Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Life is Good....Still

Seems like there is bad news everywhere these days. The only good piece of news that I have heard in the last month or so is that of the eight co-workers who won the $365 million powerball. Good for them. I feel happy for them, even though I wouldn't mind being the ninth member in the group :-)

But all the other stuff around us in the world seems not so good. There is the guy Entwistle who has allegedly killed his wife and nine month old baby, which if true is abominable. And then there is the U.S. VP shooting a co-hunter by mistake; come on, give me a break. And of course, there is the ongoing killing and rampage in Iraq, where they say a civil war could start anytime. Then there are the cartoon protests and killings, the DUI-ed coach who wouldn't resign, the doping athletes at the Torino Olympics, so on and so forth. For its part, in India, there is the omnipresent moral police who want to take us back to the 18th century. Then there is the big hoopla about an article on celebrity pets. And some serious issues such as killing infant girls and dowry related deaths.

I have had enough of the bad news, and so I don't even want to watch or read the news anymore. Sometimes, it can get hard to maintain a positive outlook when all one hears is bad things. What do I do then? I go deeper into my own little world where there are only good company, good coffee, good books (not magazines though) and good blogs. It helps to do things that don't involve lot of thinking - like walking the dog, watching sitcoms on TV, listening to music (sappy romantic songs would help a lot), and cooking some good spicy Indian food. These are the times when good friends and close family members seem invaluable.

In spite of all the bad news around us, we need to remember that life is good, as there are still small wonders all around us, if we take the time to pay attention. It is easy to get bogged down with work, everyday chores and the bad-news-hungry media. But then there is that occasional phone call or email from a long lost friend. There is the letter I can write to another long lost friend. There is the weekday get-together with friends like I had last night. There are those times when I laugh so hard (at something that is really not that funny) that I have tears in my eyes and my stomach hurts, but I can't stop.

So, life is good....still, in spite of everything. What good does it do us or others if we are miserable, in addition to all the bad stuff around?

On a different note, check out this very thought provoking post by Amit Varma, Do not draw my unicorn.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

But You Talk Like a Man

It happened again yesterday and so I want to vent here this time. I want to go on top of a building and shout that I am not a man. But that will only make it worse for me. Keep reading and you will understand what I am talking about.

I know that my voice is not as sweet as Norah Jones or S. Janaki or Lata Mangeshkar, but if it were, I would be a professional singer, right? But still, it is a little too much when people assume that I am a man (especially since I am not one), just because I sound like one on the phone. Yeah yeah, I realize it is not their fault for thinking that way, but look at it from my perspective. People in USA can't figure out from my name whether I am a man or woman. And my name is used for both men and women in India and so that doesn't help either.

This has been happening for quite sometime over the years now. The first few times, I made the effort to correct them, only to wonder who is the more embarrassed party - me or the person (I am not going to run the risk of assuming it is a man or woman) on the other end. And then, I stopped telling them, as long as it is an one time conversation and/or we won't be meeting face to face. A few times, even someone I know, would think it is my husband when I pick up the phone (oh boy!) and then I have to tell them it is me, which will be followed by profuse apologies. Most of the time I am able to laugh it off but there are a few instances like the one below that makes me mad.

I called my brokerage service one time to place an order (as their online service was not working that day) and the representative I talked to said that according to my account I am a female but that I don't sound like one. So he (yeah, I am pretty sure about it) thought that I was trying to impersonate (myself?) and would not let me place the order. Needless to say, I was upset about it and told him that it is not my fault that I sound like this and that he can ask me all the security questions they have. He asked me a few of those and I answered them correctly but still he said that once they get suspicious, they can't let any activity in the account till I fax them a copy of my driver's license. I was furious at this partly due to the confusion because of my voice and partly because I could not place the order (after all it is my money) and wanted to talk to his supervisor. The supervisor assured me that they take all these precautions for the safety of their custormers' money and tried to convince me that it is all for some good. Then I had no choice but to accept their decision and fax my driver's licence. But still the whole episode left a bad taste in my mouth (about my voice?!).

