Saturday, March 26, 2005

Happier Endings

Every single person I meet has been or still is in a relationship that isn't working. At a recent girls' night out bad relationships seemed to THE topic. One woman was raving about the book "He's just not that into you." Incidentally, on the train ride to meet these friends, I had read criticism of the same book in Time magazine. The author had suggested a much better title for a book - "I'm just not that into him." Whichever way it is; why do most relationships end in blowups?

My women friends were putting all the blame on men. Surprisingly, I was defending the opposite sex, arguing that in a relationship it could be either one who mistreats the other. I have men and women friends in equal numbers who have been hurt in relationships so I can’t blame just men. A lot of men do seem to have the primary aim of getting laid for which they will lie through their teeth, but some women can be quite selfish too.

There are a lot of reasons for relationships to go bad. Here are some of the frequent ones I've heard:
1. one person wants to get married, while the other doesn't
2. one person wants to live in US, the other wants to go back to India
3. one likes to go out, other likes to stay in.
4. most commonly, one wants to explore other options thinking maybe there is something better out there

I don't know if it's a good idea to give up a good relationship in hopes of finding something better. There will always be an imbalance. One will be better looking/more desirable than the other and one will love the other more. It is usually the "better" or more loved one who ends the relationship or treats the other badly. Probably because this person thinks that he/she can do better. I wish it weren't that way. I wish before thinking that his girlfriend is overweight, a guy would think about how she lovingly gives him a back rub in the morning. Or before thinking that her boyfriend isn't a sharp dresser, a girl would think about how the guy rushes to assist her in every small task. And instead of spending too much time obsessing about the way he talks while eating, she thinks about the precious 5 minutes he spends kissing her on the cheek and stroking her hair before going to work while she is still half asleep in bed.

I wish I heard more success stories than failures. So there wouldn't be a need to write books like "He's just not that into you" and series like "Sex and the City" would not be as popular. I want to see people getting married to their boyfriend/girlfriend of years, instead of finally giving up and resorting to arranged marriage. I wish for more 'happily ever after's. They don't just exist in fairy tales, do they?

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Import of love

Everyone seems to be concerned with the recent trend of technology jobs moving to other countries. A recent article in Business Week titled "Outsourcing Innovation" discusses how companies are moving their R&D centers to other countries too. It is not only labor intensive back office jobs or jobs that require cranking code after all requirements have been set here, but also the innovative jobs of research and design that the US is losing.

The concern might be well founded, but why isn't anyone talking about the other job that we are handing over to strangers from other countries. The job of rearing children. This is one of the subjects tackled by the book "Global women: Nannies, Maids and Sex Workers in the New Economy." According the book, as more women are taking up jobs outside they are spending less time taking care of the home and rearing children, while men have not started contributing more at home. So a void is created. To fill that void nannies are hired. These nannies come from poor countries where families can't earn enough locally to feed their children. Hence, they are forced to look for jobs elsewhere. The skewed exchange rate tipped in favor of the US dollar, makes jobs here financially appealing. So they leave their respective countries to work here.

When these women take up jobs as nannies here, their own children back home are left motherless. Again a void is created. This void is, in most cases, inadequately filled by relatives. Women in poor countries are forced to make the difficult decision to move so that they can at least provide materialistic support for their children. These women see their children in the ones they are taking care of and love them as if their own. Essentially the children here have 2 moms, while the children in the poorer countries have none. My own niece has one such nanny from South America. She always offers to cook for me when I visit, and patiently teaches my Spanish. Of course I never let her cook for me (I cooked breakfast for her once; no one has ever been as thankful for my cooking), and I am a complete failure when it comes to learning Spanish (I haven't given up yet; am thinking of taking a formal class this summer). But most importantly, she is very good with my niece and loves her dearly. As aptly written in the book- who says money can't buy love?

