation, The Franklin Institute, Nigerian Food, My mother’s harmonium, a sari that I was gifted and my currency collection

I am finally reunited with my family after nearly two years. I completed one of my hardest research projects and received an A. I visited some fancy museums in Philadelphia. I even squeezed in a visit to New York, where I met with my best friend whom I have known for a decade. I have felt satisfied with my life and now that my parents are strictly monitoring my intake of food, I feel less tired and more capable of accomplishing things. Would this perhaps be good enough for a holiday?

The time and space have given me avenues to discover other interests as well. My need for exploring and creating graphics has led me on to discover the world of Processing.js and other ways to socially communicate my interest. My studies into Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language Processing are teaching me concepts that are forcing me to think differently. I’ve even signed up for two online courses in writing and Machine Learning.

More importantly, I’ve realized that contemplating myself in terms of my still-growing introspection is like staring into a mirror when I could get out and about into the world and finally make my own game , and programming/design dreams happen.

Impressions

In less than four days I will go back. The terror of the library that haunts my days and my nights will be waiting, gates open wide, temperatures between lounge and reading rooms that are too differential to be comfortable. It’s a place that smells of the forgotten assignments and last minute deadlines and silent frustration. It’s a place that is so obviously drenched with coffee and productivity that several glossy eyes are simply scanning off Facebook and online stores.

Boulevard of Anticipated Dreams. Image credits: http://en.wikipedia.org/

Boulevard of Anticipated Dreams. Image credits: http://en.wikipedia.org/

I will struggle to find a place near a socket. Always, always I’m in the crazy hut for a socket because my soul has now been embedded into these electronic devices that I carry around, and I know that if I should simply disappear these metal beings will live on to portray the oddity that I am and was.

Some philosopher who chooses not to study in libraries because they represent the many shattered dreams of prospective weekend nights will tell me that the suppressed silence is too stressful to get work done. Indeed, we all have our excuses for why and why not the library, which is a standing testament to generations of knowledge should be regarded simultaneously as a haven and as a perpetual state of coma.

I love sitting by the windows watching when it rains and it comforts me immensely that I am surrounded by the warmth of knowledge collected over so many years and people who are struggling through the same, if not equivalent, journeys as I am. I will revel in the simple joy of being warm and indoors when I will check my phone for the temperature outside and let that Google-data-induced number induce a shiver under my many layers of sweaters.

Confessions of a self-declared pluviophile. Image credits:http://www.caminodesantiago.me/rain-gear-recommendations/

Confessions of a self-declared pluviophile. Image credits:http://www.caminodesantiago.me/rain-gear-recommendations/

I will be going back to the city. Except for the library, where there is still the rustle of paper, the vibrating phones and the ghostly glow of battery-drained laptops, there is a perpetual noise that screeches through all other aspects of life. There are so many opinions, jokes, conversations, protests and complaints against that background of the noisy wind, milieu of pedestrian footsteps and shadows of vehicles in perpetual motion. There will always be something open in this city that doesn’t sleep. The old neon lights will be replaced and I might find myself in a restaurant which will close after nearly 30 years because it is simply not sustainable. I will then have to find a new place where I can derive the same comfort, for that is what I’m searching for in all this noise and solitude.

Sometimes when it rains and if I am outside, I will pause and think back to all the different places I have experienced the unadulterated joy of the rain. The soft persistent drizzle in New York that creates an odd glow as it pushes against the eternally mobile tide of people. The afternoons in Bangalore where I would watch children running free, ruining their shoes and school uniforms by skipping across puddles and wait till the next morning when the paint from the walls would have run. In the distance I hear the clamor of everyone trying to board the local express to Howrah, and I would watch the few beggars huddle in the shade of the platform station watching the torrent wash down in merciless waves. It’s a testament to the worn-out Konnagar station sign that it does not crumble.

