Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Live like you were dying

Heard Tim McGraw's 2004 Grammy winning Live like you were dying on the radio this morning. And it made me think about what I'd do if I had a chance to do it all again.

What would I do different?

What would I change?

What would I do if I knew this was the last day of my life?

"And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter
And I gave forgiveness I'd been denying

And he said one day I hope you get a chance

To live like you were dying

What would you do?

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Monday, August 21, 2006

The Bong immigrant

Disclaimer: This post does not intend to offend anyone. All characters are a figment of my imagination with some help from SC. Any stereotyping is purely intentional but does not aim to cause any offense to anyone.

There is a strange social heirarchy among people here in the US depending on their immigration status. And nowhere is it more apparent than in a large social gathering of desis. Take for example the community Durga Pujo. If you've ever been to a Pujo in the US you will know what I am talking about. The first few words coming out of the mouth of any Bong at a Pujo is a dead giveaway as to which strata of the heirarchy he belongs to.

The largest number of any single category comprises the naturalized citizens. The immigrants of the 60s and 70s, primarily engineers , some doctors and a few others who had the dream and the money to make it to the US during that period. They are the easiest to spot. They are usually in their ethnic best, beautiful fanned out dhuti, gold rolex peeking from under the sleeve of the giley kora punjabi, everything that spells out the success story spanning the last three or four decades. The women are equally adorned in the most gorgeous of sarees, the brightly colored silks, the Bomkais, the Balucharis, the Valkalams, complete with tons of gold jewelry that would put any bride to shame. They are usually the ones who are running the show, the people you turn to for help and advise regarding everything, from which car needs to be sent to bring the priest over, to where the spare vessels are, and where one can find aamer pallab. They are the ones who will call everyone bhai or bon and one always refers to as dada or didi, no matter how old they may appear to be. They are the eternal Santosh-da, Malabika-di, Shyamal-da and Konika-dis of the Bong community settled in the US. When they sit down together to talk about things you hear them discussing on whether to invest in a second home, or whether they should finally have the pool in the backyard and whether it is worth holding on to the ancestral home in Mallick-bajaar or to give in to the demands of the promoter who wants to build a huge apartment complex.

The second category of people you see are the ones who are waiting to gain the "settled" status. They are the working force, the ones on a working visa, the H1B. They are much younger than the previous lot, resplendant in their Pujo attire. Their punjabis are usually a little longer than the previous generation and reach down below the knees almost obscuring the fine craftmanship of the dhuti from Kolkata (usually of the colored silk category). And they always have a long uttariya (stole) round their necks. They usually cluster in groups to discuss about the current situation of the Government, the Dow Jones index, the housing market, investing and most importantly the green card status.

Then you have the other side of the work force, the research scientists, the exchange scholars, the ones on a J1 visa. Considering Bongs are prone to giving in to higher education and acquiring degrees, every gathering has their share of postdoctoral fellows. The ones that are in the US on a short term proposition. Although some of them plan on eventually returning to India, most would like to spend a few working years in the US earning enough money to get their savings account going strong and generating a few papers in international journals before they ultimately go back home. They can often be seen sporting a long kurta (courtesy Fabindia) over a pair of jeans with white Nike sneakers begging for attention. Their conversation generally revolves around visa issues, getting waivers from the India Government, the H1B cap, and funding problems with diminishing research grants.

And then you have the students. The ones on the F1 visa. The lowest rung on the social ladder. The ones that will arrive in groups. In second hand Nissans and Toyotas. Carloads of eager, bright eyed kids, bursting at the seams with enthusiasm, with unwashed hair and bleary eyed from too much Bacardi and beer the previous night. The ones that everyone bullies around. To help with decorating. Running errands. Poribeshon. The ones who will sport a volunteer badge to get free admission. The ones who will stand in line twice to get two helpings of food. And the ones who will be seen at the entrance flashing their student ids.
"Dada student achhi. Discount deben?" *

Yeah, the all too familiar social scene at my local Pujo. And its almost here. I can almost feel it. The Pujo-Pujo gondho (smell) as the quintessential Bengali will tell you. When the sky is all blue and the air is crisp and there's a slight nip in the air at dawn. I can barely wait.

* I'm a student. Do I get a discount?

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Friday, August 18, 2006

How was your weekend?

