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You can count on me

As a kid, I was very impatient and edgy (things haven’t changed much at all). While waiting for a bus, I had to keep myself occupied lest I poke someone in the bus-stop with a compass due to sheer boredom. So I took to counting cars…1, 2, 3, 4….and so on till the darn bus arrived. To make it more challenging, I counted Marutis and Ambassadors simultaneously and kept an accurate tally in my head. After 50 cars, if Marutis were higher than the Amassadors, I would allow myself to blink. If not, I’d sit around like a wide eyed zombie waiting for more Marutis while tears welled up. It was mind-boggling, fun and an enduring game that kept me entertained and my brain charged during the most dreadful part of the day.

How many of us are lucky enough to get paid to relive our childhood games? As a part of my job, I was requested to go to an intersection and count cars… for the whole afternoon and the next afternoon count planes take off from one particular runway. Imagine my glee. I took my picnic chair, propped it at the corner of the intersection, wore my orange vest, made myself comfortable with snacks and coke and started counting while keeping a tab of it in paper. 1, 2, 3, 4, slash… till I was brain dead by the end of the day. It’s a whole different story counting for the whole day versus counting till a bus arrives. ‘You! Stop staring and drive. Haven’t you ever seen a girl sitting on a chair in an isolated intersection?’ Counting sheep to sleep was never the same again. Left turning sheep, right turning sheep, dented sheep, sheep running amok through the signals showing finger at other sheep.

Traffic counts are usually done by other data collecting agencies that have sophisticated equipment just for this purpose; but very rarely, in case of emergencies we go to the field instead of waiting for the counts. It’s great when I get to go out in spring and summer, but in winter…it’s dreadful but still a welcome change to the cube. One such winter night I was counting cars sitting inside my own car with the heater turned on and the radio blasting. I had pulled over to the side in a ditch and parked right in front of a street light (almost touching it). To any passerby it would seem like an accident, but that was only vantage point to get all the action. Half a dozen cops stopped by to inquire based on calls from drivers on suspicious-brown-woman-inside-car-looking-extremely-suspicious. I assuaged their fears by flashing my ID and explaining who I work for. I hated those interruptions as I would have to start counting from scratch. Annoying snoopy cops. Then there was one good-samaritan couple that stopped their truck, pulled down their windows and hollered if I needed any help or if I needed to be pulled out of the ditch. Keeping one of my eyes on the cars, I yelled back impatiently, ‘I’m OK! Just counting cars.’

They looked at each other, shuddered in ambiguous horror and sped away real fast.

That same day, a red Toyota merged from the ramp smoking all the way. The car stopped, the driver got off and ran while the vehicle just blew up in flames 50 feet from where I was stationed. I wondered for a minute if I should include that car in my database or not. I decided to scoot from there before I got arrested for triggering a bomb.

No one believed my story at work when I told them I couldn’t complete the work and might have to go back another day.

Sometimes I work

Transportation Engineer- that’s what I am. I do not transport engineers to their work places. That’ll be called a cabbie. I do not really hold a stop sign and stand in the middle of an intersection with suicidal notions. That’ll be called an obsolete constable.

I simply design roads.

My mom would say,’ All that money we spent on your education and you end up putting tar on the roads? At least come and fix that annoying pot-hole near thatha’s house or do something to that signal in Annanagar circle.’

My thesis topic was even more glamorous- ‘Drainage through pavement’. Before you crinkle your delicate noses, drainage is the phenomenon where rain water (or any water) finds a way to go under. Oh well, someone’s got to make sure your cars don’t turn into submarines.

For those who wanted to know my activities at work in detail (not kidding, but some people did want to know), I basically sit in front of the computer designing and analyzing using various kinds of traffic software. Transportation projects including Roadways, Aviation, Ports are a big deal nowadays and provide us engineers with ample opportunities for growth. Current trends, future demand, comparing the future traffic with the current capacity, government funds etc drive the necessity for a project. The tasks I do include analyzing traffic data, signal timings, making sure the facility would work and that traffic would flow smoothly without much delays, designing local roads, freeways, ramps, bridges, checking for safe operations, calculating costs based on quantities, fighting with environmentalists, schmoozing with clients, sucking up to the boss and the hardest of all- waking up in the morning ...phew! I didn’t realize I do so much.. need a raise dammit!