Tri-lingualism and drier weather. Image credits:http://static.panoramio.com/photos/original/46392735

Tri-lingualism and drier weather. Image credits:http://static.panoramio.com/photos/original/46392735

I will go back to the life of New York, and sometimes I will feel the deep, unexplained wonder of the beauty that it is. Silently I will concur with every other person who has been charmed with New York and I will also paradoxically agree with the many who hate it.The noise, the metallic grime and the insomnia is not for everyone. I will go back to the life where I am so caught up in absorbing the little impressions of life around me, friends, schedules and food that I won’t relish pauses like these until I am thoroughly depressed or put-down by life. It is a shame because I have come to love my solitude so much, but I know that if I tell anyone that I am simply staring into the endless nothing of a place where everything is happening all the time, they won’t believe me. It’s not their place to believe.

So listen future me, listen to these little bits of sanity talk back to you in the mixed dialects of Bangla, English and the inimitable, classic Harlem-Bronx. Listen to the uncovered impressions of soft vowel sounds, the crisp familiarity of a language I hear almost everywhere and the on-point sass of a social demographic which insists on being heard.

This is my world and I belong here. These places own a part of me as much as I am a transient visitor, and perhaps it is a hybrid of these short and ageless visits that form a large part of my identity. I know that I am one of the many zombie shadows who hallow the libraries, and perhaps I may even be in one of those states when I am re-reading this. But I will pause, no matter how small that pause is, and breathe in the realm of what is physically, materially, tangibly, obviously happening around me. This is who I am. This is what I owe to myself.

And in less than four days, I will be going back to it.

The story of how I conquered a remnant of my past

I will unabashedly admit that I have done something brave today. I initiated a Facebook message conversation with a guy whom I was insanely, unhealthily obsessed for the last two years of school. Please excuse my naive self for believing that I was “in love”. 

This may sound terribly inane but allow me to put it in context. I did not just have a crush on this guy. I was literally, completely consumed with a burning passion for him and I have sacrificed many nights of sleep and nearly 20 months of my adolescence simply wondering if he will ever know of my existence. In retrospect, it seems as though having such an intimidating crush on someone who was so distantly acquainted with me seemed quite stupid. But somehow, I could never bring myself to get over it. After a while, it mellowed down to a sort of celebrity crush, the kind that leads to intense admiration from afar and serves as visual relief but nothing beyond that. I tried to get over my very chance emotional entanglement with this guy by telling myself that I was 17, and so what indeed did I even know about life or even about him.

I had spoken to him once, on November 4th, 2010. He was part of my scavenger hunt team and I thought he was rather charming. As events played out, my friends and peers were mocked at several checkpoints for random dares, such as coming up with pick-up lines, etc. My stupid hormonal heart went aflutter when he decided to ask me out. Since I am Maestro Supreme of masking my emotions, all my friends sensed that there was something more than just plain simple fun going on (at least with my mixed reactions) and therein began the endless rout of being teased and so on and so forth. As I studied in an all-girls’ school then, information spread faster than a disease vector in unsanitary conditions.

I very painfully remembered that I had forgotten to introduce myself to him. Not only that, as the day wore on, I took to being slightly mean to him, because I was so afraid that my obvious affection would show through and I desperately did not want him to know that I had, dare I borrow the cliche, fallen in love with him at first sight.

I was entranced, enamored, charmed, attracted, madly blushing and rather obsessed with this boy whom I had no possible way of contacting ever again. I didn’t have a blog, nor a Facebook account nor a Twitter account. I was literally non-existent online and email seemed too archaic and personal. I also didn’t have my own mobile phone. (quite a sheltered life, what?) Whatever I heard of him after came through to me via friends and of their friends. The press helped considerably as well. The genius that my object of affections was, he went ahead to win a scholarship awarded by NASA. I discovered that he even shared the same love of engineering and robotics as I did. In some way he was inspiring and awesome, and if it wasn’t for certain other unfortunate events, I was in a very real danger of staying forever charmed by this boy.

Something happened which made me re-evaluate my friends’ circle and discover that there were indeed some non-friends in that lot. Perhaps it was a combination of events, but it changed me rather deeply. One of my closer friends decided to start talking trash about me to the rest of the school, suddenly deemed me too uncool to hang out with and was greatly resentful of the fact that I was nominated to the student council over her. To make matters cumulatively worse, she started dating this boy knowing full well that I was deeply vested in him.

