Monday, December 15, 2008

Exciting News...

I have been hearing back from lots of places I applied to for internships. I've heard back from ten internship sites so far, and they have all been yes-es. Consequently I have a busy January. I'll phone-interview at all these places and will visit as many as I can. By the end of january, I imagine I shall be exhausted, broke, and very very happy!

12/16/08: 10am: ELEVEN now :-)
12/16/08: 3pm: TWELVE yes-es and counting!
12/17/08: I heard back from them all. And they ALL said YES! Now, what do I need to do in order to get men to behave in the same way???

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Golden Road to Samarkand

Two years ago, I wrote a post on one of my blogs which never really took off. It was about a poem. I was reading the poem again yesterday, and thought I'd repost what I had written here...

I was watching "Rumpole". And Rumpole, being Rumpole, was quoting poetry as usual. He quoted something that brought back a deluge of memories. He spoke about the golden road to Samarkand. I felt that somehow the floodgates of forgotten memories had been opened. I felt shaken, and almost cried, for right in the middle of the strange crises of adulthood, he had called to my mind one of the most vivid dreams of my childhood. He had reminded me of a longing I had felt since my childhood, of taking the golden road, and of entering the gates of Samarkand.

It was somewhere between the ages of 7 and 9 when I first heard my father mention "The golden road to Samarkand". It was a phrase, quite out of its original context. I never thought it belonged in a poem. I thought it was one of those odd sentences, heard in one's childhood that happily haunts one's memories even years later. Those words caught my childish fancy. I did not know where Samarkand was. But by the name I imagined it to belong in the Arabian nights. The second I heard of it was when I was about 11 years old. I was reading the history of the Mughals, a daunting, but exciting volume in my father's small library. I read the story of Emperor Babar as a child longing to enter the golden gates of Samarkand. I imagined it to be a bustling city full of busy bazaars, with peculiar looking street vendors selling their exotic wares - spices, incense and delightfully odd unnamed concoctions. There was the old-world charm of the Arabian nights, the wise old men puffing off at their hookahs, the birds, the animals, the smoke, and the earthy, musky fragrances of the people and the land. This Samarkand existed nowhere but in my imagination. Yet, I could see, smell and taste all its wonders. As a child and perhaps even now, my Samarkand seems so exquisitely tangible; I could almost reach out and touch its arcane secrets and unknown treasures.

But equally fascinating to me was the road - the golden road to Samarkand. I always was a loner at heart, never needing anyone else, never wanting anyone else to enter that world of my own, the sacrosanct land of childish fantasies, from where the world of grown ups seems so dull. It was the same with this journey. I wanted to travel to Samarkand alone, discover its riches and wonders alone, so that in some strange way it would belong only to me. I think I had subconsciously even resolved to travel there when I was old enough. I think I imagined myself to be a sort of Dick Whittington. I think I still do. The road and the journey seemed to promise exhilarating thrills and exciting experiences. I still want to take the road and relive the happiest years of my life - my childhood, when under the protective eyes of my parents I built that fantasy land where I go even today when the burdensome worries of my adulthood grow too heavy for me to bear.

I think as an adult, the road seems more a metaphor. I have attempted a few short forays onto the road, but always returned to the calling of responsibility and maturity. But one of these days, I'll bundle up my belongings, and set off down the golden road for good; the child in me singing and hopeful. I will reach my Samarkand one day. And it will be as beautiful, as exciting and as wonderful as I have always known it will be.

We travel not for trafficking alone;
By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned:
For lust of knowing what should not be known
We take the Golden Road to Samarkand.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Snippet of a Conversation

“May I go to the restroom?” he asked. And then a moment later, “Please?”

I stared. “You don’t have to ask my permission to leave”. I was flustered.

“I know”, he replied quietly. “But it is polite to ask.”

I lowered my glance and nodded my assent. He stood up and heeled his chair back into position.

“Can I bring you anything back?”

His voice was playful, and I rose to the challenge.

“Yes”, I said. “Bring me back the mirror.”

We both blushed. He started to say something, hesitated, and then turned away.

I looked around the coffee shop. On the bookshelf next to our table was stacked an odd assortment of books - some which I would never have imagined belonged in such an establishment. I pulled out a volume on the wines of Tuscany and lazily flipped through its pages. Friends of mine, a couple, were visiting Italy. I remembered her asking me if I would like them to bring me back a bottle of Italian wine. She had called me a connoisseur. I smiled despite myself. Although I would like to be, I am not a good judge of flavors. I prefer Beaujolais to Burgundy. Some people tell me that is sacrilegious, but I have never understood why.

I glanced at my mug of Ethiopian coffee. Strong. Bitter. Overpriced. And served in an awfully ugly mug. Most “cool” coffee shops serve their hot beverages in hideous mugs. They are meant to be artistic, I suppose. I try to be broad-minded about these things, but to my rather primitive and untrained mind, all art – all appealing art at any rate – needs to be aesthetically pleasing. I put the book back on its shelf. The book at least had aesthetically pleasing pictures.

I closed my eyes and listened to the lowered voices of the other customers. Coffee shop conversations always sound so intimate. I sighed and opened my eyes. He had returned, a boyish grin on his face.

“I tried”, he said earnestly. “The mirror wouldn’t come off the wall.”

I giggled with mirth at the thought. He extended his hand and I saw a shiny quarter in it.

“It’s like a mirror”, he said. “I can’t believe I found this. It has been ages since I found a coin.”

I took the extended quarter from his fingers and looked into his face. I could not tell if he was lying. Coffee shop conversations are meant to be mysterious. And the lights were too dim for me to care.

Friday, November 14, 2008

"May I Write To You?"

Yesterday, someone asked me, “May I write to you?” How often does one get asked such a beautiful question? I think people today say, “Can I call you?” or “Can we talk again?” But an exchange of ideas, and the continuation of a conversation through the writing of letters is practically unheard of. I was quite happy when I was asked this question and consented to a correspondence, upon which we exchanged our email ids. Not quite as romantic an end to the wonderful question as I would have liked, but still…

I would like to write to someone. As a child I had several pen-friends. I even tried reviving my interest in writing to people in distant lands after I became an adult. However, this franchise soon disillusioned me because I found that most adult pen pals are only trying to pave their way to a romantic relationship. But imagine… if you were writing just for the sake of writing… to be able to tell your story, and listen to the stories of others… wouldn’t that be beautiful and delightful and enlightening? C.S. Lewis said, “We read to know we are not alone.” I think this might be truer for writing. We write to know we are not alone… to know that someone wants to read what we have to say and share… that insignificant though we may be in the grand scheme of things, little bits of ourselves are significant to others even if only just momentarily. Is it any wonder then that I enjoy writing this blog?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Hurray for the President Elect

Last night was one of the most historic nights in the history of the United States of America. By an overwhelming majority Barack Obama was elected America's 44th president - and became the first African American ever to be elected to this post. The energy of the American public was infectious and heart-warming. As I watched election night TV, I was struck by how many things were different about this US Presidential election - people turned out in record numbers to cast their votes, first time voters (the generation many people think does not care) were keen to have their voices heard, and in the face of ignorance and prejudice, Senator Obama scored a proud victory.

Listening to Sen. Obama's address to the nation after winning the 2008 presidential election, I was moved. This isn't my country, and I cannot vote. But this certainly is an incredibly exciting time to be in America! I hope many more good things lie ahead...

Monday, November 3, 2008

"Pie" Surprise

Typically, when I attempt to throw together a recipe from things that just happen together in my fridge, I end up with an eatable, but equally forgettable end product. However, last night, I made up a recipe that turned out something that was a delight – one which I am going to continue to make often.

