Philosophical Musings While Popping Pimples As An Adult

You know how you brush your hand across your face and feel a slight bump where there wasn’t one before? The bump beckons you to the mirror. After a few increasingly frustrating cursory scratches, you discover it’s a pimple. And if you’re like me, you have little to self-control and patience. The infidel pimple must be uprooted from your skin by the militant aggression of your own fingers. These migrants of rebellion, dirt and pus cannot settle in the otherwise smooth flatland of your face. I know I’m advocating for a course of action that every dermatologist and every Person With Amazingly Clear, Flawless Skin will frown at, scoff, abhor. Don’t touch your pimples. Leave them alone. Like the rebel forces of the state, if you don’t pay attention to them, their campaigns weaken and they they must leave, ousted by the lack of support.

I’ve never had breakouts as frequent as these when I was a teenager, which is when these outbursts are expected. Hence as a 22-year old, I shake my head at the absent-minded bothering of the pimple by my fingers. Are pimples a rite of passage? is this like learning to drive to learning to hold your drink? Having pimples is sort of like wearing the publicly-visible “new-to-this-adulthood-thing” sticker. It makes the bearer self-conscious. It makes me want to look more closely at myself.

Am I still a teenager under all of this? Am I so eager to pop the pimple because I want to oust all evidence of my awkward teen years from my life? Am I unable to resist bothering the bump, no matter how small or how large, because I am hell-bent on “cleansing” whatever perceived negativity high school or being an awkward teenager might have left behind?

It’s odd for pimples to be popping when I’m beyond the normal age range for them, I think. Are they indicators of other health issues that I’m having but denying? I push the pimple for answers and revel a little in mopping up the response with a clean tissue paper. This cleansing is undeniably satisfying. If anything, I would like to weed out all of the problems in my life the way I pop the pimple. Effective, persistent and satisfying results.

Though it doesn’t appear to be so, every mismanagement of the pimple results in disrupting the surface of my skin. It’s not easy to discard toxins from your skin or from your life and perhaps you bear marks of the aftermath for a while to come. After a while, it has been done. The skin hurts, the face hurts, the pimple has given up and you’ve gone so far as to hurt the skin which hosted the pimple. Now the lesson remains, a maturation if you will. You could have been the bigger person and left the pimple alone. All it wanted was some attention and a space to call its own.

Or you couldn’t resist. You’re an adult; you can do what you want.

 

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“What is college like?”

Is it just four years of your life that you will spend a lot of money on, trying to be an adult, knowing that your family and financials are a safety blanket which you don’t need to immediately worry about? Is it the four years of your life when you discover that a science or an art that you wanted to make your life about is something you detest completely and that you’d rather do something else? Is it the guilt of exploring better options out there with someone else’s money or hoping that whatever else you find better be an investment which brings returns? Or the shame that you are wasting youth and time and emotion in trying to attach a few meaningful letters after your name when the trauma is done?

Is it the beauty of discovering independence? Of learning that sometimes loneliness can evolve into quiet nights of watching police sirens blink away three blocks from your dorm window and feel comforted knowing that at least you will never grow into that person? Of learning that there are times when the sun rises and you are trapped into a conversation that is stripping your soul of lies? Of discovering the true dimensions of people as they show and hide different aspects of themselves?

Is it the competence of doing your laundry right? With the colored clothes sorted into one pile and the white things in another? Is it realizing that the high of managing to complete your gym routine, homework, breakfast and room-cleaning before 10:00AM is the same as the turning out to be the only student in class who scored 94% and that this, in turn, is the same as being asked out by that shy boy who you secretly crave looks at your eyes more often than he does by hiding them behind his fringe? Is it the awkwardness that will follow when you realize that he thinks you’re a creep and that the line between romantic and weird is very fine? That superficiality is sometimes heavier than souls and thicker than the measurement of your chest-waist-hips? Is it wondering if they are even on the same quantifiable scale?

Is it just the four years of eating extremely oily pizza and a ton of bagels and oceans of cream cheese knowing that you’re one of those few girls who will graduate with your body looking the same, but being exhausted from within, deprived of the enforced maternal nutrition at home? Is it just the four years of coming across people who will have parents who have been in jail, who will have parents who will have cheated on each other, who will have parents who are unable to fund their child’s education for lack of understanding their child’s major, who have parents who have only dreamed of higher education? Is it the four years of learning why alcohol, drugs, drinking, sex and depression, TV, badly-edited writing and five consecutive bottles of Nutella are extremely dangerous because these things let a person run away from the reality that will inevitably slap them in the face? 

