Monday, March 26, 2007

Engineers r us

In one of my benevolent moods, I decided to do something for E-week (Engineers Week) to spread awareness of Engineering among the unsuspecting school children in my area. This also serves as a good community outreach effort to bring visibility to our company and a chance do something to impress the office manager. My work wasn't really doing it.

Mikey, the co-worker, offered to help out with this initiative... and help he did. He got in touch with his buddy who happens to be a Math teacher at a High school in the Pittsburgh area and before I could even say ‘holditbuddyweneedtograsptheseriousnessofthis', he got us committed to give 7 presentations one single day! Sigh, another trauma teenagers have to face these days- Two geeks talking about how building roads could lead to salvation. Oh well, why not! It’s a good chance to get out of the office and interact with a bunch of kids and tell them how cool Engineering really is with a straight face.

Engineering in the United States is not as popular a career option as in India or even Bihar. Kids here want to make a career out of American Idol or selling hot dogs in the Soldier Field. Not a bad idea, if you ask me at 2 pm every working day. If you are a fireman or a nurse, the kids go,’ Awesome, that’s totally kewl!’ Engineers rank highly at number 23 only after Farmers and Priests in the “Professions of Very Great Prestige” poll of 2006. I should have taken Circumcision 101 and become a priest instead. The possiblities! (wait, I need to soak it in). Ok yeah, many engineering companies are concerned about the dearth of engineering enrollment in the recent years and the fact that there might be no one to fill my size 10 shoes. Anyway, all this will have to change. Can't let them get away with that smirk!

I laid out the presentation and Mikey deleted a few slides as his contribution! Next we discussed at length on what we ought to be wearing to make a false impression about Engineers. Football jersey and jeans to look cool or Armani suit and Prada Sunglasses to look well paid. Mikey decided to wear thick glasses and a tie. I took my drafter and a drawing board hoping to complement him.

We start our spiel, ‘How many of you want to be Engineers?’

In a Math class of 20, one hand would rise and the guy would feel almost guilty and quickly wave at the guy next to him. I embarked into the various ways we Engineers make life for the rest of the species worth living. They were quiet kids for the most part especially when they slept soundly without snoring. From managing to keep my fake American accent going and remembering what I had to speak, it suddenly seemed like a daunting task. I had to pick the most attentive student and focus all my energy on him to keep my morale high. So the poor kid had to keep nodding and smiling and raising his eyebrows like he was understanding what I meant by perceived social needs and commercial applications. I had given presentations before, but never to school kids, who were enjoying passing notes (probably on my hair style or the lack thereof). Nostalgia of my school days took over and I only felt immense pity for my teachers. Since it was 7 presentations back to back (with a lunch break), every word uttered after Presentation 4 better not be used against me.

Presentation 1: Phew, I remembered to whip out a joke on my last name. At least the Math teacher laughed.

Presentation 2: Did I crack the cheesy butterfly joke in this presentation or the previous one as it seemed quite fresh in my memory of actually saying it and not hearing anyone except Mikey snort. Skip.

Presentation 3: Darn, I finished 10 minutes earlier than the previous time. I must have missed out all the jokes. Shall I tell them all now in one go?

Presentation 4: Holy Macro! What is she wearing?! Oh shucks, it’s a He! I am too tired of repeating stuff. I can’t do this anymore. Mikey, please take over my slides too. I'll teach you how to be hilarious. Trip and fall.

Presentation 5: That joke just sucks. It’s too late. My sense of humor level has already been established and if one of their dad’s owns a Comedy Club in downtown Pittsburgh, I’ve lost my chances of a stand-up debut.

Presentation 6: One more to go. One more to go. I will survive. Teaching is not a career option for me. How monotonous. Teachers get paid only so much? What a pity!

Presentation 7: Oh wow! My bald-eagle joke was a hit. Why did I have to think about it in the last presentation? Oh wow! They laughed at the way I called Mikey a nerd. Should have used that one earlier too. Darn! It’s over just when I was making an impact on young impressionable minds.

Feedback was provided in the form of a few lines of what the students thought about the presentation. Even negative comments were encouraged. Almost every response in the feedback forms were very positive and seemed like our presentation did exactly what we had hoped it would. Like so- ‘After listening to the presentation, I have become more interested in getting a future in Engineering. I had no idea how interesting and rewarding this field could be. The stability and pay benefits are also very appealing.’