So, in an attempt to clean out my fridge, I located these things:
• One butternut squash that I wanted to make soup with, but which I did not end up making
• A quarter packet of mixed vegetables – too little to put into anything else.
• Half a red bell pepper left over from a pizza that I made last week.
• One pre-made pie crust with which I was going to make apple pie, but I ended up eating the apples raw

So, I decided to make a vegetable pie – most of my previous vegetable pies have been passable, occasionally good, and never exceptional. However, I needed to clean out the fridge. So on I went with the project, and the result was amazing – a LOVELY pie: tasty, savory, filling, healthy, and above all EASY! It really was what I might classify as “healthy comfort food”. I’ll post pictures soon. Here’s how I made it:

I diced the whole butternut squash, the red bell pepper, and half an onion and boiled these in a bit of salted water with the leftover mixed vegetables. Don’t add too much water – we just want enough so that we don’t have to drain out any water after the veggies are cooked. I threw in some garlic powder and some rosemary and thyme (I grow the rosemary and thyme. If you don’t have these, just use whatever dried herbs you have – oregano, sage, basil…). I boiled all these together covered for about 15 minutes till the squash was a bit mushy. Then I let it cool and drained out the little water that remained. Then I mixed in a handful of shredded cheese (I used a low-fat cheddar-pepper jack blend because I happened to have some, but any regular shredded cheese is fine), and a couple of pinches of red pepper flakes. In the meantime, I had thawed out my pie crust. I sprayed my pie dish with some non-stick spray and rolled out the bottom crust. I spooned in the vegetable mixture and covered it with the top crust. I slotted the top crust, sprayed it will some non-stick spray and popped it into the oven for about 30 minutes (at 350 F), and then took it out to cool. Wait for it to cool a bit before you slice it. I had a slice for dinner last night with some spicy habanero sauce. Will have some more tonight. Do try to make it – it is really delicious!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

To Autumn

Folowing the biting cold of the weekend, Ames has had a few days of glorious and tender warmth. But I fear that this is the last of the good weather we will have. Autumn is on its way out, and the cold winter months loom ahead. I wanted to post Keats' "To Autumn" before the end of the loveliest season of all.

"Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, -
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies."

~ John Keats

Click on the pictures to enlarge:

A maple tree in autumn (


Iowan cornfields in the fall (

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Yet Another Step...

I have to rush and am hopelessly busy, but thought I'd post a quick update... I successfully defended my dissertation proposal. This means that I can apply for internships for next year. So, I am DEFINITELY going to leave ISU nexy year (subject to being matched to an internship). Got to go, will write more later.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Step Closer

Last Friday, I finalized my dissertation proposal manuscript and gave it to my committee members. This Friday, I will present the research to them and they will either be bowled over by how wonderful it is (which is highly unlikely), axe my project and doom me to another year in Ames (which I am praying will not happen), or will tell me that it's a bit crappy but can be fixed with their suggestions (which I am hoping will happen). I got caught up with sleep and a bit of reading. Now that my mind was not occupied with thoughts about research, I felt an urge to read some more of "Clarissa". I did, and loved it - it still takes me a while to get through some passages, but is a delight to read.

Remember long ago, in one of my first posts, I said that I wanted to be like Cleopatra - a woman of infinite variety? Well, something I read in Clarissa makes me want to be something similar. It's from Anna Howe's letter to Clarissa where she relates to the eponymous heroine what her mother (Mrs. Howe) said about her:

"Miss Clarissa Harlowe is an admirable young lady: wherever she goes, she confers a favour: whomever she leaves, she fills with regret. O my Nancy, that you had a little of her sweet obligingness!"

If someone ever said that about me, I'd faint with pleasure!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Dark Circles and Bags

I have been awfully busy the past two weeks - whether or not I will be able to propose my dissertation in time for applying for internships is still uncertain, but I am working away... Last week, I did not sleep two nights and slept in my office for another two nights. I think what makes it so tough for me is that I am not a naturally research-oriented person and everything seems to take me too long. Anyway, I went homes yesterday afternoon, had about 7 straight hours of sleep, and at midnight, I came back to my office and have been working away again. I just happened to catch sight of myself in a mirror - I look horrible. Haggard. And I have dark circles under my eyes! That is something I never thought I would ever see since I have dark skin to begin with! But I do have them under my eyes - dark circles and bags.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Reading Update

I have stopped reading Clarissa for the moment. It is a very heavy-going book and since I am at the moment caught between proposing my dissertation and applying for internships, I find myself unable to read more than a page or two of Clarissa. I find myself gravitating towards lighter reading - so I have been working on finishing Poirot Investigates. I think I shall postpone Clarissa until next year and focus on finishing up my half-read books in the next few months. That's 27 books in all and it would still bring me over my resolution of 24 books for this year. Next year, I think I shall spend reading only one book - Clarissa. That will be quite the feat in itself - being able to finish the book that was the longest novel in English literature for over 200 years (it's not the longest anymore).

I feel so tired with all these deadlines - I wish I could just sit back, relax and read, read, read...

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Sarah Palin - On Feminism and The Media

I don't usually blog about my view on politics. But Sarah Palin's idiocy (purely a private opinion) is driving me so crazy that I feel I have to write about it. The woman is in the running to be the Vice President of the United States, but she is an ignorant fool as is clearly evident from her interviews. I don't understand the people who think she is ready to be VP - she can barely even answer a question about which newspapers she reads...

In an interview with Katie Couric, Sarah Palin was not able to say which newspapers or magazines she reads. When Couric presses her to answer, she goes on to say that she has read MOST or ALL of them. Remember that the US publishes more than 7500 newspapers and weeklies, and thousands more of magazines. Even I would be embarrassed to say such a thing, and I am not running for VP.

The video follows below, and here’s a transcript:

Couric: And when it comes to establishing your worldview, I was curious what newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this, to stay informed and to understand the world?
Palin: I've read most of them, again with a great appreciation for the press, for the media.
Couric: What, specifically?
Palin: Um, all of them, any of them that have been in front of me all these years.
Couric: Can you name a few?
Palin: I have a vast variety of sources where we get our news, too. Alaska isn't a foreign country, where it's kind of suggested, "Wow, how could you keep in touch with what the rest of Washington, D.C., may be thinking when you live up there in Alaska?" Believe me, Alaska is like a microcosm of America.”

Also in the Katie Couric interview, Palin gave her take on feminism… I was not able to find a video for this, but here is the transcript…

“I'm a feminist who, uh, believes in equal rights and I believe that women certainly today have every opportunity that a man has to succeed, and to try to do it all, anyway. And I'm very, very thankful that I've been brought up in a family where gender hasn't been an issue. You know, I've been expected to do everything growing up that the boys were doing. We were out chopping wood and you're out hunting and fishing and filling our freezer with good wild Alaskan game to feed our family.”

Now, I wonder why she didn’t mention that her brothers did some sewing or cooking? Also, I take offense at how she, as she talks about women and success, seems quite content with the fact that women have an equal opportunity to “try to do it all, anyway.”

Sarah Palin frustrates me. She seems to always manage to not answer questions she is asked, or to talk about something completely unrelated. She particularly likes to talk about her outdoor-sy personality and uses it at the most inappropriate times as an answer to everything – just like McCain talks about his POW experience as if that is the answer to everything. Stephen Colbert had hilarious things to say about that. But I digress…I was never a great fan of John McCain before, but his choice of VP has made me question his judgment and I am leaning towards thinking that perhaps senility is starting to set in for him!

In the words of YouTube poster LisaNova, “I became stupider having listened to that!” Here is LisaNova’s spoof of Sarah Palin’s interview with Charles Gibson – perfect portrayal of how she talks utter nonsense.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Stranger Made Me Smile

I was sitting in my office frowning at an immense batch of journal articles that I need to get through and seriously wondering if getting my Ph.D. is really worth all this work. The near future looks pretty bleak and I was feeling really down in the dumps. Someone knocked at my door and I shouted a half-hearted "Come In" - I really did not want anyone disturbing me right then. A young African American man came in with a bunch of long-stemmed white flowers and handed me one. "I just want you to know that we appreciate you", he said. I was a bit stunned, and I stammered my thanks to him. He turned to leave, and I was flabbergasted - it is not everyday a stranger walks into my office and hands me a flower with words of appreciation. I managed to pull myself out of the shock of it before he reached the door and asked him who he was and what he appreciated me for. He said he was a member of a fraternity and it was appreciation day and he had chosen to appreciate the psychologists at the counseling center for the work we did. I thanked him again and he left me smiling with delight. What a lovely, lovely thing to do!! And what a delightful and timely answer to my question about whether this will really ever be worth it!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Monday Morning Blues

I am convinced that I am going to die in the near future! People say that when you are dying, scenes from your life pass before your eyes like a flashback in slow-motion. I don't know if there is any validity to this or not, but if it is true, then I am dying a very slow and protracted death right now. For several months now, I feel almost constantly nostalgic and everything I encounter seems to remind me of something else that happened to me at some point in my life.

