Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A day in San Francisco

- Watched a terrific production of Roald Dahl's Matilda at San Francisco's Orpheum theatre.
- This was in the UN Civic centre - magnificent buildings.
- Drove up and down the streets of the city. People had told me about it, but I really hadn't appreciated exactly how much the gradients were.
- Entrance to the famous crooked Lombard street was denied to us. So it was a case of so close, yet so far. We were at the top, but couldn't see it.
- Hiked the streets. (Note I said hiked, and not walked.)
- Drank hot chocolate at Ghirardelli
- Saw Fisherman's Wharf. Not much time, though
- Spotted the Golden Gate bridge from afar for the second time (first time was from the sky). The top was shrouded in mist.
- Saw two limousines. (heh)
- The ocean looks fabulous from there, especially from some of the high points in the city.
- Walked past an event where an organization was feeding the homeless and what I can only guess were war veterans?
- Saw a whole lot of homeless people on the streets. (apart from those at the event) They were near the streets where we'd booked parking. Though this road was so near the UN centre, these roads were totally different in character. I was jittery.
- Passed a frightening police drama. Two police cars had stopped a man on the other side of the road, and he was shouting and gesticulating wildly. IT looked like he was taunting the police. A bunch of people huddled together on our side of the road were shouting encouragement across the road. The car lights were flashing, and we had to walk past this scene. Fresh from scores of movies and thriller serials, I was nearly sure the police would take out their guns and start shooting. "Hurry, hurry" I kept telling S and Puttachi. S thought I was overreacting. I'm not so sure.
- We turned the corner, and bam - it was an entirely different place, in character.
- San Francisco is unlike any other city I have ever seen. It deserves a more leisurely visit. Several of them. This visit was just incidental - the main reason for this particular visit was to watch Matilda.
 

A month completed.

- No, homesickness hasn't hit me. Yet.
- I've been driving everywhere with S next to me. I drove on the freeway too. Yay!
- We've been having lots of people over for meals. Making new friends.
- Didn't know a single neighbour until there was a fire alarm in the complex (false alarm). Met my neighbours :)
- Yet to meet the loads of friends and relatives who live in the Bay Area.
- Far too many Indians around. As I said in my FB update recently, "On my morning walk: I hear the strains of MSS' Venkatesha Suprabhata from one house, smell doseys from the second, and hear the hiss of the pressure cooker and smell oggarane from the third. Sometimes I have to blink several times and shake my head vigorously to remind myself where I am."




 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A Really Short History of Nearly Everything

I'm reading out Bill Bryson's "A Really Short History of Nearly Everything" to Puttachi.

I find the way she thinks fascinating. And the things that she thinks! For instance here are some of the things her brain thought up while we were reading about space.

When I told her that the light of the stars takes centuries to reach us:
"Looking at stars is like looking at history with our own eyes."

When talking about the possibility of aliens existing, given that there are so many galaxies and so many stars in each galaxy:
"Everything that we call imaginary is probably there somewhere; you have imagined it because some part of your head knows it is there. But consciously, we do not know it is there. "

We were reading about Pluto, and the text said, ".. with a NASA mission on its way and planning to arrive nearby in July 2015, Pluto won't be forgotten."
Puttachi said, "But July 2015 is now!"
I quietly opened a browser and showed her pics of Pluto taken by New Horizons, and she whispered, wide-eyed, "We are reading about it and it is happening now?"
And then the excitement overwhelmed her and she fell on the bed and thrashed about like a fish out of water. So much fun.
 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

A too-long summer vacation

Puttachi is enjoying ...ok let me call it experiencing...the longest vacation she'll probably ever have. 2 months of summer vacations in India, followed by 1 month of being at home in India since we had decided to move. And then 2 months of summer vacations here in the US. Add to that 1 month of March where she came back home at 10 30 the entire month. So effectively, by the time she starts school in the end of August, she'll have been at home for 6 months!

