Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Match point

All those who have been following my Pakistan saga, if you thought the story had ended, well... surprise surprise! :|

As I mentioned in the shortest post ever written at Sayeshaz, my visa got approved on Monday and I was supposed to pick up my passport from the Pakistan embassy at 4:30 pm today.

Now Prof Z's class was at 6:30 pm today, so I made some precise calculations according to which if I managed to pick up my passport by 4:45 pm or so, I'd just be able to make it to class in time.

I reached the Embassy at about 4:15 pm, and was shocked to see a dozen people in the waiting room, even though the collection counter hadn't opened yet. "Oh man! Hope the queue moves fast", I thought to myself and sat down.

At 4:30 pm, the guy at the reception came to the waiting room and said, "Counter is now open. Ladies first."

"Ladies first." Magical words to me at that point in time. One of the only times I did not react with a "Ladies kisko bola re? Bhai ko ladies bolta hai? Apun bhai hai bhai, bhai logon ke saath hi queue mein rahega!" I did not hesitate in taking advantage of the phrase which I thought was only an Indian thing.

There were only three "ladies" in the queue, so I was at the counter pretty soon. I picked up my passport and after checking the basic things - 10-day business visa, 90 days validity - I made a dash for the lifts. As I waited for the lifts, I happened to open that page again and nearly fell.

There was a little stamp on the page that said "Visa valid for Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi only".

Now I had two choices - I could either run back and try and sort it out, or I could rush to class and come back the next morning. But then I realised that if I had to go back to the Embassy one more time (today was my fifth visit), my mental health could suffer.

So I dashed back, and told the guy at the reception that I was going to conduct seminars in all the three cities and not just in Karachi. He pointed to the counter - which was now teeming with the "men" whose wrath the "ladies" had incurred by cutting the queue earlier. Obviously, they were nowhere close to letting me cut their queue. So the reception guy said, "Madam, you can wait in the waiting room."

Nahinnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn, not the waiting room again! I knew that if this wait was anything like that wait, even a cab could not get me to Prof Z's class in time. Ironical since I'd blogged only yesterday about how he doesn't let students in after 6:30 pm.

So I waited but luckily it was my turn soon. I told the guy at the counter my problem and he said, "You only indicated 'Karachi' in your form. See?" He pointed at my form.

"But your form asked for 'port of entry'. That's why I wrote Karachi. It did not ask which cities I intended to visit in Pakistan."

"You should have written all three." He said.

(I didn't even know they issued visas for specific cities. If I worked at the Indian High Comm na... and if he'd applied for an Indian visa na... I'd have given him a visa which would ONLY be to some godforsaken village where forget flights, even buses don't go, only bullock carts do. But this was no time to get angry.)

I knew that I could not go back to reapply. This whole thing had been both physically and mentally exhausting for me. My company would just find it simpler to replace me with a Singaporean because of the 'apply on monday, get visa on wednesday' rule that seemed to be applicable to Singaporeans. I felt like screaming a la Sunny Deol "Taaareeeekh pe taaareeeekh pe taaareeeekh!"

"Calm down, calm down, calm down." I told myself.

And suddenly out of nowhere, a barrage of urdu came tumbling out of my mouth. All this while I'd been speaking in English, but I think I had reached the limits of my patience. Aur jab Sash ko gussa aata hai, woh hindi/urdu bolti hai!

Sheesh, what all words I used - 'zikr' and all! If I hadn't been so upset, I'd be patting myself on my back.

Then I dunno what exactly happened, but the guy at the counter went inside, came out after a minute and handed me my passport. I looked at it and there was another stamp on it "Visa valid for Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi only".

Phew. Phew. And oh, did I mention PHEW???

There was no time for me to have dinner, so I decided to pack a burger from MOS and eat it during lesson break. As I waited at MOS burger while they prepared my order, I sent a quick sms to my Marketing Manager to tell him the good news and about my fight for Islamabad and Lahore, his reply came "Hope we can really go there." Apparently, the seminar organisers had warned him that we may have to cancel the trip because of some tension in the region.

Great. Jusssst what I needed at that point in my life. :|

It was like someone out there was using every power in the world to stop me from going to Pakistan.

Playing a game with me. Testing me. Round after round after round. Of course, I had my own set of invisible powers backing me up here so I could go through each round victorious.

Round 1
Invisible power - Creates possibility of parents freaking out and not granting permission to go
Sayesha - Manages to convince parents by telling them how good a move this is for her career.

Round 2
Invisible power - Causes problems in obtaining visa
Sayesha - Manages to obtain visa

Round 3
Invisible power - Causes issuance of visa for only one of the cities
Sayesha - Argues her way out in urdu and gets the stamp for all cities

Whoever you are, playing this little game with me and enjoying it so much, I have something to say to you.

You know what? It's not funny anymore.

It's hilarious.

And I'm not kidding. Really.

That day, I almost cried. Today, I laughed. I think I am done with all the fluctuating emotions I have experienced in the last few days. I can't afford to devote any more of my time, energy and emotions to this. And so I started laughing at myself, at all this. I have been laughing about this ever since I walked out of the Embassy's glass doors.

And now I know for sure that no matter what happens, I'll be fine. Even if I can't go, I have the Pakistan visa on my passport to show off to my grandkids, you see.

So that's it. You do what you can, and I will do what I can. And we'll see who wins. And frankly speaking, I am fully aware that you have the upper hand. But I won't give up without a fight.

All right buddy, so what's comin' up next?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A class apart

The first week at university is what we call 'shopping week'. That's when we attend classes for all available subjects and then decide which ones we want to take. Once you take or drop a class after the first week, there is no turning back. So all the classes are packed in the first week.

Every time I see a packed class, I wish for a lot of students to drop the subject so the class won't be so crowded, and we could have more class discussions. It's also very difficult to get a place in a crowded class, because the fulltime students turn up early and use their bags to reserve seats for their friends, leaving us, the poor part-timers to rush into class breathless, only to find the only empty seat is either right at the back of the class, or you have to drag in a chair from somewhere else.

Our professors take great pains to 'sell' us their subject, by making sure the first lesson is both fun and interesting. They tell us only the good stuff about the subject, and hide the ugly stuff. After all, the class size shows their popularity.

And that's why I was so surprised when I attended Prof Z's class in the first week.

A little bit of background about this Prof Z first, which you can figure from the conversation I had with a friend.

Me - Hey! Had a good break?
He - Yeah, I did. Good to see you again this semester. How many subjects are you taking?
Me - Two. X and Y. Plus my dissertation.
He - Y??? You're taking Y???
Me - Yeah.
He - Y by Prof Z??
Me - Yeah.
He - Are you crazy???
Me - Errr...
He - WHY are you taking it?? Haven't you heard the horror stories??
Me - Errr... the subject is interesting, and I've heard he's a good teacher...
He - Yes, I know. But do you know how strict he is?
Me - Yeah, I have heard things about him...

- He locks the door after 6:30 pm so those who're late can't get in.
- Yes! Imagine people rushing for class after work... travelling to the end of the island for the class, and then having to go back!
- Even if you move an inch or fidget even a bit, he will stop mid-sentence and stare at you till you have settled down in your seat.
- He fumes at the sight of mobile phones.
- He flunked someone last year because she submitted her term paper late.
- He doesn't upload his lecture so you have to furiously take notes like a schoolkid.
- He expects you to write every word that leaves his mouth.
- He treats you like a child. Like a CHILD!

