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A little bit of everything..

The M-form chronicles!

*M-form is a form that verifies completion of a PhD program*

Disclaimer 1: This rant does not pertain to PhD candidates who have sailed through their dissertation phase because, frankly, I hate you.

Disclaimer 2: This rant might be a tad heavy on biology because yours truly is a biologist.

Disclaimer 3: I use “we” to stand in solidarity with all PhD aspirants (even though I technically graduated)! 

I know I speak for 98.99% of PhD candidates when I say, every week atleast once, we wonder why we started pursuing this degree and, more specifically, what led us to it. And why wouldn’t we!! Nobody ‘gets’ our frustrations, except us. The pay is usually one-fifth our real-job holder-friends’ rent (yes rent, not paycheck). There’s a constant halo of stress around us. We are perpetually in a bad mood. While both of these ensure bad health, our health insurance, ironically, does not insure anything besides the incompetent university medical center. Our blood pressure, metabolism, and diet is probably compromised for life. I could go on, but you get the point.

The central question is what are we being tested for to deem capable of being granted this degree. My best guess is our patience (or is it endurance?!). Let’s break it down, shall we!

Semester 1: Fall | Stress level: 0 | Caffeine addiction: Not addicted | Personal life: Great

We are on top of the world to make it to our school of choice (well, almost). We are brimming with excitement and have a lot of enthusiasm. After all, we are going to save the world with our cancer cures, sociological reforms, game theories, mathematical models etc. The new busy schedule is so overwhelming we feel like adults. In 2-3 months, we have been called the worst TA, our experiments have failed countless number of times, we have been the horrible daughter, a bad test-taker, and we are broke.

Winter break | Stress level: 1.5 | Caffeine addiction: Do I need coffee? Or do I want it? | Personal life: Parents there, RIP boyfriend, angry friends

While we are looking at our friends’ beach vacations on social media, we get ready to start our day. There is no winter break for us. There is uninterrupted research when there are no classes in session. At this point we are probably in our rotation and impressing labs and PIs so that they let us join their lab. We learn “experiments don’t fail, hypotheses do”. That being said, what do we do (rather what can we do) when our sixth hypothesis has failed? Is it time to blame the organism or machine yet? No silly, it is us! We have to stop crying and modify that hypothesis again.

Semester 2: Spring | Stress level- 4 | Caffeine addiction: Cranky without it | Personal life: Wait, what?

Some of us haven’t been able to multi-task  well, and have either messed up our GPAs or did not manage to woo over any PI. During our second semester, we are either buried in text books and ‘papers’ (which FYI take several hours to read and extract information at this point in life) and/ or we are troubleshooting.

Summer | Stress level- 4-5 | Caffeine addiction: Still the same | Personal life: Parents have temporarily disowned us as we canceled the annual visit

If we are part of a lab and have an interesting project at hand and our GPA is back on track, we are pleased with life, well somewhat. As a newbie, we can either be the sole investigator on a project or be a lackey to a senior grad student. I’m sorry for the latter genre of people especially if your student mentor is a complete jerk to you. No offense student mentors, we don’t know we are stupid, yet. Regardless, we are doing research and living the big PhD dream. <However, we are still very naive and have no idea what’s going to face-slam us in a month>

Semester 3: Fall (Qualifiers) |Stress level: 10^99999 | Caffeine addiction: Who’s counting |Personal life: RIP

The qualifying exam is a rite of passage. Passage to where? Another rant for another day. There is a certain amount of generic preparation that goes into this phase. We read so many textbook chapters, a multitude of scientific papers (at a much faster pace though), several protocols. We also email corresponding authors because they did not do a good job of detailing in their manuscripts. This is when we face reality and rejection. We are scared, hungry, frustrated, and sleepy. We eat pizza and shop online. Laundry is luxury. After 2-ish months of prep, when we feel confident we give a mock talk to our colleagues/ seniors and find out we know nothing. After a roller coster ride of 3 ish months we ‘qualify’ for PhD. We think we did it. We crossed the biggest hurdle. The cancer cure is a couple of experiments away.

Semester 4: Spring (Winter break has blended in between semesters) |Stress level: 8 | Caffeine addiction: Who’s counting but why do I have insomnia and indigestion! |Personal life: Is that a ray of light?

We crossed the biggest hurdle in our PhD. NOT. The worse has just begun. Quitting (especially in our fourth or above years) will come with a life-long guilt and we all know that. We can scream or cry in the cold room but someone will most certainly walk in on us. Why? Because life hates us, naturally. Some drink heavily. While this may be a common mistake for third years, 4th/5th years know that a hangover doesn’t help data analysis. Some of us haven’t found our thesis story yet. Our committee ate the pastries and gave all sorts of feedback. We move on!