One of the things that still bothers me even after all these years in the US is the "how was your weekend" question I get every Monday morning. I mean I understand how sought after and wonderful the weekend is after a hectic work week. And I know people are supposed to go all out and have fun to feel revitalized to face the challenges of the week ahead. But what's with this constant obligation of having to do something interesting every single weekend?

I mean for the most part I don't do anything worth talking about. And it is kind of embarrasing to have to tell people, "Ummm....well....I didn't do anything much. Except you know....went grocery shopping, cooked meals for the the week ahead, did the dishes, cleaned up the kitchen (to remove all traces of oil and residue from the Indian kind of cooking), dusted the furniture, vacuumed the carpet, polished the hardwood, took out the trash, cleaned up the garage, weeded the lawn, watered the plants, cleaned up the bathrooms (yes all three of them), did the laundry (and yes folded them too), ironed the clothes, paid the bills.....and no I ran out of time to catch a movie, read a book, stretch out in front of the TV, go to a concert, sing, dance, socialize, and oh my God couldn't even go bungee jumping, water skiing, white water rafting, or a quick trip to the moon and back!" How pathetic is that!

And the strange thing is most people I pose the very same question always have something oh so wonderful to report.
"We went to this awesome food-fest. Have you been there? Oh you must go."
"We were in New York for the weekend."
"We went camping in West Virginia."
"We went to California for a wedding."
"We went sailing in the bay."
"We went rock climbing."

And all I can think of is how in the world can these people get all their work done around the house. May be these people with exotic lifestyles have a little Genie at home who magically gets everything done and their house is always clean and pretty, and clothes washed and folded, food cooked and waiting to be eaten.
Yeah.... that must be it.

Got to go out this weekend to a garage sale and hunt down an ancient lamp that I can rub and get myself a Genie. Then, I'll show them what my weekend's all about.


Wednesday, August 09, 2006

I swear by Apollo the physician.......

There are people we meet who touch our lives and change it forever.

I heard a story yesterday that truly inspires. It is about a young girl X. X was just 24 years old. She was bright. She was pretty. And when I say pretty, I absolutely mean it. Now everything was going great for X. She had a loving husband and she had just given birth to a beautiful baby. Things couldn't have been better for her. And then suddenly things started changing. She started noticing changes in her appearance. She was gaining weight. She did not feel well. Her beautiful long hair started falling out. She went to see a doctor who told her that it was probably because her hormones were all crazy after the birth of her baby and things would be okay with time.

But things just kept getting worse. She could not bear to look at herself in the mirror anymore. It was like looking at a total stranger. And she started noticing increased facial hair. At first she tried covering up using makeup but then it got a point where she had to shave to stop people from staring at her. She went to see more doctors. Yet every doctor told her that it must be a side effect of her pregnancy and childbirth and would go away soon. Then she started getting these streaky marks along her lower abdomen and thighs. Grostesque purple streaks. Like stretch marks. Terrified she went to see her doctor. And he asked her if she was being abused physically at home. She denied it and begged him to help her. She showed him a photo that had been taken two years back on her birthday. She burst into tears just looking at the bright and happy woman in the photo. What had happened to her in these few months? She looked nothing like the person she was before. Now she was a grossly overweight, ugly woman with rough features, hoarse voice, beard and a mustache.

So they started investigations on her. She seemed a clear case of Cushing's syndrome. Her cortisol level was way over the limit. Her ACTH level could not be suppressed. Yet all investigations drew a blank. There was no pituitary tumor, nothing apparently wrong with her adrenals. And there she was withering away everyday. No one knew where the cortisol was coming from. But they had to keep her from dying. So the endocrinologist decided that they would have to take out her adrenal glands. Even though it would mean lifelong treatment, it would keep her alive.

So they took her for surgery and the surgeon takes out one adrenal gland. Right at that time the surgery resident notices a slight enlargement of one of the ovaries of the patient. So they removed the ovary that appeared to have a cystic teratoma and sent it for a frozen section and examination by a pathologist. The pathologist took a look at the slide and immediately sent word to stop the surgery and prevent the surgeon from removing the other adrenal gland. Although not apparent at the first cursory glance , the pathologist knew right away that they had hit upon the right organ. The ovary in all likelihood was the source of the problem.

Further examination confirmed the initial suspicion. X had an active pituitary adenoma that had been growing within the ovarian teratoma and had resulted in the hypercortisolemia leading to the manifestation of Cushing's syndrome. Within days of removal of the ovary the patient's condition stabilized. Her cortisol levels fell to normal and her physical appearance started reverting to her pre-Cushing state. The patient left the hospital with most of her gained weight gone, her features restored, her voice and skin normal and no traces of hirsutism.

