“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.

Defining boundaries: Breaking up with a friend

Hear me out because this is not the sort of thing I do everyday.I made the cold-blooded, rationalized, well-pondered decision to tell one of my friends that we were not going to be friends any more.

I think I would have tried to reason with her why, but she was too busy feeling her feelings to hear me out. She feels very deeply offended by my actions and I am given to understand that she has been incredibly hurt. But I think that I have made the better decision for both parties. Let us explore the problem statement.

Problem: A formerly close friend and I have grown distant for the last few months. In the beginning of this academic year, we were very close and I sought out her company often. But she doesn’t actively seek my company any further and being a great believer of reciprocity, I decided to maintain the status quo. I am not the kind of person who will actively impose on another human being, especially for company.

Whenever I did hear of her, it was about her fan-girling about one boy after another. I don’t mean to say people shouldn’t do that, but my friend is under the mistaken impression that she will find “love” through her methods (to which I have some objections as well), and that “love” is likely to boost her own low self-esteem. I’m not one to judge here because I have suffered the same affliction as well. And I have grown out of it. But she seems to continue with her self-destructive tendencies, and it bothers me immensely that as a friend, I am unable to do anything for her.

I understand that I am in no position to claim that my philosophy to life is better than hers or anything of that sort. But I feel as though I have failed as a friend if I cannot help them overcome their own demons. Due to our extremely large differences in our life philosophies, and because I think I am mature enough not to ask her to change herself or anything, I have decided that it would be advisable for both of us to end our alliance. I am tired of feeling pity and disgust for the ways that she chases men, even though I respect that chasing men deserves to be her priority as much as being competent and independent is mine.

Very recently I discovered, quite by accident (since we haven’t been frequently in contact for a while), that the boy she is perpetually raving about is simultaneously dating two other girls. It was an awkward conversation because she personally hadn’t informed me how vested she was into him. I just got to hear it through all of our mutual friends. I had to break it to her, and it made for some awkward conversations, but I really wanted to get away from all of it. I asked her why. Why did she have to put herself through these emotional messes every time? And she gave me an answer that has taught me a very valuable lesson: “I couldn’t control my feelings”.

We were already distant then, and I was willing to let things drift because not only do I feel completely useless as a friend, I also feel that she doesn’t want me in her life anymore because I won’t tolerate her listening and talking about boys all the time. (She informed me afterwards that she was very offended that I would think her main interest would be something so superficial). That’s not the point. I’m not judging her interests. I feel that I cannot extend my compassion and understanding to her any longer. We’ve both changed as people (or maybe it’s just me), to be able to tell each other “I love you” honestly.

As circumstances happened, I was in a research panel with her new nascent love interest. We were discussing structural design and machine learning when all of a sudden she appeared from nowhere, claimed that she missed me and what not. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to assume what her intentions might have been. But the timing of her sudden need to reconnect with me felt as though she was using me to get to him. Given the kind of stories I’ve heard from people who are close to her, who are not her haters, I wouldn’t put it past her to be like this. I was just so completely sick of her trying to use me, and that too for something as pathetic as the supposed illusion of “love” in an immature environment like college.

I evaded her response for a while. And when she came knocking at my door, I told her the truth. I’m not sorry if it offended her, because what she has been doing has offended my sensibilities long enough. I think she could be grateful that at least I let her know where we stand to her face instead of hiding it behind false smiles and hidden disgust. I don’t have to cringe every time I hear another incident of how “desperate” she was being. I don’t have to feel like I have failed as a friend for not helping her overcome her insecurities. Again, I repeat myself, I don’t want to say that she is wrong or reprehensible. To be honest, she hasn’t even done anything to hurt me. But I am tired of wasting my time and emotional energy onto her, hoping for a rekindling of our friendship. Even then, even if we went back to being friends, I would not put up with her constant chatter about boys.

I am tired of accommodating the large differences in our philosophies. She likes being the state she is in. I don’t like my friends to be like that and I have the right to choose that. Therefore, the problem is with my terms of friendship, and not with her. I deserve the right to have certain standards to uphold of my friends. She deserves the right to be/do whatever she likes. So the solution is to simply not be friends, because none of the other variables that are in play here are mutable. If she is no longer my friend, then I no longer have to feel like a dead-weight and she doesn’t have to feel like she has someone who is close to her who disapproves of her idea of fun.

I will still insist on being polite and civil, because I think every human being deserves that. But I will no longer have to cringe at the thought of how she may or may not grind up against a random boy in a crowd to boost her self-esteem, because she is not my friend anymore. I don’t have to deal with that.

