4 tips that will make scientific writing fun to read


As a very early teenager, I used to think jargon is a type of wagon you use to pull around stuff. Never bothered to verify. When I did find out at an age I am ashamed to admit, I realized I wasn’t too far off the mark. Webster meaning aside, isn’t jargon every bit as unwieldy, every bit as burdening as the vehicle? Doesn’t it present tremendous detriment to the reader to assimilate information, that which could have been presented in an easily comprehendible manner? Don’t you see my point?

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Help! I reek of science words!

“But, scientific writing is not for everyone on the street,” you may say. And you will be right. A massive majority don’t care if you found out a cool way to do microdialysis on mice. So, how do you hang on to the pitiful few who do? Unleash all the verbal barrage accumulated over years of caffeine-fueled literature binging? Or actually make an effort to make the idiots sit up and read. I have been an apathetic follower of the former for about a decade now. So, while I was off writing a technical book chapter over the past few months, I decided to try option number two. Just to give life new perspective. 

(I’ve made all the mistakes I deftly ask you to avoid here.)

 1. Let’s not get all passive. 

Technical literature thrives on passive voice and understandably so. More often than not, the doer of the action has no role in the write-up. The fact that science was done and results were obtained is good enough. But, that doesn’t mean you need to kick active voice to the curb. In fact, a mix of voices not only makes for easier reading but also gives a certain vibrancy that science writing has fought hard to suppress. For example: “The cancer cells are attacked by the drug” could easily be “The drug attacks the cancer cells.” 

Yes. I just did it. I used present tense while describing science. So, shoot me! 

But, please read the next tip...

2. Don’t let the past weigh you down.

Scientific narrative relies heavily on the past tense—“the cells were taken”, “the drug was added”, “calculations were made”. Perfect so far. However, the usage of past tense gets tricky while discussing established processes or findings of past experiments; they stick out like oatmeal when written in the past tense. Changing the tense midway could make grammar textbooks turn in their bookshelves, but the beauty of tense lies in its element of surprise.  A shift of gears to the present tense once in a while is a welcome change. 

Somewhat like this: “It was found that A acted on B by inhibiting C” could simply be “A acts on B by inhibiting C” along with the relevant cross-reference.

 3. Life’s complex; do not complicate it. 

If your article is riddled with blotches of words breaking the sentence-paragraph barrier, you’ve virtually composed a lullaby. We’ve all done this, and for different reasons: To make a dull concept sound intriguing. To cram all the words we learnt yesterday in one sentence. To spin the readers’ brains enough to shut them up. But, nothing annoys readers more than a deliberate attempt to befuddle things. So, sentences need to say only as much as they have to. Also, all that you have to say need not be bunched together in one sentence. Here’s where semicolons and em dashes come in handy—they provide easy transitioning when hopping from one idea to another; kind of like a rollover stop at a stop sign. Varying sentence length also helps. Throwing in some three-word-sentences makes the reader stop. And take notice. 

 4. There’s nothing more to it than meets the eye.

Often, the title of a research article is a bland alphabet soup, more so if you are in the pure sciences. A review article tolerates more autonomy, but very few I’ve read have drawn me in from the get-go. The next obvious lure is of pictures; they’re the literary equivalent of gourmet food. So, pepper your writing with clever illustrations wherever you can. These don’t require Sistine Chapel skills; just some imagination and wit. In addition to making your article memorable, a well-made schematic may very well supplant a page-long narrative. 

Incidentally, any intact memory I have of my undergraduate learning is also illustration-related. Our pharmacology textbook—apart from being brilliantly written—had simply unforgettable pictures for the side-effects of otherwise pedestrian drugs: A distraught couple on a bed with their backs to each other meant that one of them was on a libido plummeting beta-blocker. A man on the crapper with question marks hovering over his head meant that his drug just wouldn’t let him go. 

To this day, I aspire to write a book like that. And no, my book chapter is not even close. 

There are plenty of ways scientific communication could be made less soporific, easy to comprehend—and more importantly—difficult to MIS-comprehend. The timbre of scientific writing is meant to be formal and rightly so. But, there’s no rule against making it interesting. After all, isn’t it our tendency to want to spend the least energy to gain the most we need to know?

 

For that, science need not be dumbed down; it needs to be tightened up.

Let’s celebrate the men in our lives!


We celebrate womanhood all the time. This Women’s day, let’s celebrate the men in our lives:

Men who may forget to get us gifts, but not to pick us up late at night while we’re at yelling them about it

Men who may not profess their undying love for us, but fret about our well-being in ways words could never do justice

Men who may not sit us down and declare how proud of us they are, but brag about us all around town

Men who, even when they’re kids, sacrifice their little joys just to see us smile

Men who go to wars, juggle careers, work every bit of their fibre, so that they could provide a better life for us. And all this without a shred of complaint!

