Jane Austen’s Emma/ Sonam Kapoor’s Aisha: In which I discover that happy endings can disgust me too.

On the rare weekend nights when the moon is already halfway across the sky and the Harlem skyline is still dotted with the lights of nocturnal overtime, I decided to lull myself to sleep with Jane Austen’s Emma.

To those who haven’t yet read it, don’t. It is tediously long and easily my least favorite of all of Austen’s works. As an Austen novel, I understand that there’s a special emphasis on dinners, manners, other people’s problems and gossipy village life. There’s also a focus on the marriage potential of every single lady of age in town and often it is inversely proportional to the number of young interested men in said town. I respected the book as well I could, given that these events must have been worth constructing a plot about in the late eighteenth century, when women really did not enjoy as much freedom in choice of employment.

Even with this wide margin, the book was getting tedious on several dimensions and I saw no reason why it had to be stretched out over three volumes. I was about to abandon it (and it would have been the first ever book I will have picked up and not read), when a friend recommended a different method of absorbing the story: The Bollywood movie Aisha. Based on Austen’s Emma, the lovely Sonam Kapoor proceeded to play a character that I intensely hated for the entire first half and then completely pitied for the rest.

Let me clarify. This is not a movie review or even a book review. Personally, I have nothing against Sonam Kapoor, as I rather admire her for being an expressive lady. But I am seriously displeased with several aspects that the movie highlighted and expected us to take for granted.

I could excuse Austen’s Emma for literally not having a life and therefore desperately seeking some form of amusement. But the Aisha Kapoor, the fancy rich girl who is too prone to pity anything that is mildly middle-class and views her amusement as “social service” was incredibly hard to swallow. Let me not even get into questioning her philosophy about love and life. She doesn’t have a job, lives almost completely off an extremely doting father’s money and spends the most of her days in malls and boutiques, when she could be making so much more of herself. The sort of idleness that makes my skin crawl.

There is literally a segment in the movie when she takes offense at Arjun Burman (The Mr. Knightley equivalent of the novel) calling her “shallow”. Please explain to me how she is not. Her cousin is declared pathetic because she is traditional and conservative. Dhruv Singh (Mr. Frank Churchill of the novel) is labeled boring and nerdy when he was trying to work hard, but now is declared “hot” because he opens the door for women semi-nude. She is jealous of the girl who is Mr. Knightley’s companion (Aarti Menon/Jane Fairfax) because her legs are long, she works with Arjun and she has a New York accent. She gets annoyed with everyone for not obeying her rules. She is selfish, self-centered and gets away with things that are downright objectionable.

Despite this, Mr. Knightley/Arjun Burman is miraculously in love with her.

A bold, brave, honorable and accomplished “true gentleman” in Austen’s words rendered well by Abhay Deol is constantly by her side, making sure she is always extricated out of trouble. All he gets for his friendship are her snarky comments at his female friends. All he gets for his love is the perpetual bickering that is not even cute enough for children, let alone full-grown adults.He has a life, hobbies, talents, manners and a job. It is boggling my mind to understand why a guy like him would settle for someone like Aisha.

There is another part of the movie when Aisha is stinging from some well-meant (and well-deserved) criticism from Arjun and she snorts into her pillow saying, “He’s just a Wharton graduate who makes money. What does he know about love and life?” Because this movie shows that obviously, Wharton alumni clearly have no idea what making good decisions are about. In the spirit of a world-class management education, explain to me why, after having an education that is so expansive and coming across people who are no doubt equally accomplished in an international environment, why would you settle for a spoilt child like Aisha?

Dude, seriously. get out of the screen and explain this to me. I study at an Ivy League university, I know what I’m talking about. What makes you think that all of the experiences that I’ve had here about growing up as a person will be nullified once I graduate?

The answer as the movie elaborately throws into my face is that they are childhood friends. They have known each other since forever, and she has been the one to “teach him how to laugh at life”. Now, I’m not denying that relationships do blossom out of well-maintained childhood friendships. I would have tried to be less caustic about the movie if they had just started dating. But no. THEY MARRIED. He literally made the best management decision of his life and decided to spend the rest of his life pandering to the amusement of the Aisha.