 

Art

“Am I a work of art if I go unrecognized?” asked the fierce portrait of the dust that shamed its flagrant colors. Nobody answered and for a while the portrait wondered if truly another human, beyond its creator, could ever find the beauty that creator did. For what else could be the purpose of art?

A ray of sunlight broke through the panes and the dust glittered in the ray, as did the paint on the cheek. “The sun shines on me,” whispered the milieu of colors. If nature can touch me just as generally as it can touch the rest of the earth, surely I am no less than any other for nature itself appreciates me.

“I remain vibrant,” echoed the passive silence.

{Dev}fest 2014: How I evolved into a better person and programmer

So, I’ve been gone for a week. I have literally been disconnected from social media and from my friends and usual coursework for a week.There’s a hacking/app-developing fest that happens here for a week and I participated in it for the first time. It was an interesting, exhausting and draining experience, but I have emerged from the experience with a boost to my self-esteem and some serious resume credentials. I don’t mean to brag, but it seems that the complete detachment from the human world for a week has left me with several ideas that I want to say. For the record, I am running on two hours of sleep and I have written code for approximately 86 hours cumulatively. Therefore, please excuse me for any errors that may inadvertently happen.

It’s a beautiful feeling. That delicious joy of exhaustion, fulfillment and creating something entirely new and your own. The joy of watching your effort work. The joy of creating a tool that will make everything so much more accessible and awesome and in an infinitesimal, but important way, contribute to the continuum that is human progress.

I had several different feelings about joining this project. I know that I am somewhat capable of writing code, but I always had the assistance of homework or a syllabus to structure my learning. This leaves me somewhat sensitive to the fact that despite all my years of experience, I have felt under-accomplished. As it turns out, there are several friends in my friend group who are programmers. All of them decided to go ahead and register for the project without asking for me. I was quite upset about it because I thought they were insidiously (or not) implying that I wasn’t competent enough to be a part of them. They were exclusively a group of six males, and this venture was supposed to be a “bro” thing. My friend justified that clearly, my presence was unwelcome for a completely different host of reasons beside my competence.

I struggled to come to terms with it somewhat, and though I understand the gender-normative requirements of “bro-time”, it still didn’t change the fact that I felt slurred. So I was determined to find a crazy, insanely hard project where I would be valued. I managed to come across a group of five graduate students working on a machine-learning system. Perfect. Not only could I be exposed to wisdom of the <ahem> not-so-ancient, but also I could get first-hand experience in something I’ve wanted to do in forever: machine learning. I was the youngest of the group for a while (we eventually picked up another undergraduate freshman to help us with HTML), but I was still the only girl in the group. Even though I felt immensely grateful for the opportunity to be in such an environment, I was also completely in awe of the people I worked with. We were going to design a three-dimensional recommendation system that would parse through all of the English articles in Wikipedia and based on a combination of some cutting-edge machine learning algorithms be able to fetch better articles.

For a while I thought my presence was unwelcome. All said and done, I’m a fresh-faced sophomore in a group of experienced graduate students. They’re basically doing me a favor by having me on board. So, I pushed myself constantly to deliver, to perform, even if the deliverable required of me were relatively mundane. There were times when it failed. I was required to use a programming language that didn’t have any sort of documentation on it whatsoever. We were taming the mutant beast formed from hodgepodge code of millions of free examples over the web.

My project lead told me that he was actually grateful that there was at least someone in the team who was always cheery and optimistic and funny, because without it working on such a complex, exhausting and immense project would have been difficult. My project lead is an amazing man. He is a visionary, a good human being, a kind soul and more so, an extremely charming man. He is also ambitious, driven and very receptive to feedback. Without him, I would have still been a pouting weenie. Now I call myself a programmer. We are one step closer to creating his dream, which is, in fact, our dream.

During the span of the week, I spent every day writing code from 6:00PM to 11:00PM. Combine that with the 24 hour hackathon the night before. I have learned HTML, CSS and Javascript (Three.js) in one week. I have re-drawn co-ordinate systems and made my math education worth its money, by squeezing out formula for transforming 2D co-ordinates to 3D, working with the changing geometry of shapes as a camera zooms into a screen and the co-ordinate system stretches out, staying patient while scraping the best I can off internet examples only and more so, working in a language that has no formal support system. I’m not saying our team was smooth and non-disruptive. We had our disagreements. We had our conflicts. We resolved whatever we could. We presented the final best of whatever we could. I realized that I wasn’t doing this immense project because I wanted recognition and credit, which was indeterminate. I was doing this simply because I loved it and I created it.