Semesters 5-10: Seasons don’t matter | Stress level: A different kind of Zen | Caffeine addiction: 2-3 cups in the morning, none after pm | Personal life: Parents bring up the “relationship” topic, and now we temporarily disown them

The next 2-3 years (depending on a multitude of factors) are spent in lab mostly. The bright side is that we are constantly learning- and not just our subject. We know better than to throw a glass cylinder at the undergrad (even if he just trashed ALL of our newly purified protein) because that gets us into a couple hours’ worth of sensitivity training that is held all the way across campus. We learn that hard work doesn’t transpire evenly into manuscripts. We know exactly when to talk, how to talk, and where to talk to our PI. We are fortunately no longer the ‘lost puppy’ running to our PI with preliminary data. We learn that failure teaches us to think and come up with solutions that we did not know existed. We now use words like ‘putative’, ‘suggests’, ‘may determine’, ‘apparent’, ‘’does not fully elucidate’ etc.

Somewhere between the above-mentioned details we made our peace with the little joys we found in our discoveries/ inventions/ cures. The real question is, nonetheless, was it all worth it! PhD cannot possibly just be a degree or a test of patience; it is an experience. It teaches us a multitude of things. For those of us who emerge on the other side we change, both personally and professionally. From thinking and talking we also deal with our daily lives differently. I can proudly say I don’t regret my time as a PhD student. Not one bit. I say you can take the PhDs out of PhD, but you can’t take the PhD out of PhDs!

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Wedding around the corner- 4!

I came home on February 1st, after a period of 3 years, to get married and to renew my VISA. Since then I have been receiving the royal treatment (NOT by the U.S. consulate). My family has been feeding me all sorts of delicacies. My friends have been taking me to the latest joints in the city. I am not being allowed to use public transport. People aren’t force feeding me fish and ‘chyanchra’. If my parents could, they would carry me around, but alas I’m too heavy for that. Since all fairy tales come to an end, mine did too. The rest of the blog will be whines and cries of a frustrated girl who was caught in the pre-wedding-prep frenzy.

FYI every salon in the city, from fancy franchises to local parlours run by a middle-aged aunty, does bridal make-overs. My friends were very kind and suggested I should do this. I went to a few of these, both fancy and ordinary, to check out details. I came back home, temporarily feeling ugly and unfit to be a bride. They aren’t bad people, I told myself. They were merely selling a product. And let’s face it- a scar-faced, acne-filled girl who has damaged hair on her head, and healthy hair on all the wrong places deserves to be told so! Nonetheless, this wasn’t the end for me. My life could be made better. For only 25000INR, they could make me look beautiful. How can I refuse a deal that involves chocolate manis and pedis while sipping champagne? I’m only a bride-to-be and can resist so much!

My first week back did not just involve the above. It also involved shopping, shopping, and shopping. If I could change my old 500/ 1000 notes for every time I heard, “all the girls are wearing this mamoni; this is in”, I wouldn’t be still waiting in line at RBI. From Benarasis to lehengas to silks to designers, I am apparently not in sync with the current trend. Luckily there is some unrecognized force that could not see me have a heart attack from high bp at 30. A salesman came like an angel in the following 10 minutes and showed me stuff I liked; it took me all of 1 minute to choose each piece of clothing. I am not a fussy girl, see!

One week into the pre-wedding madness and I realized that physically being a part of the preparations was so much different than FaceTime. <Sigh>

Flashback: I was proposed twice. In all fairness, I knew from August 2014 that a wedding was bound to happen sooner or later. If you are a close friend or my family, you know I wasn’t ecstatic about the whole concept of marriage <insert commitment issues, hearing about failed relationships, and psychiatric books here>. I said yes because I knew this brought immense joy to both families and the boy, and I thought, how bad could it be.

  • I actually like the people involved, especially the boy.
  • Nothing would change, everyone said <I remember all of your names and will get back if it does>.
  • Weddings are huge parties, and I like parties <No! No one warns you about the prep>.
  • It’s the right thing to do <I need a little more than that though>.
  • My saving grace was the groom-to-be. He said three golden words, and I was sold. Significant Tax Benefits!

Two days to go! And I have twenty things (that I know of) to do, and, no, a spa isn’t one of them.

A major chore in wedding prep is making a guest list and sending out invites. The guest list has been a subject of much debate in the Chakraborty household (Mom-RC, Dad-SC, Me-DC) for several months now. Of course, the initial list had a thousand names (yes, YOLO). We like people. Don’t be surprised. But when you are paying for that many people’s dinner, you question the intensity of your liking. There are some easy targets to strike off <this is why not everyone is subtle about their dislike toward you; it makes life easy>. There are some people you move to a “maybe” zone. These people aren’t friends, but they aren’t enemies either. Geographically distant people are easy to eliminate. The ones who live close by are the toughies. The third stratum is more intense that the mesosphere. They used to be good (not great) friends once upon a time. First, eliminating some of them is necessary only from an economic view point. Second, it is actually hard. You don’t eliminate names from an Excel sheet; you choose some memories over the others. The fourth layer is extended family and close friends. Fortunately, SC, RC, and I have them in abundance. They are more excited than any of us and have been planning what to wear and what to gift from ages. They are half the reason I chose an elaborate affair. They are going to be the heart of this party. They are the easy list to make. The fifth and final layer is close family members who are also party to wedding planning and in an equal state of frenzy <no sympathy, you did not let me elope>.