Is it the pride with which you will tell your stories back home, by saying, yes, I go to this college and how prestigious it is and look at all the things I’ve accomplished? Will that matter so much to their glazed over eyes who are waiting for you to tell them that you have not found affections in a “foreign” boy and are keeping yourself chaste and perfect and naively unaware of things like depression, suicide and bars? Will that matter so much when you try to explain what your research project is about when they are too busy trying to use you to inspire their own children into poring over books they hate? Is it the shame you will feel when they will hold you to be the perfect example, and your conscience coughs loudly at the back of your head, knowing that at their age you were no better than them and the atrocities you have committed to yourself and to others are nothing compared to what this sheltered oppressed being can comprehend at the age of 13/14/15?

Is it praying that your “gentle” preview of life will carry you though right when each semester sets fire to a different part of your soul and carves mountains out of another? Is it praying that this accompaniment to adulthood is not just the engineering degree but also the capacity to negotiate, argue, deduce and rationalize or even philosophize life into terms that you will feel less terrified of running away from? Is it the many nights of parties in cramped rooms and bent objectives bouncing off the walls as stress, tension of unexplained natures, political and sexual maneuvers and finding the right to belong in an ocean that sweeps in the new everyday?

Is it realizing that you are no longer a child and yet, a child of the world?

Apologies and updates about what’s going on

My regular readers may have noticed that my posting pattern is getting rather erratic. I wouldn’t want to simply brush off all this under the carpet called life. So here I am explaining what I’ve been up to and why my life is notching up another throttle.

Let me save myself from the very unfair (and possibly judgmental stare) that my readership is liberally eyeing me with,by explaining what I’ve been up to.

  1. I have signed up for two graduate-level classes in my third year. I really really really really REALLY wanted to study Artificial Intelligence since forever and so when I discovered that they were allowing a limited number of undergraduates to take the class I lunged headlong into it. Also, this semester a visiting professor from University of Michigan is here to teach it and he’s doing a fantastic job of it. However, this also means that I, a young blundering fool, must now keep up to the academic level established by graduate students (read: adults who [possibly] have their life together). It has not been easy, mind you. But I would rather have it hard than not have it at all.
  2. The second class is Natural Language Processing, which is being taught in a reverse classroom method this year. Which means that it not only has oodles of experienced grad students who are absorbing everything on the fly, but that my actual face-to-face interaction time with the professor is seriously limited. I’m a bit worried about this class actually because I wanted to make this my career, and I feel like I am floundering at the very basic introductory level class (which is still primarily for grad students, but how will I show my interest in the subject on my transcript if I haven’t taken the plunge?) It’s also on coursera, by Professor Michael Collins.
  3. Hackathons. If you’re an insider of the coding/geek/start-up/tech-start-up community, you might be all wise smiles and sage-like head nodding. If you’re not, let me explain. Hackathons are derived from the word “hacking” and “marathons”. They are literally between 16-18 hours of continuous code-writing in order to build an app or create software or make fancy tools. These are the estuarine waters where novice to experienced student coders meet company representatives of sponsors of the event. Sponsors are usually companies whose technology/code you would like to borrow or integrate into your code. Often, they will award a series of prizes based on creative usage of the data or technology they’ve provided.
    1. There are some major league hackathons that happen this time of the year in the region that I’m in. MHacks (hosted by Michigan), PennApps (hosted by UPenn), HackGT (hosted by GeorgiaTech) and HackMIT (hosted by MIT) are some of the very popular ones. They award apps with nearly $4000 dollars for their work. Although some offer even more $50,000 was offered this year by HackGT.
    2. Since Major League Hacks like those posted above invite every institution across the country, it’s a great meeting place to meet cool new people.
    3. Fun fact: I was privileged to attend HackMIT this year, where I built my first hardware hack. Basically, my team constructed a prosthetic arm using cardboard and motors and then we used a Myo armband to record human hand-motion and transmit it to the prosthetic in almost real time. There’s a video I would have loved to post, but I’m not quite sure I have the time to make it happen.
  1. Another fun-fact, I’m going to about two more hackathons this year: YHacks (hosted by Yale) and HackPrinceton (hosted by….come on, you should know by now).
  2. Searching for internships: I am literally scouring the web (and the websites of companies that I would LOVE to work with) for what they are offering and seeking from people like me.
  3. Lastly, getting health and everything back on track. I lose sleep a lot due to the aforementioned reasons, which just makes exams and tests and life incredibly hard.