Our project demo wasn’t too spectacular, because our team lead was exhausted beyond measure and so were we. But I was still happy that I had participated and I knew that I had evolved into something else. We were presenting to some of the spectacular people in the industry of hacking and app-development and I was rather disappointed by fate that we were all so tired that we couldn’t make our final pitch properly.

Then two hours later, they announced the winners in different categories of the week-long Devfest. We were awarded the Andreessen Horowitz award for Most Technically Challenging Hack.

Yeah, people are talking about me now. I have the street cred I wanted. One of my friends from the “bro”gang went so far as to suggest that I should work for a company and start making money of my own already. I am admired and loved and envied and perhaps some combination of all of these or none at all. But I do know that I have finally tasted the pure joy of creating on the fly. Of recognizing a structured, final end-goal with limited unstructured resources. I have finally realized the pure unadulterated joy when your code compiles and your screen renders exactly what you imagine it to be. I have finally grown into that person who can shrug off what other people think of me. Only now, when people whom I have never known are congratulating me, have I realized just how empty the rest of the world is in relation to the goals I have accomplished in my mind.

I don’t know how else to say it without actually saying it. I have actually surpassed my own expectations as a person and as a programmer. I know that it is truly within me to strive for something higher and literally I am radiating gratitude to every force and being in this universe. Thank you for everything. Thank you truly, most sincerely, eternally for everything. For the friends I’ve made in this journey. For the incredibly talented people I’ve come across. For the person that I have now become. For the person that I am yet to become.

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.

How I (am trying to) rebuild myself: Self-awareness

As promised in my previous post, I would write about how I’ve been working on myself. Since this is very person specific, and I usually write very personal things on this blog, I’m just going to ramble on and hope you find something remotely meaningful in all of this.

Firstly, I’ve been putting off embarking on this journey for quite a while. It happens at the end of every year. I always look back and wonder, “Oh my goodness, I’ve changed so much since last year.” When I say things like that, I sort of re-affirm a very stupid postulate in my head that I have arrived at the peak of my transformations and emerged as a final product. Philosophically, I’m aware that no human being at any stage in their lives is a final product, but somehow I always delude myself by saying “Look, I’m at least past the manufacturing stage”.  So this year, in order to make some serious improvements to that, I’ve come to accept that yes, a lot has happened the past year and perhaps something comparable if not more will continue to happen next year and the years after. This leads me to self-awareness aspect 1.

Aspect 1: I don’t adapt to change as easily as I think I do. This is okay, as long as I’m not deluding myself into believing that the change has already happened. Being slow > being completely ignorant.

Aspect 2 (technically, Sub-aspect 1):  I am a shameless expert at deluding myself. Need to stop that on an objective level.

This year started off with a day that was just like any other day, except everyone felt suddenly festive and had holidays. Some childish part of me used to give into the hype about New Years and literally wait, Cinderella-style, for some miracle to occur when the clock struck midnight. Perhaps the biggest personal miracle of them all was to realize that it was literally just the same as any other day. This means that every day is equivalent to a new day and therefore I can apply all the hype about fresh beginnings to every new day as well.

Aspect 3: I can use my self-deluding skills to convince myself of positive things.

In the midst of all the festivities going on, something rather awful happened. For the first time in my life, I got a C+ in a core class that I enjoyed. The class for which I got the C+ was on C++, so the grade appeared to be some sort of parody of itself. This rocked my GPA somewhat hard. It rocked my emotional stability somewhat harder. How am I supposed to celebrate and be merry with this sort of cloud looming over my head? I was waiting for the disappointment and the latent depression to take over, until I realized something important. I got that C+ because I was so busy worrying about my GPA. Well, the worst happened. My GPA has sunk to 3.15. The worry that had sapped off so much of my joy and energy finally materialized and……I’m still alive, the world is okay and spinning on it’s axis and to be honest, the damage is quite minimal and more importantly recoverable.

Aspect 4: I have an extremely awful habit of worrying and corroding my self-esteem based on (future) events that I cannot control. Now that I’m standing in the midst of the metaphoric rubble, I realize that failure, at this level, is not quite bad as I thought it would be. I may still get a job. I may still be able to graduate. I may still be/aspire to be a good, loving, kind human being.

I was talking to my father (literally, the best friend and coach and everything-awesome-in-a-human-form-that-cannot-be-captured-in-my-Mom) about it. This is what he said, “You don’t take a class hoping to get a good grade out of it. You take a class hoping to truly understand the content matter that has been presented in it.” I have to love what I’m doing. To be honest, I do love what I’m doing, except intangible worries of the future make me so anxious that I am borderline dysfunctional.