A second major chore (wait, I don’t think there’s any minor chore) in wedding prep is finalizing decorations, flower arrangements, menu, and lights. Once you talk to the people involved, you question your career choices while looking at that unfinished dissertation. Of course, all of the above come with their own set of quirks. You don’t feed egg, no mutton on Aiburobhaat, phuchka makes people lose their appetite, both sides exchange sweets and snacks displayed in large, circular trays, the cost of which amounts to approximately 10000 INR (I said no tatwa, but hey, I’m only the bride-to-be and without me this wedding wouldn’t happen but who listens to her),  sitting arrangements for bride and groom need to be separate so that they don’t accidentally see each other (does that mean I don’t Instagram before the rituals?), NO BLACK ANYWHERE etc. I could go on, but given most of my friends are married, you get it. You obviously hire talented people. You know what talented people have? Attitude. They have promised me everything will be perfect. But so did my U.S. graduate school counselor, but look how that turned out.

So my family is stuck with me, right. Despite my requests, they bought me gifts. I accepted them. They have wanted to give these to me. Some of them were bought when I was born. Some of them saw a dress and immediately pictured me in it. I live away for 13 years now. I get it. I did not have the heart to refuse these. I have missed this kind of love. They truly were happy to give them to me. My mother went through labor, raised me, and this is what I turned out to be. She doesn’t have a choice but to accept me. But I was pleasantly surprised when my MIL accepted all my demands too. Both mothers have bought me 5 pieces of clothing that were necessary for some rituals and did not argue to buy me more stuff (for reference, my friends have been given 20 items of clothing as a result of tatwa and what-nots). The money that we saved was used partly to buy clothes for some orphans who live close by. Since we are semi-done with most of the chores, and day before yesterday was not so busy for me, we went to deliver these clothes to them. There I met some happy kids. My own problems felt so petty. From manipulation of the guest list to finding accommodation for guests to the right shade of lipstick and having my pending U.S. VISA at the back of my mind constantly felt trivial. My gaze was fixed on this 6-year old who lost his parents a year back. He was wearing the new kurta I bought him and showed it to everybody. He looked happy. He looked beautiful. And it took me a split second to reconsider my choices.

So here goes- I realize you want to make me happy. But one more time, this bride-to-be requests and pleads you to not bring gifts. I don’t need my xth saree, yth necklace, or zth purse. Donate to a cause. You have no idea how happy that will make me. If you think I will remember you less if you don’t gift me a tangible thing, you don’t know me well.

On March 2nd, you will see a bride with scars, acne, dry hair, dull skin, and hands and feet that won’t smell like chocolate. But you will see a happy bride who will feel beautiful with her family and friends beside her. What will be so different about her? She will know there are other people that day who also wore new clothes, who also felt beautiful, who also ate a feast. She will know this was because her invitees made this possible. Celebrate our wedding with us, our way. We promise you nothing but smiles.

 

 

 

প্রবাসে পুজো

12186755_907223282677957_4802102542541687134_oIt is that time of the year when most Bengalis who aren’t physically in West Bengal regret their decision to move out. Sadly, I am one of those Bengalis. I have been one of those Bengalis since I was 17 years old. In case you don’t know what that entails, hopefully you will, by the end of this rant.

Probashi- This term is used to indicate a Bengali living outside Bengal.

Today is Mahashoshti of Durga Pujo. What does it mean for a Probashi? Nothing. And then in a split second, a multitude of emotions. If you are even more unfortunate (I know you cannot measure fate, but if you could…), and live outside India, festivals on a weekday means a weekday, and that’s that. At times, I wish Durga pujo coincided with Thanksgiving or Christmas so that we could celebrate on the exact days that our families and friends back home are celebrating. However, something is better than nothing. This rant is not to whine and cry, but hopefully to find a deeper meaning of pujo.

Durga pujo, especially outside India, is celebrated on the weekend that is closest to the actual date. Depending on your priest’s availability you might be done celebrating before the festival even starts in Bengal, or sometimes after, and rarely, during. This is one of those lucky years when we are not early or late but right on time.

They say time heals everything. It doesn’t. I feel terrible today; nothing has changed in 12 years. There are freshmen, who are missing pujo for the first time, who I lie to and say it gets better. But they will find soon enough I am lying.

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Stuffing my face with fuchkas. Durga Pujo. Kolkata. 2010.