Basically our Projects are split into
Phase I- Preliminary design.. laying out the plan from scratch roughly (my favorite)
Phase II- Final Design... catering to excruciating details and completion of design (my nightmare)
Phase III- Construction (when our plans are developed into roads for you to drive on)..I personally never take that route after completion unless I need to get my tooth chipped off.

Apart from the technical aspect, we get to meet people too. After the Phase I design, we hold a Public Meeting inviting all the residents and business owners around that ‘road’ to check out the plans and offer their gratitude. You’d think it must be such a warm fuzzy feeling to be interacting with the people who’ll use something you created. You’d even think people might bring you gifts and blessings to appreciate all the weekend efforts you’ve put to see this project through.

But then, you’d be completely delusional and mistaken. I learnt the hard way that people don’t like progress and upliftment of their community. Flaring angry residents shouting slogans armed with placards and mean petitions stormed into the hall.

‘So you are the freak who’s decided to build the road through my garden? You’ll rot in hell!!

‘Me? No..noo..Let me introduce you to my boss.. Hey Jaaaack…’

‘Do you have children?’ asked another peeved local.

Finally thinking we are bridging the gap talking about family and such, I beamed, ’No dear. How about you?’

‘That explains it, you heartless being! I have three kids..if even one of them gets run over by a truck playing on the road thinking it’s our yard, I’ll get you lady! You’ll never be able to sleep peacefully! Hissssssssss!’

When what how?!! Me a child murderer? And seriously, are her kids so messed up as to not tell the difference from a road and a yard? And why curse my sleep? As it is I get less of it thanks to Pi’s snoring!

While I was taking this all in, one nice chap came to me and told me in a matter-of-fact way that he would not hesitate to shoot any construction worker that tries to touch his willow tree. He was dressed in hunter’s clothes.

I pulled off my name tag from my jacket and mingled with the crowd shouting, “DOWN WITH RECONSTRUCTION!’

The clouds and us

When the clouds show no promise of a silver lining, there is grief and there are many ways of dealing with this sadness.

Some blame Him, He who is the eternal punching bag. The weight of their gunny bag hasn’t really reduced physically, but in their minds maybe they feel a little lighter. ‘He brought in these clouds, He better bring in the sunlight soon. Otherwise, there is no God.’

Some wallow in self-pity and do practically nothing but just whine at their misfortune- ‘Life is not fair. Why can’t these clouds hover above the neighbor’s house? Why me? I am helpless.’

Some are practical; they just look at the sky and say- ‘It’s cloudy today. It’ll rain and things will be messy. It’s beyond anyone’s capacity to stop the rain; no point wasting my time worrying about it. I’m going ahead and doing what I was doing.’

Very few are determined action seekers, doing what they can, leaving no stone in the world unturned knowing very well that it’s an impossible daunting task. Even at the most miserable and trying times, they have the capacity to smile and count their blessings while keeping the faith. They have a glimmering hope in spite of depleted resources and harrowing prognosis.

It’s a high time that silver lining made its presence felt.

Gifted memories

On the issue of recycling gifts (very earth friendly); I have a few more stories to share. Once this is off my chest, I’ll move on.

One of my wedding gifts was a silver tumbler with the groom and bride’s names etched on the sides. Very nice indeed, except that the names were not ours. There was a visiting card inside, but not that of our guest’s.

Dilemma: Do we just call the guy in the visiting card and thank him? Do we find Sheila and Mohan and hand over their tumbler?

One more, one more,

Our good friends from Philly visited us and we gave them something we love… board games. They looked at it, smiled politely and thanked us graciously. Few years later, went over to visit them and noticed the board games in their cupboard (don’t ask what I was doing in their cupboard). Should be happy that they didn’t give it away to their niece, right? But no, I was mortified! Shocked, coz the plastic wrap was still intact after so many years. I stormed out with the old gift in hand, demanded explanation and asked them if it was OK to take it back home as I wanted this badly anyway. They willingly obliged.