Aspect 5: I cannot control people. I can control how much I interact with them and what those interactions should be like, but beyond a point I am free to exercise my independence and not worry about ruffling anybody’s feathers.

This comes from a long history of being a people-pleaser. Now I’m not going to say that it is altogether a trash-worthy philosophy, because I still believe in people being kind and nice and courteous and respectful of their fellow humans whom they share this Earth with. BUT if they don’t know their boundaries, it is only right to you and to that other person that you take the initiative to specify the boundaries of the interaction. I still love making people happy and I’m not ashamed of it. But I don’t have to force myself to interact with the kind of people who literally set off my internal alarms.

I’ve been trying to put Aspect 5 into practice even before the new year, and its worked out very well. I hope to keep it this way.

Aspect 6: I do not eat to feed my body. I eat to feed my brain and the ancillary systems, which happen to be my body. So, if I respect my brain and its operations, I have to give due respect to the other things that make it functional and effective. I openly promise (in writing, mind you), that I will not brag about having slept for less than 5 hours every night. I will also not brag about my terrible, terrible food habits.  (Updates are in progress. I promise. In writing. Fingers uncrossed.)

During midterms, my body is composed of 50% blood and 50% this.  Image credits: www.starbucksmelody.com

During midterms, my body is composed of 50% blood and 50% this.
Image credits: http://www.starbucksmelody.com

Not going to begin on the “Body = temple” cliche here, but you know what I’m talking about. I’m almost 19/20 years old and it’s high time I take responsibility for what my hands put into my mouth, under action from my brain which clearly has other priorities besides health. I have been hitting the gym and waking up with all sorts of aches and pains, but that’s okay. A warrior must always train herself in other techniques as well. I can’t be expected to survive college if I lack physical endurance.

Aspect 7: (This one is rather hard.) I would like to be able to respect myself better. I have come a long way from salvaging my self-esteem, but I don’t feel fully confident with myself yet. I don’t expect to achieve this within the year, but through emotional de-cluttering, I’ve become a lot more happier with myself. I try not to think about issues which make me question my self-worth, because if I don’t have to deal with it up-front on a daily basis, it’s not worth my time.

For example, my obsession with superficiality and “not being pretty enough”. I don’t mean to sound like I’m flattering myself here, but I’ve received several compliments and opinions and arrived at the conclusion that I am actually quite okay. Most people say that I look “sweet/pretty”, so they can’t all be telling me the same lie. But here’s where the game takes a level upgrade. Their opinions (or even my own on this subject) honestly don’t matter anymore. I have never claimed to be Head Authority of Pretty, nor am I aspiring to be one. The people who are around me don’t care, so I should stop poking and nettling myself with saying that I’m not good at being something that’s very unnecessary to my existence by default.

I am going to sign off now, because I think I’ve said most of what I wanted to say. I know this list is not complete, and I hope that as the year passes by, I’ll be able to report a happier progress on these issues. Also, to my readers, thank you for reading as always. Please feel free to drop off feedback. Super Happy New Year to you! More importantly, if you have any resolutions/changes/goals, good luck to your success on them. Goodnight!

Cracks In My Armor

This may just be my most honest blog post yet. I’m going to talk about why I’m scared to be myself. I’m going to talk about why I have this perpetual need to keep comparing myself against other people, and how I resort to punishing myself for simply being me. As it is, dear reader, I don’t want your pity or sympathy, even though you may be humane enough to give them to me. I don’t want them because I’m going to tell the story of me unadulterated, to remind myself that I have conquered several demons, most of whom have lived inside my head for years and whom I battle even now.

There was a time in my life when I was afraid of being alone. I was always scared of new people who interacted with my friends because I was terrified that my friends would always abandon me for that new fascination. As a kid, it used to be the new resident with the shiny toy. Over the years, this perpetual fear of isolation has morphed into a judgment of not being worthy enough. But I have come to love solitude. I have come to respect the fact that even I need space, if I am to search for truly worthy companionship. I have build my self-esteem to the point where I don’t have to feel like I hate myself.

Sometimes, I have this desperate need to be understood. I talk to my friends and family and they all advise me, and they make my problems look so small and stupid that I feel as though I’ve been a burden on them simply for existing.