And if it weren't for the young surgeon who noticed the ovarian tumor and the pathologist who recognized the tumor for what it was, X would have withered and passed away. Says a lot for the doctors, the techniques and medical marvels that go on to save people's lives, every single day.

I heard this story from the pathologist who saved the life of the young girl. I saw her picture, both before she fell sick and after she was hospitalized. And also when she left the hospital. And honestly, it left goosebumps on my arm.

"If I keep this oath faithfully, may I enjoy my life and practice my art, respected by all men and in all times." The Oath of Hippocrates of Kos, 5th century BC


Monday, August 07, 2006

Another Tag

This one's for you Seashells. But the tag stops here. I don't always see the point of the tags and therefore do not wish to tag anyone unless someone wants to volunteer. But I said I would do it. And you did make such a cute puppy face.

i am thinking about...
next year,
home and family,
sad thoughts,
wishful thoughts.

i said...
things that I have regretted having said.

i want to...
do so much and yet never find the time or have the inclination to actually do most of it.

i wish...
that I can be what I want to be, do what I want to do.

i hear...
voices around me.

i wonder...
how I can be a better person.

i regret...
not having done things at the right time.

i am...
a regular person who wants to make a difference.

i dance...
in the privacy of my mind.

i sing...
to myself all the time.

i cry...
very easily.

i am not always...
the person I want to be.

i make with my hands...
my future.

i write...
to let out bottled up emotions.

i confuse...
people who are nice with people who are pretending to be nice.

i need…
love, reassurance, encouragement,
and a little bit of prodding to get me going in life.


Eating right

To continue on the theme of how the West has changed us here are some observations on the way our eating habits have evolved over the last few years.

I married into a bloodline of gastronomically strong people. There are stories surrounding the consuming capacity of the household that have reached legendary proportions. The story goes that my great-grandfather-in-law passed away one night after having consumed an insane amount of luchi (puris) for dinner. The males in the family, right up to the generation of my father-in-law were quite accustomed to sitting down for lunch with food being served in a huge silver thali and accompanied by atleast eight to ten bowls of various vegetables, fish and meat, while someone would stand by and fan them with a pakha (hand fan) while they ate.

So when I got married and moved to the States the expectations were high to say the least. Needless to say I had never done any cooking prior to tying the knot, so my entire knowledge was dependent on the three cookbooks I had brought with me from India. And I fared pretty well. I guess there really wasn't that much to cooking after all. I grew quite adept at preparing regular daily fare of rice and roti and vegetables and curry. But what B was more interested in was the more exotic stuff. The delicacies of Indian cuisine. And we experimented. And we ate. To give an idea of the volume of cooking and eating we were doing, I went through 11 gallons (approximately 41.6 liters) of cooking oil in less than 5 months! And yes it showed. B gained 30 lbs within a year of our marriage. And that is when we realized that something needed to change.

We usually ate dinner late which meant we would have an evening snack that comprised mainly of fried snacks. So that was the first thing we decided to change. Dinner would be in the evening, as soon as we came back home. Because we were hungry and starving eating a proper meal made way more sense than senseless gorging on junk food. That alone drastically cut back on our consumption of fried food and chips. Which was great. That also was the time B switched from regular soda to diet soda. We tried to adopt to eating more healthy. More salads, more veggies, less carbs and fat. No crazy diet. Just smaller portions. And making better choices.

The transition took a while. Some years actually. But now B checks the nutrition information on the side of everything he consumes. And has started abandoning things containing high fructose corn syrup. And no more soda. Especially no more diet soda. He counts calories. He eats right and exercises. He has lost 30 lbs in the last 6 months. And I am happy for him. Except now I don't know what to cook anymore. Or what to buy. Everything in the grocery store has high fructose corn syrup. It's a pain to look through the nutrition information of everything that you put into your shopping cart. And everyday we are adding to the list of items that are not fit for consumption.

B's parents are alarmed. They probably think he has gone off his rocker. His Dad is scared that B will be a kolonko (disgrace) to the family name by not living up to the eating standards of his clan. And it amuses me to no ends to hear B trying to persuade his Dad to give up on sweets and fried food.

It has been a long journey. But I think we've arrived.

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