This is not something casual because of a physical attraction or whatever. Do you really think that marriage will make her more mature? Less self-centered? Less obsessed with the pathetic, shallow and materialistic things about life? Do you, Mr. Knightley, feel that your well-meant advice will be heard and do you really want to take on the additional responsibility of such a fragile temperament when life gets tough?  Also, how do you determine whom you marry as a child? The reason such instances are statistically rare is because people grow up and grow into wiser adults. Arjun/Mr. Knightley just lost all my respect by choosing her among the milieu.

The movie and the book talk a lot about class. About how to find people in your own tier. The Harriet Smith/Shefali Thakur character is made an example of. A simple-minded “lower-class” girl is taught how to live the rich life and forced to believe that she will find someone who is the son of a millionaire to marry her. Now, I don’t take much stock in these social stratifications. Because my “class distinctions” are based more on what comes out of your mouth and what you have to say and think than what you wear or the paycheck of your parents. The intellectual wavelengths of Arjun and Aisha are too disparate to be reconciled with love. I, for one, would hate to be trapped into marriage with someone who is incapable of deciding what to do with her life beside spending her father’s money.What of the class distinctions here? Why not marry the accomplished New York expatriate instead of this bumbling shopaholic?

I will finish up this rant with another about happy endings. To be honest, one of the reasons why I enjoy Austen is because I’m certain that there’s a happy ending. This has to be the first Austen book where I have despised the protagonist so much that I wished Mr. Knightley didn’t step in and “save her” from being single. On the other hand, maybe Mr. Knightley did us all a favor and stopped her from setting up other people’s marriages and not giving a fig for their feelings because she knows what’s best, don’t you know? Basically, this happy ending says that if you’re doing nothing with your life, try to get snarky, jealous and childish around your now-rich childhood friend and they shall marry you because of your astounding earth-shattering beauty and your supposed good-will fueled out of pity and not the genuine wish to see others do better.

Ugh. It’s too late for me now to deal with this. Emma/Aisha has ruined my night. I might as well sleep it off. Goodnight.

The Very Inspiring Blogger Award

I’m simultaneously honored and humbled to let you all know that I’ve been nominated for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award by bdhesse who writes great stuff at http://bdhesse.wordpress.com/ and has successfully confused me into choosing (only) 15 other bloggers who inspiring.

These especially are my favorites at bdhesse’s: Who Needs To Know? and The Nightmare

Here are the rules:

  • The nominee shall display the Very Inspiring Blogger Award logo on her/his blog, and link to the blog they got nominated from.
  • The nominee shall nominate fifteen (15) bloggers she/he admires, by linking to their blogs and informing them about it.

*Cracks knuckles*. I’m splitting the blogs I read frequently into categories of similar types. I’m writing a one-liner in the hope that their About pages will obviously do a much more spectacular job than me, but I couldn’t resist.

Category 1: Articulate fiction, non-fiction and  mellifluous poetry.

  1. http://themirrorobscura.wordpress.com/ : Fabulous poetry with mesmerizing graphics.
  2. http://justbadtiming.wordpress.com/ : Delicate prose.
  3. http://4thaluv.com/: Well-written reviews, fictional content and a collection of bookmark-worthy quotes.
  4. http://florencecrayewooster.wordpress.com/: Exquisite phrases combined with a love of storytelling and as you can obviously tell, P.G. Wodehouse.
  5. http://robertokaji.com/ : Translations of oriental poetry combined with poems that often capture something fragile.

Category 2: Culturally-influenced authors who often pour their nostalgia and creativity into their work. I started my blog with the similar idea, so I’m reaching out to some other literal contemporaries out there.

  1. http://abitjuakali.wordpress.com/: Poetry, writing and often the cultural longing of home (which is Uganda) and the contrast of New York.
  2. http://juliealexandraa.wordpress.com/about/ : I love how the works on this site represent the Spanish language and its myriad cultural associations.
  3. http://verseherder.wordpress.com/: Hilarious, natural in the literal sense and very well-spoken/written.

Category 3: Different perspectives from people who have lived and experienced the often misunderstood side of life.