Sometimes, I feel like I’m not interesting enough for a person. I am surrounded by so many talented brilliant people that I feel hollow within. It frightens me that other people can see through my facades and tell what’s going on because they know they have me at an advantage. So they do take advantage. Once that ordeal is done and their utility satisfied, they leave and I am left to wondering about the pieces of myself. I don’t play sports. I don’t watch TV, or at least I don’t watch what everyone else likes to watch. I don’t listen to the kind of things or read the kind of material that “everyone else” likes to do. I was given to understand that in this large world of people, I would surely find that one niche of people who would be like me.

It wasn’t school. Or High school. I was deluded when I thought that admission to an Ivy League institution could mean something. I haven’t yet found those people who like me enough to spend time with me.

My best friend rarely spends time with me because she’s always busy and because she’s in a relationship. Granted, we all have that phase when we are deeply enamored and therefore deeply vested into that one solitary person and his/her quirks. She doesn’t realize that I miss her. But then again, I’ve made these demands to her and somehow I am not important enough, so looks like I’m just going to have to accept it. This is probably going to sound incredibly whiny and you can heap scorn on me as much as you please (World lesson: people love to do that), I’m not important enough for anyone.

I’m a repository of other people’s dreams and expectations and their extremely fickle standards and somehow, anyhow, I am searching for that one answer to what my self worth is truly worth.

I would have talked more about relationships, except that’s probably not a Pandora’s Box I want to open just yet.

Or maybe I do. I live in constant terror of rejection. By friends, by that one crush, by that family who loves me so much. I feel as though I’m not doing enough to make these people proud of me. It makes me tear up every time when my parents say that they’re proud of me because deep down inside I wonder if I have truly earned the love and admiration of such people. I am trapped in my own convolutions. I have a problem with not getting enough love and not feeling I’m worth it when I am getting it.

I live in constant fear of being “annoying” and “lame”. Because that was what led to my abandonment several times, and I consciously try to fit in so hard that I don’t have to be seen as the weakest link. There are times when people around me don’t extend the same courtesy to me. For the most part I grin and bear it. For the rest, I run away.

Most of the time I don’t feel good enough or funny enough or anything enough. I read this very insightful post the other day about how people who are truly funny are people who have survived emotional wounds in order to recognize the true value of humor. The humor I’m surrounded with is merely pathetic wordplay and lame puns, and somehow everyone in the world loves those. I feel as though they are eroding away at my sense of self-worth. Have I stopped understanding people to not be funny anymore?

The other day I went to a friend’s party and two friends complimented me on looking “pretty” and “hot” respectively. One was a stark sober acquaintance. The other was a very drunk best friend (same one as above). I thought the former was being too kind and the latter was too drunk to know what she was saying. My friend is superficial at times and it bother me very much, but I’m coming to terms with it. The world has told me enough times that I’m not pretty or attractive and I’ve managed to deal with it by telling myself, “I don’t need to be pretty or attractive to be a successful, happy person.”

I can’t tell you how pathetic it feels to be unrecognized or deemed ugly. This is one of the reasons why I vacillate between extremes. Universe, either make me beautiful, so beautiful that there is no doubt as to my true worth. Or make me ugly, so horribly ugly that I can revel in the fact that I am this way and that nothing can compete with my ugliness. My best friend, when sober, claims to be a good judge of such aesthetics and I have always been labeled with the “Not Bad”. Almost as if an afterthought, as though catering to that desperate hungry overwhelming need to be accepted and recognized and loved and appreciated. Isn’t that what everyone wants? To be happy?

Let’s now ignore this very large chunk of reality and focus ourselves onto more practical and necessary ideas – such as academics, a career and so on and so forth. Recently I got a 0/150 in a programming assignment where out of five files (four of which were solid code and the fifth was a little tool to stitch them together), I submitted only four (forgot the fifth). Without that one two-liner of a file, the rest of my code doesn’t work. It compiled but it didn’t “work”. And voila, a 0. I had several opportunities to re-check my work.

I am terrified of being careless. It’s not that I don’t know the material or that I’m not smart enough to understand it. Luckily, that’s one of the few things working in my favor. But the very fact that everything hinges on that one small detail which I missed. It might cost me a letter-grade, which might me a cost me a research position, which might cost me a job, which might cost me the disappointment of my immensely loving and caring family who do not deserve this for their efforts.

My father says I worry about the future too much. I know this thing for sure. Even though it wears my mental energy down significantly, I have this obsessive compulsive need to worry and it eats into my health, my sanity and moreover my happiness.

I worry that I’m not resourceful enough. That I’m not justifying the $60,000+ that my parents have invested into me in order to make something of myself. There have been times when I simply break down and ask them why did they choose such a futile endeavor and they justify by saying that they know this investment of their time, love, emotions and money is not going to fail. That I am molding myself into something worthwhile, even though I don’t know it.

