Of Ambition…

ambition: a strong desire to do or achieve something

“Something”.

‘Something’ could be defined in many ways, by different people. And yet, people at large seem to think it has a single definition, one that involves taking a single path and winning a specific kind of rat race that has been programmed into their brains. Even within that race, there’s a single defined method to win, often defined by gender-biased traits and behaviors. So even if someone is ambitious, they’re told repeatedly that they’re not, because they don’t demonstrate the requisite traits and behaviors.

As if one has to prove that one is ambitious.

As if ambition lies in the eyes of the beholder, and not in the inputs of the person.

As if ambition means only one thing, and couldn’t possibly reach where your imagination cannot.

As if my definition has no meaning if it doesn’t conform to your definition.

I am ambitious.

You are no one to tell me I’m not, irrespective of what I say or do. My definition isn’t yours, and it never will be.

 

Note: I’d love to say more, but everything I want to say, has been said here. So, yet again, Fuck Ambition. At least, your definition of it.

 

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Kitchen Confidential

I haven’t told anyone this, until today. But thanks to Timehop reminding me of this day, I think it’s time I admitted to this faux-pas of mine.

***

‘Counting down to Turkey Day with chocolate cheesecake’, I posted on Facebook. I was publicly admitting that I’d said I’d bake something for Thanksgiving with my family that week, even though it had been years since I’d baked anything. I had also never baked a cheesecake at that time (though I had done many no-bake versions), so I didn’t even know what could happen if I made a mistake. I, however, staked a lot on the claim that while I can’t cook, I can bake. And I’d complicated matters by asking for choices, and had landed up in this chocolate-coffee cheesecake situation. The responses on FB were not really encouraging. My ‘friends’ made fun of my cooking skills and pointed out that I’d once invited my cousin home for lunch, and made enough lady finger curry to feed half a person (in my defense, I had no clue just how much lady fingers shrink when cooked). I was mighty encouraged by the support and told everyone I’d prove them wrong, with video evidence in return.

***

So there I was, the day before my Thanksgiving trip to Portland with 6 boxes of cream cheese and a shiny new cheesecake pan. I was very careful, as I measured out the ingredients and began blending everything. It seemed like everything was going fine, until I got to the fourth box of cream cheese. As I scraped it out, I saw that there were some green dots at the bottom. I wondered if it was moldy, and sniffed at it. But it seemed fine. I knew the first three boxes had no issue. I opened the fifth one, and again, this one had the green specks, too.

Now, I was a little worried. I was baking in the middle of the night, which meant I had no chance to go out and buy more cream cheese. I also didn’t know what would happen to my cake if I used lesser cream cheese than recommended. I couldn’t show up without a cheesecake because I knew my family would laugh me out of town. Also, they’d very nicely told me that they wouldn’t take me home if I didn’t show up with the cake. Sigh.

I tasted the green-speckled cheese and it seemed fine. But I didn’t want to take a chance. I also began wondering if all the cheese was past its expiry, and what I’d already used was just not showing any signs yet. So I pulled out all the packets from the trash (yes, yes, it’s gross, but I may have already ingested mouldy cheese, so whatever!) to check the expiry date. That’s when I saw it. I had bought 3 packets of regular cream cheese, and 2 of garlic-herb flavored cream cheese. That explained the green specks, but it didn’t solve my problem. How could I make the cheesecake I’d promised if I didn’t have enough cream cheese? I evaluated the pros and cons of showing up with nothing vs. showing up with a weird tasting cake, and decided I’d take a chance.

And that’s how I made a chocolate-coffee cheesecake that included some garlic-herbs mix as well. Thankfully, my over enthusiasm for extra dark chocolate meant that the onion-herbs flavor was largely drowned out, and the cake tasted pretty alright. No one who ate the cake realized what I’d done. Infact, someone even commented on the fact that it had a slight salty taste, like really well made brownies that aren’t super sugary. I claimed that I’d used the bakers secret of a tinge of salt, without admitting just where that tinge originated.

And that’s how I invented a recipe for chocolate-coffee cheesecake, with garlic and herbs. I also got away with it, until today, because I never told anyone what I’d done. But I couldn’t help but post this when I saw the prescient comment on the FB post, that said, as long as you don’t pull a Rachel, with a link to this video.

Sometimes, you can mix up recipes, and it won’t taste like feet.

 

Dear Childhood Friend…

Dear A,

I didn’t think I’d write to you again, but I can’t help myself.

Last week, I went to the wedding. I went because your mother asked me to, and I don’t say no to her.

It felt weird.

I can’t believe I didn’t go to your wedding. I can’t even remember why, it was so long ago. I wish I’d been to yours, but since I didn’t go, I am glad I went to this one, even though it felt weird..