It was a harsh wake-up call, but I’m glad it came sooner rather than later. Though I struggled to deal with the heartburn and sadness of having to cut a toxic “friend” from my life, I was now also burdened with the fact that he would now forever remain unattainable. They broke up two weeks later, and in some sadistic parody, all the teasing had re-started and everyone assumed that I now had the fresh opportunity to try my luck with him. All the while, he didn’t even know me. Turns out my former friend went ahead and did or did not tell him of my existence. Indeed, it was a true soap-opera style lovesick drama that played out for a year or so.

For nearly a year, my obsession remained. I used to sit at the piano and compose pieces for him (all of which happened to be on C minor). I used to sit everyday at home and write these long letters to him, which were basically my diary entries just titled to him and musing about his life. I still have that hugely embarrassing portfolio of approximately 147 pages of penmanship. I even wrote stories about sending the letters to him and musing his possible reactions. But all day and all night, I could not stop thinking of him. It came to such a point that I could exemplify my situation only in a story. This was a work that is posted on my stories blog here.

As luck happened, I met him again on August 26th, 2011. It was a very fleeting encounter. I did not dare to meet his eyes, and I was mortified of presenting myself to him ever again. I could not find the emotional balance between detaching the fantasy version of him in my head and the very real figure before me. Nor could I find the courage to speak up and pretend to be normal. I earnestly wanted, oh I had yearned so terribly, to tell him of my feelings but when the opportunity came to see his face, I was mute. It wasn’t that I was simply mute, my social skills were completely paralyzed. I said hello to everyone in the room except him, in case he mistakenly assumed I was partial to him. I made an awkward fool of myself, and drowned myself in tears knowing that I had sacrificed a valuable opportunity.

Other things happened. We graduated school. I came to terms with the fact that I would never be so unguarded with my trust (work in progress) and so on. I came to the States. He went to what I discovered afterwards was Hong Kong and life went on smoothly. I assuaged myself by saying that perhaps it was a good thing we were not friends, even. Then he wouldn’t have had to be involved in the drama that ensued. Perhaps it was better still that we were not dating, because my self-esteem was scarred beyond repair and anyway, we would have had to break up because academics and priorities. 

I joined Facebook, finally and was talking to one of my closest friends from high school. She was the one who helped me through when my entire friend network was collapsing and she has rightfully earned the title of being my best friend. We were ruminating about the past and he cropped up in the conversation. On a daring whim, I hazarded a friend request and it surprised me to no end that he even accepted. I thought he would have forgotten me after a year. But he didn’t. I don’t know whether that made things worse or not. He remembers me being awkward and clearly not at my best.

The year moved on. I will now shamelessly admit that I do stalk him from time to time, when I find myself feeling low. I croon secretly to his charming images and fawn over them. Don’t cringe. I’m pretty sure everyone has that one crush in their past who still makes them feel all gooey inside. As it turns out, he eventually won a prestigious position on a geo-climate mapping project to Antarctica. His friends cheered for him all over his wall. I silently glowed with pride in the rare moments that his memory came to me.

Just a few days ago, he was tagged in a massively attractive picture of himself and I was reduced to fangirling about it to my high school best friend. I grudgingly admitted that I would never in my life have the courage to ever speak to him. Under some crazy influence of adrenaline and peer pressure I gave into the huge fallacy of sending him a “Hello”. Believe me, there could not have been a more lonely Hello in all the world at that moment. It simply sat there against that brutally white, empty background, simmering as it were, proving my obvious token of stupidity and bravery. I tried to think up of a million excuses to justify it. Eventually, it got to a point, where I literally turned my phone off for a while and avoided using the Messenger app. If I don’t look at it, it won’t bother me, I said.

For five hours I didn’t have to. When the sun finally dawned on Hong Kong, I got a reply back, “Hi. What’s up?” So familiar. So disarming that for the life of me I couldn’t think of what to say. I then banked on some of my courage. Come on. I’m an international Ivy League engineer. I can design machines. Surely, I must be able to handle conversation with a normal human being. I now declare with beaming pride that I managed 20 minutes of conversation with him. I asked him whether he really did go to Antarctica. He asked me for my source of information. I felt that telling him I stalked his profile would be a bit too obvious. So I employed my high school best friend as a scapegoat. To my immense surprise the conversation continued.