"Anyway, it's just shopping week", I said to my friend. "No harm checking out the class."

So we were there in the class 15 minutes before time. He walked in at 6:30 pm, and there was sudden silence in the classroom. Apparently everyone else had heard the same stories about him.

He did not do the usual 'Everybody, introduce yourself' routine or anything, but straightaway flashed a PPT slide listing his rules. His rules about 'chronic lateness' and 'chronic absence' and mobile phones and term papers and behaviour in class, and what not.

He started elaborating on each point.

"As you must already know, the doors will automatically lock at 6:30. If you can't make it by 6:30, I suggest you don't even make your way to class. Of course, chronic absence will be penalised too."

Horrified gasps from the part-timers.

"When you submit your term papers to me, I do not want to see any fancy binding, cover, or colourful appendices. In fact, don't even staple it. Just hold the pages together with a paper clip and pass the term paper to me."

Slight murmur in the class.

"You will automatically receive a zero-grade if your work is plagiarised from ANY source."

Silence in the class

"All URLs in the References section of your term paper must be operational, I'd like to check them."

Muffled gasps heard. Who checks the e-references in a term paper?

"The deadline to submit your term papers is 1st November. ALL term papers are due no later than 6:40 pm. Papers submitted after 6:41 pm will be penalized ten marks automatically. Papers submitted after 9:31 pm but before 5 pm the next day will be penalised twenty marks. Thereafter, each day's delay will result in a ten-mark deduction from the marks you earn."

GASP. Note the precision.

"I do not like mobile phones in the class."

And just as we took out our phones to put them on silent mode, his voice boomed. "Please do not put your phones on silent mode either. I want them switched OFF... and out of your sight. I know that many of you are at senior and important positions at your workplace and may need to answer calls in the middle of the class, but I do not like my class to be disrupted."

Of course, I understand you may have some family emergency for which you need to keep your phone switched on. In such cases, please approach me BEFORE the class. And I will tell you how your family can have access to you."

No one dared to ask how we would know if an emergency was about to come up. We just assumed he was talking only about emergencies we were aware of.

"The next thing I want to talk to you about is plagiarism." He said.

He told us how strict he was about plagiarism. When he was in the US, he got a PhD student in his final year thrown out of university for plagiariam. "He will never become a professor." He told the class, which was now almost crouching in fear.

"You may not be sure what exactly constitutes plagiarism. In order to ensure that you do not use that as an excuse, I will give you the name of this book and also tell you the page numbers, so you can understand what constitutes plagiarism."

He also showed us this sheet of paper that we have to submit as the cover page of our term papers. It is a signed declaration to state that we have read the the pages he recommended and that our term paper is not plagiarised in any way. The last sentence of the declaration reads "I hereby give consent to be adequately penalised for plagiarism." I was itching to say "Sir, this seems to assume that we have already plagiarised. Shouldn't there be an 'IF I plagiarise' clause somewhere in that statement?" but Ian asked me to shut up.

And thus went the first lesson, at the end of which everyone was looking at each other with questioning eyes. It was no doubt that the subject was excellent and he was incredibly organised, but his rules and discipline were something to think about.

Ian, of course, loved it.

And I think, so did I.

I figured that I could learn a lot from this class - not just about mass communication but also about discipline. (Though friends who know me well would roll their eyes. I'm already suffering from chronic discipline, you see.)

It was therefore no surprise that I did not drop the subject.

It was also not a surprise that when I turned up for class in the second week, I discovered that a third of the students had dropped the subject.

In the third week, he was teaching us about persuasion. I learnt some very interesting theories about the different types of persuasion. Message-based persuasion attempts to change attitude with the help of messages, leading to desired behaviour. An example would be anti-smoking campaigns. Behaviour-based persuasion attempts to change attitude by changing behaviour first. Examples would include free trial samples of products. You try them first and then you may end up liking them.

"Can anyone here give me any other example of behaviour-based persuasion?" He asked.

And this is what happens when you sit in the first row. The prof looked straight at me.

Before I knew it, Ian had raised my hand.

I am SO DEAD, I thought as he nodded to me.

"Sir... your banning mobile phones in the class... would that be an example of behaviour-based persuasion?" I managed.

"Hmmm... would you like to elaborate?"

"You are attempting to change behaviour by making it a rule that all mobile phones must be switched off... with the hope that once we start following it... our attitude will change... because err... we will realise that it is a much more productive class... without ringing mobile phones...?"

He gave me his typical steely look.

I'm deader than DEAD, I thought.

And that's when he did what we never thought he could do.

He smiled.

Monday, August 28, 2006

V for...

Thanks, everyone, for your wishes! :')

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Eye b(r)ow to thee

"Hi, is Meiling in today?" I asked.

"Meiling, ah?" The person at the other end asked.


"Actually... Meiling doesn't work here anymore... she's left..."

WHAT??!! :O :O :O

I think I was as shocked as I would be if a close colleague had resigned.

Meiling was no ordinary girl, you see. I believe she was the only Chinese girl in Singapore who could thread Indian eyebrows. What's so special about Indian eyebrows you ask. Well, after seeing many many local chicks here sporting the single-line-high-arched eyebrows that make them look like they're part of a Chinese opera playing the part of a perpetually surprised character, and hearing horror stories from my friends about how they had unwillingly been converted to that eyebrow character in the Chinese opera, I had resolved that I would only get my eyebrows done during my annual visits to India, at a beauty parlour recommended by Mom. But getting it done only once a year would mean bearing a deep resemblance to Karishma Kapoor during her 'Prem Qaidi' days. So I was more than thankful when a friend recommended this salon, where an Indian lady R did the threading.

So I went to her, and she did a pretty decent job. I became a regular at R's. During one of my visits, an apprentice of hers - a very young Chinese girl - attended to me. I was really sceptical so I told her I'd like to wait for R. She said she'd only do the basic threading and that R would take over for the final touch up. I was getting late for a movie, and I hate missing trailers so much that I decided to give in.

I tried to give her specific instructions to reduce the risk of me ending up looking like Mona Lisa so I told her that I did not want my eyebrows too thin, or too high, and that she had to be careful because I had been scarred for life in my childhood, etc. etc. She kept nodding, and I was afraid she did not even understand what I was saying.

After she was done, she handed me a mirror. With trembling fingers, I held it close to my face.

I was shocked. Shocked. I think I was sporting the 'perpetually surprised' look on my face!

Of course, that was only because I was, indeed, surprised.

The girl had done a fantastic job. Much better than R could ever have done. Even the scar on my eyebrow was not a problem anymore. In fact, you could not even see the scar. It's amazing how someone can just come along with a roll of thread, a pair of scissors and a pair of tweezers and take all your problems away.

"This is fantastic!" I told her.

"Do you want me to finish up?" She asked shyly.

"Of course!"

The 'finishing' comprised pulling away extra hairs with a tweezer (do I see the guys wince?) and using a pair of scissors to level the hair. I felt safe in her deft hands.

After that day, I would only ask for Meiling. R was really surprised because once I insisted on waiting for Meiling to finish attending to the others, even though R was available.

And every time I went to Meiling, I'd be surprised to see how good she was. I just couldn't get over it. Guess it takes a while to get over stereotypes.

So when I found out that Meiling had resigned, I was really shocked. I asked R what happened.