This wouldn't have been such a bad thing if things had been running on our regular schedule. My work would have been affected, of course, but apart from that, I can think of many things to do with her, many places to take her to, friends she could meet, etc.

But these few months have been anything but regular. I was busy during the first three of these months winding up the house, clearing, packing, giving away, and couldn't really spend as much time as I wanted to with her. Once we got here, we are busy setting up house. And where in Bangalore she had the luxury of going to meet friends at least, here, she doesn't have that  yet. Besides, since I don't have my license yet, we are effectively  homebound on weekday mornings, until S gets back from work. We do go out for walks close by, but we don't see children around in the morning. So it is just her and me.

For me, Puttachi's summer vacations usually mean that I have to cut down on writing, and I have to increase my tolerance to Puttachi's non stop chattering, and build up the patience to answer her incessant questions. But this time, due to all these other diversions, I've been short on both tolerance and patience. And naturally the too-long holiday has been hard on Puttachi too, and though she is good at keeping herself engaged and occupied, she is missing the company of children and is probably bored. That has translated to a lot of whining and groaning and not-listening-to-me and testing her limits and my patience, and a whole lot of laziness and do-I-really-have-to-do-it-why-do-I-have-to-do-it?

In short, I'm counting down to the start of school! In case you are interested, just under 40 days to go.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Some more observations and experiences

*I didn't mention that we watched the Fourth of July fireworks, sitting next to a lake with thousands of other people. I loved looking at how people treat it as a picnic. They had arrived with picnic mats and foldable chairs and baskets of food and drink, and they had such a good time. We had to wait till 9 15 or 9 30 pm for it to become dark enough for the fireworks to be seen properly. And they were spectacular.

*I saw my first hummingbird that same day. It was surreal. I was sitting alone outside a friend's house, waiting for her to get back. I was looking out at her garden, and all of a sudden, there was a buzz-buzz and I looked around for a bee or something, and then I see this bird. And it suddenly clicks into place. Hummingbirds hover, I'd read that a million times, but I'd not realized that they actually hover and move about like insects, you know. Now it seems like such an obvious thing, but honestly, my mind hadn't made that connection at all. It was fascinating, but I had nobody to share my excitement with at that moment!


Can you spot the hummingbird?

*Went to the beach on my niece's birthday. The water was cold. And there were no shells on the beach at all. And the Pacific was a beautiful blue. This was one of those times I thought of myself as a small girl, marvelling about the vastness of the Pacific ocean and wondering if I'd ever see it. And here I was, with my feet in its waters.

*Visited the library. Such a lovely feeling, to be given the freedom to take more books than you can read! The rows and rows upon books all waiting, winking at me, saying, "Me! Me! Take me!" and Puttachi's delight that she doesn't need to choose between two books, and that she can take them both if she wanted! I wish India had public libraries.

*The cars at night on the highway - reminded me of an unending line of luminous red ants hurrying one after another, eager to get to their nests.

*When people talked about "The roads in the US are good" I always thought they meant the actual quality of the roads (perhaps they meant that too) but now I think I know what they mean. The roads, the lanes, the network of roads, the freeways, and the entries and exits from the freeways, the smooth movement of the vehicles, everything in place ensuring that vehicles don't block each others' movement. I know it is probably funny but what I like best is the little island in the middle of the road where a vehicle can stop and wait to turn into a side road, without hindering the movement of any other vehicle.




 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Week 2 - impressions

*The houses. I love looking at houses. And their gardens and their trees. There are some areas which I've come to recognize are full of lovely houses. And I always look out for them.

*The hills around this place. (Yet to do some research on them.) They are so bare, but strangely beautiful. Some have this yellow grass waving in the breeze, and they look striking against the bright blue sky.

*The trees are now acquaintances. I recognize them, but don't know their names yet. I think they'll start shedding their leaves by the time I get to know them, and then I'll have to wait until next spring to re-recognize them.

*I saw my first Redwood trees. They were babies I guess, and I did wonder if I would recognize them if I saw them. But no mistaking them. They soar to the sky so beautifully. I look forward to seeing the grand old Redwoods soon.