  1. http://takingthemaskoff.com/: Addiction, stigma, ignorance and how they form identities
  2. http://playingyourhandright.wordpress.com/ : Crime, life, mistakes and everything else that makes us human
  3. http://autismthoughts.wordpress.com/ : The struggles and achievements of living with autism
  4. http://suzjones.wordpress.com/about/ : Understanding depression and how writing can serve as an effective way to coping mechanism.

In my humble/inexperienced opinion, a lot of the problems that people have about sex and it’s interconnection with emotional relationships is simply because there aren’t enough sources of sexual enlightenment, let alone, general awareness out there which leads to a whole host of misunderstood, poorly communicated and emotionally-unsatisfying relationships. It’s only if you find out what you want and how to help you get to that, which will help you find what you need to make yourself happy.

Anyway. Here’s to the blogs that celebrate sensuality/sexuality/ gender and all other miscellaneous constructs that stem from the fundamental human need to love and be loved.

Category 4: Content Warning: Sexual, possibly Feminist

  1.  http://kateharding.net/: This blog may be moving to a new domain. Enlightening discussions of women, sexuality, rape and rape culture.
  2. http://captainawkward.com/: Genuine love advice which I may or may not seek because I fit the title description
  3. http://sexpectations89.wordpress.com/ : Casual sex and the misconceptions or self-delusions that people have about it

Category 5: Miscellaneous. Fiction. Opinions. I know I’m exceeding 15 but I really really wanted to mention these great people.

  1. http://aopinionatedman.com/ :The only blogger I know who is singularly and consistently unafraid of voicing their opinion, no matter what.
  2. http://illustriouspeacock.wordpress.com/: Really interesting photographs of random people, places and things.
  3. http://allmostrelevant.com/:   I like this blog. It’s random. Funny. Interesting.

It is way beyond my bed-time now and I’m just going to thank everyone and tell them to keep writing the awesome stuff they do. I’m also going to cut brutally short my speech about just how great WordPress is as a community and how much I love it because it makes me feel like I belong somewhere. The previous sentence is my speech. Thank you all!

Pseudo-intellectual Social Media Conversations

Facebook is the bane of my existence and I’m so annoyed that I’m writing about this. Literally anything is a better way to be “social” than coming across one more pseudo-psychological poetry, instagram selfie and articles about everything that seem to come up on my feed because people (and I) have no self-control over the like button. I came across someone who complained in a series of posts on Facebook that Google was violating her privacy for having used her location history because she used Google-based apps at these locations. Accompanied by a screenshot of the said location history. This person then proceeded to bemoan how large organizations are using data without asking us and “what a surprising breach of privacy it is. This is shocking! I’m so scared. #noprivacy”  

This blog post is addressed to her, and forgive my frustration, to people as naive as her. 

It took me a great deal of self-control to not make the humble Facebook comment box the digital voice of my opinion. Having “intellectual” discussions on Facebook, while admirable is simply inconvenient. Rather like trying to prove a theorem with your friend when you’re parked in different toilet cubicles. It’s admirable that you care about larger issues when you’re in a toilet. Discussing the matter anywhere else could prove to be more fruitful that trying to be heard over the sound of flushes. 

So you want to know why apps use your data? I’m not going to use a listicle because most human beings have forgotten how to parse and process content written in paragraphs. Using bullet points lets me hide my poor grammatical education. 

Most of Google’s services are provided to you for free and most of them are without ads. However, Google still has to sustain the careers of almost a million engineers all over the world who have put in blood, sweat, tears and profound work in making that little app on your phone capable of being the powerhouse it is. As an app developer myself, I know how much effort it takes to create something functional, let alone robust enough to be released into the market. While I would love to philosophize and occasionally be charitable enough to render some services free, I eventually have to support myself and my family.

Statistics and psychology have proven that people are more likely to download free apps over paid services, even though paid services are obviously more reliable. Paid services ask for your money up front instead of stealing data behind your backs (which may still happen, but perhaps at a less ostentatious rate than if the service were free), but at least you’ll be guaranteed the best service of whatever the app is offering. Therefore, your location is easily the most accessible information that you can provide to them. They will sell the data that you were at a certain store, so that the next time you’re around that store can send you an ad when you Google search for something. 