I could not flirt. I could not even be as funny as I wanted to. I just couldn’t. But I could politely ask him very academic questions about his project to Antarctica.So I did. We talked about constructing triangulating micro controllers, and how to use radio waves to log data between three different ships and how to manage interfering signals and so on. I mentioned largely that my curiosity was fueled by work in similar domains and asked technical questions for the most part. Nothing better to hide social ineptitude than talk of whether 2.4 GHz is a good frequency for one robot to talk to another. Here is an excerpt.

No guesses on who is the over-apologetic one here.

No guesses on who is the over-apologetic one here.

He was funny at times, open and sharing all the work about his project with me. He used more emoticons than I did. He was surprised with a “Oh? Nice” when I informed him of similar interests in robotics. But he didn’t ask me any questions whatsoever. I terminated the conversation very politely with a “Well, thank you for your time :)”. He replied with a “No problem. I should get back to work anyway.” And I know that we will perhaps have no pretext to speak to each other again.

But I conquered my fear. I was not a complete ass. I made my existence known. I wasn’t too intrusive. I kept it short and then I ended what I had started. This is why this is is important to me. I am one step closer to feeling proud of myself. I don’t know if we’ll ever be friends, let alone something more. I tried, that’s all.

Departure

We have never lived in a house of our own. I have never known what it means to actually live in the same place for all my life. I actually find the change rather comforting. I see home as a sort of constant environment that we grow in, so that we can deal with our internal changes without having to worry about external adaptability. This theory is easily refuted by the fact that most of the changes we do undergo happen once we are beyond the comfort of home. Managing our personal space and time, for example. With frequently traveling parents, I have come to find that home is not a structure that houses my favorite relatives. There has to be something relevant to home which makes us so averse to leaving it.

Most of my memories of moving out of homes involves reliving the specifics of the location. I could remember the views from the windows, the people whom I would meet, how the plants were arranged, what the weather what be like. I tend to remember the memories associated with the place, as I suppose most people do. Surely travel locations also hold the same place in our heart. I don’t really care about the geographical location of the place. It’s what happened when I was there and how that counts. So, it can’t be the memories either.

I think that one of the reasons why home matters so much is because of the routine we subconsciously associate with it. When at home, we are at a state of being in which we have certain things planned out for us in a predefined way. No matter what that routine is, if its pleasant and if we are habituated to it, we call that home. Some people find this solace at their workplace, where the constant drive of work keeps them rigidly bound to a series of events. For most people, me included, its hard to move out of a specific routine. That’s perhaps why most people are averse to sudden disruptions or changes in their routine. We don’t like to leave home because we are abandoning the routine that comes with it.

This time my home is not an apartment, it is not my alma mater. It is a country: India. I’m going to be leaving this beautiful place behind for my beloved New York. Throughout my childhood, I’ve come to personify cities as people and as someone who has grown up in a few Indian cities, and now studies in the US, I have quite a geographical family.

Mumbai, where I was born, comes back to me as the young rainy, impulsive baby-sitter that watched me grow from an infant to an eight year old. All I can remember about that city is the rain. It poured torrentially during the monsoon seasons and some of my fondest memories have been in that bone-drenching rain.

The last few days of the Ganesh Chaturthi celebration: Ganesha, the deity of prosperity and good luck, is submerged into the waters as a ceremonial departure to mark the end of the festival. 

My first discovery of mushrooms, snails and earthworms, the long walks I would take with my grandfather during which time he would tell me stories of the plants and trees that grew in the nearby park. It was an hour’s walk from my house to the point where the school bus would pick students up. I can remember my uncle insisting that I finish my lunch in school. The traffic, the sights and sounds of the city (especially during Ganesh Chaturthi) gave Mumbai this lasting impression of driving energy. As the center of national financial activity and home to the entertainment industry, Mumbai’s stereotypical citizens also embody that can-do attitude.