I used to be scared of growing up. Because I didn’t want to abandon the love and joy of childhood for whatever it was. I remember being the melancholy little child wondering about the Big Bad World, and now that I am in the Big Bad World I have no way of going back. More so, I know that if I do go back I’ll end up repeating the same mistakes.

Tonight I have finally finished 6 hours of continuous finals. A decisive battle has been complete, but not won. I am so exhausted after last night’s weeping about my self-esteem. But more so, I have finally found a reason to be proud of myself. My parents tell me that one of my strongest attributes is the ability to pick myself up and continue. Today, I feel as though I might have accomplished that. Despite all my fears, I have come to moving beyond them. Solitude has become my friend. There are times when I need self-reflection, not self-criticism, but reflection. I am not as ready to chastise myself for the smallest things as before.

I’m still fighting the hardest battle yet, and that is to hold on to my sanity and somehow love myself.

Second Chances

Today, I’m going to talk about two teenage girls who have been on very different ends of second chances. Before I begin, I must insert a disclaimer about how I don’t really know either of these people very intimately.

I received news from some friends back home that a student in my school who was in senior year of high school, committed suicide. Now, I didn’t know this girl, and I don’t really know what her problems were but I was rather rankled by all the sanctimonious comments on Facebook about how suicide is wrong. It’s hard enough as is to classify something as complex as the termination of your own life as “wrong” or “right”. More so, if you are the person who has to take the decision, surely you must have arrived at the conclusion after some thought.

She was 17 years old, talented, capable and most people were too blinded by their rosy glasses to find any fault with her life.But clearly, she did and that’s why she did what she had to do.  I am now going to do one of the most unfair things that I have done: attempt to understand her situation. 17 was one of the harder years of my life. I was under dual pressure from the academic standards of two very different countries, attempting to rein in my raging hormones, struggling to find some meaning, some light at the end of this endless vortex of intensity.

For the first time in my life, I scored a 10/50 in a school exam, knowing full well I would have to hand my report card in during college applications. I spent all my time wasting away in the hopeless desire that some entity who barely knew my existence should be obliged to return my passion. I was desperate for social recognition and searching for some sense of worth in the midst of all these rapid changes which were forced on me too fast and too harsh. My self-esteem was eroding and every time I would try to recombine the crumbs, a new onslaught of stress and pressure would reduce me to bits.

There are times when I was so wrapped in my own bubble of demons that I had contemplated what it would be like to not exist. I knew that there were people who would hurt themselves and show their scars proudly, in some pathetic embodiment of bearing all the angst in the world. There was a time when pessimism was cool, and unfortunately there are still people who thrive on cynicism and negativity. But I wasn’t one of them. It annoyed me to no end that these people sought public sympathy by displaying their wounds.

But like the girl who died, there are some wounds that we inflict on ourselves that cannot be seen. Some demons that we decide to grow inside our heads, whom we grow dangerously dependent on. We call them different names. They thrive on different external sources: that low grade, that rejection, that disappointment that our parents tried to hide and so on. I don’t know what hers was. I do know that life wronged her in some way. But, even then, even as she is gone, I am left with the incredibly stupid hope that maybe if she had given life that second chance, she could have still lived for the little things: sunshine, nature, love and a future.

The second person I’m going to talk about is Rebecca Black. No, I’m not trying to trivialize something as serious as suicide by talking about a pop star, but today I watched the video of her new song, Saturday, and I’m actually moved to talk about her.

Granted, Friday wasn’t a song that I liked, but every celebrity makes some awful faults from time to time.  I watched as the masses unleashed their seemingly infinite reserve of cruelty on her. I’m not trying to make a statement here by saying that people shouldn’t be allowed to have negative opinions, but I’m also saying that YouTube video comments appear to showcase a highly caustic section of our society.

But forget all that. Forget what happened two years ago, with an awful song and the notorious ridicule that followed that girl.

Today, I heard the song Saturday, because like the rest of the world, I wanted to see what the fuss was all about. Like the horrible biased creature I am, I walked in expecting to be disappointed, expecting something that would disgust me and then I could walk out with the satisfaction of shaking my head and saying, “Nah, I knew this girl had way too much time to waste.”

Here is what surprised me. The song wasn’t bad.

It wasn’t earth-shattering, ground-breaking, miracle-inducing awesome, but clearly Rebecca had matured as an artist and customized her work better to suit her target audience. I don’t know how much effort went into this and I dare not contemplate but when the video ended, and I actually pulled the seek back to re-listen to some of my favorite parts, I wondered what an enormous change it must be. Here she was, a teenager trying to make something of herself, changing one prejudiced person at a time.