Lastly, your location data is nothing compared to your back account or financial data and perhaps we should be grateful that the supposed ” Big Bad Companies” don’t sneak that from us. But to be “fair” to them, they do have this listed in the dense verbiage in the terms and conditions page which first opens when you download the app, and which you happily ignore because you’re too keen to share nail-pictures and selfies with your friends rather than care about how your location is being used. Also, even if you skip that, when you use your app on your device, it will still ask for location services in a blatant list of maybe 3 or 4 other phone services (such as camera, contacts, call history, etc). You could have stopped it then. 

I find it ironic that you want to complain about this on Facebook, of all places, which is far far worse than Google.If you really don’t want to use Google maps, don’t. But asking for that perfect app which does everything, for free, without stealing any of your information and magically fetching data from everywhere is clearly stretching it. Online privacy is a problem. But please explain to me how your Facebook spam is changing the scene in any way. 

The Meaning of Names

I have a propensity for weird names. I’ve been labeled with a fairly exotic name, and so I find that naming things and situations aptly is a skill worth having because I hope that my offspring wouldn’t have to suffer the repeated mispronunciations, misspellings or worse complete transformations of their name into something that is more globally palatable.
To answer Juliet’s question and disagree with her reasoning, there is a lot to a name. I have found names charming and powerful, how one word instantly engages the attention of another human being. In many works of fantasy, true names have been assumed to have some sort of power over the speaker and hence they are labeled with aliases. Some of our names carry the stories of our origin. Surnames especially are common among clans of people who have shared common ancestors. Names also tell of whose offspring we are. Not unlike the Russian “-vitch” suffix, where Ivanovitch means “son of Ivan”, or the Anglo-Saxon “Peterson” which means “son of Peter”. Names in many cultures are borrowed from the religion themselves, as is common to Indian, Latin American and Islamic cultures. It appears that a name is a preview of a person’s identity.
You may wonder why this information is not on my about page. Or why it has featured on my blog way after I have been writing in it. I don’t know why. I tend to overshare my life with everyone, and I was simply too shy to come forward and declared myself with enough credentials so that I could be found in the real world as the author of this work. It was the same with the college I go to. Painstakingly hiding the name and my affiliation with it, so that I could not be found to be a source of all these opinions and feelings and literature that I have created.  But it is time to offer you a humble preview of who I am.
My name is Piyali.
If you Google what my name means, it apparently shows up as a Bengali-Sanskrit word for “wood”. My grandmother had (before the advent of Google in my life)  informed me that I was named after a river. But I was face with a rather odd problem of explaining how my family could have named me after wood, especially since statistical evidence lists that wood is somehow a “more accurate” meaning than the name of a river. Everybody thought it was odd that I should be named after something so plain. But I have secretly learned to rejoice in it. I am yet to learn of anyone who denies how fundamental wood is and was to our lifestyle as human beings. The ability to create tools and shelter began with wood, and if I may be so immodest, wood remains the sole sustenance for 2.5 billion people in this day and age.
I have often been complimented that I have a pretty name. It is easy on the mouth, gentle on the syllables and can be morphed into many nicknames by which people may claim their very own special identity of me. A name is not something I chose for myself. It is something that happened to me. It is a beautiful blessing that happened to me.
If I haven’t bored you already, please read this very thought-provoking  and well-written piece by Tasbeeh Herwees.

Romance, race and questions of identity

Sometimes I feel that my opinions or perspectives are less judged harshly when a fictional character speaks them instead of a true human being. But maybe it’s time to express a few of my opinions as personal, however unpalatable they might be deemed. I haven’t talked about romance for a while on my blog, and recently something has come across which has spiked my radar.

I decided to put one fine Monday of my summer to good use: foray the universe of Harry Potter fan-fiction. For whatever expectation I had of fan-fiction, this work has surpassed it completely and I must somewhat shamefully admit that I am addicted to re-reading this whenever I can. I don’t want to sound like I favor one fandom over another, but here is a Draco-Hermione version that actually does the characters justice. Bex-chan, the author of this fabulous work has my immense support and gratitude. If you are above 18 and you so dare, here it is: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/6291747/1/Isolation

I have recently been trying to come to terms with the fact that I don’t have to be ashamed of secretly indulging in a good/turbulent/passionate love story every once in a while. Given that I have a history of severely shunning the feminine aspects of me and my awful, short romantic history, I feel that the appeal in reading a good love story lies in that I can picture myself as the female protagonist easily, and be assured of having my affections returned. After all, it is flattering to be admired, isn’t it? It is flattering to know that someone out there who is charming and attractive cares about you, accepts you for who you are, changes you into a better person and embodies perfection. Even if such a person is a work of fiction. Even if the high is momentary. For that period when you are trapped between pages of your escapism, the assumption of guaranteed admiration is enough.