*Such a wonderful place in which to window-shop. If Shopping is the Great American Pastime, then window-shopping is mine. The malls! Their size! The number of shops! The things inside those shops! There is something for every need you can think of, and many things that you cannot think of! And the number of people milling about!

*Cleared my DMV written test, and got my driving permit. So now I can drive with a license-holder sitting next to me. Translates to S. Gulp. In India, I got help with driving practice from my Father-in-law, who sat on the passenger seat and gave me tips and confidence in equal measure, and I took off in no time.  Here, I don't have a choice. It has to be S sitting next to me and I think everybody knows how that will go.
Have to get used to the car first. The automatic car. And  I'm used to stick-shift cars, and I didn't expect how hard it is going to be to adjust to the supposedly easier kind of car. The first time I drove, I didn't know what to do with my left leg, used as it was to operating the clutch. I even tried operating the brake with it until I realized what I was doing. Besides I keep turning on the windshield wipers every time I have to signal a turn.

*Our house is completely furnished now. Every night after dinner saw S and me assembling furniture. I like to that think we partnered well. I reading out the instructions and pointing out the nuts and the screws and where to fit them, and S doing the drilling and fixing.
Oh and by the way, today is our tenth wedding anniversary.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Puttachi and time-travel

Thanks to the Septimus Heap book series and Interstellar, Puttachi has become extremely fascinate about time travel and the paradoxes that go with it. For instance, the grandfather paradox.

It is obvious that it is going on and on and on in her head, because frequently she comes up with a question that stumps me.

Here are two instances:

In the Septimus Heap series, at some point (tiny spoiler alert) the young Septimus meets his older self. The older Septimus gives the younger Septimus a piece of information. Clear so far?

Now Puttachi's question is: "The young Septimus got this information from the older Septimus. How did the older Septimus get that information? Did he learn it from elsewhere? No! Not necessary! Because when he was young, he had already got that information - from his older self! So at what point did this information enter this circle?"

Another instance:

She: I'll grow up and make a time machine. I wonder if I'll succeed.
Me: Let's find out if you'll succeed. If you make a time machine in the future, make the first stop on July 7th, 2015, at 6 pm, that is five seconds from now, to this room. Now wait - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 - Go! No, you didn't appear. So that means you didn't succeed.
(And I laugh madly at my own joke)
Puttachi is not amused.
She (in a strict and solemn voice): Amma, two things. I didn't appear now, yes. That could mean many many things. One of the things it means is that I didn't succeed. But what if I think, "Oh anyway I didn't succeed so what is the point in trying"? And so if I don't even TRY to build a time machine because I think I didn't succeed, then ANYWAY I won't succeed.

If she knew the term self-fulfilling prophecy, I'm guessing she would've used it. I sure didn't laugh after that.




 

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Rain in Brainwave magazine

Puttachi's arms make an appearance in Brainwave's July Rain issue.

I have two pieces in this issue - one is a comic on the Water Cycle, and in the other, I take the help of Puttachi's arms (Talk about "lending me a hand!") and teach you how to make a Rainstick.


 

Thursday, July 02, 2015

First impressions

I am sitting on the lone stool in our new apartment. Though the kitchen is in working condition, the closets have clothes in them, and the mattresses are in place, we don't have anything by way of furniture yet. Our home still doesn't smell homely, and so I have thrown open the windows wide, hoping that some air circulation will throw out the old air and we can fill it up with our smells.

When does a house start smelling like home? When you come in from outside, and you don't notice any smell. That's when.

In the next room, Puttachi is lying on the bed and looking up at the too-bright-too-early sky, thinking I don't know what. It is the first time she has slept on her own in a different room, all through the night. I call out to her from time to time to come on, brush your teeth, your friend is going to Facetime in a while, and she says hmm, coming. She's enjoying her extended summer vacation, continued from India.

I'd promised myself that I would do a post on  First Impressions. But I fell sick with diarrhea a couple of days after landing, and I knew that by the time I recovered, First impressions would already have become Second impressions. So I dutifully noted down points on my phone, to type out when I am ready.