It’s weird how nobody from our childhood could talk about me, without talking about us. It’s like we were this unit. I didn’t know how to react, so I smiled. But I couldn’t help but think of how different things would’ve been if you’d been there.

It’s weird how grown up A looked, and how he didn’t even know who I was. He doesn’t know just how many hours we’ve spent chatting while he slept peacefully in his crib.

It’s weird how AN didn’t recognize me when I said hello. The only time we spoke was right after, when I visited aunty before my wedding and that was almost 3 years ago. Why would he even know me? But how weird is it that he doesn’t?

It’s weird that V never met you, and he never will meet you.

It’s weird that when the bride introduced me, she said, “this is my childhood friend.” I would’ve called myself your friend first, after all.

What wasn’t weird though, was when aunty told anyone and everyone there that we’re best friends.

Are.

Love always,

D

 

That Time of the Year

Being on vacation means I am busy being such a slob that I do nothing, except maybe read. But then A wrote a blogpost summing up what 2013 meant for her, and I realized it’s time for my annual post on what the year has been like.

2013 has been quite a year –

I rang in the New Year with family, the ones who’ve made me feel at home even though I haven’t been at home. The year is ending with the knowledge that I may move even closer to some of these people. And the others are in Germany, so I have a new place to visit.

This year I tried out consulting, something I always said I’d never do. Turns out I was right the first time around, it’s totally not for me. It also meant that for the first time ever I chose to refuse something that was right there, because I knew I wanted something else, and even though I wasn’t sure if I’d get it, I decided to take the chance and just wait patiently.

This year I did a lot of traveling within the US, as well as outside. I went to Turkey and discovered in true Mark Twain style that really is no other way to know just how much you love or hate someone until you travel with them.

This year my oldest friend moved to Fremont, which means she’s a one hour train ride away from me. It’s been great having her so close by after a long-distance friendship that’s spanned over 20 years. This year another old friend surprised me on Christmas and I spent an extremely crazy giggly night with my partners in crime from school, where all of us behaved like we were 16 again. I’m glad that I’m still friends with all these people, and we can regress to our childhood selves husbands and children notwithstanding.

This year I spent a lot of time arguing with my father, and feeling like I was 18 again. As always the arguments were circuitous, and neither of us has managed to summon up the courage to admit that the reason we fight like this is because we care about each other’s opinion so much. It looks like the arguments are over, and we are moving forward.

This year I was forced to rely on every possible online mode of communication to stay in touch with A. I was a shadow at the 5 year SP reunion because she represented us both and then gave me a blow-by-blow on Skype. I start my day by chatting with her, and end it by chatting with her and the time she spent in Europe was awful because she wasn’t online. We also realized that being apart by 1000s of miles make no difference because somehow we managed to walk into two entirely different stores and buy nearly identical white jackets. The highlight of the year has been spending a few days with her and feeling like we were in B12 again (including the pinging someone who is sitting right across from you phase).

And finally, this is the year I realized just what an amazing person V is – I already knew about the patience, the ability to dissect problems so they don’t seem so insurmountable, the joy of randomizing but all of it just got reiterated. Here’s hoping 2014 is the last year I spend that doesn’t involve V being around for most of it.

Of finding my home…

A long time ago, a friend wrote about how she didn’t feel the need to buy a house because she already had found her home. Today, I was having a conversation with someone who was speaking about how the fact that I’ve moved a lot means I don’t feel like any place is ‘home’. It’s true, Doha was home, but not really because I somehow always knew a day would come when we would have to ‘go back home to India’. To me, Coimbatore wasn’t really home because the entire time that I was there I was trying to get out of there. I had two very close friends, but other than that I barely felt like I fit in because everything just felt so different. Chennai is just where my parents live, because they moved there after I moved out. Mumbai was just a place I lived in while I was at b-school, and while I loved it, it wasn’t my home. Gurgaon again was just a necessity because that’s where work was. I’ve been in Berkeley for over a year, and it’s nice but its not really home either. It’s interesting then, that I don’t really identify with home as a place. I have no roots that connect me to any place, my friends are scattered all over the world and my childhood memories are only in my head.

However, there was this time some years ago when I first really felt at peace somewhere. It wasn’t a place, but it was in a conversation – one that overlapped many subjects, and had a promise of many more stories to come. I’ve felt at home, and at peace multiple times since that conversation, through future conversations and silences. I’ve felt at home many times, in many different places, and the only constant has been the company I’ve had at the time. I think I knew this was it, the day that I realized this was all I need to feel at home. My home isn’t a place, it is a person and I am grateful for that.

Have we met before?

Over the weekend, I went to Startup Weekend Berkeley. On Friday evening, just after pitching, a guy comes up to me and very confidently says, “We’ve met before, haven’t we?”. Now, this is a perfectly valid question from a UC Berkeley student. Except –

1. He is a student of mine.

2. He has attended 3 sections, including a one-on-one feedback session with me.

So what could I do, but be myself and reply, “I would hope so, I am your GSI.”