Thus I must be off noble readers. I hope you’ll forgive me if the next post isn’t crisply lying in your reader feed (or whatever other mechanism you use to access my content). The month of October is crazy for me, but I promise things get better next month.

Cheers and love and prosperity and longevity!

Photoconstructions #1: The shadows of my dorm gates

This is the first of the photo-constructions I’ve been working on. Again, made with Pixlr, Aviary and a whole host of other apps which are designed to operate on my meager phone. I really enjoy making pictures like this, especially since it affords me more control over the sort of pictures we all know phone cameras are capable of taking.

Created after my parents dropped me back to college.

Created after my parents dropped me back to college.

Red Lipstick

I had this very uncharacteristic epiphany as I passed by the Sephora near Times Square, on a bone-drenching Tuesday afternoon where I was trying to navigate past the stampede of DSLR-bearing tourists without an umbrella. I don’t know why, and I perhaps can’t explain this is in any other way except for a sudden uprising of my feminine side, but I really wanted to wear a red lipstick. Call it a flashback of Marilyn Monroe, Gwen Stefani and every other woman in the world who has wielded the red lipstick, but it doesn’t just ooze color, it oozes confidence.

I hope this post doesn’t make me appear superficial because I seriously am investing my words and time into describing red lipstick and what I feel about it. But honestly, I had never experienced such a strong, inexplicable feeling from owning, wearing or even using a tube of red pigment.

There’s a milieu of research and articles and information about how red lipstick has been known to boost self-esteem because many women deem themselves worthy of self-care when they apply it. There has been research that shows that in times of economic hardship, red lipstick is the most frequent and common impulse acquisition. Corroborate this with the fact that red lipstick brings attention to our mouth and what comes out of it. Lastly, red lipstick serves as a marker of sexual arousal. Therefore, women who wear red lipstick are perceived as sexually confident, attractive, dominant, assertive and feminine.

And I, a straggling, awkward, wet, somewhat lost, umbrella-deprived just-barely-post-adolescent decided, right after finishing a $5 pad thai and battling the screeching wind, that I wanted to wear red lipstick.

As I’m a poor non-financially independent college kid, I decided that making my virgin purchase from Sephora from New York City (8.875% retail tax, thank you very much) was pushing the financial freedom I had been bestowed a little too much. So I splurged on an affordable stick of Revlon. To be honest, I was overwhelmed with the shades and colors and variants. After all, what is the difference between lipstick, lip-butter, lip-tint, lip-stain and basically every other item that is prefixed with a “lip”?

The next few seconds found me frantically asking Google which generic red would serve my purpose. I say generic because there apparently exists a whole other science in color-matching with skin-tones, which seemed to require another college education to master completely. Honestly, I just wanted a red lipstick and I wasn’t having any of the baggage or expertise or qualification that came with acquiring one humble tube of the stuff.

I almost felt shameless in ripping off the packaging as soon as I had swiped my credit card for it, but I did. I was so scared of being judged for putting on red lipstick in public, that I sneaked into a cubicle at a public restroom and used my phone-camera as a mirror. I don’t understand why I should feel safer putting it on inside a cubicle, when I very well could have used a public mirror outside the stalls, But I eased myself into it gently.

One swipe. Deep gasp. Too much color. Look at that, you look like a vampire after a lunch buffet. Blot. Blot. Blot. Blot. Wipe. Wipe. Wipe. Wipe. Then blot some more until the tissue paper is wearing the entirety of the one swipe and my lips look reassuringly normal. In an instant I felt as though all my stupid, naive and momentary dreams of sporting red lipstick had faded. For that one crushing moment, I remembered how I had been labeled “not pretty enough” and instead of a noble quest to discover the feminine, I felt as though I was part of a cheap charade. That somehow my awkwardness had made me unworthy of desiring to be confident, let alone desired.