It is hard to do a First Impressions post on a place that you feel you already know, thanks to dozens of books and movies and sitcoms. And of course first-hand reports from scores of people, most importantly my sister and parents. A year ago, someone had asked me if I'd ever been to the US, and I had to stop for a second to think before I answered "No".

Anyway, I'll try.

--The cars on the highways. Those endless wide multi-laned highways, with car after car after car just zooming behind each other, as if with a single-minded determination. Just one truck here or there. A lone bike once in a way. But apart from that, the cars, cars, cars.
--Switches that turn on in the opposite direction, mmddyyyy against ddmmyyyy, driving on the wrong side of the road...
--The weather is so Bangaloreish right now, that I'm feeling right at home. It is slightly hotter too at some times of the day.
--Amused and annoyed at how I have to carry something warm with me to wear immediately as I enter a shopping place.
--The sunlight. As bright as 8 am at 5 am. As sunny as 4 pm at 7 pm. Puttachi refusing to eat dinner because it is "not dark yet".
--I hadn't really appreciated the number of things that will need getting used to, for example the taste of water. And speaking of water, the last time I drunk water right from a tap was in my childhood.
--The trees. Lovely, green, some flowering. But all of them strangers. Waiting to be friends. I know I have a young maple growing outside my window. But I don't know what kind of maple it is. Yesterday I saw a rain tree while driving by. It even had those little pink fan-like flowers. I was as happy to see it as if I'd met an old friend.
--When people kept telling me, "Oh California is full of Indians" I don't think I'd been able to fathom exactly to what extent that statement is true. Now I know.
--Yet a great mix of nationalities, especially as seen at the government offices.
--The gigantic scale of the shopping places, which we're having to visit regularly and often due to the necessity of setting up home. The immense variety of choices is mindboggling
--When people told me that nothing will change thanks to all the online connectivity at all, they hadn't told me that there would be near-silence all day out here, and a flood of emails, whatsapp messages and FB notifications when I woke up in the morning. Conclusion: As of now, I have way more friends based in India than I do here.
--In the 6 days here, the second best thing about this place is my mid-morning snack. You can see why.


--The best thing is of course, my little niece whom I met for the first time hours after I landed.

As I get ready to finish this post, Puttachi has been up for a while, brushed and cleaned, and is now chatting non-stop with her friend back in Bangalore.

And that is how our life here has begun.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Scatter-brainedness and the "joys" of packing

This last week, I have taken scatter-brainedness to an entirely new level. I'm doing something when something else needs my attention. I leave the first thing and start the second, and then the third thing asks for me, and so on, and by the end of an hour, I'm left with ten unfinished tasks.

Last night, I'd set a reminder to do something at 6 45 am. I considered labelling the reminder, but I thought, hey how can I forget such an important job? This morning, 6 45, the reminder beeped and I had no idea what it was that I had to do. The precise time I had set indicated to me that it must be something that I needed to finish before my household help came in to sweep. I wasted some time hopping around wondering what it was, when I finally remembered it when doing something else, moments before the help came in.

My friend recommends making lists of everything. But I make lists, don't find them when I need them, and then spot them at the oddest places.

I can't BELIEVE I'm saying this, but I'm so tired of getting ready to leave that I just want to leave.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Translating from Hindi to English

Translation is something that many people in my family are experts at, translating freely between  English and Kannada and Hindi and English. My mother even has a Diploma in Translation, and translates from English to Kannada regularly. So, for me, it came about naturally too, I guess.

Last year, I translated a few articles dealing with Work in Education from Hindi into English for the Azim Premji University. T hey have been published in the March issue of their magazine, Learning Curve. It was a difficult job, but very educative and satisfying for me. I only wish they'd credited me for the translations.