This happened again yesterday. I was talking to someone on the phone and they referred to me as a guy. At that point, I had to point out that I was not (only because I may meet them one day). And the response I got was, "but you talk like a man". I had no way of responding to that. But then, I got to thinking that we all tend to identify patterns in things and people as it makes it easy to comprehend and remember. Taking it too far makes us stereotype. Although I try not to stereotype, I still can't avoid it all the time.

So there is a pattern in people's minds about voices and since mine is not shrill enough, they think I am a man. Some other common assumptions are that a man should earn more than a woman and that a man should be older than a woman, in a relationship. When there is an aberration to the pattern, some of us can understand and accept it easily. Some of us can't understand it but will still accept it. Some diehards will have nothing to do with those people (these are the scary ones).

This takes me down memory lane to when I was growing up in India. I liked to sing along with the songs on the radio but was always told not to as it was not a womanly thing to do. Once I was even told that I needed to change the way I walk to look more feminine. Needless to say, I abided by those at that time (at least tried), as I did not know better or have the nerve to talk back. When I wanted to go to a different city to do my engineering degree, one of my relatives asked my parents why a girl needs an engineering degree. The other thing in India is it is ok for guys to smoke but not for girls (at least that is how it was when I was growing up). I think that smoking is harmful, period. But how is it that the society accepts men who smoke but not women? Based on these examples, do not think that I was oppressed in India. Regardless of what people will say, I still had the freedom to choose. The point I am trying to make is that the scales are not balanced right when it comes to women and men.

All I can say is that I am not assuming someone is a guy or a gal based on how they sound, after all this. Will you?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


It all started when I visited Portland, Oregon during 2004 Labor Day Weekend. Well, you could say that it all started when I had my first beer (which was when, I don't remember). But regardless of when it started, I am a homebrewer now.

I had started to develop a taste for beer (yes, it is an acquired taste) some years ago and have been toying with the idea of making some. I have heard that Full Sail is an employee owned brewery and liked their beer and so included a visit to Full Sail Brewing Company during the Portland trip. Full Sail is in a place called Hood River and there is a strategically located homebrew store right next door to the brewery. The atmosphere was cheerful inside the brewery as they had a pub (have you noticed how people get happy (or peaceful) after a few beers?). Even the employees were very happy - maybe because they own a piece of the place?!

I went on a tour of the brewery and the tour guide was very informative and interesting. While I walked through the brewery, I thought that making beer is like part being in the kitchen and part being in a chemistry lab. Since I like both of those most of the times, it looked like something worth trying. So I asked our tour guide how to get started, and he suggested that I read a book called "The Complete Joy of Homebrewing" by Charlie Papazian. He also encouraged me by saying that it is not difficult and that several people do it. So, off I went to Powell's Books (another swell place in Portland) and got that book. As I am notorious for starting something enthusiastically, and losing interest after a while, I wasn't even sure I was going to read the book.

But surprisingly I read the book and still thought that it is possible to make beer at home. The book is very good at making things sound very simple and mistake proof. If anybody is even remotely thinking of homebrewing, I would highly recommend reading this book. So, I still wanted to brew after reading the book. The more I learnt about brewing, the more I wanted to try it, and that is a very good sign that something was actually going to happen.

After some searching on the internet, found a homebrew store nearby that has a starter's kit. With the help of a few enthusiastic friends, I managed to get there and buy it. The starter's kit comes with a 5-gallon fermenter (which is just a plastic bucket with a spigot and lid), hygrometer (to measure the density), capper for the bottle caps and some other miscellaneous things. We have made 3 batches so far and they have been well consumed. All of my friends seem to like it, and some of them really do know their beer. And so, I managed to brew the fourth batch two weekends ago.