If I was showing off my most shameless side, I did a great job.

Last one, I promise.

I gifted Gabby a fancy belt.

“O wow! This is what I always wanted. I love it.”

‘Seriously Gabby, if you need to exchange it, go ahead. There is a gift receipt. I won’t feel bad.’ I sincerely offered.

“No way! You won’t believe this, I spent 10 minutes in the store the other day longing for it and then with a heavy heart moved away. Thank you so much.”

Totally pleased and accomplished. (You know you spend quite a while trying to pick the right gift and when you get a reaction like that, you feel so fulfilled... like in this day and age of picky people, you've actually figured out your friend.)

5 days later, tipsy Gabby confessed having exchanged it for the earrings she was wearing.

All in the Family

Cousin USA- Green-card bhaiya
His kid- baby Hurricane
Cousin India- Ration-card bhaiya
His kid- baby Toofan

Two years ago,
GC bhaiya was in Chicago with family, mainly to visit his wife’s brother’s family. We met them at a mall and exchanged courtesies. Tried to befriend Hurricane (my niece), all of 3 years who was acting like a lady already. She looked like a sweetheart and just tugged at my heart while she showed me her little new dress. There were two kids in all including GC’s wife’s brother’s little boy around the same age as Hurricane. He was a darling too, the way he imitated everything she did, coz she was such a bully. I had to buy the kids something. I had come empty handed like a sorry ass.

I held their hands and ran with them to the Disney Store leaving the parents behind. “Yes Kiddos! This is your kingdom and I am your slave. Go pick whatever you want and Alpha bua (aunt) will pay for it. Go on, don’t be shy.”

Shy? That word probably wasn’t instilled in their vocabulary or actions. They went crazy and ransacked the store. In no time they came back dragging the biggest automated Mickey Mouse twins in the whole freaking planet. Slowly reaching out for Mickey’s shoulders, I pulled out the tag and gingerly looked at the bill while humming a tune. Tune faded and was replaced with look of horror. Aiyya! Yikes! This could have made Walt Disney himself bankrupt! The brats sure had been instilled with an eye for opulence.

Looked around to see if their parents were sneaking up on me. ‘err Darlings, Sweety pies, this Mickey is yucky, bad Mickey! Come here… come this way; see all this good stuff lying in this huge basket that says SALE? Wow! Miniature Mickey! See you can actually put it in your pocket and walk around while chewing on it…how cute is that? How about a Goofy key chain?

“Auntieee! We want this one! Wheeee!” they pulled out two hideous looking one-eyed green monster that screamed 50 dollars each.

“Oh My God, kids, your parents will never let that thing into their respective homes. One monster is enough.”

I tried every marketing gimmick and also tried playing with their psyches. After much negotiation, she settled for a slightly affordable Dumbo the Flying Elephant. He wanted the same darn thing, nothing cheaper (of course). Anyway phew! *wipes sweat from brows*

Happily, they skipped out of the store, each holding an elephant replica. How cute! Their smiles were worth every penny I didn’t spend.

Suddenly Hurricane started wailing and yelping, falling on the floor and creating enough commotion and concern to have Bush divert his troops from Iraq. I was flabbergasted. Maybe she is going to complain to her parents about the cheap tricks I resorted to, tricking poor innocent children. Holi will be played with my true colors in every family get together. GC will think I don’t earn enough and might even offer cash for subsistence. Why didn’t I get them the grossly humungous Mickey and sold my car instead? My ghastly thoughts were interrupted…

“I want THAT Dumbo!” she screamed throwing her own, kicking it to the side and grabbing his elephant.


Recently when I was in India, I spent time in my other cousin’s (GC’s brother RC) house. Lying down on his daughter’s bed and regaling her with some kiddy tales, I saw a very familiar elephant staring at me from the top of her toy shelf. Wondering why that elephant stood out among the rest of the soft-toy population out there, I asked Toofan, ‘Baby doll, where did that come from?’