We love you. We respect you. We may not need you. But, our lives would be nothing without you.
It is true that women are one of the greatest creatures on earth. Just like men!

Happy Women’s day!

Valentine’s Day UNregistry: what NOT to get your woman on V’day


VD is the one day I shove the feminist in me and openly declare that I need pampering. And gifts are a big part of it. We can all wax eloquent about the joy of gift-giving but we know it’s bupkis when compared to the joy of unwrapping one. Finding a good gift for a woman is easier than finding a graphic scene in an Irving Wallace novel. As much as Men’s health magazine would have you believe, you need not delve deep into our core beliefs to get us one—A pretty, well-fitting dress that none of my friends have. A shiny-but-not-too-tawdry pair of earrings. A relaxing day at the spa followed by a home-cooked meal. Simple joys of life are all what we crave for.

Yet, men over-think it every year. Fights ensue. Insecurities are disengaged from their deep seats. Year-old issues are roused from the dead, ultimately leading to questions of the “where is the relationship going?” nature. In short, no action. Just angry reactions.

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Subtlety is overrated

I know that men are inundated with choice which could paradoxically limit their ability to choose. By flagging some of the options as verboten, I hope to ease the situation:

1. Gift cards

This includes all food coupons, department store cards (Victoria’s secret too), Amazon and iTunes cards. We get it. They’re utility-based gifts, but that’s something you give a long-distance friend when you forget his birthday, not someone you’re having dinner with that night.

2. Teddy bears/ figurines/statuettes of any kind

As much as we need to support our knees when we see one, we don’t want you to give us cuddly things. It just makes us look vulnerable. And we want to be pampered without appearing vulnerable. Same goes for figurines, but in a different way. Anything that could adorn a showcase in the house is best left for the wedding registry.

3. Chocolates

We love chocolates. Any shape. Any form. I am sure many men do too. That’s precisely why we don’t want them. Plus, you could get them at a Walmart.

4. Home appliances 

You might think that an easy-bake oven is the perfect gift for your wife/girlfriend who loves baking. Maybe for Christmas, sure. On VD however, no allusions or even mild winking at gender stereotypes. Even though we’ve all seen that scene from “The father of the bride.”

5. DIY books

Books on how to change a tire or fix the motherboard on the computer might speak to our feminist side, but remember how we decide to dump that side on VD? It’s best to steer clear of any procedural books for the day.

So, yes. The gift should be feminine, not feminist. It should be useful, not utility-based. It should make us feel pretty without being confining or stereotypical. And it shouldn’t look easy. That’s all it takes to make a woman happy.

Or you could just say that you don’t want to exchange gifts this year because spending time with her and seeing her  lovely smile trumps a million gifts. Your take.

I am an Amtrak girl!


Amtrak has a culture of its own. It’s not flashy or flamboyant, like a ramp-walk model. It’s sweet and subtle, like a cutie next door. It has a je ne sais quoi, that doesn’t reveal itself the first time you step in. But, you know you are close, when you begin to discern the boundaries of AmtrakLand: There’s the outside world festered with problems tracing furrows on your forehead. There’s the train station, luring you in, promising a respite.  And then, there’s Amtrak. Once you enter it, you forget you had a life outside.

I remember being skeptical of my first Amtrak trip from Toledo to DC—the burden of a really long trip without wifi connectivity pasted onto my face. But, it didn’t take too long to get over my ‘I-need-to-check-my-mail-every-minute‘ self and begin to enjoy the journey. It was perhaps due to my impassioned love for trains, as a kid. The idea that a train took ten times longer to reach a place doesn’t seem tedious as much as exciting when you have just been introduced to math. For one, it meant a longer vacation. The planning for the travel introduced a whole new element into the vacation: Home-packed lunches, ice coolers, a pack of playing cards, and tons of books to read. Plus, you could look ‘outside’ any time, all the time. As a child born before the internet boom, there wasn’t much more you could have wanted.

Triangle girl is Amtrak girl!

You may ask me—what is this special thing about Amtrak you need to use a french expression for?—to which I can only say, I don’t know. But, I do know this: To this day, it brings out the same effervescence I had as a child sitting on a train. It is familiar; it is comfortable. It rarely disappoints me. It doesn’t have the irksome, clumsy security check we all love to hate. It doesn’t have baggage fees the size of the baggage—it’s free for the first two checked-in bags per passenger. If a family of four traveled, they could actually carry their house.