Homesickness does not start explaining how Probashis feel. Durga pujo in Kolkata is an experience. I know that today my city has been decorated like a Queen, every alley has a gorgeous pandal adorned with shiny lights, people are exchanging gifts, sweet-shops are making their biggest sales, middle class people are using their bonuses to buy clothes, wherever you look there’s hordes of people, street-food stalls have started prepping, people are making lists of pandals they want to visit etc. Yet, when I step outside my house in my ‘probesh’, I see sparsely populated sidewalks, leaves turning yellow, people in cars going to work as if it’s just another day. I also know that my parents, while doing most of the above, are missing me. My mother is thinking of me every time she sees someone my age carefully walking around in a new saree. Long story short, this is neither easy for our families nor us.

But why do I feel a spring in my step today! Why do the sunny skies a 1000 miles away make me feel right at home! Because it is pujo.

And that is how you cope. You adapt, and find a new meaning in the festival. It’s no longer about how many pandals you covered or how many restaurants you checked off your list or how many dresses you bought. It’s about finding joy. Wherever you are, no matter how far, you try to recreate the ‘pujo-ness’. I think most of us will agree that Probashi pujos have a certain characteristic. First, Durga pujo is usually a HUGE event. Second, people coming to this aren’t going pandal-hopping or street-food binging right after ‘pushpanjali’. They are at the pujo at all times. This naturally establishes a homely atmosphere. Third, it requires a year-long planning. Months back, you have to get hold of the person who is returning from his/ her Kolkata trip to get pujo essentials, invitation cards etc. You have to ‘book’ your priest in advance or the neighboring towns might get to him sooner. You have to book popular performers way in advance and cleverly explain how your town fits geographically in their itinerary. I don’t know if I speak for all women, but I tend to keep aside my nicer sarees for Durga pujo. You save the dates at the beginning of the year. You know its Fall and beautiful colors at their peak is almost always on the Durga pujo weekend. But you could care less and instead go to the temple and don your best ethnic wear and eat the khichudi and labda and perform something pujo-ish on stage. You Facetime back home to show your version of pujo just to let your parents and family and friends know that you are enjoying your pujo and they needn’t give up on theirs.

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Sanskriti, Buffalo’s mandap in 2014.

If you are a part of any executive committee at your place, I won’t even start ranting about the last few months. You are browsing through hundreds of pounds of vegetables for the perfect bhog. You are trying to create something on the lines of what professional decorators and pandal makers in Bengal are doing. And you are doing this voluntarily, without pay, after work hours. The worst part is that you like to do this. Why? Because this preparation gives you an indomitable feeling; a feeling that pujo has started, and even thousands of miles away you are a part of it, and distance, country, or your lack of being with family cannot take that away from you.

To me, this state of mind is pujo. To me, my প্রবাসে পুজো is all I got and I am going to make the very best of it.

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‘Nil Battey Sannata’- a perspective on the movie and at life!

Let’s get done with the disclaimer first. I am not a professional movie critic/ reviewer. Someone tried to teach me the basics of movie reviewing at some point, and at present, I only review movies that inspire me. ‘Nil Battey Sannata’ is not only a beautiful film but also makes you shed some perspective on life.

‘Nil Battey Sannata’ is a movie about a mother (Chanda portrayed by Swara Bhaskar) who strives to see her daughter grow up to be someone successful. Chanda has multiple jobs among which she is a maid at a doctor’s (played by Ratna Pathak Shah) house. While juggling her minimum wage jobs, she struggles to meet her teenage daughter’s needs.

The story- Appu is a teenage rebel who has meager dreams and is convinced she will grow up to be a maid, just like her mother. Her mother, Chanda, on the contrary, aspires her daughter to become a district commissioner. When every disciplining act fails, she registers herself at Appu’s school. Unsurprisingly, Appu is unhappy about this fact and throws a severe tantrum. Long story short, Chanda makes a deal with her daughter that if Appu manages to score more than her she will drop out. The movie unfolds further leading to a beautiful story.

This is a movie about us. This is a movie that most of us will connect with. As teenagers, most of us hated studies and the routine that followed being a student. As daughters, most of us have taken our mother’s love and care for granted and did not always behave our best with her. We failed to see her sacrifices and the time she invested in raising us. We got angry at her when she was strict, we were sassy with her when she did not yield to our demands, and we misbehaved with her also at times. Chanda and her daughter (Appu for Apeksha portrayed by Ria Shukla) depicts the quintessential mother-daughter relationship that is filled with squabbles, agony, and selfless love.

What else inspired me is the extent that the ‘blue collar workers’ in India will go to raise their kids to be anyone but them. Growing up in India, we all had that maid who we saw helping with housework while aspiring her kid to be a professional. She made sure that every penny she earned went toward her child’s school tuition. We knew that auto-driver who asked us questions about engineering and medical competitive exams for their sons and daughters. There are many more similar characters who we will relate to while watching this movie.