But I didn’t give in to the cowardice. Everybody has to start somewhere. The only person judging me is myself. If I don’t experiment at this age, then I will never experiment at all. Fostering what could perhaps be called a scientific curiosity at the outcome of the experiment, I tried again. Half a swipe. Blend with finger. It took me a while, but I added on layer after layer until my lips had reached what I deemed as a very appropriate shade of red. Not vampire drool but just red.

And I wore it home. I promised myself that once it was on, I wouldn’t fidget with it. Leave it alone. You can’t see what’s on your face anymore, so it’s not your problem. I didn’t think it would last for more than an hour, but once I verified my reflection in the waning daylight, I actually felt happy with myself. I actually felt as though I wanted people to see and validate my red lips. It’s stupid and I know it sounds very silly, but as a few heads turned, I wanted to smile and tell them, “Look, I’m growing into a woman now.”

But I didn’t. For making baby steps, I surpassed my expectations and maybe someday, I won’t even need to tell people aloud. Even if I might look like another girl with make-up on, at least the mirror smiles back knowingly to me.

Reference Links (all the historical lipstick knowledge didn’t dawn on me from nowhere):

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/12/psychological-benefits-of-lipstick_n_4722612.html

https://psychologies.co.uk/body/the-power-of-red-lipstick.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lipstick

Real research here: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278431912000497

And another one: http://www.ccsenet.org/journal/index.php/ijps/article/viewFile/15080/11738

 

Nostophobia

Frequent readers of this blog will know that I usually post in a flurry at the end of the holiday season, not knowing when I’ll be able to give free rein to my writing. I also sometimes tend to pad it up with inspirational messages about how the holidays have changed me and how next semester will be vastly different from the last and all the mechanisms I have established in place to prevent me from making the same mistakes as before. 

This summer, I was supposed to be interning, and taking a summer class and working on research all through three months. Until my parents put their foot down and insisted that I stay at home, get my food and sleep schedule on track and work passively. I enjoyed the traditional vacations that most families schedule every few years, and honestly, I hadn’t been on a holiday since 2008. For a while, my life seemed more defined with experiences and photos and maps and managing my parents, than it appeared to be of deadlines.

But I was terrified that I would lose the punishing schedule that I had imposed on myself. I believed that if I wasn’t overworked and sleep-deprived, I wasn’t living my life right. When my parents insisted that I stay at home with them, I was sure that I was going to have the most boring and unproductive summer of the lot. I felt insecure about the fact that all my friends had secured internships at fancy places (J.P Morgan, McKinsey, Con Edison, etc) while I was living the pampered lifestyle:  occasionally writing code, blogging and swimming. 

Except now, the three months are over and I find myself saying something that I never thought would pass my mouth. “I don’t want the holidays to end.” I don’t want the holidays to end because I have grown so much healthier and happier since these months and I’m scared that once the onslaught of college begins, my “disciplined schedule” as maintained by my parents will not withstand the vagaries of undergraduate life. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am trying to internalize it so I don’t have to be dependent on close monitoring all the time. But I also don’t want to go back because of differences in my friend group. I have mandated that I find new friends this semester, people who truly make me happy and feel worthy, instead of continually trying to please a group of people who abuse my compassion.

But it’s the third year of college and work will be upon me faster and heavier than before. How am I supposed to find the time to make new friends? Or am I destined to feel alone as the deadlines slam into my days with unstoppable ferocity? 

Hence the nostophobia. I want to go back. I really do miss college, work, classes and some people. But I know I will miss these moments too. I just don’t know which one I will miss more. 

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

 

 

Daughter II

Akshay and Sudha stepped off the transit stop closest to their house and Sudha had a premonition that her mother was upset. They missed the school bus because Sudha had been late leaving her classroom. Akshay silently glowered at his 16 year old sister for delaying his meal.

“What’s your excuse this time?”

Akshay was not given to conversation which made every attempt seem abrupt and almost always accidental. When they were at home, their parents insisted that they speak to each other in their first language. But the heavy influence of English at school and in the world made their conversation a bilingual fluctuation.

Sudha felt that her silence would be a greater crime than her delay, so she started with, “I was helping Avani…”

Akshay scoffed as he heard the name and Sudha shut up hastily. She would not tolerate her brother’s judgement on whom she called her friends.

“You don’t see me scoffing at your lame friends!” she protested, hoping that it was more hunger than an actual distaste of her preferences which annoyed him.