‘Oh bua, GC chachu (uncle) bought it for me from America!’

O Sister, Why Art Thou?

Having a smart older sister who outshines you in school is not a very favorable situation to land into. Ok, before my brother slaps his lawyers on me, let me rephrase that sentence quickly. Having an older sister in school is not a very favorable situation to land into. Period.

When I walked pass the school staff-room, Asha miss called me in a stressed-out, worried voice. Thinking that the worst had happened (like me falling short of the highest grade by half a percentage), I scurried in looking vaguely embarrassed as other teachery eyes fell on me and took mental note. ‘Yes, miss?’ I ask patronizingly.

“I’m checking your brother’s Biology record book. How difficult is it to draw a plant? Does this look remotely like a plant?”

“hmm…not exactly. If I were to use words to describe that, I would say it looks like frog’s mucous that developed tentacles.” I breathed a sigh of relief knowing this was not about me. hehe.. This is so cool. My brother is in trouble.. tralala.

“Yes! This boy needs serious improvement. Look at his handwriting. Why does it look like a cockroach walked on an ink pad and later decided to run amok on his note books?”

Composing my exhilarated self and putting mature thoughts in my head, I said, ‘Ermm…He is not as artistic as me. I’ll draw his records from next time and spare you the torture, miss.’ I got a what-a-saint-she-is look from Asha miss. And I also got a slave for a few months if I kept this from parents.

Some months later,
I had to pass my bro’s classroom to get some water, when I spotted him…not in his class, but outside it…jeering at his classmates and making faces at the teacher.

Jeez! That kid is ruining our family name!!

Again I was summoned by the teacher in charge. “Your brother has been punished again for disrupting class peace. Very naughty fellow. He’s making innocent plump Vivek also like him.”

‘Yes miss, I will tell my parents about this and save little plump Vivek’s future.’

Some years later,
his fate landed him in the same Engineering College as mine, a college known for merciless ragging/hazing. That year, anti-ragging committes were formed and things were slightly under control; but some elements got their way.

Information had leaked to me that a bunch of guys (3rd years) had decided to rag my brother and his friends outside the campus in a seedy restaurant. Sisterly instincts kicked in. More than that, it was the fury of freakin juniors trying to rag my brother! How dare they?! Puny 3rd years!

Being in final year gave me some weird guts to face this situation with my roomie and few other homies. Made back up arrangements if we ever died in the war-scene. We drove to the restaurant in question flaring, kicked a few chairs and created some unwanted ruckus before settling down or getting kicked out. After some serious waiting time (need to kill the informant for sending us early), the 3rd years walked in with the freshies. Thinking they'd pee in their pants on seeing us, they simply took their seats without even noticing us.

I stormed up to them, rolled my sleeves and demanded explanation, much to my brother’s mortification and shock. Threw in the Dean’s name, my grandpa’s name and associated myself with a few super goondas of the college.

‘Didi, we know your brother from high-school. We were trying to catch up. Since ragging is on high alert in the campus, we had to sneak in here lest they mistake us for *shudder* ragging them.’

‘Good try, kiddo! Stop didi-ing me. I know these tricks… been there, done that- you know! Scoot now and leave my baby brother alone!’

My brother, positively sick and about to throw up, took me aside and helplessly wailed, ’Stop creating a scene. These are my friends! …at least they ‘were’ my friends.’

Same college, a few months later,
‘I met your classmate Arjun in the hallway.’ my brother quipped as I saw him somewhere in campus.

‘Oh cool.’

Next day, I met the same Arjun. ‘Guess where I saw your kid brother?! At Bacchus Inn, in that movie theatre behind..you know where.. umm.. they show..’

‘Ok, Whatever! I got it!’

Hmpf! Hallway, eh?

When I left college, my brother’s was the happiest face in campus. … till he came to do masters in the same darned University I decided to go to.

He had become smarter over time; this time he joined after I graduated. To be safe, he even had a 2 year cushion period. But then, I had left a few spies (frustrated folks who were still doing Phd and would gladly undertake any kind of spying activitiy).