This time, decided to try German Oktoberfest beer. I wanted to make it last October but did not get to it. One of these days, I want to make beer from a recipe and not a kit, but for this one, kit it is. The brewing process itself is relatively simple - put the different ingredients at different times and stir once in a while. The key thing about brewing is to make sure the containers are clean - cleaning them takes much more time than actually making the beer.

Once the brewing is done, the "wort" (which is the brewed liquid shown above) is mixed with some water and allowed to ferment in an air tight container for a few days. The recipe specifies a certain density before and after fermentation, but ours has never matched them, but still our beer has turned out good. Once the fermentation is over (you will know that when the bubbling stops), it is ready to be bottled. Some homebrewers I know don't bottle their beers but keep them in airtight containers but bottling seems to work well for us. The back breaking activity is cleaning all the bottles before putting some cerveza in it. We collected some empty bottles from here and there and it was interesting to see how some bottles are easy and some are difficult to cap (the resident capping expert thinks Corona is the best). It took a first hand experience of filling to realize that dark colored bottles are difficult to see through - one just doesn't think about these things before hand, duh! We have a highly technical method of putting a tube into a bottle and one person watching the bottle level and the other person having a hand on the spigot (fancy word for faucet?). When the level reaches a certain point, the hand holding the spigot needs to close it immediately. That is when you appreciate the consistency in the bottles of beer you buy.

Anyway, after the bottling process, the bottles will have to be stored in a dark place (accomplished by covering with a blanket) for 2 weeks and then allowed to age for about 3 weeks. Then fresh tasting, one of a kind, homebrew is ready to be savored. We are now 2 weeks into the waiting process and have 3 more weeks to go before we can try this batch, but we can feast our eyes till then (see below).

It is an interesting hobby and a very productive one as well, that will get you lots of friends! It is mainly due to the support and encouragement from some friends (you all know who you are) that I am continuing it. There is an extra bit of bitterness in our homebrews so far that I don't care for. Hey, that is why I have a different day job, right? For now, the plans are to keep brewing in 5-gallon quantities as and when the mood hits. But there is a dream - to have a microbrewery one day. Who knows, it could very well happen!

After reading this, if you are wondering about the name of this beer, you will have to keep wondering as we don't have a name yet. There have been some suggestions but none that have stood out and captured the essence of it. So, if you have any ideas, shoot - it may one day be known world wide when we open our brewery. Or at least, go try a microbrew instead of a Bud or Coors (ok ok, I couldn't help it!).

Yes, Guinness is one of my favorite beers. I am waiting for the day I can go try one in Ireland, and say BRILLIANT!

But for now, Cheers!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Yet another Love Story - Chapter 4

They both met with his sister the following week in a restaurant. It was a bit awkward in the beginning but they had a nice meal. She thought that considering the occasion, it went well.

The following day, he called her in the evening after work.

“Hi” she says, “What did you think about last night’s dinner?”

“It was not bad” he said without much enthusiasm.

“Not bad? I was patient the whole time in spite of your sister’s probing questions.”

“I appreciate that, but ….”

“But what? What did your sister say?” she was losing her patience now.

“She said that you were alright, but that she has some reservations”.

“What? Let us remember that I met with her for you even though I was not keen on it. And now I am being treated like some student taking an exam.”

“I understand, but I am not willing to commit to anything until my sister is fine with you.”

“I love you, and not your sister and your sister need not love me. Out of curiosity, what are her reservations about me?”

“Firstly, she did not like the fact that you drink. Secondly, she said that you are too independent and so she is not sure how well you will adjust to married life”.

“Well, do you agree with her?”

“I don’t mind your drinking and I think that the more we get to know one another, the easier it will be for us to compromise and live together.”

“I agree. So why are you still hesitant to commit?”

“I told you already. I got burnt quite a few times in relationships where I tried to make all the decisions by myself.”

“So, what do you want to do now?” she asks.