But is that really it? Not even close. To truly appreciate the Amtrak experience, one must look closely at how it fares in some of the key aspects of any journey:

1. Sights and sounds

Whether you are inside a car, or an airplane, looking outside is probably the first thing you do, right? Unless it’s pitch dark, in which case, you look at the people around you, you are engrossed looking outside the first thirty minutes of the trip. Trees are an inextricable part of journeys. Something about them sets off the metaphor centers in the brain— they play out as a darting landscape with seemingly endless depth. It’s a sublime feeling.

Amtrak is spot on in this department. It might be a corporation seething with losses, but they don’t take it out on the size of the windows. There’s a sprawling viewing gallery with comfortable seats and tables, where you could just stare outside. If William H. Davies could see this, it would give him goosebumps.

Life is a river…..Oh! Shut up, will you?

2. The Grub

Amtrak has two dining options: the cafe car, and the dining car—the former being the hotspot for all the coffee and sundry junk food that makes out heart melt, and the latter offering a more sophisticated sit-down meal, tablecloth and all. The viewing gallery is right next to the cafe, which is convenient for gazers like me. But, I prefer to take my lunches and dinners sit-down style. It has the whole ‘going-out-to-eat’ feel of a restaurant. Reservations are made, even if not honored entirely. Tables are set out with fresh smelling linen. Menus are handed out by overworked, yet genial waiters. If you are lucky enough to travel alone, you are seated alongside fellow-alone passengers. Now, this could go either way, but I have always had the most effusive conversations with people while dining. When there is a lot of time to kill, and people have no option but to talk, it’s amazing what we are capable of. And what’s comforting is that the talks rarely get too political or divisive. It’s probably the vacation mood, but no one wants to debate the size of the government or talk about their views on religious freedom onboard. So be it. Does every discussion need to be intellectual? Should mindless babbling be reserved for drunken nights?  Amtrak made me ask these questions after a long time.

J’ai faim

3. Slumber

Just when you think you have nothing to complain, so you’d rather sleep, it hits you—the Arctic freeze that is commonplace on the Amtrak. It’s probably the relative inactivity but, you don’t realize how cold it is until you shut your eyes. Sleeping can be a real bummer on the train, if you are not equipped with the right gear. Especially when the person next to you is busy disengaging fart bombs in their sleep. Which brings me to the most important variable in any Amtrak ride—

What to wear on an Amtrak

4. The awkward-arm partner 

Nothing changes on the Amtrak except your partner. Unless there is a train-wreck.  Some don’t talk at all, which I prefer. Some restrict themselves to the stilted “Where are you from?” and “Is that the dining car?”, which is fine too. Some are outright annoying, and leave you with a bad taste of the whole journey. They ramble on about how mundane their jobs are. Worse, they make you explain what you do. Now, I don’t care if it sounds conceited, but I resent having to dumb down my research in neuroscience so that lay-men can understand. I don’t bug you with queries about radiator hose clamps for my car. So, shouldn’t you google ischemia if you don’t get it the first time?

There are some wise ones though, who hit the perfect balance between talking and not talking; between sense and nonsense. I am one of them.

I know I am the one who pushed for this surgical dissection of the travel experience, but in reality, Amtrak is more than the sum of its parts. It lets you enjoy life’s cliches—people, nature, warmth (the intangible kind), food—without a moment of guilt or haste. It’s a naughty mistress who amps you up for the vacation, and, a caring wife, who nurses the blues on the way back.

This account may sound bloated—coming from a broke graduate student who believes there will be time for everything—it most likely is. But, I leave just enough space to accept that, tomorrow I might not have the time to sit and stare. I might not like the idea of spending fifteen hours cooped up without wi-fi, and just endless shrubbery as company. Until then, this is the Amtrak girl signing off!

Photo creds:

trekearth.com

visitphilly.com

subdude-site.com

nymag.com

Flapping Fashion


Do you know what ‘maidenhead’ meant in the Tudor era? Or that hanging, drawing, and quartering was not a method to make a quarter pounder? If you do, you are probably a Netflix junkie or—like me—a Netflix junkie. No, seriously, like Adriana croons in ‘Midnight in Paris’, the past has always had a great charisma for me. I enjoy watching period films and reading about their lives: what they thought, how they spoke, what they wore. Save for this irresistible curiosity, you couldn’t have paid me to watch the ‘porn’ucopia that is ‘The Tudors’. Well, maybe if you offered truckloads. But then again, why would you?