So there I was, several chapters down and embodying the very spirit of Hermione, until I realized that the physical descriptions started to fail. My illusion began to fall apart because even though the romance between a Muggle-born and a pure blood wizard sounds tenuous, it is far more tenuous to assume that someone will transcend the cultural baggage that I carry from home and the ethnic boundaries that my tradition has established. How can I ever expect someone in the real world to adapt to the collection of dissimilarities that I am? At what point does the illusion become too lovely to be real and should I stop this stupid fragile heart of mine from nursing the notion that perhaps someday I will experience something similar?

At the other end of the spectrum is the Yellow Fever syndrome or equivalents. The idea that someone’s availability is dependent sorely on how exotic they are. There’s research on this as well, and it is encompassed by an umbrella theory called “Exotic is erotic” by Dr. Daryl J. Bem of Cornell University. This is the borderline racist territory that we, as human beings, are superficial to the point where we reduce a strong relationship to the mere fascination of the obvious.

I apologize if I sound like a pessimist, but too often I see this portrayed in real life. There may be many multiracial couples, but they are sparse in the Indian community that I interact with. There are many examples of Indian boys from back home who would unabashedly admire the blond girl in shorts and would even frequent many a frat party or so to “get with” her. But should they chance upon an Indian girl there, her reputation is ruined forever. She is no longer one of the girls that they can take home and show to their mother how pure/chaste/marriageable she is, even though they’d rather hook up with the blond girl that with her. My hope is that the “many examples” are not all, and perhaps even beyond the boundaries of race and ethnicity there are people who love other people for simply being people.

For a very long time, I had tacitly assumed that I could never be perceived as desirable by anyone who was not Indian, and even among them I was perceived to be as quite the oddball. But I have put in a lot of work on my self-esteem (namely by focusing my anxiety and efforts elsewhere), and I have realized that perhaps there is more than just beauty, more than even an attraction to a personality that boils down to a relationship. From the relationships that surround me, I know that a lot of what is love appears to be duty, sacrifice, teamwork and the tenacity to ride through the hard times. Even then, do I dare to hope that even some of the glamour of intense attachment will come alive from the pages and touch my life?

Perhaps it has already touched my life. Perhaps a corner of my mind is softly wrapping up the memories like delicate figurines for the one day when love will come knocking again. Until then, I continue to read and be overwhelmed with vicarious joy.

Reference links:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-pacific-heart/201304/yellow-fever-the-exotification-asian-women

http://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/A:1002050303320#page-1

http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/1996-01742-006

 

 

On how the competence of a human being can be condensed to a number

http://www.hindustantimes.com/lifestyle/books/chetan-bhagat-tells-us-a-short-story/article1-436685.aspx

I read this story and while I don’t actively devour Chetan Bhagat’s literature, this piece resonated a little too deeply with being a prospective college student and wondering if scoring a 90%, or even 92 or 95% aggregate is ever good enough.

After I read this story, I reflected a bit on how far my life has come. I study in a prestigious Ivy League university now, yet I complain about my struggling GPA (which is still better than most), how difficult life is and how stressed out I always am. I forget that I have survived worse moments of uncertainty.

Today, I’m sensitive about the fact that my GPA is not 4.0. I forget that there was a time when I had scored 10/50 in a very important Math test. I constantly hear from my peers around me (blame me for being easily influenced) about how their GPA is at 3.9, 3.8 or even 4.0. I forget that there are many others among that privileged 3% admission rate who have GPA’s of 2.0. Columbia’s own Nobel Prize Winner had a GPA of 2.8 when he graduated. But I can’t seem to stop beating myself up for that fact that I’m not on the Dean’s list, even though I have two research projects and a hackathon victory under my modest belt.