I was walking down the street yesterday - the rains have really made the grass spring up and I flashed back to when I was younger and lived in Hyderabad - our house was the only one in several streets which had grass between our front compound wall and the street - my father tended to this grass lovingly (in the arid climes of Hyderabad), but every couple of weeks we'd have a street-person ring our bell to ask if they could dig up the grass for some food or money. Again, a few days ago I was eating some papads. And suddenly I remembered a time when I was in the 9th class. I was sick and home alone one afternoon when an old Muslim gentleman came by selling papads door-to-door. He beseeched me to buy some papads which he told me his young motherless daughter made all day and which he sold. He looked like he was on the verge of tears, and I was moved into buying two large packets of them. It was not until he left that I looked at the label which said "Mahalakshmi Pappadums, Made in Coimbatore".

Another time I was in church and I remembered how all my childhood and adolescence my parents, sister and I would set out early Sunday morning and walk in the chilly, dewy morning to our church about half a kilometer away and back. I hated Sundays because although we got to eat a more elaborate breakfast and didn't have to go to school, I didn't get to spend enough time with my parents. It was the only day I was home all day with my parents but they were always busy on Sundays - my father shopped for vegetables and meat, my mother did a massive batch of cooking and cleaning, both my parents did the week's laundry... and it seemed that my sister and I could never do anything without getting in somebody's way. By the afternoon, my parents were exhausted and would take long naps and my sister and I had to amuse ourselves very quietly. But for children (which my sister and I were) with a whole day's energy pent up, it was quite impossible to do that - I don't think I even enjoyed reading on Sundays - and that is very unusual for me. Strangely, it seemed that it was always hot on Sundays - even in the winter. Anyway I hated Sundays - and the dislike still persists. And now that I am grown up, I hate Monday mornings too...

Yet another time I was walking down a sidewalk in Ames which had a very unusual pattern of paving - little squares. And I remembered the evenings when I was a child when my mother would decide that she, my sister and I were going to walk back home from school. There were two ways of getting home - the most direct one was a busy main road - it was dusty and full of traffic. There was a Muslim cemetery on this road which always fascinated my sister and me because the gravestones looked beautifully carved and had Urdu writing on them - we did not read Urdu, so the writing could mean anything we wanted it to - we went for extremely romantic stories with touches of the Arabian nights - we were convinced that most of the people buried there had died of heartbreak or some other equally romantic reason. There also were heaps of jasmine flowers growing wild there. My sister and I were fascinated by the graves and she asserted that when our mother died, we would bury her there. Other points of interest along the way were: a mechanic's shop which had the most gorgeous assistants who never seemed to do anything but oaf around and look handsome; a castle which I believed was haunted which eventually was sold, demolished and a state-of-the-art hospital was built on the spot; a seedy restaurant which sold delicious candy for 5 paise which my mom would never let us go into; a large white wall with a seat built right into the middle of the wall - it had an ornate concrete back which I thought looked like a throne and I always pretended to be an extremely regal and imperial queen when I sat on it - no one other than me ever seemed to sit on it and I never quite understood who had built it and what purpose it served other than to function as my very own dusty and hard throne. This was an interesting road, but we always walked back home this way and it was not the one we liked best. The one we loved was the longer, windy one through the defence campus. It was a shady avenue - broad, well-kept and the only traffic on this road consisted of a few vehicles entering or exiting the defence labs. The road home was almost twice as long - maybe two kilometers and it seemed like an eternity to us children before we got home. But we loved it - the trees were beautiful and there were little benches for us to sit on. And the sidewalk was paved with beautiful tiles with tiny squares. They reminded my sister and me of the Cadbury chocolate bars and we christened the avenue - "Cadbury's Road". I always had been a child with a wild imagination and the long walk back home on a chocolate road made my already overactive imagination run riot - I'd make up stories to tell my sister on the way and imagine myself in adventures that made Indiana Jones seem like a silly little amateur. My sister and I always gave a whoop of delight when my mother announced that we were going home by Cadbury's Road. That sidewalk in Ames with the tiny white squares reminded me of those halcyon days.

I am constantly remembering. Maybe I am dying! Or maybe I am just homesick and nostalgic and miss my family. Or maybe I'm just growing old, broody and sentimental.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

I Passed My Prelims!

I successfully passed my written prelims! This means that I am now officially a "real" Ph.D. candidate. I have already done most of the work involved, but it really takes passing this test to make it official. Coming up in the next few weeks is my dissertation proposal. I am very very rushed for time and have no idea how I will get all this done in a month, but I hope that I can. Proposing my dissertation pronto is vital since I have to get this done in order to go on internship next year. Since I don't want to be stuck here for another year, it's nose to the grindstone now...

P.S. Update on the food from last post - I did not get to make it for my sister. I made stuff for the Onam potluck, but ended up eating leftovers or going out for meals with my sis. Maybe next time...

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Weekend Menu

I am not a great cook usually. I usually cook and eat whatever is the fastest and easiest - very often this means a lot of American food. However, when someone is coming to dinner or to stay, I blossom into a remarkably good cook. It's quite awful really, because I like the food I cook when I cook it for someone else. When I was younger, I never did any cooking - and consequently never really learnt to cook very well. Most of what I cook now is either intiutive or self-taught through web-surfing or cookbook browsing. Anyway, there are two kinds of food that I like best - foods that appeal to the two parts of me - the Hyderabadi/Andhra food and the Malayalee/Kerala food. My sister is coming to stay for Onam and for a few extra days. which means a LOT of Andhra/Mallu food at home (we both enjoy it). So, I was looking up recipes and thought it would be fun to post a few recipes that I plan on cooking this weekend on here.

The recipes are taken from (Mallu) and (Andhra).

The pics are courtsey and Enjoy.


Raw/Ripe Mango - 1
Coconut-(scraped) - ½ cup
Dry chilly – 4 (fried)
Oil-1 table spoon
Mustard- ¼ teaspoon
Water- ¼ cup
Salt to taste

1. Peel and cut the mango into small pieces. Mix with salt.
2. Grind coconut with water and 2 dry chilies thoroughly.
3. Add the coconut-chili mixture to the mango and mix well.
4. Heat oil in a kadai; heat mustard and fry dry chili.
5. Lastly pour into the mango coconut mixture.
6. Best served with plain rice.


Wheat Rava Tomato Upma

1 1/2 cups wheat rava/sooji/semolina
1 finely sliced large onion
1 large tomato, finely chopped
3-4 slit green chillis
1″ ginger finely chopped
1 tbsp ghee or oil
1 tbsp chopped coriander leaves
3 3/4 to 4 cups water
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tbsp bengal gram
1 tbsp black gram dal
12-15 curry leaves
Salt to taste

1. Heat oil, add the mustard seeds and let them splutter.
2. Sauté bengal gram, black gram and curry leaves.
3. Add and sauté sliced onions, green chillis and ginger.
4. Add and sauté chopped tomatoes on medium heat for 4 min.
5. Add salt and water and bring to a boil.
6. Add the wheat rava while stirring continuously to avoid lumps.
7. Cover with lid and let it simmer for 10-12 minutes.
8. Turn off heat. Mix well.
8. Garnish with chopped coriander leaves. Serve hot with chutney.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Sarah Palin Looks Very Familiar

The news today seems full of stuff about Alaska's governor Sarah Palin. And she looks incredibly familiar. I know why: because she looks like a serious, book-ish version of Law and Order SVU's Mariska Hargitay! Here are pics:

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Five Books On The Go...

Is it possible to be reading five books at a time? My list says so, and someone recently asked me this. So, let me clarify -

1. "Lord Emsworth..." is a book of short stories that I borrowed from the library, but had to return before I finished it. I have been meaning for months to get it out again and finish it, but got caught up with other books.

2. "The Thin Man" was a book that I used to leave in my car to read when I had to wait in the car for some reason (apparently it happened long enough for me to read a quarter of the book), but left it in my car which my sister has been using for several months. I'll get it back from her when I see her next and finish it.

3. "Poirot Investigates" is the book in my headboard cupboard. It is a book of short detective stories and is ideal for bedtime reading because it is full of short stories that don't compel me to read on indefinitely and lose sleep. I still have about a half of the book to go.