When my family moved to Bangalore, it was still a sleepy town. As I learned later, the IT boom that made it a notable hub was brought by the immigration of IT-qualified people like my parents and many others. With the sudden rush of people, this laid-back, pleasant retirement destination was transformed into a city with as much life as any other metropolis. Since I lived in Bangalore until I was nineteen, I have many more memories associated with this place. In the beginning, the charming weather always made me feel lethargic. It was perpetually cloudy, even though it rained sparsely. But it was never uncomfortable. Learning the local language helped me cross the rather large cultural divide that exists between one region from India to another.

The Bangalore skyline

I can remember learning to adapt to the soft, passive-aggressive ways of the city. The city has grown with me, losing some of its cherished greenery to make way for taller glass and metal structures and bigger names. Oracle, Accenture, Wipro, Intel, Microsoft, IBM, Infosys and Cognizant became household names. Computer programming was integrated into my school syllabus from 8th grade. Everyone and anyone worked either in IT, or in some other branch of these large magnates. Call centers sprung up all over the city, expanding its boundaries, much as I was learning to expand my own horizons.

The Bangalore skyline at night

With time, there was a huge influx of expatriates back into the city, which forced another population boom. The city’s cultural profile began to now span across several nations, if not states. What I find most endearing about the spirit of the city is how we learn to accommodate everything. It is a statement that is jokingly referred to as the Bangalore slogan. “Swalpa adjust maadi” which means “Adjust a little” in Kannada. It’s an effective rephrasing of “grin and bear it”. There are a million reasons to complain everyday about many things. But at the end of the day, you become what you work yourself into. Due to the call centers and the IT industry firmly establishing base, this sleepy little town had to work across multiple time zones. Despite the lack of infrastructure to be able to host such growth, the city grows while its inhabitants grin and bear it. I too began to stay up late at night discovering more about my growing passion in Computer Science. One of the first things that came to my mind when I landed was that if Bangalore was a person, I would be hugging it so hard.

I used to think these two places were the most important cities in my life. I honestly can’t compare both of them. One has been an elder sister, who is growing everyday, expanding and making new advances, like me. The other has been a forgotten baby-sitter. She did her duty, and while I may not remember the most important lessons I’ve learned from her, its the fact that she still taught me well what counts.

Then entered a new person in my life: New York. Famous, glamorous, classy, desirable and yet with its own flavor of underground, New York is somewhere I’m going to spending the rest of my years in college. I used to think that I wouldn’t need any adjustment moments, since I was coming from one of the most diverse countries in the world. But then I was put right. This wasn’t just a language or a cultural difference, it was an entire nation apart. I honestly haven’t lived in new York long enough to write more inspiring literature about it, though there’s no dearth of that all over the internet. I think I know where they found their inspiration, though. Its New York. ‘Nuff said.

New York skyline at sunset, most of the blocky buildings with their windows lit up, and centered on a Empire State Building lit up red at its top.

The New York skyline

I’m in Bangalore now, soaking back into a much-needed dose of home. However, with an established routine at New York, that city has become my home as well, even though I am still its foreigner. I simply do not have the capacity to describe what I will miss about Bangalore when I’m in New York. Strangely enough, through my summer break here, I’ve been trying to capture what it is that I miss about New York when I’m in Bangalore. It’s probably the transition between two routines: one of a schoolgirl in a family with doting grandparents and loving parents and one of a strong, independent young woman who is managing her own show in the capital of the Empire State. It feels a bit unusual to adjust to both these routines, but now I realize that I have now grown to fill both these requirements.

I’m leaving Bangalore soon. I’m trying to console myself that this beautiful city will always be there for me, waiting with her metaphorical arms open wide. But while she has come to represent comfort, my best friend 8299.57 miles away wants to expose me to the rest of the world with her. I don’t understand why I should feel so torn between two of my most favorite places in the world. But while they may be cities, I am a human. I am allowed to feel nostalgic and hold on to sentiment. I can never compare between any of them.

Goodbye, Garden city. I will miss you terribly