Ratna Pathak Shah represents that upper middle class woman who is supportive of her domestic help. She lets her into her house and life and patiently listens and troubleshoots her woes. She guides and assists her to the best of her ability. (I could think of no one else but my mother who coached our help’s daughter for three years before her board exams)

Mr Srivastava (portrayed by Pankaj Tripathi) is the math teacher at the school at which Appu is registered. He portrays the typical teacher who makes sarcastic comments while dealing with his inattentive students, but post semester you realize he just wanted you to learn. In this movie (and in reality), math is Appu’s greatest fear and she realizes, in the course of the movie, how if you get to understand the subject (instead of memorizing concepts), it gets interesting, leading to better grades.

Sanjay Suri plays the role of a self made white collar worker who assures Chanda that poverty doesn’t necessarily mean one cannot attain a change of status. Appu has two friends who are the archetypal back benchers, who are always late to school and crack lame jokes during lectures. The class topper who works as a part time mechanic helps Appu realize how much their guardians have at stake while doing menial chores. These characters add freshness and honesty to the movie. Brilliant acting by every character, and wonderful story add up to this must-watch movie. It caters to the struggling, it caters to the affluent, and it caters to every child!

Some of us had a dream early on. Some of us took a while to see it. And for the rest, it’s never too late. Watch ‘Nil Battey Sannata’ (loosely translated as good for nothing) and have a different perspective at life! 

 

 

#LabLife

I am a fifth year PhD student in a predominantly biochemistry-molecular biology lab. I have seen myself germinate from a clumsy first-year to (what I think) a sort-of-efficient graduate student. I have worked with many people, ranging from undergraduates to work-study’s to colleagues. For the last year or so, me and my girl-friend regularly meet on the hallway to whine and crib about our ‘LabLife’. Since I had some time on my hands today, I thought to pen down some of these whines.

Disclaimer 1: If you think you feature in this blog, you are probably right! 

Disclaimer 2: I love my life in lab, but once in a while I wish people could be people and not pigs.                                 (Sorry pigs, you probably feel insulted)

IMG_3474I will try to lay down some basic groundwork for novices who have never been to/ worked in a biology lab. First, when I say predominantly biochemistry-molecular biology, I want you to picture  glass bottles, flasks, and other containers, all with solutions (mostly colorless) and work benches and shelves. There is almost always a sink in a very accessible location. If you are a foodie lab (like ours), you also have a coffee maker, electric kettle, and snacks. In addition, you might have more than one lab room. Different rooms are designated for different kind of experiments- some are heavy on machines, some are designed for loud instruments, some have freezers, and some have incubators with customized power supplies. It takes a day or two to get acquainted. I know it can be overwhelming but you’re in college now.

If you are a graduate student, and spend approximately 10-12 hours (daily) in lab, it is your second home. I am one of those people. My lab is my home and I don’t like crappy roommates (read labmates) or a messy house (read lab).

In one way, this is me defending for my angry breakouts and yells and curses and constant unhappiness.

Exhibit 1: A female undergrad is texting or tweeting or doing something on her phone that requires nonstop typing (Timeline- B.Pg.- Before PokemonGo). She walks by and knocks off a bottle, follows it with an “oops, sorry”, and moves on with her life never to look back on the mess she made. While moving on, and not looking back at your past, is quite a nice philosophy in life, I cannot say the same for this situation. Unfortunately, the bottle had 1M hydrochloric acid (think acid with a 2nd degree burn potential), which was now on the floor along with tiny and not-so-tiny shards. Fortunately, the bottle was small. I stood there; dazed at her nonchalantness. I obviously cleaned it up, while cursing like a sailor. People who (did not matter enough to explain my anger) met me hours after the incident thought I was just mean and unhappy. But alas!

Exhibit 2: If you have a biologist friend, you have definitely heard of gels. Gels are basically like Jell-O. So it has the potential to be messy and clog sinks. Now imagine people constantly complaining of clogged sinks while trashing gel remains in the same. But you ask them to clean it up- and they go “no, it’s gross”! And that is why gun control is necessary because I’m afraid a jury might not understand my defense.

Exhibit 3: A student wearing a 6-inch Prada (wait how did she afford this!) peep-toe drops a tiny dash of phenol on her ‘peeping’ toe and cringes in retort to the very annoying phenol burn. Twenty minutes later, I was finally able to convince her why what-not-to-wear-in-lab rules were not designed to ruin fashion but to maintain lab decorum and avoid accidents like these.

Exhibit 4 (a slight digression): As a TA, asking 19-20 year olds to calculate the square root of 81 without a calculator is apparently “ruining their lives”. After a week or two, when they get comfortable with double digits, as a TA, I obviously give them simple yet bigger numbers. For example, 2500/ 10000. What followed was “why are you trying to fail us”, some basic math instructions, and a ‘full house’ during office hour. Of course, this is to some extent psychological. I am sure these students can get to the answer without a calculator. But they have been spoiled by a machine and now big numbers correlate to difficult math and freak-outs and poor grades and finally being your TA’s fault.