Now with me in Chicago and him in Seattle, I’m sure he still wonders what more damage I can do. But I have to admit, in spite of this, he turned out all right… way better than me! *pats my back*

Earth Day facts

I don’t know what connection I have to Earth Day and what made me volunteer for the Green Team at work. I have the worst track record for these kinds of things, though I have to admit I try. If I remember to switch off the lights, I’ve done a good deed for the day. Ever since I came to the United States, the waste I generate per day must have killed schools of fishes on the way to their school. This has nothing to do with the times when I starved some fishes in my home aquarium (I forgot they need food apart from the water). Ever since, the aquarium houses my winter gloves and scarves (easier to maintain).

Coming back to Earth Day, I sent an email to office folks to come and join the Green Team for a get-together during lunchtime and learn a few fun facts on saving the earth. (The facts aren’t at all fun…like- an average American household uses 600 gallons of water for toilet needs!!!). For the event, I promised to bring green treats (the only way to entice people to come) and have a quiz and give out plants as gifts. I also sent them a link to the Ecological Footprint Quiz so they realize where they stand and what they are up against.

On Thursday evening, while I was busy getting some drawings to our esteemed clients, I got a reminder popping ominously on the screen:
1. Get your ass off the desk 2. Bake something tonight. 3. Buy Plants 4. Prepare quiz 5. Find something green to wear...like a gecko garland (?) 6. Take train to work tomorrow or car pool with Natalie.

WHAT? It’s 22nd already? EGAD! Why did I have to be a smart ass? What about the rest of people? Why can’t they do this volunteering shit? I am a goner.

I took the footprint quiz just in case people questioned my integrity to the cause. The results were disturbing indeed. The quiz brutally told me that I am capable of annihilating 3.2 planets by living the way I do. Shucks! All this, in spite of owning a solar calculator! bah! Surely can’t post these results in the notice board. Must make Ramu kaka in India to take this quiz and use him as prototype.

Bake? Forget it! No time. I rushed to Jewel-Osco (grocery store with funny name) with a cloth bag so that I could refuse plastic and paper (least I could do in this failing endeavor). I picked up cookies and brownies in disposable containers. Couldn’t find anything green... what the heck is green treat anyway? While checking them out, I was so caught up in trying to use coupons, preferred card, not paying for next customer that I completely forgot about the cloth bag. Processed food in plastic boxes in plastic bag! Great going! So here I was conducting Earth day, proving to be an example by promising to plug the landfills and choke sea turtles, not to mention the dangers of getting cursed by my grandchildren’s grandchildren some million years hence.

Ran to work (not really, I drove alone *guilty gulp*), emptied cookies in Tupperware containers, threw disposable evidence. Oh no! Pulled out the same disposable containers from the dustbin and threw them in recycling bins. Phew! I’m a world savior!

Prepared the quiz in 4 minutes. Didn’t have time for multiple choices which led people to scream, ‘This is so tough! How are we supposed to know who founded Earth Day?’

Maybe the choices should have been-
a) Jim Carrey
b) Gaylord Nelson
c) George Bush
d) Tipu Sultan

Dumb asses! I guess I was born on this earth for a reason. Gave plants as gifts to people who got at least one answer right- Earth Day is important. True or False?

One thing is for sure, if not for this volunteering, I would have never known Gaylord Nelson founded Earth Day.

Treading on the fine thread of love

Teenage trauma includes peer pressure. Peer pressure includes being teased with random guys you don't really want to be associated with, even in a marooned island with snakes…especially in a marooned island with snakes. ‘Being teased’ leads to thoughts of spending entire life with random guy in question and god forbid- sharing happiness. Spending life with said guy means ultimate self destruction!


… you stop this fundamental cycle of catastrophic events and commit the heinous action that will absolve you from future ridicule, embarrassment and misery. So you think… till it haunts you in the future, 10 years later, and prompts you to write a confession post.

Of all the skeletons in my closet, somewhere in the top three shelves will be a few missing rakhis. Imagine telling your western counterpart who just confessed that she lost her virginity due to peer pressure, 'Oh, I tied a rakhi for the same reasons.'