“That Avani is a bad sort,” remarked Akshay, unfazed at the comment leveled a his own friends. He was more immune to her opinions than she was to his. Avani was one of the popular figures in school who could only be idolized or despised. She was not given to moderation and neither were the people who formed an opinion of her.

Sudha had nothing to say to that. Her brother’s peer group might comprise of awkward Call of Duty playing nerds who were socially inept, but they didn’t make as striking an influence on their family as her friend Avani.

“Even our parents don’t like her,” he added cementing his argument.

Rohini was a conservative religious Indian woman who had nearly passed out when Avani turned up at their door step at her daughter’s request. She was in heavy make-up and a very short, tight leather skirt which revealed a tattoo on her thigh. Rohini couldn’t understand her English queries but she assumed this girl had something to do with Sudha. Sudha was duly summoned and she had never felt more embarrassed under her mother’s piercing glare, though Avani was oblivious to it. She had quickly ushered Avani into her own room before her shell-shocked mother could recover enough for a response.

“My goodness, who is that girl? Look at her terrible appearance.” were Rohini’s first words as the door was shut on Avani. Sudha was grateful that her mother didn’t know English and that Avani couldn’t make sense of what she might have overheard.

“Ma, she’s a friend..”

“A friend?! Child, she has no modesty at all! Is this how the women of her household teach her to present herself to the world?! How can you call such people your friends?!”

“We just….She needed help in the math assignment, so…I didn’t want to turn her away.”

There was a very pronounced silence, and Sudha was sure that the divine names were silently invoked upon her to find the right guidance in her life, and upon Avani to see the error of her ways and adopt a more scrupulous lifestyle. Continued visits did not alter the first impression. As the anxious, stay-at-home mother, Rohini suspected every evil of peer pressure to befall her innocent daughter, and Avani seemed to her the very embodiment of all the corruption that she imagined.

Sudha was tired of defending herself. Often there had been nasty outbursts. Sudha had claimed that if they trusted her rigidly enforced morals, then perhaps they were strong enough to withstand the alleged moral degradation brought on by influences like Avani. She wondered why her family didn’t trust her with her own safety. After all, she could make decisions herself and she was mature enough to accept the consequences of her choice.

Nevertheless, Sudha tried not to bring her up in conversation with her family. It wasn’t her fault that Avani liked her. She wondered if Avani would think her less cool if she knew that her mother wasn’t educated, or that she had never owned anything remotely risque or that she didn’t have boyfriend, or that she wasn’t from as liberal a family as her own.

“What did she want anyway?” asked Akshay interrupting her reverie as they walked home.

“She needed some help with the biology homework due next week.”

“And that took so long?”

“We ended up talking about…..stuff.”

Akshay didn’t want to know further. He didn’t understand what all the girls had to constantly keep each other updated about all the time. As adolescents, they were still evolving into the world of discovering adulthood. As much as Akshay didn’t want his little sister to grow up, he knew he couldn’t challenge the forces that did. Spare monologues between his group of bespectacled introverts were always a concerted effort to avoid mentioning the “stuff” because a lasting awkwardness would prevail. It was the sort of discussion that their parents would cringe if they heard, but it was part of getting along with a cosmopolitan peer group.

“Stop letting her use you for her homework,” growled Akshay, changing tactics and feeling suddenly protective of his chaste sister.

“Why do you, of all people, have a problem with her? She can’t be ‘too modern’ for you.”

Akshay snorted at the euphemism. “Too modern” was how his parents classified anything that was unpalatable to their customs.

“Come on, tell me. What’s your problem with her?”

There was the obvious fact that there were far too many stories about her navigating the word of mouth as they traveled from the corridors of her classroom to his own. He knew that she strung about the boys in his class to get what she wanted and had left behind many rumor-mills, broken hearts, unfinished stories and a very sour aftertaste. Whatever little he knew of her, he didn’t want her to be his sister’s friend.

“You know what they say…”

“Since when did you start believing what the gossip says? She didn’t even know who you were before we spoke to each other. How can she annoy you when you don’t even know her?”

“She’s too….too annoying,” he justified, pouncing on the pathetic word as though it perfectly captured all that he was trying to convey about her. He could have called her that perfect expletive, but his conscience would not permit him to swear in front of his sister in either language. She probably knew what he was about to say but he didn’t want to test the boundaries of her vocabulary. After all, the same mouth might be called to chant the holy Sanskrit names in the evening prayers.