Exhibit 5: Wet lab work requires physical activity. You bend, you walk, you stretch your arms (to reach for something) etc. In addition, you work for 10-12 hours with chemicals and other solutions that can soil or stain your clothes. Wearing comfortable but not expensive and ‘nice’ clothes is common sense. At the same time, wearing a tank and hot pants isn’t ideal (remember the Prada story). Now, I totally understand comfort. Weekdays are sweats days for me too. But is it too much of me to ask a person not to wear EXTREMELY loose pants that expose parts of his body I don’t want to see! One can wear belts *and* be comfortable, no?! But how do you have that conversation with someone! You don’t. You look at the situation as a trigger to quickly finish your degree and leave. As a last vent of frustration, I will add that showering and not smelling vile will possibly garner more friends. When you walk by, if people (more than 5 people to exclude extra-sensitive outliers) gag, it is basic courtesy to go home and shower/ do laundry. FYI I have tried a mask but expired CO2 fogs up my glasses.

You can say these are all silly, funny things that are not the end of the world. If anything, they provide entertainment. But try mopping up acid and shard from the floor while wearing a mouth mask and fuzzy glasses in the middle of three parallel experiments, and you will hopefully get my point!

A Wedding around the corner-3!

 

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Today completes a year from the ‘drama’ in Paris. It has also been a year since I have been sporting my engagement ring and getting ooh’s, aah’s, and aww’s from random people, while also tearing a glove or two at work. To my family and friends who think I am not taking this business seriously, I am well aware that my wedding is in less than 10 months.  However, I also have a PhD committee to satisfy during that time AND sort out certain VISA matters. How do you prioritize one over the other? And how do you handle jitters that have already started kicking in (saving this topic for wedding blog no. 4)!

 

If I was God, I would only allow one life-changing event per year.

So here’s the ordeal. Me and ‘him’ planned our date so meticulously and were so proud of our pragmatism, that our pride has come to bite us in the rear. Our wedding date had nothing to do with coinciding dates of romance (we are terrible at remembering them anyway). It was a practical attempt by keeping certain issues in mind including our VISA statuses and my graduation date and the humid Calcutta summer. I, at the time, thought that Spring of 2017 is when I could defend my thesis. But alas I was a naive graduate student. I thought I alone controlled my work, and more broadly, my life. Now I know that very,very tiny organisms have the power to completely wreck your plans and annihilate future actions not always by causing diseases but by tormenting a hapless researcher. Long story short, I don’t exactly know when I will be able to defend. But my student visa in the US has expired (starting July 23). In addition, nonrefundable deposits have been made to the caterer and flower guy and light guy and other miscellaneous guys who’s services we have hired for the big event. This kicks postponing the wedding date out of the question.

Good news: The wedding is on, bitches!

Bad news: The wedding is on!

Things are changing around me, and not gradually. Friends and family never forget to ask how excited the bride-to-be is! They assume I am blushing when I get red from all the anxiety attacks. Alas, this not-so-coy bengali bride-to-be has boring, administrative stuff on her mind rather than shopping for flattering lingerie or an idyllic honeymoon.

With respect to the wedding, we have miles to go. The cards need to be sent out. It’s not that simple. There will most certainly be a huge fight on this issue. If you don’t already know, wedding cards are extravagant and entails a certain decorum. You usually go personally and invite guests. This has changed a little bit because extended families are spread throughout the globe. Nowadays you mail the card. Wedding cards are a lucrative business I suppose. They cost a fortune. You print atleast 500 of them (and if you have friendly parents like mine, a 1000). You spend on postage and handling. And you spend, the most precious but limited commodity, a lot of time on them. The ones that I have come across are usually 4-5 pages long and have ceremonial details of both bride and grooms’s sides, in both languages (English and your mother tongue), and come in fancy packages/ boxes. What I have seen people do with them; usually hoard them in some corner, and after several months, trash them. This is why I have suggested making electronic cards. This of course triggered guilt trips, emotional torture, and the waterworks. That was five months back. I will initiate this discussion very soon. I’m ready to negotiate but not ready to deforest half a jungle for my big day.

I constantly get asked about the wedding regalia that I need to shop for. Well, I don’t usually wear things that other people buy for me. That leaves me to get all the shopping done when I am physically present in India. Moreover, mothers have a tendency to buy everything she thinks her daughter will look beautiful in. I don’t trust them going shopping alone. And when does a mother think her child is ugly? Never. Subsequently, I have notified both mothers that I don’t want 30 sarees from each side. The minimum number of clothes on a per event basis for a bengali-Hindu wedding is six. That leaves each mother with three sarees. That also led me to convince them that this huge shopping ordeal can probably be vanquished in a day. That gives me about fifteen days before the big day to haul my ass down to India.  And *that* buys me some extra time to cajole my PhD committee into letting me take that ‘break’ during this crucial phase of my research.