The following paragraph summarizes the awful whispers I pick up from those who frequent job fairs and recruitment events and networking events.

“Jobs look for GPA and how good you are at what you do, combined with all your extra-curriculars and how well you present yourself and how essentially superhuman you are because you need to differentiate yourself from everyone else. Nobody wants ordinary. You’ll never get anywhere without a big name on your resume. Don’t hold back from writing your skills on your resume. Don’t be a machine. Show them you’re a human too. Laugh, smile, dress like so and flatter like so. “Network”. “Connect”. Know people and stay on their mind because that’s the only way you’re going to make money and be someone.”

Obviously, the fact that making it to Columbia is a difficult task for many and the hardships they may have gone to be there and the person who they truly are will never make it to that crisply edited, sharply formatted glossy paper that hides among a possible million more. So you’re applying to be a computer science researcher or technology developer? You’re from Columbia? Okay, so you’re good.  But that GPA isn’t 4.0. Like the protagonist of the story, being good is never as worthy as being good enough.

There were so many other subtle hints in this portrayal that stuck out to me. The indirect ways parents hint at their children, and the sometimes futile lies children have to maintain in order to preserve the social fabric. The idea of your classmates having girlfriends and/or boyfriends and wondering if the elusive and confusing process will remain as awkward as ever.

But maybe in the quest of trying to fit in and stand out and find multiple identities and be good at something, I’ll find the way to strike that balance. And maybe that will be more than a number, let alone in base 10 than in binary. Maybe that could be an elegant function whose solutions I still seek.

Parents, bikini pictures and trust

If the better weather outside didn’t tell me that Spring break was here, then the sudden profusion of beach, bikini and boyfriend pictures on Facebook is indication enough. I know that a lot of people put effort into getting into shape for this stupendous moment when their minimalist experiments will adorn their walls. Even though I know that I would personally never have the courage to post a picture of me semi-nude on a public forum, I like these pictures because I think that subconsciously we all seek validation through the Facebook “like” button.

So here I was, one particular evening, liking away images, some more out of pity than true admiration, when my mother spotted a friend of mine in the aforementioned state of grace.

Before I continue further, I feel obliged to provide some kind of background on my parents to establish context. I have been blessed with the privilege of parents who understand me better than I understand myself. Unlike every other teen classmate or friend, I’ve never had to complain that my parents were rooted in archaic principles. They have taught me to be rational and well-informed before making a decision, which means I have been treated as a respected equal (a form that continues to evolve with time). Similarly, I feel obliged to maintain the same level of trust with them.

My parents were the first people to know when I had a boyfriend, when I sampled my first alcoholic drink and when an equation in class has escaped my comprehension. I feel comfortable telling my parents everything about my life, even though they don’t demand it. I feel as though it is only fair that I reciprocate what is an established respected channel of communication and support. Many of my friends are surprised that I share so much with my parents freely. Some say my parents are progressive. Some say that they are extremely understanding. The more I’ve been exposed to the world, the more I discover it is true.

Rather surprisingly, my mother was shocked to tears when she saw my friend in several rather compromising bikini pictures. Having been raised in an Indian household, with a heavy emphasis on modernity and modesty, there are some limits to radicalism as well, and I think bikini pictures are that fine line I do not want to test. I consoled her from what I assumed was a culture shock. and laughingly mentioned that she didn’t have to worry that it would be her daughter. I don’t know what bothered my mother more. The fact that such a picture exists or the fact that it’s in full view on a public forum. My father gave me to understand that it was probably the latter.

I didn’t tell my parents that my friend’s escort  was a boyfriend that her parents didn’t quite approve of because of his religion. Again, it is one thing to argue that love transcends religions but it is another thing to question a parent’s belief for what should be a relevant factor in their child’s welfare. My friend has always shrugged it off because she is so far away from home, and she knows that her parents will never find out. Unlike me, she hasn’t added her parents on Facebook, and therefore can “get away” with a lot more than others. I don’t know if I will ever dare to do something which I know would disappoint my loving parents, let alone worry if I can “get away” with it. If anything, they would be the first ones to know of such a crime, and have almost always been the first ones to provide a valid solution. Now, I understand that not all parents are alike. But surely, parents don’t deserve to be in the dark about things that matter in your life? 