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Happily Single

I am very excited with the decision I made 2 days ago to go to Delhi for 2 weeks. The only aspect I'm not looking forward to is the nagging question every one I meet will inevitably ask me - "Shaadi ka kya plan hai?" I jokingly ask my married friends when they ask me the same, "Are you having so much fun after marriage that you want to share the joy with me or are you jealous of the fun I'm having as a single person?" The usual response is that after a certain age it will be harder to find someone or you will have to make more compromises. I confirmed at lunch yesterday with a single woman friend, who is a couple of years older than me and is now looking for a serious relationship, that this claim is absolutely wrong. She made an interesting point. She said that it's not that we make more compromises, but we are more aware of the compromises we are making because of the experience we have gained.

I'm not against the concept of marriage. A human baby benefits from having 2 parents; it needs all the caring it can get. Since men have an inherent tendency to run away from the responsibility of rearing an offspring, it is good to put them in a legally binding contract, which they can break but not without consequences. Due to the social expectations, they are under pressure to take care of the baby and contribute their fair share, at least materialistically. The society does not expect men to rear children and even considers it effeminate if they do. In his book The Selfish Gene (I've been quoting that book a lot recently, that's how much I liked that book) Richard Dawkins writes that by nature all animals are selfish. Parents try to minimize their investment in one child so they can maximize the number of offspring, hence increasing the chances of their genes making it into the subsequent generations. When a baby is born the female already has more invested in the baby in the form of eggs, which are rarer and bigger than sperms. Hence, the man can afford to let his investment in one baby go waste, while the woman cannot. Besides, the woman is the one left "holding the baby." In the case of fish the female lays its eggs and leaves the male to spray its sperm on them. Therefore, it can be seen that in some fish species it is actually the male partner that takes care of the offspring. Whatever the reason - the gender based division of labor, men's relatively small investment leading to their tendency to defect, or the women’s inability to leave first - in humans, women somehow got the short end of the stick. So if one wants to reproduce, marriage is very good.

And almost all of us want to reproduce; we are genetically we are programmed to do so. However as humans we are capable of perceptive thought and knowing that we are hurtling towards disaster. Jared Diamond's new book Collapse describes over population as one of the main reasons why some societies failed in the past while other succeeded. It is sad to see our current societies, despite their prescience of the impending disaster and its causes, not taking the appropriate steps to correct the situation. I have some nerdy friends who believe that technology would save us somehow... talk about blind faith. Dawkins presents an easy solution according to which even delaying the process of procreation till we are in our thirties, hence spacing out the generations, would be equally effective in controlling the population explosion.

Now if we should delay having kids and the only reason to get married is to have children, there is doesn't seem to be any incentive to get married now. Personally it would force me to change my current priorities which are school and work. On the flip side, I would share the day-to-day responsibilities like paying bills, filing taxes, which should free up my time. As for never again feeling the excitement of meeting someone new, and the thrill of a first kiss -- these are things I feel I can easily give up. I won't mind getting out of the whole dating scene, not that I was ever an active participant in it; I do it in fits, dating a lot of guys in a month, then no one for a year (actually I do a lot of things that way - blogging, working, reading, exercising). I do have an overwhelming fear of committment; not only betrothal, but also signing a one year apartment lease, buying a concert ticket 2 months in advance, making specific weekend plans, registering to take the GMAT -- these all make me uncomfortable. But given time I can overcome that fear.

So marriage is good, but in good time. Now that I've straightened out my thoughts in my mind, I just have to explain all of this to everyone I meet in India.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

MBA Paradox

I am thinking about going to business school. My main reason being that I don't want to be a software engineer all my life. In fact, I don't even want to be in the technology industry for too long. There is so much out there and so many ways in which one can make a difference. I feel very restricted in my current role. However, the problem is that if I do an MBA, I would be taking a huge loan. So after doing an MBA my sole aim for a couple of years would be to earn money. I am earning a good salary right now. My aim is not to earn more money. I can easily earn more without doing an MBA. The goal is to learn more about the business world so I can achieve or at least get close to achieving my lofty goals. I'm not going to say what that goal is exactly, but it's not a money making proposition.

The second problem is that if I do an MBA in the US, I cannot even think about moving back to India, and I love thinking about that. It might not be feasible for me because of different practical reasons, but I at least have that option now.