"She's gone to Malaysia to do a beauty course..."

"She was brilliant... The only Chinese girl I know who could handle Indian eyebrows... " I said.

"Yeah, I know... she was very good... my place is always open for her if she ever comes back to Singapore..." R said.

Argh. Lucky Indian chicks in Malaysia, my bad luck has become your good luck! :/

Isn't it amazing, how some people can surprise you simply by being who they are, and doing what they do?

Friday, August 25, 2006


Note: Post written in an emotional state of mind. Please comment with caution. I'll delete any inflammatory remark made against either country.

Dear Sir,

I firmly believe that once you blog about something, it stops bothering you. This is a post of all the things that are bothering me. All the things that I have to say. Some of which I wanted to say to you today, others which I knew I could not say. And I have to write all this because I have to make it stop bothering me.

So here it is – a day by day account of what’s bothering me and why I need to tell you all this.

Day 1 – 22nd August Tuesday

I went to the Pakistan Embassy with my Singaporean colleague (he's also supposed to go to Pakistan with me on the business trip) and we submitted our forms. Your website said that Indian nationals need seven sets of the application form and seven photographs, a letter from my company stating that the company would sponsor my trip, and a letter from our partners in Pakistan stating that they were inviting me as a speaker at their seminar. I had diligently prepared the seven sets.

The guy at the reception was incredibly friendly. He even spoke to me in Hindi (Urdu for him I guess). “Indian national? Visa? Sakbo visa dete hain, aapko bhi denge! Aao, baitho.” ("We give visas to everyone. We'll give you too. Come, sit.") He said cheerfully. We were asked to wait in the waiting room. I flipped thru loads and loads of Pakistani magazines and also watched the video about Pakistan that was playing. My colleague was called to the counter first. His passport, photograph and forms were accepted and he was asked to pay the visa fee of $34. I chuckled to myself thinking of the $29 I was gonna save for my company (visa fee for Indian nationals is only $5). He was asked to pick up his passport (stamped with the visa) on Thursday.

I was called next. When I handed over the seven sets, the guy at the counter retained six of them and one photograph. "Only one needed." He said. Wincing at the extra trees I had just killed, I handed him my passport. He returned it to me with a "Call tomorrow at 2 pm" and dismissed me. I was not asked to make any payment either. Strange. I joked with my colleague that perhaps it was a 'when to issue the visa' for his case and 'whether to issue the visa' in mine.

Day 2 – 23rd August Wednesday

I called exactly at 2 pm. I'd had a post-it message stuck on my Mac to remind me. I was told that you wanted to see me personally before my application would be processed. I was asked to go to the Embassy at 10 am the next morning to see you.

Day 3 – 24th August Thursday

My colleague got his visa.

I was at the Embassy sharp at 10 am. The same guy was at the reception. He remembered me from the day before. “Aap? Indian national na? Visa application, right? Sakbo visa dete hain, aapko bhi denge! Aao baitho.” He said again.

So I sat in the waiting room and watched the Pakistan video once again. Then I was ushered into your room. I was very impressed with your majestic personality, almost scared I'd say. You went thru my application forms and confirmed that I was an Indian national. “Why do you want to go to Pakistan?” You asked. I told you. You looked hesitant. I could sense that you doubted my credibility and also my company’s. You asked me if my company was an MNC and I said it was, and that we have subsidiary publishers in the US and UK. You asked me to get a letter from my company stating all this. (Strange how the name of the same company whose credibility you were doubting got me my US visa instantly) You also said that you wanted to see the kinds of books we publish. I asked you if I could bring the letter and the books down to the embassy the next morning. You agreed to look at them, but warned me that you could not guarantee me a visa. And I wondered why. What was it in my application form that made me an undesirable candidate for a 10-day business visa? All the form had was my name, address, passport number, colour of hair, colour of eyes, the fact that I was not a migrant from Pakistan, that I was not in the army, etc. So other than the ‘Indian national’ part, which part of the form made you apprehensive? I do know that many people from India and Pakistan visit each other’s countries. Maybe Pakistani people also have difficulties obtaining a visa to go to India, I don’t really know. But I don't really care. Why should I? I care about my application. And I did not understand if you thought that going to Pakistan was a threat to my life, or that my going was a threat to Pakistan.

“I can’t guarantee you a visa.” Your words rang in my head the whole day. I could not concentrate on anything. I had an unproductive day at work, which never happens to me. After work, I was absent-minded in class too. I’d forgotten to print my lecture notes. I was not participating in the class. The MD of Edelman SE-Asia was a guest speaker in my class that night, and he had a contest for us to pitch our creative ideas and the best would get to attend a talk by the CEO of Edelman. I could have done so much better, but I wrote some crap, which I can’t even remember now.

To tell you the truth, I even cried a bit. And I never cry at anything other than Bollywood movies. But last night,
before going to bed, I shed a few tears.

At the thought that a complete stranger had the power to break my heart.

Day 4 – 24th August Friday

I was at the Embassy again sharp at 10 am. (The $29 I had supposedly saved for my company was all going poof in my cab fares.) I had with me the letter you’d asked for, and books that my company had published, including some that I had written and others that I had edited. I even took the certificate from a school in Manila that stated that I had done this kind of seminars before.

I wandered around in the waiting room. I had seen the video so many times now that I was sure that if you muted the TV, I’d have done a complete voiceover for the whole thing. I had devoured all the books and magazines in the waiting room. Without stepping a foot in Pakistan, I had begun to understand the culture. I read that they like Bollywood movies. I read their reviews on Hindi movies that featured Pakistan, such as Veer-Zaara and Fanaa. I’d read about their models, their celebrities, their marathon events (I read two books on the Run Lahore campaign). I read a magazine that had an Indian male model and a Pakistani female model on the cover dressed in fine ethnic wear. I thought that was pretty cool. I saw their ads. I even saw how they wrote their addresses, just like in India. "Near KFC".

After a while I got so bored I started cracking really bad jokes with myself, just to kill time. The worst one was this:

Q: What would Sachin Tendulkar say when he hears about Sayesha’s visa issue?
Ans: Visa power. For-get it.

I doubt if I will ever forgive myself for that joke. :|

I waited from 10 am to 11:30 am. (Not that I’m complaining about that. I’m Indian – who am I to complain about lack of system and waiting time at government offices?) In those three hours, I was asked to go to the counter thrice and was sent back into the waiting room again. People came and went, most of them instantly getting approvals. I sat there till about 11:30, when the guy at the reception called me and told me that you were not in the office. He said to the guy at the counter, “Woh pata nahin kab waapas aayenge… Inki chhutti karo na…” (Dunno when he’ll be back, at least send her back.)

So the guy at the counter asked me for my mobile number and told me that they would tell me over the phone. Tell me what? That I was supposed to go see you again? Or just tell me that I could not go to Pakistan because I am an Indian?

The guy at the counter looked at me helplessly. If I wasn’t almost in tears, I’d have said to him, “Sabko visa dete ho, bas hamein hi nahin dete.” ("You give visas to everyone. Just not to me.")

So I was at the lifts when I suddenly remembered that I had one last chance to 'sell' you my application. I decided to leave the books that I had taken (the ones I was supposed to show you) with the guy at the counter, in the hope that perhaps you will find some time to look at them, and find whatever you expected of them, and maybe, just maybe I'll have some good news on Monday.