Don’t read me wrong. I am not a romantic. I don’t fancy living without internet and antibiotics, and after watching Breaking Bad, without having meth as a career option. But, if there is one thing about the ‘golden age’ that grabs me by the eyes after King Henry VIII’s colorfully decadent life, it’s the fashion of those times. It’s fascinating how the social and political climate—mutating at an accelerating pace then—subtly manipulated the way people dressed. I am not a big fan of the corsets and the ass-enhancing bustles of the 1500-1800s; sun-repellent-dress induced rickets was probably a major cause of death then. I am talking about the fashion that came right after the docile ‘Gibson Girl’, and permeated more like a lifestyle, and revolutionized the ethos of feminine style. I am talking about the snazzy, bold, impossible to miss ‘Flapper’.

Zelda Fitzgerald—”The First American Flapper”
Scott used to call her the ‘golden girl’. This was way before she drove him to death!

A flapper was a mid-teen girl in the 1920s. What she did as a flapper has multiple interpretations though: some believed she was a frivolous, self-indulgent young girl flitting away like the proverbial butterfly; some called her a young prostitute with her open galoshes making the onomatopoeic flapping sound. Some even thought she was an older woman simply being curious and open to experimentation. Frivolous or not, young or old, her flamboyant personality was hard to ignore. What made her special was not only an impeccable sense of style—their time saw the first little black dress—but also what it signified. The flapper lifestyle sprouted hot on the heels of the first world war, as an act of decrying feminine stereotypes. With the men away at war, women had begun to step out of the Küche and enter the workforce.  Also, the war wiped out a significant proportion of young men—men who were either of marriageable age or who were already married. This left scores of young women without partners and left to fend for their own. Could there have been a better time to rebel?

So it began: women dated, flirted, indulged in alcohol (it was the time of prohibition), smoked and danced Jazz. The flapper was the human equivalent of a one-shoulder dress—something about its asymmetry makes you take a second look. She was the textbook non-conformist (did I just use an epigram?), very much like an Alexander Mc Queen of the 1920s: flouting norms, making bizarre look fashionable.

Do you want to have some more carnal knowledge of me?

It was no coincidence that the flapper reign dovetailed perfectly with the first wave of the then nascent feminist movement, spawning a rebirth of clothing styles, as with any cultural upheaval. Women fiddled with different cuts and silhouettes—silhouettes that were comfortable, and cuts that did not shackle them literally or figuratively. They stepped out of their asphyxiating corsets, and chopped off their Goldilocks tresses. Hems rose; waistlines dropped. Sleeves became entirely optional. For the first time in history, they exposed their legs, which, coming at the tail of the gargantuan-gowns-and-flounces era, was a whirlwind of a change. It was a trend not only embraced by the elite—the ‘torchbearers of fashion’—but also by a huge chunk of the 99%.

What was striking, even contradictory about the flapper was the watering down of the feminine, voluptuous look of the Victorian times—tubular, flowing outlines, flatter chests for the garçon look—juxtaposed with the flamboyant makeup and flirtatious behavior clearly meant to attract male attention. However sexually dissonant this style was, it seemed to work for the men. The flapper was new, strong, confident, sexually assertive teetering on the edge of racy—basically, every man’s fantasy.

I know I could ramble on vacuously about cuts, drapes and silhouettes and probably get away with it. But, that wouldn’t be very rewarding to your patience thus far, would it? So I pause right here and give you my absolute favorite picks from the flapper wardrobe:

1. THE DRESS

Marion Cotillard brings her Flapper A game, headband and all. Très magnifique!

2. THE CLOCHE HAT

These adorable hats could double up as protruding ear correctors

3. THE MARY JANE

Flappers sure knew how to ace the sexy-librarian look with these lovelies

As a dewy-eyed enthusiast of all things fashion, I find it hard to imagine that the almost viral presence of the flapper lifestyle lost its zing by the turn of the decade. While I am an optimist, and truly believe that the world is only getting better to live in, I won’t deny naively wondering sometimes: Had the essence of flapper-feminism stayed on, would we still be bickering about shaving our legs for men?

Picture credits:

en.wikipedia.org

polyvore

costumesupercenter.com

imgfave.com

justjared.com

Flickr.com (@McArt)

ebsqart.com

heels.com

kylet.myweb.uga.edu

 

The day I got a call from the cops


Everyone remembers their first day in a foreign country: the first view from the teensy aircraft window, the first meal, the first leak, the first place visited, the first foreigner who smiled.