What touched me about the song was that she actually mocked her own former work, Friday, in the piece. Hats off to the courage of the girl who can pick up the pieces and start again from some of the most unforgiving audiences in the world, accept that her previous work was not it and mold her creative efforts into making something more palatable. She is so brave that she is willing to try again, even though she knows what the risk of failure on such a large magnitude feels like. I didn’t have too many positive opinions about the video of the song, because as always, it appears that audiences seemed to like parties that are sexualized or alcoholic and so on. But the very fact that she had grown up enough to take charge of her responsibilities and try again actually makes me admire her somewhat.

I know I wouldn’t have been able to do that. I think it’s amazing that she did. I want everyone in the world, everyone who had formerly hated her, or her work or anything, to give this 16 year old a second chance.

Why do I feel so strongly moved to bestow my supposed power to grant her a second chance? I don’t even know her. I’m literally just one more data point in the YouTube count of views. But from one view to another, I very naively want life to be a little more forgiving to this girl than they were to the girl in my school. Because I know that there are times when we come to heavily depend on those second chances and that we never find them when their existence would mean everything.

I understand how illogical it is for me to compare the lives of these two teenagers. Rebecca Black is obviously a celebrity and even though people cringed at her for quite a while, she was still a very popular figure. Nobody probably knew this girl in my school, but then again she never had to face the same magnitude of ridicule that Rebecca did. They’re different people. They lead different lives, yes. So what?  Life was unfair to one of them, and the other is trying to fight the rising tide.

I also watched her own reaction video to Friday. The more the video progressed the more melancholy and awed I felt. This girl has the courage to belittle her own best efforts before an entire audience that made her bow to their nastiest of opinions. She is strong and her tenacity is admirable. There are some responses and claims which say that she did only to make herself more likeable or whatever. Yes, maybe she did. We all want to be liked and appreciated. Is it so wrong for her to ask for some redemption?

Clearly, she loves doing what she does so much that despite the fallout, she is willing to invest so much more of her time, money, emotion and energy into making another work. I don’t know what her driving forces are, and I (probably incorrectly) assume that she faces just as much pressure, if not more from within, than the deceased girl did.

I will end this on a note to my past self. The self that has passed from the same shadows that haunted the poor girl who died. The self who, much to her own surprise, emerged victorious enough to accept an admission to an Ivy League Institution. No matter what our reasons and decisions are, we have eventually reached the points we wanted to be. We all wanted a second chance. We all wanted to give second chances to those we could have, but we missed. Maybe the girl who died really did try, and for reasons that only she could have explained, this seemed to be the only way out. Maybe Rebecca will someday be the idol of many. I certainly know that if it wasn’t for second chances I wouldn’t be the person I am now.

On judging and being judged

Judgement (Image Credits: thetarotdieter.blogspot.com)

(Image Credits: thetarotdieter.blogspot.com)

I’ve spent a large portion of my adolescence watching and discovering other people. I think one of the sole reasons that I am an extrovert is that I tend to absorb a lot of the world that is around me, visually and aurally. Given my compulsion to over-analyze details about my life and a pseudo-flimsy self-esteem, I think this bad habit was something I indulged in with unhealthy frequency.

It’s odd how I suppress all these internal realizations as I am a very transparent extrovert. I have difficulties lying or deceiving. This is not due to some obligatory moral ethos holding me back. I am simply unable to fake it. It can be construed as a good or a bad thing. Good in that, I am intrinsically honest. Bad, in that, it allows other people to manipulate me rather easily. One of the easiest ways I used to get embroiled in high-school battles was because someone would approach me, pretend to care about me, tell me of their emotional problems and expect me to agree with them. I’ll admit that I gave in to that all too easily. Empathy seemed like the only route for friendship to a lonely person.

Despite all my transparency, I could not openly express anger or spite as well I needed to. Through some force of personal grooming, I would isolate myself and let the negativity fester inside me till it had permanently stained the memory of that event.

For all my aggression, I mutely accepted the world’s rubbish by excusing them as immaturities. It dawned on me that at some level this was intentional. People did want to hurt me for no fault of my own. Or perhaps some perceived fault of my own. But despite that, I tried not to let these instances cloud my general opinion about that person. I make mistakes, too. It’s only right that I forgive someone else’s.