Last and the least of my problems is my marriage. I am already behind according to Indian standards. But that's something I let my parents worry about.

I want to learn what's taught in business school, I want the title of MBA from one of the top 5 schools in the US or top 3 internationally, but I also want the freedom to be able to do with the MBA what I want. I don't want to become a money minded professional, one of those horrific characters described in that book Amercian Psycho I read recently.

The problem is defining an order of preference. Is it making money or doing something I enjoy and achieve self actualization? I'm hoping that money and self actualization won't be at odds to each other. Is moving back to India a preference or staying here and helping support my brother and sister more important? Is starting a family important or does my professional life take precedence?

Oh well, I've registered to take the GMAT on April 23rd after which I go to India for 2 weeks. I'll get more time for introspection there. I'll also get to talk to a lot more people and get good advice. Though I'm sure the priorities there would be defined on a completely different scale.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

After school program

Our company participates in after school program in which under privileged children come to our work in the evening and employees tutor them. My coworker who participates in the program went on vacation and had asked me to step in for her while she was gone. I readily agreed; I had wanted to participate earlier but it was already full. I like my company that way. Our company has a lot of such programs for charity, and volunteering. It had set aside $50,000 for Tsunami to match employees’ contributions. The employees actually exceeded that amount in donations so they increased it to $100k.

At the after school program we first eat dinner with the kids and then we get assigned a child to tutor. I got a girl, Patricia, in the 6th grade. She had homework for Language Arts. I didn’t quite understand what that meant; I was hoping for algebra. She said it was it was a class where they taught them about words like Onomatopoeia (I had to look up the spelling here). We made a quick stop at my desk where I had lots of balloons from a party we had last week. Patricia took a couple and we went to study in a conference room.

She seemed very curious about me. She kept firing questions – “Where are you from? Do you live with your parents? Don’t you miss your parents? Are you any good at reading? I like your hair, did you color them?” I warded off her questions and got her to pay attention to the task at hand.

She pulled out a book titled Con-fidence. I asked her to read to me. She read surprisingly well, just asked me the meanings of words like sheen and radiate. She asked me to explain "nor" to her. I explained it mathematically, x nor y = not x and not y. (Now that I think about it, my grandfather had explained it to me this way when I was little. It is weird how I remember that after so many years.) After reading one page she asked me to read to her. I thought I might be doing her a disservice by reading to her, but decided to read anyway. I hardly ever read out loud, at least not English. (I am trying to read a Hindi book these days which I find hard, just because I haven't read Hindi in so long. So to grasp it better I read out loud to myself.) I actually didn't like her assigned book, at least not the 3 chapters that we finished.

Here are the things I found wrong with it -
1. It was about how "pretty" girls got to sit in the middle of the cafeteria and not so pretty ones were socially outcast and sat near the exit. One line in the chapter was "looks were everything in Middlefield High." I asked Patricia if that was true and she said no, attitude was everything.
2. The book was in second person. So it had sentences like "You are not a part of the "A-list", "you sit in the corner with your drab cheese sandwich," "you had tears spilling from your eyes." I didn't finish the book so obviously have no clue what the message was, but this was definitely not boosting my "confidence."

Patricia told me that there is segregation in the lunch room, like the Filipinos sit separately. I was still reading to her when she suddenly stood up and starting packing her things, including a half eaten slice of pizza. When I enquired as to where she was going, she pointed to the clock saying it was 6:30, time to go back. I made her stay and finish the chapter. She didn't have a bookmark so I gave her mine. She looked at it and asked me what was written on it. Turns out it was one from Crossword in Bombay. It had all the neighborhoods listed - Kemps Corner, Chembur, Andheri, Bandra, Kandivali, Powai. I didn't pay much attention to it till she asked me about them. I explained to her, a bit nostalgically, remembering how much fun I had there last year.