This is the story of my second day in the United States. Like all Indian grad students who have relatives in this country, I visited them first. I went straight to their home and slept like a baby. That took care of the first day. The very next day, I had to leave for my graduate school as I had already missed the orientation. I woke up to a delicious home-cooked meal and a feeling of family warmth you experience particularly during the initial days of a visit. We had some essentials shopping to do before I flew. I bought an HP laptop the size and weight of a TV and a Verizon cell phone on a family plan (God bless relatives!). I would go on to regret the laptop decision within a matter of months. Ecstatic about the first purchase in the country and that I was all ‘teched-up’ for school, I said my goodbyes to my folks and promised to visit them during Christmas.

Toledo……I’m not impressed! (via google images, my doodle)

I had a stopover at Chicago, after which I would board the final flight to Toledo (It’s the home town of Katie Holmes). Blissfully unaware of the events about to transpire, just like everyone is, I looked around, studying the people in the flight like a bumpkin trying to make sense of an Opera. The language, I knew. The culture, I had no clue about. There was no free food, so I tried to read some John Grisham to kill time but—

“Ladies and gentlemen, due to severe storm conditions in Chicago, we have been re-routed to Milwaukee, and will be landing at the Mitchell International airport shortly. The local time there is 1:30 pm. We regret the inconvenience caused.”

There was a collective sigh of dejection throughout the cabin. Some were inquiring if they could get off at Wisconsin, since that’s where they were headed to, eventually. I was mildly excited though. Who wouldn’t want a different time zone squeezed into their first trip? Of course, my excitement turned to worry when the flight didn’t take off to Chicago for a good hour. When it finally landed in the windy city, it was already touch-and-go for my connecting flight. Now, my uncle had warned me about O’Hare but I wasn’t prepared for this Crystal maze of a place when I had a plane to catch in 10 min lugging around a bag that could dent the floor without much effort. Luckily, an Indian student happened to think so too, and helped me out with the gate. Apparently, I was in the wrong terminal. By the time I scurried across to my gate imagining they would be mispronouncing my name by then, I gathered that the flight had been cancelled due to severe weather. 

Ladies and gentlemen, if you can spot an eye shaped structure, please let me know (via ruthiedean.com)

Great! So, who’s gonna compensate me for the bone dislocation I am about to have due to incessant lugging around of luggage in an airport that didn’t have the common decency to inform that the flight had been cancelled. 

Well, if only I had stopped to read one of the scores of monitors announcing the same. Tiny mistake.

However, I was so drained out by then that I couldn’t summon genuine anger even at myself. As it would later be pointed out to me by a dear friend, I could have fished out five dollars, bought myself a nice meal, and simply ended the misery. To this day it escapes me why I didn’t do so. It was probably the guilty Indian in me, refusing to spend dollars on food, on the first second day in a country I had come to purely for academic purposes. Bah! It sounds fake even thinking about it, let alone writing it down. Let’s just leave it at that.

It was only when my name lit up on the stand-by list of the next flight to Toledo that I gained some semblance of cheer on my face.  My awkward arm partner on the flight was this woman wearing a leather jacket, a leather fedora hat and black lipstick. I have ‘Indian’ written all over my face; naturally, she launched on a verbal diarrhea of what she thought of the country, its people and its world famous culture. A kind word of advice—most Indians prefer absolute silence to talking/hearing about their colorful culture, the heritage and the diversity. It’s like bringing up the Ku Klux Klan to make small talk. 

As eloquent as she was about the goodness in Indian people, the woman walked right away as we landed at the Toledo Express airport at 12 midnight, without as much as a Bye. People often joke about how boarding and deplaning the flight from Chicago to Toledo often takes more time than the duration of the flight itself.

It seemed like another trip to India to me.

The school shuttle was supposed to pick me up at 6pm as per the scheduled time. I could have been dreaming about my NYT bestseller by now.

The whirr of the baggage carousel disrupted my pipe dream. There were a total of three bags on the carousel. None of them were mine. I was filing a baggage claim with the only airport official on duty that night, when my uncle called to check on me. He knew about the delay, so I didn’t have to brief him much, just that I had to survive on a single set of clothes and some documents until they tracked my baggage, if at all they did. And before I could talk to him about my transport options, my phone died.

So, there I was, at the phone charging port, one out of the four people in the airport that night: the official, two janitors and another passenger who was waiting for his ride. I was exhausted. I was famished. And utterly scared. Too scared to take a cab ride that late (I owe my pathological mistrust of cab drivers to my home country). Too scared to ask that guy waiting where he was going.