4. "Clarissa" is my ambitious reading project for the year that was placed on temporary hold because I was studying for my Ph.D. qualifiers and was forced to read psychology journals instead of mid-eighteenth century literature. This book will shortly be resumed.

5. "The Miracle at Speedy Motors" is a book I recently borrowed from the library. This is the latest installment in Alexander McCall Smith's "No. 1 Ladies..." series, and is in huge demand. I was on the request line of this book for several months and probably will go back on a long line if I have to return it before I am finished with it. So, this book takes precedence over all others at the moment. I am done with nearly half of this delightful book, and fully expect to be done with it in a few days time.

So there it is... the reason I am reported as reading five books at one time on this blog. :-)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Is This A Zucchini?

I was shopping for groceries at Wal-Mart last night. I bought some regular old vegetables - amongst them two nice eggplants (brinjals). As I was checking my groceries out, the lady at the counter fumbled with the code sheet trying to find the code for the eggplants - she seemed quite confused and after about a minute looked up and asked me: "Is this a zucchini?" I was so taken aback that someone did not know what an eggplant was that I was dumbstruck for a few seconds. Regaining my composure a few seconds later, I told her that it was an eggplant, but the horror of it stayed with me for quite some time. If a lady over forty did not know what an eggplant was (and clearly she also did not know what a zucchini was), then what kind of food was she eating? And what food was she feeding her kids? It's quite horrible to think about!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Even They Are Scared

I watch CNN a few times every day. Most of the news one hears these days is scary – reports of sieges, war, terrorism, an economic depression, political controversy, the energy crisis, global warming, fundamental religious groups, drugs, crime, violence… an endless list of unsavory and scary stuff. Every once in a while, when there is a lack of generally scary news, they’ll show us the exploits of a cat who sensed the carbon-monoxide in the basement and raised the alarm or of a funny cockatoo, but on the whole the reports coming into the newsroom are not what we want to hear. Even the music on CNN mirrors this. As CNN cuts back to the newsroom from the adverts, they play a very scary soundtrack – it’s the kind of music one hears on apocalypse movies when the human race is on the brink of extinction, or the kind that plays when Frodo and his gang are fighting the forces of evil in order to save Middle Earth. The music has always seemed very very scary and also very very familiar. I found myself wondering what it reminded me of. And this morning it struck me! It’s almost identical to the music played in the “Saw” movies when they recap Jigsaw’s bizarre and sadistic schemes that lead up to the usually horrifying and gory climax. Now, when CNN executives approved of playing such music to represent themselves, maybe even they (and perhaps especially they) were scared that most of the news that accompanies the music would also be scary! I wonder how long ago it was that scary and sad news was the exception rather than the rule.

Monday, August 18, 2008

No One Said It Would Be Easy

When I first decided to switch fields to psychology and get a Ph.D., I thought, "How hard can it really be?" Well, now I am finding out! I know now why it is such an achievement to get a Ph.D. I'm facing my Ph.D. qualifiers - an 8 hr exam this Friday. It's horribly unstructured - you show up and they could ask you anything - LITERALLY ANYTHING from the field of psychology. I'm studying as hard as I can, but with all my laziness and procrastination from earlier this summer, I think it might take a miracle for me to pass.

And after that I'll still have Oral Prelims, Internships applications and my Dissertation research and defense. GRRRRR. All of you who don't have to do all this - pity me, and spare me a prayer! All blog posts are on hold until after I finish the beastly exam!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Love Unspoken. Finally!! Finally!!!

I am excited beyond belief! For a long time after starting my blog, I looked for a video of Jeremy Brett singing love-unspoken instead of just audio, but I could not find it anywhere - I found photo compilation tributes set to the song, but did not find an actual video. Well, thanks to YouTube recommendations, I finally without even trying found it! The video is of an old TV program with Twiggy and Jeremy Brett. It's not all "Love Unspoken", which is only from 3:30 - 6:00, but you do get to listen to some other sterling performances by the two.

Isn't he lovely????? I LOVEEEEE him. Too bad he's dead, or else I'd send him some fan mail at the very least! Enjoy!

P.S. It looks like sometimes the video embed does not work. Try this link instead:

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Needs vs. Wants

Something that I used to do when I was younger to get me focused and motivated on my goals was a needs and wants list. I used to sit down, and write down everything I thought I should have subdivided neatly into two categories – what I need and what I want. This helped me get focused on what I really needed and helped me set my priorities in a way such that I first achieved/got what I needed and then focused my energies on what I wanted. For some inexplicable reason, I stopped using this wonderful system. I decided this morning to sit down again and do just that. And I came to a very interesting conclusion:

My “needs” list was minimal – and most surprising of all – it did not contain anything material! I think I need more motivation for my work, and more time; but as far as objects or tangible things, I don’t need anything! My “wants” list of course is jam-packed with materialistic things – larger home, more money, more travel… And while these things might make life more enjoyable, right this moment I do not need them. All those things can wait until I graduate and get a job. I’m pretty amazed! I racked my brains for a long time to think of something I needed, and I couldn’t. I also concluded that if I had to search so hard something that I needed, it was probably not something that I really needed anyway!

Now if only I could find that extra motivation!

P.S. I have begun reading “Clarissa”. It so happened that the ISU library has a limited edition of the complete and unabridged novels of Samuel Richardson in nineteen volumes. Of these, volumes 12-19 hold the whole of “Clarissa”. I got the first two volumes today and began reading. It’s a bit heavy going since the English of the 1700’s beautiful as it was, was also quite a bit more complex than it is today. This book has some of the longest sentences I have ever read – often conveying more than one or two thoughts. But what I thought was an absolute pity was that this copy of “Clarissa”, published exactly a century ago this year (in 1908) has never been read by anyone before. How do I know this? I found that many of the pages were uncut. (Books published long ago often did not have all the pages separated at the time of binding, and often the pages needed to be sliced apart at the fold in order to create two pages.) I was cutting pages as I was reading and I felt sorry that so wonderful a novel had gone unread by anyone at ISU for a whole century. I have a good mind to ask the library if they would sell me the books – it’ll most probably be refused of course because of stupid rules and things – it’s most incredibly exasperating! I’ve read six of the letters in this epistolary so far – and it’s absolutely delightful!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Twenty-Fourth Book

At the start of this year, I had resolved to read twenty-four books. I have already read twenty-three and have half-read two, which I shall not count. I had thought at first that since it is only the end of July, I shall easily be able to read at least five more. However, I have picked my twenty-fourth book - Samuel Richardson's "Clarissa". It was the longest novel in the English language for 200 years until "Mission Earth" was published in 1952. Following that, there were three other books published that are longer than "Clarissa", but none of them interest me - they're not the kind of fiction that I would read and enjoy. So, "Clarissa" it is!

"Clarissa" is a nine-volume epistolary, and I imagine that if I read it in its unabridged version, it will easily take me to the end of the year. So I think I shall end at my goal of twenty-four books. (Or maybe more, if I decide to take a break and read something shorter for a change - one book for five months is a bit much for anybody.) I begin as soon as the library can get it to me!

P.S. I just noticed that all my other posts this month begin with a "B". I considered calling this post "Book #24", but then thought better of it! Aren't I a rebel!!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Brideshead Revisited - Remade

It is 11:41 PM. I think I am going to be sick. I was watching that idiot Glen Beck – I hate him! But that is not what makes me feel sick. As the segment cut to the adverts, I was folding my laundry. On the telly, a movie preview ad was playing and I caught a very British voice saying, “… announce my daughter’s engagement to Mr. Rex Mortram”. I felt dizzy and had to sit down. They have remade “Brideshead Revisited”. I hate them – whoever it is who have done that. I knew that the movie was being considered for production, but I was not prepared for it to be ready and hitting Theatres this Friday! One of my favorite books remade into a piece of utter crap – less than three hours with all the relevant bits ruthlessly chopped off! Apparently, there is no screen time focused on religion, they have eliminated the story of Sebastian and Charles’ relationship, and of Sebastian’s relationship with his family. This new “Brideshead…” is about Charles and Julia! I hate them. I feel sick.