We went back up to the kitchen where all the children got together and went home. All the kids started asking Patricia where she got the balloons from. She gave them all away keeping one for herself; not everyone got a balloon though. I realized that it was a mistake to have given her balloons. I should have either had one for everyone or not give anyone any balloon. I hadn't dealt with children in so long that I had completely forgotten how to behave around them. The coordinator comforted other kids saying that next time we'll have one for everyone. I felt terrible.

Despite having acted like such a klutz, I asked the coordinator if I could do this more regularly. Another woman offered to alternate weeks with me. I hope to do better next time: live it, learn it.

Sin City

Two weekends ago, at President’s Day, we went to Vegas to celebrate a friend’s bachelor party. I’m never invited to bachelor parties, which is unfair since all my friends are men. I miss out on the most fun celebration of someone getting married. The worst was when all guys went to Amsterdam for a friend’s bachelor party who was supposed to get married in December, but never did. I’ve never really been to Europe except England where I lived when I was a kid and really wanted to go. Anyhow, I made a lot of fuss about going to this one because it was a close friend’s party and I wanted to celebrate with him like the guys. We made a deal that I will hang out with the guys except for Saturday evening when they go to the strip club.

I convinced one of the guys’ wives, Preeti, to go along. Surprisingly, when I made plans with her to watch a comedy show on Saturday, she instead suggested that we go to a strip club. I asked a friend in San Francisco to look up strip clubs for women. He came up with two – Olympic Garden and Paloleum. Olympic Garden wasn’t full nude and had alcohol so we decided to go there. I had been to a strip club once before in San Francisco, but remembered not liking it much. I had gone with a guy friend a couple of years ago. It was a bit uncomfortable for both of us; probably a place to go to with a boyfriend or a woman friend. Besides I kept feeling sorry for the strippers and couldn’t imagine any worse objectification of women.

In comparison this experience wasn’t bad at all. I have probably “matured” since. The only hitch in the plan was that our guy friends ended up at the same strip club. The moment we entered we saw one of our friends. We all a bit embarrassed, but Preeti and I quickly went up to the “ladies” floor. We were totally scandalized the first half hour and decided we had to get drunk soon to be able to enjoy any of it. After a couple of drinks we went downstairs to check out what men did in these places. We couldn’t help staring at a man sitting at a booth next to our getting a lap dance. Unfortunately we had taken a seat near the men’s bathroom so our friend’s kept passing us by. One even sat with us and started chatting with us. Sensing our discomfort he left, but an Indian guy came and started hitting on Preeti. I couldn’t believe his audacity, it wasn’t like we were in a singles bar; it was a strip club for crying out loud.

We decided it wasn’t such a good idea to sit at the men’s floor and went upstairs again. By this time we were both tipsy and had gotten used to the place. We decided to rid ourselves of our hang ups and have fun. We got our dollar bills ready and took seats near the stage. Men were dressed as cowboys, firemen etc and were dancing on the stage while stripping. It was more playful than sexual. We stuck many dollar bills down the thongs of the men. I didn’t have the courage to invite any guy to touch me, not till Preeti decided to buy me a lap dance. I didn’t know what to do exactly so tentatively ran my hands over his thighs. He had the smoothest skin I have ever felt. I was mortified when he started touching me; my skin was so rough in comparison to his.

After the novelty wore off, we called our friends to see if they were still there. Oddly we had outlasted them. On our way out we decided to have some fun with the women downstairs. Armed with our one dollar bills we sat at one stage (there were many stages for men as opposed to just one for women). The woman smiled at us and came towards us. I reached out to tuck the money in her G-string, but she placed the money at her feet, took my hand and rubbed it all over her body. I still haven’t decided how I felt about that except her skin was very smooth too.

We finally met our friends at the casino in Paris where we played blackjack for a while. Around 5am we went back to Harrah’s where we were staying. The policy was supposed to be “don’t ask, don’t tell” but that was all we talked about the next day. The guys were really curious about our experience, especially Preeti’s husband. At the end of it all I was happy to be back. Vegas is fun for a day or two, but I can’t handle more than that. It is so artificial: the lights, hotels, casinos. And money loses all it’s worth there.

So I guess I’ve broken the rule: what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

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