“I want you and my sister to get to know one another better. Why don’t you two spend some time shopping and going places?”

“Let me remind you that this relationship is between you and me” she said angrily.

“Yes, but I want my sister’s buy in as well”.

“Why? Why are you afraid to take responsibility and make decisions?”

“Because my decisions have not worked in the past. Also, remember that arranged marriages work very well in our culture.”

“Yes, but arranged marriage is not for me. I want to know the person I am marrying before I marry. Not after I marry.”

“Then we are not on the same page. As I think it is better if more than two people are involved in making a decision about a relationship. After all, we don’t know everything.”

“We are not on the same page? Looks like we are not even in the same book”.

“Just remember that most of the marriages where people know one another before the marriage do end up in divorce.”

“I am not going to live my life based on statistics. I am going to live my life based on my feelings.”

“I think that we do need the odds to work in our favor. Listen, I like you. But I just can’t marry you. I need some more time and input into this.”

“You can get all the inputs you want for some other girl. As I am not going to sit here while different people evaluate me”.

“Will you reconsider?”

“No, I have done some things already that I don’t agree with, and I don’t want to keep doing them. So, it is good bye then.”

“Good bye. And good luck.”

“Same to you.” She says and hangs up the phone.

She wonders what is going on with the current generation. Aren’t we supposed to be more independent and progressive? Did she make the right decision? Was she too hasty in making up her mind? She told herself that she did the right thing as she does not want to live with someone who can’t make up his mind. She switched on the TV and started watching a rerun of Friends.

He could not believe he had lost her. But he knew that this was the right thing to do as otherwise he would be in love and get hurt more when the girl rejects him. Now at least his sister will understand his plight. He picks up the phone and dials his sister's number.

- The End

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Yet Another Love Story - Chapter 3

Over the next three months, they go to lunch or for coffee/drinks after work, at least a couple of times a week.

Once during lunch, “Are you free this friday night?” he asks.

“Yeah, I think so” she says.

“Would you like to go to a friend’s birthday party with me?”

“Sure. Who is the party for?”

“An old college friend of mine. I keep in touch with him sporadically. But he is in the same town and so I thought it would be nice to go to his party.”

“I am game. We can do that” she says.

So friday comes, and they both go to the party. There are about 20 people there but he didn’t know anybody other than his friend and she didn’t know anybody other than him. So they find themselves talking to one another most of the time. After a few drinks, she decides to bring up THE topic.

“uh um, I have been meaning to tell you something” she says, almost like a whisper.

“What is it?” he asks, gently (as if he knew what was coming).

“I really like spending time with you. The more time we spend, the more time I want with you. Does that make sense?”

“Well, it doesn’t make sense, but I understand” he says teasingly.

“I think I am in love with you” she says with lot of emotion and expectation in her voice.

“Thanks. I like you as well, but don’t you think it is too early?”

“I can’t really time my feelings, can I?”

“No, you can’t. But I think that I could fall in love with you eventually but would like to get to know you more. Right now, I like you, and that is it.”

“That is a start, I guess”, she says, somewhat disappointed.

“I haven’t told you this but I got burnt pretty badly in my last two relationships. So I am taking things very slowly” he says.

“I can appreciate that. As long as we keep moving in the same direction, I am alright”.

“Also, I want you to meet my sister”.

“I can, but I don’t understand what that has to do with our conversation here”.

“Since my last breakup, I am not so sure about my judgments when it comes to girls. I used to be sure but not since the last two breakups. So I talked to my sister a lot about it and she has volunteered to help me with my relationships.”

She could not believe what she was hearing. But she wasn’t going to act rashly, at this point.

So she said “If you want to discuss with your sister about me, that is your thing. But what do you expect me to do with her?”

“I want you two to spend some time together. That is all. Her opinion of you would help me a lot.”

“I am not sure I understand this” she says, a bit angrily. “I believe that we should take control of our lives, as much as we can, and not let others run it for us.”