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When I made tea for the family with lighter fluid as flavor enhancer 😉

As the days are passing, I am getting excited to meet my family and party with them for four days. I am also getting jittery and anxious about all the change that is going to take place in terms of work and personal life. But because I strive every day to prove I’m not a cynic, let’s look at the bright side.

In less than ten months, I will have two sets of credit lines to abuse, two families to fight with, and (hopefully) a lifetime of adventure.

 

Crab curry (Kankrar jhal)!

I like to experiment with food. I like to try and make new things. Luckily my love for cooking is perfectly complimented by my friends and family who like to eat. We can talk for hours about food, and then some more. This does not mean I have never cooked a bad meal. From serving burnt dum mutton biryani to charred egg bhurji to raw, mashed potatoes, I have done them all. But yes, practice makes one perfect and I have proudly presented the perfect crème brûlée, exotic cakes, and braised meats of sorts. In this regard, what I have never done is write about it. So here goes-

I was craving for a simple Bengali version of crab curry (or as we call it kankrar jhal). Now crab is something I have never made or seen being made. Moreover, with pathogenic bacteria all around us slowly invading our planet (a subtle thesis show-off never hurt anybody right?!), I am skeptical of meats, seafood, and fungus. However, what gave me the courage was that crab has seldom tasted bad and I thought my dissecting skills might come handy. I also did manage to impress my boyfriend with my murder-expertise, I think.

This is an extremely simple recipe that requires basic ingredients (except the crab).
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Buy live crabs from a store you trust.You want to kill the crabs by stuffing them into the freezer. After several minutes take them out. Hold them under running, alternate hot and cold water and wash them. Crack the shells, remove the guts, separate the legs.

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Boil water with salt and put the crabs in boiling water for 10 minutes. Save the broth.

IMG_1894Shallow fry some potatoes and keep aside.

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These are your typical Indian spices. Add whole cumin, dry, red chillies, whole peppercorn, bayleaf, cinnamon, and cardamom to heated oil in a wok.

IMG_1882Now saute some onions. After they have turned yellowish- brown, add ginger garlic paste and cook some more. I personally do not like store bought ginger garlic paste because fresh made paste is so much better in setting up the aroma. Add some pureed tomatoes and green chillies. Be generous with the green chillies. ‘Jhal’ means hot and so let’s be just. Cook for several minutes and add salt, turmeric, coriander powder, and red chilli powder. After oil starts to ooze out, add the fried potatoes and cook. We Bengalis call it ‘koshano’, basically simmering the onions, potatoes, and tomato puree in the spices so that the flavor fully comes out.

After 10-15 minutes add the crab, and mix well. Add the broth and cook for half an hour (lid closed). Open the lid and make the gravy/ curry consistency as desired. ‘Jhol’ is always very comforting to us Bongs, but semi-dry gravy should taste just as yummy. IMG_1895

Serve with hot, white rice!

 

Of selfies, hashtags, and updates!

12466201_10154503889383986_4487170945141951160_oExhibit 1: Imagine a long queue in the Louvre to see Leonardo’s Monalisa. You have no qualms in standing in line to see the super-hyped work of art that has been in your bucket list since childhood. You are still fascinated and amazed by all the paintings and sculptures you just saw in the other rooms. You think to yourself nothing can amaze you more than all that ingenuity. You smile in content. Life is perfect!

Like every other *perfect* moment, you realize a few seconds later that you smiled too soon. A young female who is on her 25th attempt in taking the perfect selfie with the Monalisa is holding up the queue. She has her back turned toward the portrait, probably has not even seen the masterpiece with her human lens, and is working on her perfect pout (or is it duck face- I can never tell). Because you are dejected with this superseded amazement and you don’t have a lot of patience for nonsense you let her know that she will look as good as she looks in real life, and that no Instagram filter can change her jawbone structure or smile or eyes etc. Some foreign slangs later, you have a minute (approximately), a pair of eyes, a pair of glasses, and a DSLR to capture that mesmerizing moment forever. 

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Exhibit 2: A couple minutes after the waterbus pulls away from Venice’s San Marco Vallaresso stop, the check-in option for this location disappears. I am guessing it is a technical glitch with that little area. Now when I travel I usually use my phone for GPS purposes only. I have a camera for photos and Ipod for music. I tend to conserve my phone’s charge, something for which Iphone 5c was notoriously infamous for. But my theory for the San Marco check-in option is from the following incident.