He literally ran away, blushing. I am wondering how he is going to react in class this week. Ha, ha.

(this post is for that kind soul who recently told me that they cannot imagine how I’d be mean)

A certain Middle Eastern childhood

[Many of my friends have been sharing this post, http://thepoetryof.wordpress.com/2012/11/29/a-certain-south-indian-childhood/, over the past few days. It’s a lovely post, really poetic and yet it doesn’t strike the same chord in me that it does with people who experienced that childhood. However, it inspired me to write about another kind of childhood, the one that I grew up with. I am not attempting to replicate the poetry of the original, because I suck at poetry.]

A certain Middle Eastern childhood is fondly remembered as the time spent sliding down sand dunes, and going on school trips to Khor Garden and Alladin’s Kingdom. It was characterized by early morning assemblies where you recited an Arabic prayer and the English translation. For a long time, you believed the background music to ‘Saare Jahaan Se Achcha’ was the weird electro-beat setting that emanated from a Casio keyboard. Your sense of patriotism was linked to songs from 90s Hindi movies that nobody in India ever watched. Twice a year, you woke up at 4AM to sing the National Anthem at the Indian Embassy on Republic Day and Independence Day. Every school occasion happened in twos – one each for the Boys and Girls wing. If you were in the school choir, you were most likely a go-between for note-passing between the Girls and Boys’ wings. You remember the drip-dripping of the leaky AC’s in hot Portacabins. The smell of a dust storm while you walked to the schoolbus. Practicing PT Drills with painted eggboxes, feather dusters and other odds-and-ends, at 12PM on a blazing hot day. Sports Day. Teachers who were your friends’ mothers, and your mother’s friends. Loyalty to the Indian school you attended. Inter-school competitions. The yearly Bazm-e-Alig debate and art competition. Being featured in the local newspaper every time you won something, even if it was first place in a poetry recitation contest in your own school. Eid Fair, that glorious glittery spectacle where you could ride a Giant Wheel and eat ras-gola’s. Watching kids whose parents sold their raffle tickets win useless prizes at the Eid Fair. You know the smell of falafels as intimately as you know the smell of filter coffee. You know that no amount of Ruffles Lays, or even Pringles can replace the spicy taste of Oman chips or the cheesiness of Pofaki. You learnt the art of creating a cost-effective salad mountain at Pizza Hut while you were still in kindergarten. A birthday meant a party at Dairy Queen, with a clown and an ice-cream cake. You only saw cows on special school trips to milk factories, and birds on trips to the zoo. You owned a bicycle but it could only be ridden within your house, or at the Corniche. You played “outside” in building corridors where footballs kept tumbling down stairs. Hide and Seek meant you had to run from home to home, trying to figure out who was hiding in whose house. Dark Room, where you stumbled on things and gave yourself bruises. Showing off how you could climb up the door frame and clap your hands. You were raised by all your parents’ friends, together as one collective unit. Going for any and every class that was the current fad. Swimming. Taekwondo. Art. Carnatic Music. Keyboard. The smallest of excuses was all you needed for a party at someone’s house. Parties meant group performances. Plays with background music, and voice-overs. Elaborate backdrops painted by Art teachers. Choirs where kids and adults belted out the latest hits. Potluck dinners, that had pasta alongside thayir saadam. Dancing to the latest hits. TT tournaments. You have an extensive knowledge of Indian mythology that can only come from parents who wanted you to know everything about your culture. So you know the names of Bharatha and Shatrughna’s wives. Balvikas class. Thursday bhajans. Group classical music performances on Thyagaraja Day. You had a bookshelf filled with ‘educational’ books. World Book Encyclopedia. Tell Me Why. More Tell Me Why. Still More Tell Me Why. You never read any of it. You owned a computer because it was meant to be educational. The Encarta CD with its encyclopedic quiz. Learning HTML to create a Geocities page. Hacking your friends’ computers. Chatting on MSN messenger while your mom screamed at you that phones were free and Internet was not. Prince of Persia. You spent hours discussing HW with your friends on the phone, because, phone calls were free. You spoke to your grandparents every week, and they always yelled down the line as though they were projecting their voices across the ocean instead of through a telephone. The innate apprehension of that far away day when you would have to move back to India, because it was your “home”.  The feeling that India was a vacation destination, the place you went for your summer holidays. The place where you spent an entire month being told how your accent was wrong. People looked at you strangely because you came from a place whose name they couldn’t quite pronounce. You tried explaining the geographical boundaries, and describing your life back home. A home that wasn’t really your home. A home, a childhood and a life that has been video recorded on countless Betamax and VHS tapes that haven’t been replayed in years.