Or politely decline like so- It’s not really something I’m interested in, but if it was, I would totally be an Engineer.’

We felt on top of the world. It was like a feeling that every mother gets when her kid is found watching TV instead of doping. But still we were pissed that we didn't get any critisism. Do we look super sensitive or frail?

On our drive back, I was rummaging through the two hundred or odd feedback forms; I came across one that could be taken as constructive criticism. I read it aloud to Mikey- Engineering provides many opportunities and advancement in a wide range of fields for different people. Their presentation was great, but it seemed like they would cut each other off when talking.

Mikey- Did he really say that?

Me- Yes apparently we both like to talk a lot.

Mikey- Come on! It was meant to be like that!!! We wanted it to be informal… like a conversation between two people.

Me- True. Or maybe this kid was in the fourth period when I wasn’t facing you and didn’t know when you were talking. Remember the weird set up.

Mikey- Whatever, but we didn’t cut each other off! That’s ridiculous! I would...

Me (cutting him off)- Here’s this kid’s handwriting. Maybe you could get your buddy to find out who he is. It’s not like they were paying us to do this that we need to get some juvenile rudely lashing out on us like that. Secondly, if we were to...

Mikey (cutting me off)- Ingrates! No appreciation for bailing them out of Math class! Dipshits!

...and so we agonized about that single comment till destination.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Theta's curse

Theta is a cleanliness freak. He is the reigning champion in fact; the whole world of clean freaks idolize him and Cleaners Digest ran a 10 page article on his sanitized undies. It is rumored that Theta will achieve the coveted Godliness stature in just another year; the only man to even venture into this program through the cleanliness track. He frets and fumes at the sight of a little thumb print on his sparkling wooden floor and will spend 30 agonizing minutes wiping the print off with some sort of liquid that will banish fingerprints, but will not alter the shade of the wood. We all watch in awe when Theta wipes off a dust particle from his balcony railing the minute it disembarks. The fact that he also manages a full time job elsewhere perplexes many. Dust Particles Mafia, in their grimy underworld, have allocated an award of 6 million USD if any of their kin set foot (or whatever they use to move around) in Theta’s house. If they can stay long enough to take pictures of his living room, they would be decorated in the Hall of Stain.

Theta starts losing hair (which he promptly picks up and discards) whenever he knows guests are to arrive in his immaculate abode, especially his good friend Alpha. Alpha is careless and absentminded, has no regard for spotless washbasins and leaves colorless fingerprints on the wall below his switch boards. She washes her hands and doesn’t even wipe the basin clean afterwards. She sits on his sofa and doesn’t spray Febreeze at 5 minute intervals. One day she walks in, offers to make Aloo Gobi and while carelessly mixing the vegetables laden with turmeric and masala, she flings a whole dollop of sabzi from the tawa to the carpet in the dining area missing the linoleum floor of the kitchen completely. Mortified Theta managed to keep his calm under circumstances. He was wheeled back from the hospital within a week of surviving a cardiac arrest. Then he promptly ran over to Walmart, bought the best carpet stain remover that claimed it could remove all conceivable stains from beetle nut spit to Dinosaur blood. But there was no mention of turmeric stain. Theta found the out the hard way that Stain removers don’t lie. He then spent a fortune on a kasmiri rug with stain protection to cover up the yellow mark. He has, since then, banned Alpha from cooking in his house, much to the joy of everyone concerned.

The incident was long forgotten and recently Alpha arrived in Chicago to stay over at Theta’s. Alpha was home alone that morning and deciding to show some appreciation for their lasting friendship, she embarked on a cooking spree. Palak Paneer sounded like a great plan. She boiled the spinach, taking utmost care not to spill anything anywhere. She meticulously cleaned up every box of condiments touched so that there is no evidence of her ever cooking there. Nothing could go wrong. She was going to break the myth of her being a cooking disaster when she cooked at Theta’s place. She brought out the mixie to grind the palak. She turned it on…

She didn’t know how it happened, but 2 seconds and a horrifying noise later, there was bits of palak everywhere! Not just in the mixie, but on Alpha’s face, on the floor, on the counter top, on the sofa, on the artificial flower arrangement and on his TV. Old memories came flooding. She also remembered breaking an egg on his cell phone by mistake. How come these things happen only in his house, she worried. Alpha felt she should have tied herself to the corner of the house and stayed there for the whole day licking a bone. Luckily now that he had moved homes, there was no carpet involved. It’s all wooden floor. Easy to clean. So Alpha spent the better part of the afternoon using up all his kitchen towels and cleaning liquids. She felt satisfied at the sparkling result while every muscle in her body ached. She would get allergic reactions at the sight of palak henceforth.