“I used to be like that, till I went through relationship after relationship that did not work”.

“But all relationships are not the same. I am a totally different person than any of your previous relationships. How can you use the same yardstick without even giving us a chance?”

“I am giving us a chance, right? That is why we are sitting here talking and spending all the time together” he says.

“Ok, so what is it that you want me to do?”

“I would like us to meet with my sister and then I would like you to spend some time with her by yourself.”

“So you want me to spend time with someone I don’t know at all!” she says incredulously.

“It won’t be too bad, as she is my sister”.

“Ok, even though I don’t understand why you want this, I will give it a try, as I want to give us a chance.”

“Thanks. I appreciate it” he says.

“Shall we go now?” she says, a little impatiently, as she wants to stop this and go home and lie on her favorite couch to do some thinking.

- To be continued

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Yet another Love Story: Chapter 2

This place is not bad, she thinks as they walk in to Everest Coffee Company. There is a nice aroma of coffee and there are lots of cartoon posters on the walls. The girl at the counter seems to recognize him and even knows his name. He does some small talk with her and smiles the whole time. She is not sure she likes that, but what can she do, she has just known him for a week.

They both order their coffees – she gets a cappuccino and he gets a mocha with a double shot of espresso (she notes that he likes his coffee strong), and go find a table for two. He offers to pay for the coffees and she likes that and also that he says that she can get it the next time. She is glad that he likes her too and wants to go out with her again.

“How do you like this company?” he asks.

“So far so good, but then this is my first job out of school”.

“Oh really, where did you go to school?”

“University of Chicago. And you?” she asks.

“Not to such a good school. I went to Rice.”

“It doesn’t matter now, does it? We are both working in the same company” she says, trying not to sound condescending.

He laughs and says “Well, that is a consolation. But I’ll take it”.

She really likes that he smiles often.

They talk about where they are from and their immediate families, but those things don’t have to do anything in this love story. At least, not yet.

“So, what do you do in your spare time?” she asks.

He says that he likes to bike, listen to music and go on hikes. And he has a dog (a chocolate Labrador) that he likes to spend time with.

“And what about you?” he asks, taking a sip of his coffee. She has finished her coffee by now and is thinking that he likes to take things slowly, at least when he is drinking coffee.

“I like to read a lot. I am trying to learn to play violin. I am also learning Spanish” she says.

“It is pretty cool that you are learning different things. I am impressed” he says with genuine appreciation in his voice.

“Also, I have a German shepherd at home. His name is Rocky. Maybe we should have a play date for our dogs, huh?”

“Yeah, that would be nice” he agrees.

They spend another twenty minutes at the coffee place talking about the most recent political scandal. They both seem to be of the same opinion on what the right thing to do is and how strange the whole scandal is.

As they are leaving, she says “It was nice having coffee and talking with you. We should do it again sometime” and he says that he had a good time as well and would like that. They both part ways after saying their goodbyes.

As she is going back home, she is thinking about how unreasonable and illogical it is to feel so strongly about someone that she met only recently. She thinks that she is in love and feels weird about the feeling, as this is the first time she has felt that way. She has several good friends who are guys, contrary to what people say about a guy and a girl not being able to have a platonic relationship. But then she has never worried much about what other people think or talk about her. She has always tried to do things that make her happy as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else. She wonders if she should tell him about how she feels, but decides to wait for some more time as this is too early.

As he is driving home, he thinks that it is nice to spend time with her. He is glad that they have so much to talk about and have some common ideas. But he reminds himself that he does not want to go too deep into this relationship because of his previous experiences. He has had two girl friends in the last six months and they both did not end well (of course, no breakups would go well). He is a very sensitive person who was hurt by these breakups, especially the most recent one as he had thought that things were going well and liked her a lot. Coming back to the present, he decided to not get too carried away with her.

- To be Continued