I have been astonished at people’s reactions to the book and it’s 1981 flawless production. It seems that this book brings out in people fears of their own insecurities. An atheist person of my acquaintance who struggled with his relationship with the Catholic Church believed that this book was an expose of the cruel grip that religion has on people – of Lord Marchmain’s acceptance of communion before his death, this person said – “Religion did not let him go in the end. It kept its cruel claws in, even at the very end.” Evelyn Waugh did not mean that – and he wrote as much. The point of the book is not to portray Catholicism in a negative light at all – after all Evelyn Waugh was a Catholic convert and a staunch and fervent follower of the Catholic Church – he would hardly have denounced it. I showed what Waugh had to say about this to this person, but somehow, he did not see it at all. Yet another acquaintance of mine – who has not even read the book or watched the mini-series labours under the misapprehension that this book is entirely about gay men. That astonished me at first – and then made me laugh. It made sense of course – this man has some serious internalized homophobia.

Why does this beautiful book appear so twisted to people? It isn’t twisted – it is complex, clever and amazing. And it is being butchered ruthlessly for the screen. I know I shall go and watch it if only to get angry and rant more about it! I do feel very very sick!

P.S. I have decided to add to the orinal post and say a bit more about the 1981 mini-series. It was a masterpiece - with a star-studded cast (though many were not really stars at the time) - Sir Laurence Olivier, Sir John Geilgud, Jeremy Irons, Anthony Andrews, Claire Bloom and Nickolas Grace (inimitably playing Anthony Blanche). You can check out the IMDB page HERE.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Beautiful Fantasies

Being a Ph.D. student, or indeed any kind of full-time student, has several disadvantages – one is more often than not poor, bogged down with school work and lives an exceedingly dull life. Is it any wonder then that wild Spring break vacations and copious amounts of drink and drugs are associated with students? After all, students all over the world have tried in vain to either liven up their lives by going over the top in sensory pleasure, or dull their senses to the commonplaceness of it all by indulging in mind-numbing activities. The opiate of every student is different – it is wild partying for many, or videogames, or obsessing over physical appearance, or dungeons and dragons, or ... The list is endless. For me it is books, movies, telly and the internet.

And what do I get from all these sources? The lives of others – characters who don’t really exist, celebrities who exist but live more fun lives in my fantasies than they do in real life, people I have never met and probably will never meet, fellow-bloggers who anonymously allow me the pleasure of reading their minds, online flirtations affording my banal life some spicy diversion… There really is something very child-like and innocent about the way I weave my fantasies in and out of the millions of other lives which will never really ever intersect mine. Just this morning, I invented a make-believe romance with Ben Badra - an actor I saw in a movie the other day. It was something out of Shakespeare, with touches of an Eastman color Hindi movie. Byron’s poetry was spouted liberally, and it prominently featured incurable wasting diseases and other similar tragic circumstances of epic proportions. It did have a happy ending – my dreams always do.

Having an over-active imagination is a wonderful gift, but I also often wonder if it is not my most painful curse. I am never ever going to meet Ben Badra, let alone find out we are compatible or fall in love. And I am sure he knows nothing of Byron and has probably never read Shakespeare. I also hope he never is plagued by the horrific diseases I nursed him back to health from. One day I am going to have a rude awakening from this world of make-believe romance and goodness. Most men and women aren’t heroes, and no one is completely good. The idea of romance for the next person is probably dramatically different from my unoriginal ideas that have been unashamedly plagiarized from books and television. One day I shall wake up and be completely grown-up and laugh bitterly at these ridiculous ideas. All innocent hope will be lost and I will never again dream of Ben Badra. And that will be worse than anything else. But I bet it will come someday – utter, complete disillusionment. But until then, Ben Badra is crazy about me!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Breakfast In Bed

I have never had breakfast in bed before. The very idea of having my breakfast in bed conjures up fantastic images of me as a rather colonial memsahib lazing in a colossal curtained bed until past ten in the morning, being woken by the rays of the sun filtering in through the blinds that have been drawn apart by a very subservient maid who then presents me with a huge tray full of steaming tea, a full English breakfast, the morning mail, the day’s newspaper and a solitary rosebud in a charming little blue bud-vase. Needless to say I have never experienced such luxury, nor do I think I ever will. I might be treated to some such pleasure by a handsome man as a romantic gesture, but that hasn’t happened yet. In any case, there is something very comforting as well as exciting about having one’s breakfast in bed, and I should very much like to have my breakfast in bed every single day. And since that does not show any indication of happening on its own, I decided to make it happen!

I woke up around 9-ish today (being a student has the sole advantage of affording one summers off, and consequently being able to rise late). I got up and made myself some breakfast, and then on a whim, pulled out a wicker tray that I barely ever use. I laid it out and took it to bed. It wasn’t exactly perfect – I had to be my own maid. There weren’t any filtered sunrays, but there was a shaded bedside lamp. There were no curtains, and my twin-bed can hardly be called colossal. I am vegetarian, so a full English breakfast is out of the question, and I had tea and toast with a couple of Marie biscuits on a paper doily, pineapple chunks from a can, and a multivitamin. My morning mail consisted solely of bills and pre-approved credit card offers that I had not felt tempted to open last night. The day’s newspaper was substituted by three-day old news in the form of Wednesday’s free paper. And the solitary rosebud in a blue bud-vase was represented on my tray by daisies I plucked from the garden and a sprig of rosemary sitting together in a tall shot-glass.

Food tastes wonderful when eaten in such a delightful fashion. And the three-day old news seemed vitally important and exciting. I even read some of the fine print on my bills! It was silly and ridiculous, but I was always one for make-believe. When we were children, I would draw elaborate treasure maps for my sister and me, and we picnicked on the terrace pretending to be fine ladies with flowery parasols. A little bit of make-believe is tremendously entertaining. Afterwards, I had to dust off bread crumbs from my duvet; but don’t you know - it was fun!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Berries From The Park

The little park close to my apartment has over the past year afforded me many joys. It’s too small for a running track, the children’s play area is tiny and unused and it has only one bench in it. Needless to say, it isn’t frequented too often by too many people. But to a reclusive person like me, it is a sweet haven of relaxation amid nature’s beauty. I often go walking there, go there to sit under a tree and read, or get a small take-away snack to eat on the bench in the shade. And every time I have to go to the grocery store, I try and walk though it. In the last post I wrote about picking berries off the tree and eating them. As I walked through the park today, I thought I should pick some and bring them home to enjoy as a dessert. And so I did. I thought I ought to take pics to post them here too. You can also see the book I am currently reading. A bowl of berries and Agatha Christie… pure magic. :-)

A bowl of berries at Hy-Vee - $3.00
A bowl of berries picked in the park - $0.00
A bowl of free berries for dessert and a lovely read to go with it – PRICELESS

Monday, June 30, 2008

I’m No Longer A Teetotaler

One of life’s little luxuries in my otherwise frugal and very often banal existence as a graduate student is my weekly consumption of a bottle of vino. For some inexplicable reason (I have various fantastic theories about this), I got out of the habit for about five months and fell back on the ever popular H2O interspersed with the occasional iced tea or lemonade. A few events happened which brought a dramatic conclusion to my life as a teetotaler.

Firstly, a couple of months ago, I received a beautiful gift – a crystal wine stopper that I have been dying to use. And then, a couple of weeks ago, I drank a couple of glasses of a beautiful Chilean red at a friend’s. A few days after that, I had a chance to enjoy a bottle of Robert Mondavi Pinot Noir – a bottle of which I had purchased before the dark wine-less months, and which I took to a party with me. And I experienced the joy once again of what it felt like to sip on a glass of wine from a sparkling goblet. Around the same time, I picked up a copy of John Mortimer’s “The Penge Bungalow Murders”, a Horace Rumpole novel. Readers of the Rumpole series will testify that on almost every other page, the celebrated barrister extols the virtues of that greatest of wines – Pommeroy’s plonk, on which Rumpole in his sagacity bestows the much nicer, but equally hilarious name of “Vintage Château Thames Embankment”. I’m halfway through the book, and the repeated mention of the good old bottle had the effect of propelling me in the direction of the nearest grocery store.