But I'm also very aware of the other possibility. Which seems more probable at this point in time.

I'd thought I'd sort this out today - Friday. I'd know for sure what I was in for, and then I could concentrate on my weekend dissertation writing. But now it looks like my depression over the last two days has now entered my weekend. And I dislike it. I feel pained and hurt and angry. And I know I will probably stay this way till Monday. Even though you've probably made your decision already, I'll only find out on Monday. And this post is to avoid the restlessness I think I will experience till I get that call from you, which will either make or break my day.

I felt this sudden change today after coming back from the Embassy. Nothing was really cheering me up anymore. We had a company event today and we had a silly voting thing and I was picked as the most admired person. Normally, I’d be celebrating this and be on a temporary high, but I feel so low that small things like this which used to make my day do not seem to matter anymore. And I hate to see myself like this.

When I asked my parents for permission to visit Pakistan, I was more than sure they would say no. Many of my friends told me I was crazy to want to go, and that my parents would never agree. And I knew they were probably right. I’d even mentally prepared myself. But when they agreed, I was ecstatic. I thought I had won the battle. Now it was just a matter of one flight. I could almost see myself on the streets of Pakistan. I never even imagined in my wildest dreams that my visa would be a problem.

And in the middle of all this - my 'glass-is-half-full' side nudged me. Suddenly, just like that - I had a thought. So what if they won’t grant me a visa? I won’t go. Big deal. It’s not a career-changing trip anyway. Besides, I’m probably safer in Singapore than I would be in any country, including India. So maybe I should just let the whole thing go and return to my work, which has been massively disrupted due to my frequent trips to the Embassy. Maybe I am obsessing over something that won't matter so much after a while. In all probability, I'm being silly about this whole thing. Maybe it's fine not to go.

But then there was this other part of me saying – But I wanna go. I really really really wanna go.

Let me tell you, sir, why this trip is so important to me. It’s not just a career thing. It’s also something very personal, something close to my heart. Most of us Indians would never get to see Pakistan. We would not go on holidays there, we would not go for relatives’ weddings there, we would just not go. And, here it was, the opportunity of truly a lifetime, something that will probably never happen to me in this life ever again. I did not have any big ambitious plans for my trip. I was not going to try and “foster friendships” or “build ties” between two countries who have been disputing for years and years now. It not like I thought my trip would change the image of Indians in the eyes of those who are cynical about us. I was not going to show off how "brave" I am. I was just going to see Pakistan. With my own eyes. Now that I have a chance to go see things for myself, I’m being denied the opportunity. By being denied entry, I am experiencing the negativity that I never had in me about your country.

If three visits to the Embassy did not help, I wonder what will. However, I do know that you’re probably not doing this on a whim. Perhaps you have some reason for your reluctance on this visa. But if there really is no substantial reason, maybe all you need to do is just trust your instincts and let me through, then I do hope that even though I know you would have already made your decision this afternoon, somehow, something will happen over the weekend to make you rule in my favour. Maybe the vibes from the words that I write here will reach your heart and tell you I'm clean. I believe in vibes very strongly. It's the closest thing to God that I believe in.

It's amazing how something that did not affect my life in any way a few months ago has suddenly become so important to me. But I can't help it - cos that's the way it is.

I just want to see your country, is that so bad?

Yours sincerely,

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Family (s)nap

So I was on the way to university after work when this tiny boy in his school uniform, wearing the traditional Malay cap and carrying a school bag that probably weighed twice as much as him, boarded the train and sat down next to me. The poor chap looked really tired and soon dozed off.

By about two stations, his head was slumped on my shoulder. Now usually, I'd send a head that deposits itself on my shoulder in the train flying in the other direction towards the person on the other side of the head in question, who is probably ready to push his elbow through the sleeping guy's skull. I was startled at first, but the poor little kid looked so tired and innocent, I let him continue his nap. I could feel his fatigue. After all, I was headed to attend a 3-hour lecture after a day that had spanned across 6 am to 6 pm. I myself could do with a shoulder on the train. Once in a while, we could all use a shoulder on the train. A familiar one, hopefully.

The train chugged on. He napped on. I think I even sang a mental lori (lullaby) for him.

Two more stations later, I suddenly realised that the couple sitting directly in front of me was giving us very amused looks and even having a discussion in whispers. I was pretty sure they thought the boy was my son. He was too tiny to be my brother. And I have been told more than thrice that I can pull off a Malay look. So I guess to them it looked like a nice mother and child picture - like a family snap.

Now when you're in a train that's gonna travel through 19 train stations before dropping you at your destination, you can get really bored. So I decided to play a little game with myself and try to guess what the couple was discussing about the kid and me.

"Poor kid... would you look at the size of his school bag?"
"She has a university lecture pad too... maybe she's a teacher?"
"Darn I wish I was the father of the boy..." (Okay maybe this was a bit too much...:P)
"Or a student? Looks quite young..."
"Yeah, too young to be his mother actually... unless she's maintained herself well..."
"Could be a single mother eh...?"
"Hmmm... Malay boy... but she looks kinda Indian... don't you think?"
"Maybe she married a Malay guy..."
"Or maybe she's the stepmother...?"

I looked at them. They smiled at me and then at the boy's peaceful face, deep in slumber.

I smiled back at them, trying not to move too much.

My son was sleeping, you see, and I didn't wanna wake him up. Shhhhh...

Monday, August 21, 2006

Ca(ugh)t in the act

I'm not too fond of cats. They are too "human" and always seem to give me that weird "We know what you don't know" look, and they won't tell what exactly it is that they know. Sometimes I try to give them the "Hah! I know too! And more than what you know!" look, but they see right through it, and stare at me with their blue-green eyes till I slink away, defeated.

There are a few cats that roam around my condominium. I dunno who they belong to, but some of them are so darn pretty. This coming from not-exactly-a-cat-lover speaks volumes of how pretty they are. Some are black, some silver, some orange and some are striped. But they're all very very pretty.

Once I saw these three cats - each of a different colour - sitting in a triangular formation, as if having a conference on a serious issue. I cursed myself for not carrying my camera with me. Anyway, I rushed up to my room and tried to take an aerial view of the conference. But by the time I got the camera ready, they'd disappeared, and this is what I got.

A few nights ago, when I was coming back from university, I saw them again. It was really dark, but I rushed up to my room to see if they were visible from my window. They were not.

And that's when I saw the most amazing cat eyes ever.

Would you believe that the picture below is of the exact same thing as the one above, except that this was taken at night?

Amazing, huh? :)

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Whine and dyin'?

So I was on the treadmill in my gym flipping TV channels when I paused at Diana Ser's show 'Get Rea!'. (No, it's not a typo, the word actually has an exclamation mark instead of an 'l'.) There are two reasons why I paused. Diana Ser is my super senior at NTU. Years ago, she'd done the same master's course that I am doing now. Though I have never met her, the professors often speak of her fondly, and her success is an inspiration to all of us. Secondly, Get Rea! is one of the very few shows worth watching on Singapore TV.

On the show, she was talking about the recent results from the Happy Planet Index, that ranked Singapore very low in the list of the 178 nations in the happiness index. Among the Asian nations, Singapore was ranked lowest at 131. (India, by the way, is at 62.)