When a certain boyfriend was asked to check-in by a certain girlfriend, he promptly started doing so. After a few failed attempts, the girlfriend asked me if I could double check (in other words, if her guy was useless). I did not mind and suggested her my theory of that technical glitch after my own set of futile attempts. Unfortunately, she stopped talking to the boyfriend (because it was ‘obviously’ his fault) and started talking to me, and if my day could get any worse we had the same. Long story short, they forgot to check-in at the famous Piazza San Marco, and they weren’t going back there, and that inability was troubling Ms X. The game plan was that while on our way back she would try to check-in during the few minutes the waterbus pulls over to load/ unload passengers. After a day of island hopping, it was time for me to get off and my one-day-stand to get her stint done. The waterbus pulled over (this time there was another floating walkway in between to ease rush traffic I’m guessing), I got down, and turned around  to bid goodbye to my new friends. The walkway was probably hindering ‘Facebook location services’ because our dear Ms X almost bend over the rails with Mr Y’s phone. The waterbus started pulling away, lightly brushed/ collided with the walkway in the process, and the Grand canal of Venice was gifted with an Iphone. For Ms X’s sake, I hope that she was checked-in!

IMG_0633Exhibit 3: If you go to my Facebook account and choose any random picture, you will see there are quite a few ‘likes’. I appreciate that my friends and family take this time and effort. Now if you have noticed, I started a fundraising campaign about a man, Mr Ashok Shreshtha, and shared his story, my blog on how to fund his surgeries etc. I really hoped my (otherwise) active Facebook friends would share/ fund/ support (I understand ‘like’ is not an appropriate action for this). Yes, I know how Facebook works. Not every news feed shows up on all my friends’ timelines.I also know most of you check Facebook during your commute, between experiments, on lunch breaks etc.

Nonetheless, what I don’t understand is what does a picture of a chicken tandoori have that Mr Shreshtha’s does not! 

I do not expect everyone to donate money for the cause. What I selfishly expected is for everyone to share my sentiments! Quite naturally, I was wrong. But luckily I have rational friends. And a discussion with one of them led to interesting outcomes. It would be fascinating to find out if there was a trend to people being motivated to share/ support social/ charitable causes that aren’t useful to them. Maybe people don’t like to feel sad on social platforms. Maybe not all causes strike a chord for all. Perhaps if one cannot donate, they have qualms in asking other people to donate. Understandable!

Social media isn’t bad. It is very constructive as a matter of fact. The whole point of staying connected online is brilliant. You don’t need to go physically to find a missing child. You might know someone who knows someone who will go on the search for you or file a complaint for you. However, somewhere in Argentina, a baby dolphin died because too many beach-goers wanted selfies. Two children saw their parents fall off a cliff in Portugal while taking a selfie. Ten students, somewhere in Mumbai, fell off some dam reservoir while losing balance on a selfie mission. Selfie sticks poke you in your face when you are in a crowded museum. When you are looking at your phone and walking at the same time, you could be in so many dangerous scenarios. When did selfies and check-in’s become more important than lives! People break up with their partners because they did not ‘like’ their selfies (I am not joking). Yes, social media isn’t bad, but we should know where to draw the line, and not make it a vain attempt.

I love to see your kids growing up, my and your family reunions, people’s travels, and pretty pictures donning your new lipstick shade. Among these, I would also want to see some missing person information being shared, funds being raised by friends and friends of friends, solidarity for a cause when you cannot be physically present etc. I could go on but you get the point. Our generation has been mocked too many times for our selfies and hashtags and tweets. It’s time to give the cynics a run for their sneer.

Mr. Ashok Shrestha’s fundraising campaign.

Disclaimer: This is my first attempt at anything like this. So if I do something wrong and hurt your sentiment, my sincere apologies.

I saw a video today. Here’s the link-

https://www.facebook.com/Ashok-Shrestha-1561222447531255/videos?fref=photo.

I must say noone should have to live like this. Not because it makes anyone less pretty (by shallow standards), but because it is getting in his way of normal life. This is Mr. Ashok Shrestha, and he has tumors all over his face. He has had failed surgeries in India and Nepal already. He has contacted a Dr McKinnon in Chicago (I have verified with the doctor’s office) to do his surgeries.

Most of us approximately spend $4 on coffee, $10 on lunch, and $35 on special lunches and dinners. I am laying down the numbers only to show that it takes one of our meals to help someone with their life. And I haven’t even started about movies, clothes, alcohol, and cigarettes.

Please, please, please share the video and watch this space for more updates.

Mr. Ashok Shresha’s details.

A small deed goes a long way. Please help by donating. You can either donate on the fundraising page or directly to Mr. Shrestha to his paypal account or bank account using Western Union. Feel free to ask questions.

I know most of us are cautious and would want to see our money being used properly. For the same, I emailed the doctor’s office and they verified the amount and Mr. Shreshtha’s details. Here’s a screenshot. ashok shreshtha

Mr Shrestha is also very good in responding to emails. We have raised 9312 USD so far with all your help, and still have  25000 USD (approximately) to go.

Please, please, please help, share, donate in whatever ways you can.

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