I wanted to try something I hadn’t tried before. And of course, I had to pick something that wouldn’t break the bank. Also, I resolved not to drink any more Californian wines – I may be too poor to travel to distant countries, but I can vicariously experience far-off lands through their bottled product. I still have a bottle of Mögen David Concord Red, which is unmistakably Californian, but that cannot be helped I suppose. Anyway, after about 15 minutes of lazy browsing, I picked out two wines:

• Georges Dubæuf, Red Beaujolais Wine, 2005 (France)
• Sommerau Castle, Riesling, 2006 (Germany)

The French wine was a steal since it was marked down from $11.49 to $5.49. And the Riesling was only $7.50.

My local Hy-Vee does not have a very wide selection of imported wines – at least not a wide selection of what I would buy and drink. There are some foreign wines that I will not drink because of their names. I refuse to drink at any price wines with names such as “Monkey Bay”, “Funky Llama”, and “Fat Bastard” (No, I am not making these names up). I’d much rather drink a horrible wine called Château something. Yes, I am a wine snob… sue me! Maybe I should try a real liquor store for a wider selection.

As I walked back home, I walked through the park. A mulberry tree was laden with ripe berries – no one seemed to want them. So, I stood under the tree, my wines in one hand, and with my other hand, I plucked and ate the sweet berries… Isn’t life beautiful?

Check out my awesome new wine-stopper. :-)

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Mystery and Romance

I came upon a most magnificent realization yesterday. I was reading a book of short stories by Dame Agatha Christie. They were detective stories that did not include her great set of detectives. Rather, they were tales of ordinary people who get enmeshed in the most extraordinary circumstances. However, reading her stories you would hardly think that the circumstances were extraordinary at all. In fact, it appears that danger, mystery and mayhem abounded on every street corner in her day, and that any unsuspecting passer-by could at any moment get embroiled in a spine-chilling murder or kidnapping. I also notice that every single one of those stories includes a rather klutzy young man who is often clueless about almost everything, but is called to exude machismo, charm and courage at the sight of a ravishingly beautiful damsel who is almost always extremely clever, but also extremely mixed up in some form of sinister trouble. Anyway, ten pages later, all is gas and gaiters again – the mystery is most satisfactorily solved with all the villains (usually jewel thieves, mysterious foreign spies or wicked relatives eager to usurp noble titles) securely handed over to the capable denizens of Scotland Yard, and our klutzy, clueless hero inevitably proposes to the gorgeous and grateful heroine.

That’s when the realization hit me – what one needs to do in order to find one’s soulmate is not to go in search of him, but rather to embark on a journey filled with danger, drama and scandal with a fair measure of good, old-fashioned crime thrown in. Sooner or later, usually on a train or in a tea-shop, one is bound to run into one’s dreamy hero. A few murders, a variety of poisons (cyanide, strychnine and arsenic are usually the best), some secret documents, a case of stolen diamonds, and half-a-dozen butlers are also extremely conducive to expediting matters in the romance department. You might think I am poking fun at one of my favorite authors, but that is not so – romance and danger go hand in hand in all famous detective fiction – Tommy and Tuppence Beresford came together joining forces against the 'Secret Adversary' in the Jane Finn mystery, had Harriet Vane never been accused of poisoning her fiancé, she and Lord Peter Wimsey would never have got together for an exciting domestic and detective partnership, both Dr. Watson and Captain Hastings would still be old bachelors had Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot never solved mysteries that plagued the fair ladies who were eventually to become the Mistresses Watson and Hastings. And Miss. Marple and Mr. Parker Pyne are also constantly called on to deliver their clients out of danger and into the arms of their waiting beloveds.

It is settled then – I plan on embarking on a most perilous journey forthwith. Know of any mysteries that need solving?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Flavorful and Spicy Feta Preserves

Despite the terrible midwest floods, and the generally bad weather these past weeks, Mother Nature has been kind to Ames and my plants - especially my herbs. Earlier this year, I planted mint, oregano, marjoram, rosemary and thyme. They are flourishing and fragrant right now. I have been liberally using them on pizzas, pitas, omelettes, and in curries and soups. I plan on bringing the herbs in for the winter, but I don’t think they’ll yield much during the cold months, so I will soon start picking them to dry and keep for using during the bleak Iowan winter.

Since the herbs were growing faster than I could use them up, I decided to use the excess herbs to make a Marinated Feta creation inspired by Jamie Oliver. So, I plucked a LOT of the herbs and dried them for two days – it’s surprising how much they shrink when they dry – I now completely sympathize with exorbitant dry-herb prices. And in 15 minutes yesterday, I whipped together a delightful bottle of spicy marinated feta cheese. It has to marinate for two weeks after which I will be able to use it – on toast, pitas, Greek salads, as a snack – anything.

It's delightfully easy to make it. Here's how:

Green Herbs – any combination – a handful.
Feta Cheese – 1 pound
Dried Red Peppers - 4 or 5
Extra Virgin Olive Oil – as required

1. Dry your herbs near any heat source. I placed them in my oven for two days. I used a handful – but they shrank to about three large pinchfuls, which was perfect.
2. Chop up the dried red peppers.
3. Spread the dried herbs and the chopped red peppers on a flat surface (I used my cutting board)
4. Break the feta cheese into large chunks. Lay these chunks on the spice-mix and roll around to coat the cheese well with the spices.
5. Pack the feta chunks tightly into a bottle. Throw any remaining herbs/pepper flakes into the bottle as well.
6. Pour olive oil into the bottle to cover completely – the tighter you pack the feta, the less oil you will use.
7. Let the feta, spices and oil marinate for two weeks to let the flavors infuse the oil and the cheese.

Once the mixture has marinated enough, you can refrigerate it. After you refrigerate the whole thing, the olive oil will thicken, and spreads delightfully, so in addition to the tasty marinated feta itself, you can use the flavored olive oil as a spread on toast etc. Enjoy!

P.S. On a completely different note, I watched The Kite Runner last night - based on Khaled Hosseini's 2003 book. I've been meaning to read the book, but decided to pick up the movie instead. It was an absolutely delightful movie. I highly recommend it. It has been a long time since I saw a movie so poingnant and beautiful. ~A.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Free Redbox DVD Rental!

Hello All,

Here's a promotional code you can use to rent a redbox DVD FREE!! The code is not valid for much longer, so the sooner you use it up, the better:



Friday, June 20, 2008

The First Day of Summer

Today is the first day of summer this year. (Many of you have probably already noticed, this on the news or on I thought I'd commemorate the occasion with a snippet of a poem...

"I love to rise in a summer morn
When the birds sing on every tree;
The distant huntsman winds his horn,
And the skylark sings with me.
O! what sweet company!" ~ William Blake

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Smart Dialogue and Bad Writing

Why is it that all the cops on TV crime shows are always constantly trading clever and witty banter? You’d think that the whole lot of them never talked like normal human beings. Although the likeliness of hearing such amusing and interesting conversation is practically zero, the actors on these shows make it sound remarkably realistic and natural. Chrissy more than anyone else – he makes it sound like he throws witty repartees at every person he comes across. No wonder I love cop/crime shows.

Someone who cannot make dialogue sound real is Anderson Cooper. I was watching a report of Cooper travelling through Africa in search of the root of several diseases that originate in Africa. Along with breathtakingly beautiful pictures of Africa, Cooper sent in pages of his diary – moderately good attempts at sounding poetic and artistic, but they sounded very very phony. Cooper is a reporter who excels at reporting facts not creative writing and IMHO he should stick to that. However, the pictures were lovely!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Busiest Summer Ever

It's happened again - I got busy and started to neglect the blog. If my blog were a regular diary of things that happen to me, I would post more often. However, I usually tend to have something to say about something before I post - my posts are usually about something or other. Occasionally, I'll have updates on here. This is an update post.