Except that’s not how the world always works. Positive slogans that claim, “Treat others as you would like to be treated” are not often followed by people. You do not get treated by others the way you treat them. Some will treat you like princesses even on the days when life seems gloomy. Some will spite you no matter what. Some will merely smile back politely and make small talk as you wait next to them in the elevator. I learned that everyone, under the external layer of politeness, was judging me, evaluating me, closing off parts of themselves to me, categorizing me into some stereotype or niche in their head. For some people, this first impression process is cast in stone, with others, the labels change with time.

I’m not going to be very self-righteous and say that I don’t judge people, because I do. There used to be a point when I wanted to make friends with everyone so badly that I didn’t set up any stereotypes in my head at all. I wanted to know people for the actual real people they are, not what they represent. This liberal outlook was rewarded with coming across some very unhappy people all the more willing to siphon off their negativity onto me. But, like chasing all the good things of life, I persisted.

I am lucky that this trait has survived with me. In some way, how a person presents themselves to another person does influence my understanding of them somewhat. One of my prime judgmental criteria lies in how people talk about things around them. Are you constantly complaining? Are you using way too many superlative objects for mundane things about life? What are you passionate about? Those are the things that I will notice about you. If you show passion and dedication, or appear knowledgeable about a subject of your choice, you have endeared yourself to me. I may not necessarily agree with your opinion, but I will appreciate the loyalty with which you stick to it.

After high school, as I started meeting more of the world, I realized that there were other criteria as well. People liked me because I was skinny. People did not like me that I wasn’t pretty enough for their attention. People did not like me because I wasn’t fair enough or something. I still don’t quite understand how you can judge a human being based on their physical appearance, because I don’t they can help it. You are born and have grown the way your genetic structure and health habits have led you to. But pessimism, optimism, sarcasm and the like are all cultivated, by the person’s own choice, so everything about that is under their control.

I got into an argument with a friend once. She claimed that she would date only guys who fulfilled a certain physical criteria, as in tall, well-built, fit, etc. It sounded (and still sounds) rather shallow to me. She justified by saying that a well-maintained body shows some dedication and passion. Her stance was that a guy who knows how to look after himself is equally well capable of looking after her, if she should choose to be in a relationship with him. Physical maintenance seemed to be a way of showing how much a guy was willing to invest into well-being. While I cannot disagree that health is important, I still cannot reconcile that to the idea that all fit people must “look” a certain way. You can be fit and not be skinny. You can be fit and not have a six-pack.More so, she then turned the argument and asked me whether I didn’t estimate the dating potential of a guy through his looks. I didn’t and I’m proud to say that I still don’t. I may casually notice aesthetics, but even that is at an arm’s length. I start observing about you the instant you start talking. That tells me not just of a guy’s dating potential, but also of his friend potential.

The reason why I was compelled to write this rather rant-like post is because I have this acquaintance, who judges people and proclaims it proudly. We call each other our friends, but more often that not, he is brusque and nasty. More so, he isn’t afraid of dealing it out to me. Through the last few months, when my self-esteem was convalescing, I’ve shrugged it off. But now I have this instinct to hand my opinion of him on a platter. I try to tell myself that I am more mature than he is and that I shouldn’t let it bother me so much. He is not necessarily a bad person, and maybe I’m simply overreacting to his twisted humor, but somehow, I don’t think that I should accept his bad treatment. Pardon me, I seem to be reverting back to the behavioral cycle I referred to in the beginning. I think I’m just going to avoid him, minimize contact so I don’t have to invest mental energy in worrying about whether I have evaded his scathing criticisms.

Which brings me back to judging. Why should you judge someone? After all, do they not deserve an opportunity to feel special in their own right? Some people say that judging is a defense mechanism. Somehow by categorizing someone else in their head as something demeaning, awful or caricatured, people try to boost their own self-esteem. Blame it on my naiveté, but I honestly didn’t know that could be true. Until I heard a story from another friend who told me that the guy she liked rejected her because she was “too chubby” and then went on to gloat about it. I’m not here to evaluate whether or not my friend is chubby or isn’t or maybe she has self-esteem issues or whatever. But I do blame this guy for having such a shallow criterion. Are you really going to abandon a girl, walk out of her life, break her heart into possibly irretrievable pieces the day her clothing size grows by one unit? I realize I may come across as slightly sexist with the number of male antagonists in this piece, but I know that this sort of opinion is not just limited to gender, age, shape or any demographic.

There are many ways to shrug off the feeling of being judged. Usually, the most effective method is to ignore. I’m sure there are several others, but learning to ignore is the most effective tool I’ve cultivated thus far. Don’t worry future self (and readers), someday, we’re gonna be above these nagging doubts that keep trying to claw us down.