Of course, how one can measure happiness in terms of numbers and ranks is subject to debate. You can't have a common one-size-fits-all test to measure happiness across so many different countries. More fundamentally, can happiness really be measured? Which is why I liked Diana Ser's show because she was not analysing the numbers in the happiness index. She was collating her own little set of results - going to people and asking them how they defined happiness and whether they would consider themselves to be happy.

One of the local RJs was a guest on the show, and she said something so interesting that I have been thinking about it for days now. I can't remember her exact words, but she said something to the effect that she often feels pressured into being unhappy because that's what's expected of her when someone asks her how she is.

The amount of truth in what she said is amazing.

The fact is - we're all screwed. Waat lagi hui hai sabki. In one way or the other, we all have our problems. Problems which we can't even categorise as 'big' or 'small' because they're all relative. What you consider as a small problem could be a big problem for me and vice versa. There is no one in the world who lives his life without facing a single problem.

So is it that complaing about our problems brings us together? Binds us in the same thread? Makes us like one another?

But at what cost?

Taking into account all kinds of views, I think we can all reach a unanimous conclusion. That being happy is better than being unhappy. I doubt if there is anyone who will say the reverse. Being happy is good for our home, heart, health and beyond. So why this indignation to be happy?

Is it that the person who's asking us how we are is so unhappy himself/herself that we push all our happiness into the background and pull forth our miseries just to connect with him/her? Or is it that we're competing on extremities of feelings - "You think you're unhappy, look at me!"? Or is it our traditional way of thinking that if we flaunt our happiness too much, nazar lag jayegi - it would be jinxed?

A few days ago, I was having lunch with my colleagues when one of them asked, "Since when has X been in the company?" (X is a colleague in the production department.)

"Since forever." I answered.

It's true. She's been here since for ages now, people have come and gone (textbook publishing in Singapore has one of the highest employee turnover rates, mainly due to the low pay and high stress), and she's still here sturdy as a rock. And the best part is that she's always cheerful. She's always smiling and laughing. Like a colleague mentioned, "Even when she's stressed and yelling, she's kinda cheerful." And it's true.

That statement stayed in my head the whole day. The fact that I was once exactly like that made me very restless. A few years ago, perhaps I was happier than I am now. The low pay and stress did not bother me. I was always cheerful, and I never had a complaint about anything. Today, even though I'm happy with my relationships, my job, my life, but sometimes I feel like one's gotta have some unhappiness somewhere to fit into this world, to relate with souls who seem happy being unhappy. And so in spite of the fact that I totally love my job, once in a while I find myself complaining about salary and stress. And admiring X.

Why are we content just admiring the kind of people that we very easily can be ourselves?

A couple of weeks ago, when I was appraising one of my editors, he mentioned that sometimes he gets sucked into a tornado of negativity. I know what he was talking about. I have myself experienced one of the aspects of the tornado he mentioned - lunchtime conversations, which invariably turn into bitching-about-the-company sessions. If you can't participate in that, you feel left out, on your own.

It saddened me. Has complaining become second nature to us? Do we find comfort in the fact that we're all screwed, some way or the other? Do we not allow happy people into our exclusive whiners club? Do we find some kinda sick joy out of making our lives seem pathetic and pitiable? Have we become okay with the idea of our epitaph reading "Here lies someone who whined and died."?

Maybe it's an Asian value. If someone comes to us and says, "My boss is a moron who gets double my salary for doing half my work!" we can't say, "Oh come on, he's not that bad!" or "Oh, my boss is the best! He inspires me and rewards me beyond my expectations." What we do is come up with something that will serve as an adequate reply that will validate the other person's feelings, such as "I can understand your situation. My boss is fine, but my colleagues are so bitchy and manipulative... and the salary is so low... and the work is so stressful..." blah blah. So just to supply a fitting reply, we actually hunt for something negative to talk about.

Agreed that sometimes complaining can be therapeutic. It can serve as a channel to vent our negative thoughts and give us peace of mind, help us identify the problem areas in our lives. It can be an ice-breaker for when you first meet someone and express the negativity you share about something or someone. It can help us connect to our friends. Once in a while, we all do want to sit down and vent it all out. We have little things in our lives we are not happy about, and talking about it with people around us is good.

But what if we're constantly complaining about the same old things, without doing anything about them? What if our complaining is catching on, and making whiners out of others too? What if it's become something of a daily routine - like brushing our teeth - so ingrained into our daily lives that we could do it in our sleep? Perhaps we need to do a little check - keep count of how many times we whine about the same damn thing? Or what percentage of our conversations constitutes whining?

The truth of the matter is that all the things that we whine about - a bad job, a bad relationship, a breaking marriage - are direct or indirect results of our own decisions. So instead of waking up and complaining about the same damn thing every day and believing that the world is out to get us, all we need to do is make a decision. Make a change. Quit that job, break up the relationship, get a divorce, instead of making yourself and others around you unhappy.

It's simple - quit or quit whining.

Seasons come and go, fashions change, trends change. Things go out of style. It becomes the 'in' thing to dislike a movie everyone liked and so on. But when did this happen exactly - this switch from 'It's hip to be happy!' to 'It's hip to be unhappy!'? And what the hell were we doing when it happened?

And is it not possible to turn things around? Instead of people connecting to each other because they're all unhappy about something or the other, is it not possible to connect to each other because we're all happy about something or the other?

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Re-search topics

Some time ago, I wrote a post on the keywords that people google, which make them end up on my blog. The list I'd compiled entertained me so much, I decided that I'd compile one such list every few months.

So here's part II of 'I know what you're searching for':

  • notorious from head to toe
  • damn doll
  • fire theory
  • Indian saamaan
  • lamb dand gol pind
  • hazaar blood pressure pills
  • trumpet song in DDLJ
  • sai baba sexy
  • been a tomboy skirt tips
  • Fao San
  • queen of angels
  • tarazu songs susu
  • gay crabs
  • sleeping angel oil
  • take off shoes barefoot office
  • penicillin shot ouch
  • the one and only himesh reshammiya
  • tanhaayi
  • Russel Peters do the dishes
  • Kutta palo billi palo
  • doctor aapke mardangi
  • live the beautiful life
  • pandrah august
  • how to write bodhisattva in sanskrit
  • timepass photo
  • kumar sanu magical
  • goosebump movies
  • how to be wild and weird
  • microbes magnified
  • munna with thalassemia
  • jayalalitha collection of shoes
  • sharara gets dirty
  • how to sew patiala salwar
  • stop a wedding
  • barefoot in the office
  • muzamil ibrahim
  • sole soulmates
  • taller wife
  • bichari bachi
  • don't the trust indians
  • broke her shoe
  • lage raho munna bhai
  • I can't remember what happened

Thursday, August 17, 2006

At last shrugged

They say he is larger than life.

Well, I'm not a fan so I dunno about that. But he surely is heavier than life.

Yesterday I lugged Amitabh Bachchan across the country. Back and forth.

My dissertation supervisor had lent me this book on Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan titled 'To be or not to be', so I could check if I could use anything from it in my dissertation. The book, compiled by legendary film critic Khalid Mohamed, was written as a gift from Jaya Bachchan to Amitabh Bachchan for his 60th birthday.

Needless to say, Khalid Mohamed received ample help from the entire Bachchan clan in terms of photos and anecdotes from the ye olde days. A little too much help I think. The 424-page book measures 11 x 14 inches, and weighs more than 3 kgs!