I have been more busy this summer than I have ever before been - with the possible exception of the time when I was studying for my engineering entrance exams, and even then the exams usually were held in May or June freeing up the second half of summer. This summer on the other hand has been and will continue to be exceptionally busy. Here is a list of things that I have on my plate this summer -

1. Teaching: I'm teaching a class M-F. Teaching every single day is taxing. Add on to that the fact that I have never taught this class before and need to prep as I go along. Thankfully I am teaching only for one month which ends this Friday!
2. Prelims: My Ph.D. qualifying exams are in August. If I fail, I don't get my Ph.D. And I need to cover EVERYTHING that has ever been contributed to the field of Psychology. Okay, maybe not everything - but at least everything in the past two years, and every major research article before that. This adds up to hundreds of articles and so thousands of hours. Sadly, prep in this area hasn't begun yet. I am waiting till I finish teaching before I even think of tackling this one.
3. Dissertation Proposal: If I don't want to be stuck in Ames for another year, I need to propose my dissertation by late September. I haven't even got my committee formed yet. And I need to do an exhaustive literature review. I also need to have the whole thing written and ready to go by the time the new semester begins in the Fall. The upside of this is that I am using a pre-collected dataset. The downside is that the dataset is messed up and I need to spend some time figuring it out. No prep in this area yet either.
4. Work: I need to survive - in today's non-hunter-gatherer terms this means I have to pay for food, shelter and cell phone. Being on a nine-month contract, I don't automatically get paid in the summer. Summer funding is very competitive and I have been lucky to get a 1-month teaching position and a 1 month research/administrative position. The teaching is almost at its end, but I still need to work an additional month at the counseling center - and this will eat into my prep time for prelims and dissertation. However, the upside to this is that I can set my own hours and so probably will end up haunting the counseling center hallways in the middle of the night.
5. Hobbies/Relaxation: With all the above going on, if I did not spend some time unwinding, I'd probably end up having a nervous breakdown. Relaxation for me includes telly, gardening, browsing the internet and reading. And these also demand that of which I have very little - precious, precious time!

There it is - the busiest summer ever. Hopefully - if I pass prelims, successfully propose my dissertation and get an internship, this will be my last full summer in Ames. A year after that, I shall be in full-time employment. It shall be the end of my student life, the end of research, the end of teaching, the end of working way past 5pm, the end of having to give up life's little joys for lack of time, money and other resources, the end of enforced frugality and the end of a lot of other unpleasant things. Oh, sweet, lovely thought!!

P.S. I now belong to the Counseling Psychology program Ranked #1 in the nation. (Check the link out: It's the FSP index indicating that Iowa State is ranked #1 among the Counseling Psychology programs. It's under "Social and Behavioral Sciences", and then under "Counseling Psychology".) I am part of an extremely competitive program. I have done exceptionally well within this program - I have had my pick of the assistantships and practicum opportunities, I have an unbelievably high amount of counseling experience for a student at my level. All this hard work I am doing must be worth it eventually. I pray to God every day that this will eventually lead to a brilliant internship and a plum job!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Launching my Blog-Enterprise

It’s that time of year again – the summer. And summer for a graduate student means low funds. 9-month contracts don’t go very well with 12-month bills. Now, the only thing apart from psychology that I know I am any good at is writing. It might not be spellbinding or spectacular, but I’m sure it’s definitely worth a glance at the very least. So, I’ve decided to market my blog. I am considering Google AdSense, PayPerPost and SocialSpark as possible ways of drawing income by doing what I like to do best – jabber on about myself.

What this means in terms of my blog is that ad links will start appearing on the sides of my blog. I will also do some sponsored reviews. And I’ll offer other blogging readers of mine incentives to review my blog on their blogs. It sounds complicated as I write about it, but I’m told it’s terribly simple. But overall, things won’t change much. If you are a regular reader of my blog, please keep an eye out for the changes and give me feedback about it. I’d like to earn some spare cash, but not at the cost of morphing my baby blog into something it is just not. TIA!

P.S. - Update on my grand money-making plans. Pay Per Post snubbed my blog in a record 2 hours. They said I had to have at least 10 posts in 30 days in order to be eligible. Now, I might reapply again when I get up enough steam to do that, but until then, I'm shelving this money-making-off-the-blog idea. Don't really know if I am happy or sad about this.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Free Money

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Alexander McCall Smith

I met him! This evening. After a whole month's waiting. I was in a Borders bookstore on the magnificent mile in Chicago last month, when I saw a sign advertising that Prof. McCall Smith was visiting. Right away I was terribly excited. Ever since I picked up a copy of the "No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" five years ago in Kansas City my graduating semester, I have been a fan of Prof. McCall Smith's simple, beautiful and soulful writing. With my temporary and completely unintended renunciation of books upon my arrival in Iowa, I did not read much more of his work until last year, when I read several volumes of his books. Most of the books I have read this year were written by him. Anyway, I had made up my mind that I would drive to Chicago if I had to in order to meet him. I checked online to see his schedule, and saw that he quite conveniently was coming to Des Moines! That was nearly a month ago. And I finally met him today.

It was at the Hoyt Sherman Place Theater. He walked onto stage and started off his talk with a hilarious joke. His voice was deeper than I imagined it to be, and with a curious accent that did not seem to originate from anywhere. I had thought that I would detect a pronounced African or English accent, but although there were hints of the latter, it wasn't terribly apparent. I sat back and enjoyed his fifty minute long, witty speech. After that he was interviewed by one of the Des Moines Public Library board members. Her pronunciation was atrocious! She pronounced Botswana - "BAATSWANA". Alright, most Americans don't really pronounce the "O" in words - "Hot" is pronounced "Haat", "Tom is pronounced "Taam" and other such stuff... but to call Botswana "Baatswana" is as bad as calling Iraq "Eye-rack", and Kenya "Keen-yah". She also pronounced Mma. Ramotswe, "Mamma Ramotswe". I felt a sense of outrage! But poor Prof. McCall Smith seemed to be taking it all in his stride.

And now comes the interesting bit (to me at least). Feeling rather angry and upset at the interviewer, I got out a bit early to queue up for the book signing. And I was out so early, I was the first in line. I had brought along my copy of "The 2 1/2 Pillars of Wisdom", and waited for the writer to come out. He did a bit later. He touched my shoulder as he walked past me to the center table and said, "Come, let's get your book signed." He shook my hand and asked me my name. He seemed a tad surprised at the book I had brought along, although I cannot think why. Anyway, I asked him if there would be any more Prof. von Igelfeld books, and he said that there would be. I was ecstatic. I told him that I thought his talk had been enormously entertaining and he sweetly thanked me for coming. He then signed my book - "For Asha, with warmest wishes, Alexander McCall Smith". And he shook my hand a second time, thanked me for coming and said he hoped I would enjoy the books to come. I was in a daze. It was the first time I had shaken hands with one of my "current sweethearts".

I drove from there to Ankeny to dine with Robin - in half a daze. So many firsts - first author-autographed book. First time meeting one of my favorite authors. First time (and probably will be the only time) meeting Alexander McCall Smith. Life is good. Check the quote section for a short excerpt from one of the Prof. von Igelfeld books.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Wanderlust (2nd Edition)

Alright, here is the update that is about two weeks overdue. Over spring break and the week after I went on a long, long road trip. Only the first week was planned. The second week’s travel was completely unplanned. Over these two weeks, I travelled to the largest cities in seven states. Here is what my two weeks looked like: Ames – Minneapolis – Chicago – Ames – Kansas City – Omaha – Sioux City – Sioux Falls – Fargo – Minneapolis – Ames. Now that is the granddaddy of road trips in my book. So, lots of driving, lots of new places, meeting interesting new people. Every now and then I’d feel like I was on an adventure. I met some people I might never have met, and visited some places that I don’t think I would ever visit unless I decided to do this trip. I learnt a lot about myself these past two weeks. Or rather, I discovered a lot of new things about myself and the way I relate to others that I hope will eventually lead to me learning a lot about myself. All in all it was an interesting two week holiday. And one that was hard to return from. Pampering myself for two weeks has burnt a hole in my bank balance. I also had loads of work piled up. But, what better way to spend time and money than on myself! When I began writing this post, I thought I would say a lot more. As I read it now, I don’t think I have said nearly as much as I intended to. Maybe I’ll be able to say it all better after some time has passed.

On another note, Omana Auntie underwent a massive heart surgery the week after spring break. And after nearly two weeks in hospital, she is back home and nicely recovering. All is well at home. All is well at work. I am at peace.

Monday, March 31, 2008


I've done a fair bit of travelling these past two weeks. Although I titled this post "Wanderlust", I must point out that I initially resisted the idea and the wanderlust in this case was contributed almost in its entirety by my travelling companion. Had he not been as excited about embarking on an unplanned road trip, I might have just stayed home. I will modify this post by and by and write more about my road trip when I am done catching up with two weeks worth of work that has piled up.