I was all prepared to spend the night at the airport—the serene silence gave me an odd sense of security. I picked up my John Grisham, again not concentrating, when the official walked up to me and asked if I needed a ride. All the people I have told this story to give me look of mixed horror and incredulity when they hear my reply “Yes, please” to a stranger, at midnight, and that too without as much as a thought.

“You thought hitching a ride from a stranger was less scary than taking a cab‽” is the unanimous reaction.

What can I say, instinct is a strange thing. And, how we choose to dive in blind, relying on them is even stranger. A year later I read Blink, and changed my narration to include the term ‘thin-slicing’ to describe my idiocy. Sounds a lot cooler.

Thin-slicing explains why I had no fear getting into a rusty jeep with him. It also explains why I spoke to my uncle from the car and casually mentioned (not in English, of course) that a man whose name I didn’t know was dropping me home for free. I felt nothing but overwhelming gratitude for the man until I reached home.

The cops called me when I was at the doorstep, about to crumble down but safe.

It was then that it hit me—‘the gravity of it all’ as my uncle later put it.

Has it been that long?


(This is my first attempt at ‘prosetry’. Well, I started to write a poem and it ended up looking like something in between)

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Remember when I was almost run over, as you scampered away

afraid to know, afraid to face?

perhaps loath to look into my eyes,

afraid they might not mirror the transparent love brimming in yours

your brain—left though it is—must’ve been teeming with a zillion impulses;

yet you dug deep and plucked out an eloquent “I like you.”

 

But hey! Who am I to judge your acuity?

A face like pebble and a pace like snail was all I had to offer

speechless and emotionless—giving the pole I brushed past a tough fight

No wonder the cabbie misjudged the turn

If it were not for the rogue thread in my silk scarf, caught nastily in the metal mesh,

my inertia would’ve continued to cause some interesting road incidents.

Remember? The green D’day scarf?

Ohhh! Who am I talking colors with!

 

I think you were still walking your crazy sprint-walk

perhaps warming up for a run in case you got slapped

What if this is a prank? I thought of all your capers I shamelessly fell for

What if his friends are hiding in, ready on cue to point fingers and laugh in unison?

 

You looked prepared for a slap—stoic, with a pose slightly biased to the dominant right cheek

If it were indeed a prank, you had the makings of a Broadway star

 

I wasn’t too psyched to embark on a ride this time

So, I asked “Are you kidding with me?”, betraying all my naiveté mid-question

“No, not at all.” Phew! Not a slap so far!

“Then, are you serious?” I was the champ at asking insightful questions 

“Yeah.Yes. Of course.” You were always the glib one

 

Okay, this is a proposal, no doubt now. 

I have to respond, but I don’t know how

A mere “yes”?—too pedestrian

“I love you too”?—dripping with desperation

“Why did it take you so long?”—too histrionic

 

“Same here,” I blurted, disrupting the soliloquy

You paused a teensy bit; I bit my lip

Did my clumsy reply make him second guess? 

And then I saw—a face never quite resplendent

as if my words flushed your pallor a bright cherry red

I could’ve kissed you right then!

 

As I sit down today, to reminisce those moments of childlike joy, of nascent love,

all I can say is that our decade-long (and counting) tryst has had its share of tranquil drizzles, of raging tempests, and of purely transcendent Mumbai rains.

 

I am glad it really has been that long.

Four things I would do if I were cheated on!


I like to plan things—down to the shreds. It gives me a feeling of faux-security, a vicarious control over my future. You don’t get a second shot most times. I have my proposal all planned—I decided to go with the shrieking and jumping up and down bit, followed by a twinkling tear to go with the diamond. I recently perfected the move I would use to handle the bum making lewd gestures, if he were to come within arm’s distance. And my Nobel acceptance speech has been ready for ages, save the few tweaks I make every time I read William Zinsser (His ‘On writing well’ is a delightful read).

It’s just something I do. Regardless of how unlikely the event is. Which brings me to the topic of my post: what would I do If I were cheated on? This one probably belongs to the hall of fame of unlikely events, but is certainly possible. And, yeah, now would be the best time to call me a twisted, paranoid lunatic for planning my boyfriend proposing to me and cheating on me in the same breath. But, this is a brain child of not only my neuroses; it’s mainly my compulsive watching of Mad men. There have been legends about men philandering, but nothing quite like the spectrum of skirts Don Draper has gotten himself into, scared the living hell out of me.

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My wife walked in on my fivesome! (via google images)

I don’t pretend to imagine what one endures when they gain knowledge of this horrible fact. Even constructing a scenario gives me the chills as I see myself doing things that would need Bobby Donnell to keep my ass out of jail. But, whatcha gonna do? The topic is such that it shoves the vilest of human emotions bubbling to the surface. A relationship hinges on mostly intangible attributes, the most valuable of them being trust. When some jerk stamps all over this already intangible mess, there is very little legal respite you’ve got. I checked it out. Adultery as a crime has no teeth unless you live in Michigan or are willing to settle for $10 in Maryland.