So when my supervisor told me on Tuesday that he wanted it back (along with other books he'd lent me) on Wednesday, I had no choice but to carry the load from my house in Clementi through 15 train stations to my office in Paya Lebar and then from Paya Lebar through 19 train stations all the way to NTU in the evening!


I could barely feel my arms when I finally put the bag of books down on the floor outside his office. And then I saw the shocking sight in front of me. The lights in his room were off -- he was not in. Usually the professors leave around 5:30 to 6 pm, and the general office also closes around that time. He'd told me he'd be in to take the books back from me.
But he wasn't.

As Amitabh Bachchan gave me a sarcastic smile from the book cover,
I wanted to collapse on the floor screaming "Nahinnnnn yeh nahinnnn ho saktaaaaa!" The mere thought of having to lug it back to Clementi and then to Paya Lebar the next day and then to NTU again was making me go weak in the knees.

I had a class in 15 minutes. I had to get rid of it then itself. Somehow. But how???
I looked around wildly and noticed that one of the rooms in the corridor had lights on. I read the name on the door and it was a professor I did not know. Yet, I gathered courage and knocked. As soon as the owner of that room had opened the door, the words just came tumbling out of my mouth. "Dr Foo, could I please ask you for a favour? My supervisor lent me this book and I was supposed to return it to him today and I think he's forgotten about the meeting and I can't get through to him and I have to go for a class now and the book is really heavy and I can't carry it back and take it to work tomorrow and bring it to NTU again and..." I was breathless.

I think the sheer number of 'ands' in my sentence combined with my pitiable face moved him to the core. He smiled, as all angels do before they grant you your wish and said the words that were honey to my ears, "Sure, you can leave the book here. Just let him know that I have it."


I felt like a murderer who had just managed to discreetly dispose off the dead body. Laash ko thikaane laga diya muahaha! :D

After thanking him profusely, I scurried off for my class, with only one thought in mind.

Khalid Mohamed, I don't like you. :|

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The bored room meeting

Some time ago, a dear friend of mine asked me a la Hrithik in Lakshya, "Sayesha, tum kabhi bore nahin hoti?" ("Sayesha, don't you ever get bored?")

So I coyly looked at my nails (an action that precedes most of my replies to his weird questions) and said, "Mere paas bore hone ke liye waqt nahin hai." ("I have no time to get bored.")

So you can imagine my shock when last weekend, I found myself experiencing what I never ever do - boredom. :O

I mentioned in a recent post that when we say we have no time for something, we're just bullshitting ourselves. If we really wanna do something, we'll always have time for it. I guess that holds for boredom too. If you really wanna get bored, if getting bored is important to you, if you truly value boredom, you will surely find one way or another to achieve it.

Nevertheless, for a person who drafts and follows a timetable for everything, it was quite shocking.

Like many people, my usual weekend description follows the very eloquent expression by Circuit in Munnabhai - "Shuru hote hi khatam ho gaya". ("Ended the moment it started.") In a typical weekend, if I can get some dissertation work done, meet up with a friend or two, go to the gym, squeeze in a movie, and clean my room, I consider it an achievement to be proud of.

Which is why last weekend was really weird. The time just wouldn't pass! I got up, made pancakes for breakfast, worked on my dissertation (Gosh! Writing a 100-page dissertation is not easy, they should just allow me to copy-paste my blog posts and submit it as my dissertation!), caught up with my school gang and some cousins on Orkut, called up my family and spoke to everyone, washed two loads of clothes (okay fine, I did not exactly sit at Dhobyghaut MRT station and danda-peeto my clothes, but it's work all the same), wrote a blog post, updated Hopscotch, separated clothes to give away to the cleaner in my building, packed some of my stuff (I'm moving in two weeks), put my bank statements in order, went to the gym, went to the dentist, watched four hindi movies on Youtube (Sheesh, that's 12 hours - half a day, 25% of a weekend!), stared out of my window.

Stared out of my window.

Stared out of my window.

I could have gone for a walk, but did not feel like stepping out of my room because I think my current flatmates were in the living room, interviewing someone to replace me after I move out.

And I don't like people who try to take my place. :|

So after a while, I turned to look at the clock, expecting it to be 10 pm on a sunday night - bedtime for good girls - so good girls can go to bed to wake up at six to go to work on Monday morning, when I realised to my horror that it was only 6:30 pm.

So I decided to spend some quality time with my pets. I have three of 'em - a dog called Frodo, a fat chick called... err... Fat Chick (one of my most TP posts was on her washing machine experience) and a fish called Nemo. And I haven't been able to pay much attention to them ever since I started my Master's course.

So I invited the three of them to a 'bored' room meeeting in my room, and here are the party... errr I mean meeting... pics.

The invitees are on time! They know Sayesha hates it when people (and animals) are late!

Conspiracy theory - "Where do you think Sayesha has kept the booze?"

What? Frodo is already drunk?!

And so is Fat Chick!

"Nemo, tu bhi thoda sa pi le" *Pat pat*

"Lekin main toh abhi bacha hoon..." Nemo decides to observe Frodo...

... and now Nemo observes Fat Chick...

Now Nemo is drunk too!

"Nemo, you're my best friend!"

"Fat Chick, you're my best friend too!"

Fat Chick says goodbye. I think she's had a bit too much. Alert - chicks should watch their drinks.

After the party was over, I snuggled into my comforter and started wondering about this extra time in the game called life that I had just encountered. And just like that, a thought struck me. We get an extra day every four years because the earth takes a little more than 365 days to revolve around the sun. Maybe there's a glitch in the matrix somewhere, that causes each week to be slightly longer than what we expect a week to be like, and it all gets added up one fine day to give us that extra time that surprises us.

Maybe once in a blue moon, we get a 'leap weekend', but we're just too busy to notice it.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

American Idol - of a different kind

So I was shortlisting my US holiday photos to upload on my travelogue when I came across a picture of Mom and me taken at the HAT.

As stylo as it sounds, the HAT is actually the 'Hindu American Temple' tucked away in a very green corner of New Jersey. We'd gone there to do a puja for my niece. Now I'm not very keen on going to temples, but I was curious about the HAT, and wanted to see how a temple in America was like. Besides, Mom had bought for me the most gorgeous pastel purple Lucknow churidaar kameez, and I was dying for an occasion to wear it. (She got a similar one for my sis in pink... it felt like we'd been sent back 20 years in time! :P)

So my bro-in-law drove my Mom and me to this tiny temple in the middle of nowhere. Baby Aish was still on house arrest following the doc's orders, and so my sis stayed at home, while the three of us went to the temple.

The HAT was not very impressive from the outside. In fact, it was not even temple-shaped, it looked like just any other building. There was even a payment counter in front of the actual worship area. It looked like a run-down office building. But what I saw inside was really amazing.

The idols were clearly labelled. As my eyes darted from label to label, I realised it was a temple of all gods, unlike most temples I have seen that are for only one god. The priests, although in traditional priest's attire, spoke perfect English. (I wondered if they just changed into jeans and T-shirts after the puja, sat in their cars and drove off homewards.)

There was a refrigerator in a corner, from which the priest took out bottles of milk (about five of which were poured over the idol of Ganesha) to do the puja. I wondered how baffled the person tasked with the duty of buying milk for the temple must be, given the limitless choices of every commodity in US supermarkets. UHT milk, pasterurised milk, full cream milk, homogenised milk, low-fat milk. How does he choose which one to buy?