Evening arrived. Small references to depleted paper towels were made and dismissed quickly much to Alpha’s relief. Palak paneer, made out of remains that was lifted off the floor and extracted from Alpha’s nostrils, was immensely enjoyed by Mr. and Mrs. Theta. They licked it all off and asked for more. Alpha sat smug, exonerated from her secret crime.

Suddenly, out of the blue, Theta gasped loudly looking skywards, 'What the F*** are those things on the ceiling? Oh Man! Jeez, I never saw anything like that before! Is my roof getting fungus?!!!’

Alpha looked up and saw it too. Huge chunks of dried-up spinach were suspended like stalactites. Dammit! If only she knew where to look, there would have been sufficient quantity of Palak Paneer.

Now the world talks of their friendship in past tense.

Monday, March 12, 2007


One of my non-vegetarian friends got all riled up against other non-vegetarians who claim they ONLY eat chicken and fish. Why the holier-than thou image? He insisted that the guy is not doing a big favor to animal kind if he stays away from eating pigs or cows. Meat is meat. Why not just eat the rest and do yourself a favor by realizing how delicious pork is. Why does a butchered cow make you all sentimental about cruelty to animals and a chicken hung upside down is acceptable? Religious issues and allergies are an exception of course.

I wholly agree. You eat meat; you might as well eat all and not differentiate.

I asked my friend to let me know when he was planning on cooking his pet dog. Let’s stuff Snoopy with turkey this Thanksgiving and bake him at 400 degrees. Canary sauce with that? He recoiled and shuddered. He balked at the thought of Koreans eating roaches and lizards.

Now I am completely confused. So you’ll eat any animal that is mediocre looking…not as cute as a dog and not as ugly as a cockroach. Plain Jane and you’ll devour it! Trustworthy and intelligent, you’ll pass. Creepy crawly and you’ll recoil. Sure there is the matter of taste, but if you don’t even want to try it, aren’t you being a hypocrite? Where is equal opportunity? When will the minorities make their way into your stomach? When will you tell the doctor who detects worms in your stomach that you ate them happily with Ragu’s pasta sauce?

Sometimes it’s easy being a vegetarian. I can hold my head high, thump my chest and say I eat all my vegetables however ugly or cute.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Daze of my life

Spending dreadful winter days in a small town with nothing much going on can do weird things to my phyche. I have been going through a lot of self analysis and I am convinced that I was born for something huge. No not Pi, something bigger and better. I was referring to life in general. So I concluded that I should start this process of attaining bigdom by first taking control over myself. I definitely need to stop getting distracted. No more dreaming. I had to live in the present. While driving to work, I immersed myself completely in these thoughts of self improvement when I started driving in the opposite direction and realized after ½ hour that I was going to the mall instead. As you can see my plan was being thwarted even before it started taking shape. I managed to somehow get to work, walk into my office only to realize that it would be impossible to work given the circumstances. I had forgotten my laptop at home. I drove all the way back home and realized that a few lights were turned on in various rooms. Felt good about switching them off and consoling myself that the laptop issue did serve to address some big ecological and economical problems. Potentially saved 5 cents in electric bills and inturn the earth by a whole nano percent. I immediately got caught up with thoughts of more greening initiatives. I started backing my car from the apartment parking lot only to suddenly realize I forgot something. My laptop! Trying hard not to be self critical (you have to be encouraging during new ventures like this), I proceeded to look for my house keys to conclude they were missing. By some strange workings of my mind, I did remember locking the door. Found them lying at the door step as an invite to anyone who passes by to steal my chaddis. Thanking my stars that forgetting the laptop again had its own merits, I made my way to work with laptop securely placed under my armpit. Once I was safely ensconsed in my chair, it didn’t take me long to find out it was Saturday and that I had actually planned on going to the mall. I guess I was better off inside the womb.