As much as I picture unleashing my feral side at the thought of adultery, I know I am not capable of violence. But, I am no saint either; no turning the other cheek for me. The least I can do is be prepared. So, here I am, shrugging off a thousand sanctimonious voices advising me that life cannot be planned, to present my cheat-sheet—a bite-sized guide for the future me reminding how to get a good deal out of the whole adultery business.

1. Make a kick-ass pre-nup

This should keep most men in their pants, when done the right way. Granted that this is a preventive measure, but what the hell, I am allowed to cheat in semantics. Invest in a good lawyer and make an air-tight prenup agreement; chances are if he’s ready to sign it, you wouldn’t need it at all. If not, you can sleep peacefully knowing you can make him pay through his teeth whenever you want.

2. Leave him

Stop reading what Prudence from Slate magazine has to say. Don’t bother what your shrink has to offer more than a couch to cry out the initial weepies.  Just dump him alright. It’s just not worth the rigmarole of forgiving and starting over. No matter how evocative his pleas of undying love for you, tell him he can shove it up an orifice of his choice. You don’t give second chances; not in this department.

3. Shop! Shop! Shop!

As much as you feel like listening to Adele, shrouding yourself in an introspective bubble, break out of it. Take a shower. Let him do the “what went wrong?” song and dance. You—soak in a spa massage, get those Zooey Deschanel bangs you thought you were too old for. Or that red silk Valentino number you wishfully gave up tiramisu for. The phrase ‘nothing to lose’ never had more meaning.

Image

Douches come in all sizes and shapes (via google images)

4. Learn to identify a douche

You can’t always thwart infidelity, but you can learn to weed out the riffraff early on. For example, if your guy has a friend who needs relationship help three nights a week, he’s probably screwing you over (with a guy/girl? don’t ask). If he is okay with you having ‘headaches’ every other day, yet wakes up looking like a million bucks, he’s probably getting some on the side. Also, if his face takes up as much space in the media as the state of Florida, there’s a good chance he’s the power-driven, alpha-male prototypic philanderer we all hear of. Nothing condones infidelity, but if you approach a tiger like you would, your garden variety cat, then this cheat-sheet is of no use for you!

PS: This post is just a light-hearted take on an emotionally catastrophic event; I do not mean to trivialize it. 

PS1: I am not a rationally closed off femi-nazi who thinks infidelity is a male turf; women cheat too (the relative numbers are irrelevant here). I am sure men go through hell when it happens. So, I give you the stage. Take potshots. Make your craigslist sugar daddy jokes. I’ll root for you. 

5 reasons why you need not fear death while I am driving


Six months ago, I could have been the poster girl for the ad: How not to drive a car. Now, you may roll your eyes and be tempted to Cmnd Q me, amused at the idea that I could possibly offer anything new about car driving. That too in the United states. After all, is there anything more pedestrian, more amenable to multitasking, and after bacon, anything more deep-rooted in American culture than driving cars? There is a gas pedal and a brake. End of story.

I thought so too, when I came to this country. There’s automatic transmission and people follow rules. I was convinced about how much a piece of cake driving was going to be.

Then came my first driving lesson. And another. And a lot more, wedged with bouts of exponentially waning confidence and intelligence. To this day, it surprises me how I managed to up the ante of stupidity with every successive lesson; it felt like I was struggling to say oui in french.

Spare me, bloody Mary!

But, I’m on the other side now, and very much a member of the snooty driver’s club—cursing drivers who stick to the speed limit, making a grudging stop at every red light and outright scornful of any past-me(s) trying to learn. Also, no longer forcing fellow drivers to check their airbags every time they spot me on the road. I owe all of this to my complacent instructors—they dared to assume that I had a basic level of common sense and quick judgment to begin with. I proved them wrong on all counts, and with such élan, that I truly believe there isn’t room for more blunders. Of course, I could be woefully wrong. Until then, here’s what I have gleaned from the tons of driving classes; my precious tenets of driving, if you will:

1. The gas is always on the right 

I have lost count of the times it took me to get this right. I mean I am not directionally challenged, but I have stepped on the gas at a signal, with a stationary car mere feet away from me, so many times that my instructor had to give me the “How many fingers am I holding up?” test to make sure I wasn’t blind.

and stop means BRAKE! (compareautoinsurance.com)

2. Dividers are meant exactly for that

In a typical four lane road with a divider in the middle, it wouldn’t take long to figure out that the divider separates traffic in the opposite directions, right? Wrong. Yours truly saw the divider, decided to ignore it, and almost rammed into a car headlong, hurtling at 45mph, until the significance of the divider finally dawned upon her. (The other driver had my share of common sense to shift lanes and save us an accident.)