I was supposed to be making arrangements to be engaged to this tall guy in my class for the sole reason of my height, which would obviously lead to subsequent compatibility. My friends (did I just call them that?) had weird logic. Relentless pairing, knowing nods, corny smiles, catcalls when the both of us crossed each other's path at arms distance apart. Wrought with despair, I started crossing out dates in my calendar leading to the D-day when this will all be over. On Rakhsha Bandhan, with no sisterly effusiveness, I accost this guy whom I have never spoken to in my entire life. Embarrassed and indignant, I show him the homemade rakhi and ask him to extend the hand of brotherliness.

If he is interested in spending future in marooned island with you or he is disinterested in palming off some obligatory cash after this deal, he will refuse. Sure sign of extra danger prompting me to cajole and plead. 'I want you as my brother! Please don't do this to me. My dad will kill me; my mom will abandon me if you don't take this. My brother, oh well, my brother will get a brother he has always been dreaming of.'

He will try to escape from this situation if he has no intentions of saving you from evil forces, a duty that comes with being a brother bonded by a single thread. If you are a real brother by birth, this trivial responsibility is not mandatory. Ask my blood brother.

In extreme cases he would need to be drugged in order for you to carry out execution of this activity. He'd wake up distraught to find he has become the brother of a girl he had once intended to marry. The fact that this has not deterred many couples is another issue altogether and I am not covering that subject on moral grounds. I’d like to maintain a pristine blog.

Oh these days, it's even easier for the harried girls. Just inundate the poor unsuspecting guy's inbox with an e-rakhi. Lo and behold! A brother is made out of a villian. He can print it out and strap it around his wrists.

The undying message of love that was brought out on Raksha Bandhan in my school in South India - ‘O Brother, thou shall steer clear of me.’

Disclaimer: I am a firm believer of the pure brother-sister bond Rakhsha Bandhan brings forth/used to bring forth (in old Bollywood movies at least). It’s such a beautiful festival and should remain eternal as long as intentions are clear. The term ‘Rakhi brother’ has always triggered snide remarks and the fault clearly lies with us. Hoping this would change and emotions are not trampled with. In spite of what I had to say in my post, I have diligently followed this tradition with the select few who actually bring out the sisterly qualities in me. I’m in it for the cash, of course.

Double Take

Parthenon in Nashville, TN

Leaning Tower of Pisa in Chicago, IL

A pyramid in Vegas, NV

My hubby in the gym

Things to do # 1- Achieve sobriety quick!

Brand new garb, same old crap

Check out the designer label at the bottom. Luckily I didn’t have to pay an arm and a leg for this template as Chugs is like Spiderman- helps the poor and hapless by spinning his web. Being a professional web-designer, I think he couldn’t deal with the eyesore and hence the gracious offer, which he came to later regret. He doesn’t like to be heaped with praises (found out the hard way), so I’ll spare him (and myself). But I was immensely surprised at his generosity as I had no clue of his existence. Need to hang out with more celebrities in future.

Now I see Chugs designs everywhere. It’s like when you get your new pair of Nikes, you start noticing other people with Nikes and think- hmm, his Nikes are better than mine! But when you get it for free, you wonder how much that sucker paid!

Chugs, you totally rock buddy! Thanks for putting up with me and my browser and blogdrive. I love this look, but I still see weird things like potbellied, bald guys on the header. The calendar keeps blinking with an eerie message saying- Your expiry date is fast approaching. People, if you see question marks randomly, please substitute with inverted commas, brackets, exclamation marks- whatever suits you...or contact Simon Singh. Next thing I know, Lynne Truss is going to call me and offer free classes (surprisingly it hasn't happened yet).

Ok Chugs, I’ll trust you when you say you can’t see the same problems and that I am going mental (meaning I lack aqueous humor)

Hey, if there are any magnanimous doctors, masseurs, eyebrow-threaders, drycleaners, cops, shrinks etc out there reading my blog, please drop in a note. I am open to charity.

Life is good.

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