There was even a music system on top of the refrigerator! The section with the idols was separated from the devotee-seating area with a large red curtain, which were occasionally drawn and pulled following the puja proceedings.

We gave the fruits and flowers (bought from the supermarket, unlike temples in India where you buy them from little shops outside the temples) to the priest and told him we wanted a puja for the baby. When the priest asked, "What is the baby's gotra?" I looked at him, puzzled. Thankfully, before I could blurt out, "Errr... What is a gotra?" my bro-in-law had answered. (My bro-in-law explained to me during the drive back that 'gotra' is a sanskrit word that indicates lineage in the Hindu community, and that many people choose to use their gotra as their surname. Each of the gotras is named after a great ancient rishi, and belonging to a particular gotra generally implies patrilineal descension from that rishi.)

The puja started, and we were asked to sit on the carpet. Now I'm not used to sitting on the floor cross-legged. (I broke my knee a few years ago, and still can't bend it fully for prolonged periods of time.) When I finally got up, I could not feel one of my legs! That freaked me out for a while. :O

As I sat there and looked at the devotees around me, I wondered what each one was praying for. Were they thanking God for something they achieved? Were they asking Him for stuff they had got after praying? Were they praying for someone else? Were they wishing well for the whole world?

And as I thought of all these, I could not help but analyse my own relationship with God. I am not religious. In fact, I think I am confused about my views on religion. I don't want to be religious because I fear that I'd be praying to God just for the sake of praying. I fear that I'd be asking Him for things all the time. I fear that I'd remember Him only when I was in trouble. And that would really piss Him off, wouldn't it?

Recently, a school friend from 8 years ago sent me an sms out of nowhere - "Can you lend me 30000 rupees?" I was quite appalled. I sent a mental reply - "Dude, you haven't bothered to keep in touch with me for 8 years. You have no idea what the hell I am doing. I have no idea where the hell you are. And you sms me when you want a freakin thirty-thousand-rupee loan? What audacity!"

I strongly fear that maybe that's how God would think of me if I were religious.

Mom prays every morning after bathing and every night before she goes to sleep. I asked her once, "Mom, what is it that you pray for? You have everything. What do you ask God for, every single day? Do you have a wish that we're not aware of?" And she said, "You don't always have to pray for something. You could just pray. Prayers are not always to ask Him for things for yourself. I pray to Him to thank Him for giving me what I have, and to ask him to take care of my loved ones, and to wish well for everyone."

I looked at her in awe - pray every day to wish well for everyone? I think only mothers can be as unselfish as to do something like that. I doubt if I'm capable of praying to wish well for everyone every single day. I'm probably too selfish for that. Even though the existence of God is such a wonderful thought - that of someone with super powers up there looking down at us - His children. But maybe I'm the black sheep of His family. And maybe that's why I do not acknowledge Him in the way everyone around me does.

When Baby Aish was hospitalised at the age of 3 days, my hysterical sister called me up and said, "Pray for her, will you? Your wishes always work." I said, "I will wish for her." I couldn't say I'd pray for her, because I was sure that God would've probably given me the thirty-thousand-rupee reply. But I do believe in the human power of truly making a wish for someone. And so maybe my wishes also contributed a tiny bit into the factors that helped little Aish recover.

My bro-in-law is pretty religious, and my sister has become reasonably so too, after marriage. I sat there in the HAT and wondered if Aish would grow up to become religious. What we grow up and eventually do depends a lot on how our parents brought us up. My parents never forced my sister or me to be religious, but in America, where parents of American-born Indian kids are forever worried about their kids losing their traditions, there are many parents who force religion upon their unwilling kids. I guess it gives the parents a sense of security, a safety net against accusations that they did not ensure their kids were brought up 'Indian' enough. Rather than leaving their kids open to the influence of the so called 'lack of values in the evil foreign culture', they attempt to imbibe some values, some religion, some culture in their kids. Of course, whether the kids will ultimately turn out religious is something only time will tell, but the parents can assure themselves that at least they tried.

I saw many of such parents in the HAT too, with kids in tow. As I watched the restless American Indian kids, I wondered how their parents bribed them into coming to the temple. It was then that I noticed something amazing. While the parents sat on the carpet and chanted the shlokas along with the priests, the kids were asked to report directly to the priest. The priest gave one of the kids the prasad to offer to the devotees, while another - a rather tiny one - went around with the teeka, accompanying the priest who had the aarti. One of the kids even went around with a stack of serviettes to offer to the devotees who were having the prasad. Yet another kid was tasked to ring the huge bell, a task that he seemed to take very seriously.

The kids were really involved and obviously enjoying the 'responsibilities' they had been entrusted with. I was quite taken in by this amazing phenomenon.

And suddenly a thought struck me. Perhaps temples in America have become like medical or engineering institutions. Parents pay money and send their kids there to learn things that the parents can't teach them, things that the parents hope will be of much help to the kids in their lives. These parents at the HAT were doing the same. Instead of forcing their restless kids to be religious, they were just paying the temple, and taking the kids there. The rest was handled by the temple. Just as they trusted schoolteachers to be able to engage their children and teach them something, they had placed their trust in the priests. It became the priests' duty to arouse interest about religion in the kids. Of course there is no guarantee but the attempt must be applauded. Many of these kids would probably grow up not only pretty religious themselves, but will probably use the same strategy on their kids.

Catch 'em when they're young. Get them in, give them something fun to do, and get 'em hooked on for life. Pretty cool strategy methinks.

Now that's what I call a HAT-trick.

Friday, August 11, 2006

A moti-vational post

Note: The 'perky' parts of this post have been inspired by this utterly hilarious video of Carlos Mencias. Some people need to get the perk out of this post.

All right, before I get on with my post I need to do some reader-filtering.

Divide your weight in kilograms by the square of your height in metres. If you get anything less than 18, please make a quiet exit from the rear door of the bar, this post is not for your kind. (Some day I will write a post on your kind.)

And if by any chance your BMI is less than 18 AND you consider yourself fat
, you get the perk out of my bar! NOW. :-/

They say, "Inside every fat person is a thin person."

I would like to add on to the theory.

Sash says, "Inside every thin person is a fat person bursting to get out."

Ever wondered what the hell happened to that thin friend of yours after he got married? Or that thin friend of yours after she had a baby? Ever wondered what the hell happened to you in the few weeks/months/years of living away from India? Ever wondered when your paunch started entering the room before you did? Wonder not - it's the fat person that happened.

They (the damn 'they' again!) say Indians tend to get fat easily. It's genetic and we can't do anything about it. Whole load of bull crap I say. What is really genetic in us Indians is sheer sloth. Unless the reason is medical (big bones included), a person has no reason to become, stay and die fat.

So beware. You could be at risk of one of the diseases that no one has ever mentioned in any medical study so far. In medical terms it would be known as TPOBF.

The Possibility Of Becoming Fat.

TPOBF disease is spreading like wildfire. We're all at risk. Especially people like you and me who are fine NOW, but a little negligence and they are sent hurling into the fatty puddles of obesity with a one-way ticket.

I read somewhere that the BMI table has been modified for Asians. While a BMI of more than 25 is considered bad for Caucasians, it's 23 for Asians. Because apparently Asians tend to have more body fat compared to Caucasians. Fortunately, mine hasn't touched 20 yet and even if it does, I have no intention of making it exceed 20. 19-22 is considered healthy.