3. The rearview mirror needs an audience 

It was probably because my brain was focused on hanging onto the steering for dear life, that my eyes were incapable of axial movement when I drove. I backed up, changed lanes, braked at will, all without glancing at the rearview mirror for once. The instructor told me to back up. I did. He told me to take a turn, and I obeyed like a dutiful medieval wife.

 4. Blind spot, where art thou?

Granted that this is something all new drivers have a problem grasping, but I used to do a head-check for changing lanes when I need not and forget when I should. It took me a while to come to terms with the concept of the curved yellow left-only lanes and the center lanes that merged into left lanes. Wait….did I get that right?

 5. Right indicator; right turn 

There was this one time in my early driving days when I was told to take a right turn. I diligently switched on the right indicator close to the stop sign, halted for traffic and then turned a perfect left, having my instructor bang his head against the dashboard (Well, maybe I am a little directionally challenged.) He told me later, that if I ever succeeded in getting a license, he would consider his job on earth done.

It’s great to laugh at someone’s expense right? I love it too!  Glad I could oblige.  But, just remember: I do have a license now and you know exactly what I am capable of 😉

Why women wanna vacuum and men couldn’t care less about their room….


Imagine you chance upon one of those many online contests that promises an iPad if you correctly answer a question. You are wary about it first…..then rationalize that taking  a look at the question requires no clicking, hence no malware headache (deep down you know it’s the chintzy pleasure you derive from taking potshots at the intellectually challenged questions notorious to such online forums). They show you a picture of a studio-like room that looks like a place a hobo would vehemently refuse to live in. The carpet is a spectrum of varying shades of black peppered with teensy specks of beige, reminding you how it all began. There are plates and bowls strewn across making a random pattern…..maybe the question is to figure the pattern out….you look more intently and notice that the plates are soiled with dried remnants of at least a two day old curry and bowls contain what looks like soggy disfigured cereal. Two wooden chairs, whose frail legs are the only parts visible, are brimming with a motley of papers,    shopping bags with groceries peeping out and a wet sticky towel. Although ‘Yuck!’ is all you can fathom looking at the grotesque image, you are strangely interested in knowing what lies beyond. In the heat of curiosity, you don’t realize that you clicked on ‘continue’ to read the question:

The occupants of the room shown in the picture can be best described as ————— a) Boys or b) Girls

Not many of us would’ve taken more than a heartbeat to judge which gender is capable of this massacre, all the while probably chiding ourselves for being gullible yet again, but mildly comforted that the equilibrium of the iPad contest system remains unperturbed.

It is fascinating how we categorically associate the lack of scruples about cleanliness to the male gender, considering that we live in a time when men and women have reasonably similar reasons for their shoddiness, what with smothering work schedules that leave just enough time to unwind and socialize and not fret about which room to vacuum in the weekend. While it is true that traditionally, house-cleaning was entirely a feminine turf, we grew up in households where it was drilled into us that the ability to maintain a tidy room wasn’t a function of gender. Yet, when we break-free of the shackles of sweet home and start an independent life as students or employees, more often than not, pictures of mens’ apartments serve as prototypes for online contests. There could be two ways of looking at this, kinda like the chicken and egg approach-whether the historical license given to men to be dirty is the cause or the result of their relative lackadaisical outlook towards anything that begins with neat, unless it’s alcohol. Methinks that social conditioning has gone a long way in cajoling men into their lazy cocoons and yanking women out of theirs.The society doesn’t ‘expect’ men to fuss about tidying up, hence most of them choose not to. Given a choice, it is human tendency to pick the one involving the least amount of work. On the other hand, the concept of cleanliness has been indoctrinated into the female psyche so much so that even women use it as a criterion to judge the rest of their clan. They feel a passive pressure to maintain a standard of neatness or risk being a subject of ridicule. This doesn’t portend of course that men are callous about living in a clean environment.  Most of them lend themselves to this noble cause, sometimes to an obsessive level, when they have a family of their own and finally realize that dirty dishes shall remain so, unless picked up and that gender stereotypes can salvage them only this far. So the next time you step into an impeccably clean room, you know that it’s the result more of  social pressure then an innate love affair with cleanliness.