I tried to justify the image, saying that as long as her parents didn’t know about it or mind it, we shouldn’t either. It was then that my father said something which set me thinking. He said, “Do you think, someday in the future, she would like it if she discovered that her child was doing something like this behind her back?”

I continued to defend my friend, somewhat. After all, she had said that her parents would be perfectly okay with what she did with her life, as long as she was “independent” (financially). My father, who was championing for the parents (absent and present) retorted with a “Do you really think it’s all about the money? Why doesn’t she ask her boyfriend to pay for her education and living expenses then? ” And that’s where I lost the argument. What further possible justification could I have? It’s not really within our scope of jurisdiction to wonder whether her family is okay with her beach escapades, but I’m sure they would prefer to be informed about it from her than from the images cropping up years later from a malicious search in a never-ending database. 

I could tell that my parents were mildly disappointed. It wasn’t so much as reconciling the differences in our value systems, but the fact that there was a lack of forethought involved in making images of the sort public. I guess there’s a justification in saying that everyone’s doing the same thing. so why is that a problem? But given the several cultural nuances of modesty that I’ve imbibed, I can tell that there is a difference between an indiscretion made public and an indiscretion in private and an indiscretion in itself.

Afterwards, when my mother still seemed a bit shaken, my father reluctantly admitted that as much as he didn’t want to praise me to my face, he was still very proud that I had chosen to abide by my ideas of modesty. I wont’ deny it, there have been days on end when I have wondered if perhaps I covered a little less surface area of my body, could I be bestowed with superficial attention? I have come to learn that perhaps that is not the sort of attention I want. Maybe that’s why my parents are proud, and as complex as it is, I will try my best to uphold the very same reasons that continue to make them proud.

The power of email

Here’s a really weird thing I’ve noticed about social media. Facebook, Twitter, etc. are supposed to bring people, information and opinions closer to you. But this is also completely generic. There is no way we can be emotionally intimate with 1014 people all over the world, some of whom we have met only once, some we have added only because they are friends of friends and so on. We mirror this behavior in the real world by having circles of friends, and then even smaller circles of “closer” friends.

I’ve decided to send an email to two friends whom I haven’t seen for three months, and who are close to me. One was an extremely dear friend from back home who decided to keep her email account alive only because I refused to join Facebook until way into freshman year of college. We speak to each other very frequently and the emotional support that she provides me with makes me feel truly blessed to have her in my life. The other person is one of the most positive people I’ve met at college. She is so gentle, kind, positive, enthusiastic and artistic that I find it a sheer joy to be with her. She never fails to spread love to everyone and even though I realize that her medical sabbatical is necessary, I miss her. I always wondered what people thought about me when I wasn’t around, and now that these people weren’t around, I wanted to let them know that they matter to me.

I was a bit afraid to send out the emails, actually. I wanted to talk about my life and how things were going, but most of the words seemed to be related to stress and pain and worry, and I did not want to bring negativity to a person’s inbox. I ended up writing about absolutely random things in an incoherent mash of questions about them, opinions about improving the weather and unnecessarily detailed discourses about food. I didn’t want to seem superficial by telling them that “everything’s fine”, so I told them how despite everything I was trying to stay happy.

If I had my way I would have sent a hand-written letter, because nothing could be more intimate than that. But killing a tree, searching for varying addresses and delays in arrival made me stick to a digital medium. An email is the most private message that I could think of.  Obviously, I’m not talking about the kind of emails that arrive with 1000000 people in CC/BCC or carry the “FWD:” tag in subject lines. But I hoped to convey a lot more in the private audience that an email affords, than something that could be lost in the crowd, like a Facebook message.

I got back replies instantly. It makes my day to know that I have made two people feel special.The distance between us has somewhat affected our emotional proximity, but I also try to think of it as a way to provide more content to talk about. I hope they know that they are dearly loved and missed, and I will try my best to keep them in my noisy, busy occupied mind.

4 Indirect ways I shut out Facebook from my life

I don’t know how many of the crazy (and secretly helpful) habits that I have could be applied to anyone else in the world, but I must say that they are pretty effective for me. The weird thing is, I didn’t even know I had these habits, until I let go of them for a while and realized that life was falling apart in all sorts of obscure little ways. Also, Facebook has mixed results with a lot of social researches. Some say that they have done wonders for the human psyche, there are others who say that people who frequent Facebook tend to compare their lives to other people.  Here they are for your perusal.