Those who have not even read my full post but have already made up their minds to pollute my precious comment space preaching about inner beauty and all that bah, I have one thing to say -- get the perk out of my bar, you too. :-/

As long as you're not obsessing over it a la Mariah Carey (she said about starving kids "I mean I'd love to be skinny like that, but not with all those flies and death and stuff."), being thin is good. Thin is in. Because it lets you grab that piece of cheesecake without guilt. In fact, being slightly thinner is better than being 'just right'. That way, you have some leeway. The kind you need to account for pampering India visits, extended stays in the US, marriage, pregnancy and stuff.

(By the way, Mariah Carey, if you're reading this, get the perk out of my blog! NOW!)

Now let's get a few facts right. Firstly, standards of 'fat-ness' are different for different people, and I am sure by the petite Singaporean standards, even I would fall in the fat category. Thankfully I don't follow them and have my own standards. Secondly, what works for some may not work for others. Some people (read guys) can just have pizza as their staple diet and still be lanky as hell, whereas a girl can put on weight in a week just because she had a muffin on Thursday. (If you're the kind of girl who can eat whatever she wants and never gain a gram, you get the perk out of my bar NOW!) Thirdly, you can be fat in parts - meaning that you could have a perfect butt but fat arms, or perfect legs but a paunch.

This post is for people like me. People who would like to maintain their present weight. And perhaps lose a few kilos or so. For the longest time I have wanted to make a list of things that I want to do to make sure I stay as I am, and maybe lose about 2 more kgs or so. So I decided to put it up on my blog so it's out there, and I can revisit it to see if I followed it or not. After my PPDW (People, please drink water!) post (The fact that I now drink twice the amount of water I used to drink before I wrote that post speaks of the phenomenal success of using posts to motivate not just others but yourself), I believe that this post will do me good. I also believe that a friend of mine has been eagerly waiting for this post of mine.

So I decided to make my own list of things that have worked for me and for people I know. Some of them may be very obvious, but it's the very obvious ones that we often fail to follow. Hopefully it will serve as moti-vation for me and maybe for a few of you out there:

1. First things first. Buy a weighing scale. You need to monitor closely and you need an honest non-living thing to tell you the ugly truth. People who see you every day will not be able to tell if you put on weight. Clothes? Bah, they expand and shrink like nobody's business. The only way to keep track is to use a weighing scale.

2. Once upon a time, I used to say "Eat like a pig and run like a horse, and you'll never get fat." I'd like to revisit that saying of mine. Maybe it works if you're just trying to maintain your weight. But if you're trying to lose weight, you simply have to watch what you eat. You can't afford to eat like a pig even if you're running like a horse.

3. Be traditional. I noticed that in India, Mom used to boil rice in water and drain the starchy water before serving the rice. In Singapore, they use rice cookers (or microwave ovens) to make the rice. Only as much water is added to the rice as will be absorbed by it. We could totally do without all that extra starch! So I have resolved that when I get my own place, I will make rice the traditional way. Jaise Mummy banati thi. :)

4. NRIs, when you go back to India, 'control' is the keyword. Beware of adoring aunties who will pull your cheeks and say, "Arre Singapore mein khana nahin milta kya?" and jealous Bhabhis who will pinch your waist and say, "Aap kitni dubli ho?! Ab dekho hamari khaatirdari."

5. Very oily food has a natural property of putting you off it. Heed it. A colleague of mine treated our team to fried chicken last week. I gorged on it and later felt sick like hell. I am off fried chicken for a while now. Same thing happened with me with fish & chips. I haven't had fish & chips in almost a year now.

6. Avoid carbonated drinks. Remember - each can of coke has 10 teaspoons of sugar in it. 10! TEN!! :O If you're the kind who uses carbonated drinks as a substitute for water (I have a few cousins who do), wean off it slowly. Use alternatives. If you hate Coke Lite, try Pepsi Max. Believe me, it actually tastes better than Pepsi original. But artificial sweeteners can be carcinogenic so you getta get off the shit for good.

7. There are other invisible sources of sugar, such as tea and coffee. If you're addicted to these drinks, start cutting down the sugar in them. I have stopped drinking milk tea (because they make it with condensed milk here). Now I drink only mint tea when extremely sleepy at work with half the amount of sugar that I used to put into my milk tea earlier.

8. When you have your meals, don't eat till your stomach is completely full. Leave some space in your stomach. Fill it only upto 75%. This also helps proper digestion.

9. Boycott lifts. Climb up stairs. If you live on the 25th floor, climb up 6 floors and then take the lift. I often climb up to the canteen on the 6th floor in my office building and climb down without buying anything.

10. Run. There's nothing quite like running to lose those extra kilos. I ran 6 rounds of the 400-m track in university every night for six months, and lost many many kgs. (I also broke my knee because of the running but I'll save that story for another day.) Actually, I kinda hate running. So I was very happy when the doctor told me that running is not good for my 'bad knee'. Yeay! (Ahem, I make up for it by walking a lot.)

11. If you don't like to get sweaty and smelly by exercising, you could pick up swimming. Swimming is a great way to tone the entire body without getting all hot and sweaty. Though I swim like a dog - I never put my head under water - but who wants to enter the Olympics anyway?

12. If you're the kind who hates to exercise, find a friend and pick up a game and play regularly. That way, you stay fit without the so called "exercising" part. The moment I move to the east, I am picking up badminton again.

13. The gym is a great place to work on individual body parts. If you don't have access to a gym, you could always do exercises at home. Crunches are a great way to trim the tummy.

14. If you're wondering why you're not losing weight even though you don't drink any carbonated drinks or have fried foods, the culprit is carbs. Reduce your carbs intake. I know a guy who tucked in his tummy fully just by halving the amount of rice he ate. Rice, white bread, potatoes are all high in carbs. Ask for less rice when you eat out. If you notice, when you order rice at a food court, they do not look at your body size or gender before serving you the portion. It's the same for everyone. There has to be something wrong with this system, isn't it?

15. Opt for wholemeal options. Brown bread over white bread. Atta over maida. Fibre fills you up so you eat less of other (fattening) food, and it also keeps your digestive system in good order.

16. Drink loads of water. I don't know the mechanics but apparently it keeps the body in shape.

17. Take time to chew your food. Gobbling it down will not satisfy your appetite properly, and will also lead to poor digestion. Enjoy each bite and you will find yourself full and satisfied with less.

18. Contrary to popular belief (in Singapore, the only Indian food the locals are familiar with are biryani, prata and naan!), Indian food can be extremely healthy. Take the humble chapati for example. High fibre, zero oil, and it can serve as a wrap for incredibly delicious and healthy fillings.

19. Beware of something called 'mental hunger' - which makes you finish off a whole packet of potato wafers by yourself on an already full stomach. 'Mental hunger' is a disorder mostly caused by either heartbreak and boredom. If you suffer from the former, remember that the one who broke your heart should be the one turning into a slab of butter, not you. As for the latter, there are SO many things to do in the world that it is virtually impossible for us to get bored.

Good luck to those who intend to follow this. If any of this works for you, do drop me a note. And if you have other tips, please feel free to use the comments space.

The best part of doing all this is that once in a while, you can guiltlessly INDULGE! Dhaakki tiki! :D