The reason I decided to post before the post was ready is because I have some exciting news to share. Exciting to me at least! Alexander McCall Smith is coming to Iowa! He is the author of eight of the eleven books I have read this year. I'm a huge fan of his and think that he is an absolutely brilliant writer! Although he is best known for his "No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" series of books (which I love and am an avid reader of), I believe that his best work is the "Prof. von Igelfeld" books which have to be amongst the funniest ever written. Mr. Smith is scheduled to attend an evening reception, give a lecture and do some book signing at the Des Moines Public Library. And I will have my very own signed copy of "The 2 1/2 Pillars of Wisdom". Isn't life a wonderful thing?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Out of Office

Hello All,

I'll be out for two whole delightful weeks - a protracted Spring Break. I have barely been posting anyway, but now shall not for a much longer time. When I return, I promise to write a LOT. This has proven (so far at least) to be a consummate annus mirabilis. And I do want to share it all with you.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Too Busy Reading

My reading goal for this year was twenty-four books – doubling last year’s resolution. That’s two books a month. However, I have got carried away and have read nine books already this year. I just finished reading “No Country for Old Men”, which I began the day before yesterday. Very interesting book. I can’t wait to see the movie. In fact, it was the fact that “No Country…” won the Oscar that made me go and check the book out. I have been reading every spare minute I get (as well as procrastinating in other matters). But I love every moment of it! However, not all my reading is as enthusiastic as it should be. “Lord Emsworth…” which I began last September still holds four unread short stories, and I am finding myself resisting reading “The White Company” because I cannot reconcile myself to any Conan Doyle that does not very prominently feature Sherlock Holmes. (That, and the fact that it is incredibly heavy-going).

Interestingly, I find myself getting more restive and restless these days. I wonder if that is because the banality of my everyday existence fades in front of the excitement of the lives of the people in the books I read. It’s possible. There is also lots of other stuff going on. I’ll post about it by and by. Right now, I’m off to another book. :-)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

St. Valentine’s Day

Exactly a year ago, on St. Valentine’s Day 2007, I was filled with a warm, exciting, carefree feeling of love. Love for myself, for the people around me, for nature, for everything I could think of… It had been a glorious day, and sitting in my lovely office as I waited for my next client to arrive, I thought about what life had brought me and what it might still have in store for me. For a few months before that day, I had been struggling with intense sadness and despair. But on Valentine’s morning I felt delightfully exhilarant. I had just returned from visiting my sister for her birthday, and was looking forward to a delightful four weeks of work before spring break when Nisha and I planned on taking another lovely trip somewhere. I felt immensely happy, and had a deep sense of joy and liberation.

When I was a child, I tried my hand at developing pen-friendships with people in faraway lands. I had hoped to share my life, my thoughts and my feelings with someone I did not know. I never did make any lasting pen-friends, but the urge to share my life still lurked somewhere in my heart. I wanted a witness to my life. I wanted someone to see what I saw and feel what I felt. I wanted someone to share my dreams, someone to watch me cry and watch me laugh. Not to console me, and not to live life with me, but just to watch – and view my life through my eyes. And I decided that whether there was someone to watch or not, I would share. That was how my baby blog was born.

For the most part, in bursts and spurts, it has chronicled my life. In several ways it has helped me through the process of healing from hurt, and given me a forum to rant and to celebrate with people known and unknown. I am twenty-eight years old, and never before in my entire life have I been able to look back on a year and remember as much about my life as I have done this past year, and as vividly. More even that the years when I journalled in my diary. I have accomplished so much this year.

This year marked my second Masters, my move out of Gateway Hills, the death of my first car, the purchase of my second, my first practicum outside the university, the making of a few cherished friends, extensive travel, the resurrection of my paper -journal, individual supervision, my first few semesters of group psychotherapy, the first semester when I did not take any classes, my taking up reading again, surviving a near-fatal accident, Martin Scorsese winning the Oscar, The Way of All Flesh, joy, sorrow, infatuations, nostalgia, pain and healing. And you dear Reader, have been witness to it all. Come, welcome another year with me.

P.S. I am aware that that last bit was very melodramatic, but I just could not resist.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


In one of Mira Nair’s films (I forget which), the female protagonist is bemused by the fact that most men think she is exotic and wonderful because they think being from India, she must be well versed in the art of Kamasutra-style love-making. And indeed the view of the general populace about Vatsyayana’s Kamasutra is that it is a detailed manual of sexual gymnastics. It was also my view until I began reading it. It was with hopes of great proportions that I began reading the Kamasutra. With virginal trepidation and guilty glee, I cracked open the slim volume (the original version, not the interpretive one), hoping to be transported mentally into a world of Ellora cave sculptures. Imagine my surprise then when I saw that these aforementioned sexual gymnastics form only a small fraction of the book! The Kamasutra is really much more a treatise on the code and ethics of courting and love-making than on the actual method by which people make love. Some of it is mildly erotic, and several chunks of it make sense in a vague way, but most of it is absolute rubbish.

For example, Vatsyayana lists numerous reasons why a man should seduce another man’s wife. All are stupid reasons, but this one takes the cake: “so that you can make her fall in love with you, kill her husband, and thus indirectly gain access to his wealth.” Here is another example: when a man wants to seduce a woman, but is unable to make his advances because of the presence of others, Vatsyayana recommends procuring a child and proceeding to kiss and fondle the child in the lady’s presence thus indirectly transferring the affection to the lady. Also, most of the Kamasutra appears to be based on deception of others. It is recommended that husbands deceive their wives and sleep with other women (whom also it is recommended that he seduce by deceit by doing things like faking illness so she would come and visit him), it is recommended that courtesans fake poverty to milk money out of their benefactors, that kings invite the wives of common man to the palace under some pretext and then proceed to seduce them... the list of deceptions is never ending. And, as you might expect, the Kamasutra is written entirely from the viewpoint of a man, and is about how man can derive pleasure from woman. The wife, as expected is supposed to be virtuous, unless she happens to be seduced by a more worthy man. Courtesans for some reason have been given full license to enjoy carnal pleasure as much as men do. The book is enormously confusing, but the most confusing thing of all to me is why it has become a byword for exotic sensual delights. That’s a mystery I never hope to be able to solve.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Critic

My first blog post this year… I feel compelled to post updates, but too much has happened and I can’t even if I tried to. School starts on Monday, and I am not looking forward to the end of my holiday. But other things are going well. I have already completed my first book this year, am almost done with two others, and have read a few pages of a fourth. I’m doubling last year’s resolution, and hope to read at least two books every month. I also have resurrected several of last year’s resolutions, none of which I will attain, so there really is no point in discussing them here. But I do hope I can post on this blog less sporadically than before. We’ll see…

I’m grinning as I write this – my blog now has an outspoken critic. This critic likened my blog to a teen magazine, said it was girly, and I think he might have implied that it was a tad silly and naïve, although I am sure he will deny that he implied anything of the sort. Now, silliness, naiveté, and frilly girliness are all things that I vehemently disapprove of and look down upon like a terrible snob. I’m always telling people that I hate such stuff, my beloved sister can’t persuade me to watch a chick-flick if she begged me for a month, and I like to believe that I am something like a liberated version of Jane Austen’s Anne Elliot with a wonderfully exaggerated intellect. And when the critic offered me this estimation of my blog, I staggered back in shock. I protested that it was nothing of the sort. “Teenage girl-like indeed! Anything but!” I objected. I considered adding an aggressive “Humph!” to bring home the extent of my disapproval of his opinion, but decided against it. Much as I dislike silliness, I think I find churlishness more objectionable. The wise critic smiled, “Who else would have a ‘current sweetheart’ section”, he asked “like a teen girl’s magazine?”

My witty comebacks froze on my lips. I flushed, and then saw. He was right. It was like the conversion on the road to Damascus! The astute critic had brought home in a few simple words something that I had failed to see. And it wasn’t just the “current sweetheart” section - it was also the blog posts, most of which as he rightly pointed out were testaments to the existence of a romantic in me which (he thinks) is beautifully feminine. And you have to admit that when someone puts it like that, it is very complimentary. And I rise to meet all such compliments with grateful alacrity. :-)