Habit #1: Having a 60-character long Facebook password

Context: My roommate is one of those people who loves to post random statuses about life, masquerading as me. Therefore, I do not ever save my password on my browser. Also, I have this childhood fear that if I don’t log out of anything that I’ve logged into, I’m inviting hackers to pick at my data. Most of my time on Facebook is spent serially liking things, or messaging friends or actually getting all my club members up to speed on the events/deeds of the week. I could use a really helpful productivity app like StayFocused, but I’m in denial that I need one I need my Facebook time in uninterrupted pockets for “productive” reasons, such as get together with my study group. Therefore, the best way to stop getting addicted to Facebook is to write an essay in the password bar every time I try to log in.

Benefits: This method appeals to my lethargy, makes typing on the phone a very avoidable nightmare (so I’m not posting random links all the time) and keeps my account heavily protected. I stop visiting Facebook simply because I know that typing out 60 characters every single time I’m there is a pain. It makes my typing faster and it always amazes people to watch my fingers fly over the keyboard generating a military-grade password for something as mundane as my social life.

Habit#2: Move the Facebook phone app/widget off my home page

Context: Just knowing that I have to search among the complete menagerie of apps that infest my phone for one tiny single square F  makes me want to not bother with searching it. Don’t get me wrong, I love the clean design of the app and I especially like how unobtrusive the Android button is. Yet, I have so many apps that begin with the letters of the English alphabet before and with F that scrolling through makes my thumb tired and makes me want to forget what I had so earnestly wanted to share to a random mass of people anyway.

Benefits: It curbs my urge to spam my wall or my friends’ messages with random online content, simply because it is too tedious to locate the app button on my phone. It allows me to be deliciously lazy and prevents me from coming across some alarming notifications along the lines of “COME TO MY WEEKEND PARTY BECAUSE I KNOW YOU DON’T HAVE A LIFE. HERE’S ME RUBBING IT IN YOUR FACE #YOLO”. My thumbs are a lot more functional and occasionally, I come across an app that I never knew I had installed and waste my time on that instead of feeling pathetic that I am not in Florida/Mexico/<exotic locale> doing exotic things.

Habit#3: Abruptly change phone lock pin when going through a random mood swing.

Context: Since I’m a creature with a knack for terribly long passwords (see no.1), I don’t see the need to change them often. However, I keep my phone pin lock short so I can access it in the event of…well, life. Once, when I was super-upset, I changed the password to something I couldn’t remember even 20 seconds later (when my phone locked off). Even though my online accounts remain secure, I still feel the need to keep my memory of passwords up and running.

Benefits: Serves as a good memory-building tool, keeps my account safe, deters me from checking every single notification I get within 30 milliseconds of it’s arrival on my device, lets me use that time to do something else in my life, like crack codes which the past me uses to set these numbers up, <usual password reasons>, etc.

Habit#4: Use up all of my phone internet bandwidth within the first few days of my bill cycle

Context: Wow. My phone. Seriously. I’m not denying that Facebook on my phone has served several wonderful causes, such as diffusing awkward moments in the elevator by providing me with valid scroll-able content. or being anti-social in general. But there are those times when I’m supposed to be finishing a project and my hand gives into the Pavlovian reaction of pulling my phone out and admiring pictures and videos of ordinary people doing ordinary things.

Benefits: I obviously get a lot more internet bandwidth then to watch TED talks, listen obsessively to SoundCloud ( I feel like I should provide a complimentary link to my profile as evidence of just how active I am on that site) and read pages after pages of goodwill-bearing advice on Lifehacker. This also makes me want to curb later days of the month, when I’m stranded between midterms and hopelessly waiting for a page to load. When I’ve used up my bandwidth, each webpage takes a minimum of ten years to load, so my impatience makes me want to enjoy the reality of life, smell the roses midterms and so on.

There you go. Please feel free to let me know of some of your ideas/methods/habits that you have in order to stop social media from becoming your only media. I might even try some of them out!