 

Hairclip organizer

Hairclips are usually all over the place. It was like that for us, it is like that now for Puttachi. Whenever she is in a hurry, she never finds the second of a pair. Besides, she had outgrown many of them, as her hair became thicker as she grew older. So we put our heads together and came up with this:



We just took one side of an old cardboard file, covered it with cloth, stuck it to the cardboard with fabric glue, and then stuck ribbons to hold the clips.

Since I'm hardly an artsy craftsy person, I'm very proud of my handiwork :)

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Puttachi and Moving

The idea of relocating to another country has not been easy on Puttachi. She was all settled here. She loved her school and her teachers, had a good circle of friends both at school and in the apartment complex, and of course she has a lot of doting grandparents and aunts and uncles. And of course a house with loads of toys and books and a wooden platform swing on which she does the most heart-stopping acrobatics--you get the picture. All settled.

And suddenly we are sitting with her asking her about how she feels about moving, leaving all this behind and moving to an unknown place. She resisted a lot. There were tears. Tantrums (There still are). Then she accepted it. Now, with not many days to go, she is reconciled to it. Not excited, not enthusiastic, just reconciled.

One of the hardest things for Puttachi was to let go of her toys and dolls and books. But she took it well. Once we told her that she cannot carry all her things with her, she was very matter-of-fact about it. She made three piles of everything. One small, select pile of things she could take with her. One pile of things that she could leave behind, to be cared for by grandparents. And the third, very large pile of things that she had to give away. I left the decision to her, and I'm proud to say that she made her choices well.

At times, my heart broke when I saw her pick up a stuffed toy, gaze at it, hug it, say, "Bye-bye Manny" and put it in the giving-away pile.

We came up with a plan for the things she had to give away. Some of it, we gave away to children in need. For the rest of them, she invited her friends to come and have a look, and take books, dolls, games, toys, art-and-craft-supplies away. If they wished, they could drop some money into her donation box. Most of the things are gone, and her donation box is filling up. She wants to send all the collected money to Nepal (she was affected by the effects of the earthquake). If you know of a reliable organization through which we could donate to Nepal relief work, please let me know in the comments.

A friend who moved to the US told me that if we are excited, the children pick up on it and they become excited too. Though I do have some excitement lurking underneath all that apprehension, it doesn't make an appearance too often. So now I'm trying to draw it out and let Puttachi see it. I'm trying to portray the whole thing as an adventure (which it is!)

I do feel sorry for her. Poor children, having to tag along wherever their parents take them. And we parents, doing what we hope is the best for the child!

Let's see where it takes us!

Monday, June 15, 2015

In which Puttachi doesn't make me look very good.

I'm lying down in the afternoon, more for some quiet time than anything else. I hear Puttachi walking towards my room, and I close my eyes, pretending to be asleep.

She: Ammaaa! I know you are not asleep!
Me: (opening eyes) How did you know?
She: If you'd been really asleep, your mouth would have been slightly open!

***

I was telling Puttachi stories of my hostel-life.
She: I wish there were pictures.
Me: Oh there are. I'll show you.
She: (Doubtfully) You have photos?
Me: Yeah, why?...
She: Are they in black and white?
Me: Kid, just how old do you think I am?

Science Media Centre at IISc

A few months ago, I joined  The Science Media Centre at IISc as an intern. I've been doing some work for them, and it's been fun, challenging and educative. Here's a sample: SERIIUS: Leading the world into a solar-energy-based future.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Moving

Bangalore has been Home to me for as long as I remember, even when I lived away from the city studying or working for brief periods. In about two weeks, that's going to change temporarily. We're moving to the US for a while.

In the midst of ping-ponging emotionally and physically all over the place, I've been busy stuffing my face with goodies that I won't get easily there, and I've been savouring Bangalore's weather. I've also been spotted gazing wistfully at coconut trees, and so far, I've resisted recording the sound of the pitter-patter of the rain as it falls through the broad leaves of the majestic rubber tree just outside my bedroom window.

 

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Articles in Brainwave Magazine

Brainwave is a pretty cool magazine for kids. The articles are fun, the layout catchy, and the illustrations are attractive. And oh, it is quite informative!