“Why does she want to talk to you?” came the deflection. Sudha was too sheltered to be considered remotely glamorous and it surprised him that someone like Avani would seek out his goody-two-shoes sister as a friend.

“I’m just a good listener, I guess,” shrugged Sudha. “She likes to talk you know, about her boyfriend and…”

“Spare me the details,” cut in Akshay, wincing at the thought of her discovering some of Avani’s fabled amorous atrocities.

“Ma will definitely yell at me,” mused Sudha as she took her shoes off as she stepped inside the door. She saw Akshay turn his back to her and wondered if he felt that she deserved the chastisement that was to follow. After all, she had never worn shorts or smoked or even remotely attempted anything suggestible to a boy. But she liked to hear of Avani’s conquests like incredible fables from a different world.

“Children, why are you so late?” came the inevitable despair mingled with relief as Rohini rushed to serve the food warm.

“Ma, I..” began Sudha on cue, bracing to face the storm at the mention of the notorious name.

“My last class stretched on and the transit was late,” said Akshay, overriding his sister.

His mother and sister calmed instantly for completely different reasons.

“Oh, you poor children,” continued Rohini in a flurry. “You could have called us at home and told us you were late. Wash quickly, the meal is almost cold now.”

Sudha silently acceded, confused at her brother’s magnanimity. Akshay silently congratulated himself on preventing another one of his mother’s long-winded interrogations about Sudha’s life decisions.

“Here, do you want another helping of rice? Sudha, why don’t you try the Spinach curry? How was school today? What did you learn?”

The questions continued but a response wasn’t expected. Sudha munched her rice slowly, wondering why he had stepped in for her. Maybe she would tell her the truth later. Akshay, on the other hand, rationalized that if the women must have their shouting matches they could do so once he was safely locked up with his xBox.

“I owe you, big brother,” beeped the text message on his phone. Akshay shoveled food ravenously and wondered if his protectiveness was spoiling Sudha’s ability to stand up for herself.

“What does Converse with Kurti mean anyway?”

As a celebration of this blog’s anniversary, I’m going to try to explain why I chose the name Converse with Kurti.

Some cultural enlightenment is in order. A Kurti (pronounced koohr-tee) is an Indian traditional tunic, often decorated with colors and patterns and other ethnic symbols. Kurtis are often viewed as a diminutive or short-handed version of the salwar kameez, or churidar which come with their own scarves (color matched) and their own trousers/leg-wear (again, color-matched). The Kurti is a single shorter unit and is versatile at being paired. This has led to its increased popularity, especially with the college student demographic as it obeys the dress codes imposed at their institution and allows them to be flexible with their fashion. Ethnic patterns meeting skinny jeans was comfortably the last resort option when the comfort of a school uniform disappeared.

Growing up in a concrete jungle means that I obviously had a wider range of college-wear to choose from, but the Kurti remained a classical favorite. In my school, the only time that girls wore the Kurti was when they wanted to appear traditional or ethnic or even patriotic in some way. Wearing a modest Kurti would instantly earn you brownie points from the parents of your friends who may or may not draw unfair comparisons. Wearing a Kurti came to be understood as a symbol of chastity, the willingness to show that you were still bound to the heritage that you grew up with, even if you are equally comfortable flaunting Lees/Levis/American Apparel jeans under them. A kurti simply made people appear shy, feminine, mature, dressed up, modest and comparatively “more Indian” than anything else.

Combine that with the other contrasting brand image, as supported by Converse shoes. When you wear Converse shoes, your peers may or may not peg you to be that cool, low-maintenance girl who doesn’t care what people think but wears a fancy brand anyway, possibly even a gamer or a wannabe punk and almost certainly a tomboy. Your parents might either think you’re very childish (the thing has laces on it like a school-kid’s shoes) or practical (Well, at least she can walk in those) or unnecessarily an adolescent indulgence. (Why waste so much money on Converse when any other pair of sneakers can suffice?)

And what of the girl who wears both? What categories does she fit in? Is she destined to fit in at all? Which milieu of identities shall I claim as my own or is this haphazard mess of perspectives supposed to find a niche for itself?

I used to wear Converse with Kurtis to offset my femininity, to somehow provide a strong, if not equivalent representation to the sci-fi loving, dubstep-jamming punk that continues to code away. To me, it has evolved beyond a simple question of couture, but then what had/was I to become?

Searching for answers began this blog.