I have a piece on the history of the atom in the May issue which is about Atoms, and a piece on what aliens are probably made up of in the June issue, which is about, well, Aliens.

Pick up a copy - chances are that your child will like it.

Letters from home - or not

I was looking through some papers, intending to clear some of them, when I came across a file that contained papers and documents dating to my time in Mumbai.
I found my first appointment letter, promotion later, the documents which outlined how much salary I would get. I found a cringe-worthy resume running to four pages, written much before I worked as a resume writer. And then I found letters from home.
 
When I worked in Mumbai, my father regularly posted to my PG address, envelopes containing newspaper cuttings. The articles were usually about energy (in which I'd just finished my post-grad) or about mainframes(on which I was currently working) and about technical writing (which he thought was a viable career option for me).
 
I would get insanely excited when the post arrived, when I saw the large white envelope with my name and address written in my father's distinctive, confident handwriting (which mine has now started resembling.) I would tear open the envelope only to see a single newspaper cutting of a dry article. I called my father and told him that next time, could he at least include a personal note along with the newspaper cutting? You know, send the scent of home to his daughter in a strange land?
 
So the next time he sent me an envelope, he had written on the border of the newspaper article,"For your perusal. NRR." 
 
That was his idea of a personal note.  I called him up and said, "Papaaaaa I am not your colleague at work, I'm your daughter!"
So the next time, he attached a piece of paper along with the cutting, with "Shruthi, you might find this article interesting. Nagraj."
 
Sigh.
 
By the time I got him to write an informal letter to me, it was time for me to come back.
He has improved considerably now. Probably due to the fact that he hasn't actively been to a corporate workplace for a while now. His emails (no post any longer) are much more informal :)

Friday, May 15, 2015

Dreamland, according to Puttachi

Last night, I wasn't feeling too good, so decided to turn in early. Puttachi sat next to me and told me a bedtime story - about how we get dreams. It is a lot more detailed, of course, but it goes something like this:
 
She: After we fall asleep, we hop into a car that takes us from our house on a long, straight road to a place called Dreamland. Each person's road leads to their own gate to Dreamland. But once you get in, Dreamland is the same for everybody. Some parts of it are beautiful, some scary, and some are just strange. It is a very large place, and you stumble and wobble about inside (because you are asleep). And because it is so vast, you don't usually run into each other. But when we do run into a person, that is when we dream about them.
 
Me: So does that mean that when you dream about me, I will also dream about you?
 
She: Yes, but you might not always remember it. See, there is a place in Dreamland called Lost Street. If you go there alone, you will dream that you are lost from home. If you meet someone there, you will dream that you are lost from that person.
 
Me: So how does one get out of Dreamland?
 
She: There is no sun in Dreamland. But in real life, when the sun is rising, the magic of Dreamland makes you go and stand on your own personal spring, like a trampoline, that is near your gate to Dreamland. When you start jumping on it, the spring pushes you hard, and you pop out of Dreamland. Then you jump back into the car, drive back on the long road, reach home, and wake up.

Memorabilia

Last week, I took out four plastic bags of memorabilia from my cupboard, intending to clean out the chaff and condense them into one single bag.

One of the bags was full of diaries, written in my teens and early twenties (before the internet era.) One was bursting with letters and postcards and greeting cards (from my high school days.) and had a file with articles I'd cut out from Target magazine. The third bag contained my project reports - grad, and post-grad. The fourth ...had my certificates and report cards, starting from preschool.

I spent many happy and entertaining hours going through them. At the end of it, I was left with the same four bags. I didn't throw out even a little sheet of paper.

I perform this exercise once every five years, with the same result. Another time, perhaps, when I'm less sentimental. Or when I'm patient enough to digitize the entire thing.

Reminded me of a short story by RK Laxman (yes, Laxman, not Narayan) called "The Letter". A man takes out his folder of old letters to sort them out and throw away the useless ones. He ends up reading all of them, is overwhelmed by memories, and puts them all back into the folder.
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