19 July 2012

The devil in the numbers - 33

It was my mother who reminded me of the post I write at the time of my birthday, confirming that I have at least one faithful reader! 

I have become less detached about my birthday in the last few years and I do wonder if it's detachment or denial. My hair has grayed and rather than giving me a distinguished look, it gives the impression that I use bleach not shampoo as my cleanser. My body is getting chubby and I can no longer claim to have a metabolic state where what I eat has no affect on me. These physical changes don't bother me much though as I decided long ago that in my lifetime, I want to look my best at 50. It helps to have a long term vision. 
Other changes though are less apparent. For one, my ovaries are probably getting through the last third or so of eggs, which forces an important question - how much do I want my genetic legacy to be conserved? I am missing some evolutionary mechanism as a need to procreate has not yet arisen. The expiration date of my eggs though means that at least temporally my window for decision-making is short. It's an interesting dilemma. Science and technology have increased our longevity so we can really stretch out phases of living. 40 is the new 30 they say. Ho hum!

I think one of the strangest thoughts on my birthday though was what I thought I would become by the time I reached this age. Funnily, my mind is a blank. While I clearly recall at 20 what I wanted to be at 25, I have no recollection of ever thinking about my thirties. In fact all I do think about in my 30s is what I want to be doing at 60. The good thing about not having expectations is that I am neither disappointed nor overwhelmed with my achievements. It is nice to be happy and content, and this is an ambition that I never thought was important enough to spell out. You spend much time when young thinking about what you want to study, to become, to practice... but you never tell yourself that being mindful and together is a goal. You assume happiness just follows if you meet all your ambitions. Well, on my birthday, this was my epiphany - that despite not meeting the criteria of success by popular social indicators, my content and happy state of mind is all the ambition that I probably need and it's lovely that it is fulfilled. 

The pictures are of chorla ghat, swapnagandha valley, goa - the birthday weekend getaway to enjoy the monsoons in the western ghats. 

8 July 2012

No last name

"Do not judge a book by its cover."

We learned this in school and yet, everyday we let our minds make immediate assumptions about people based on their dress, speak and mannerisms. This was one of the hardest things for me to understand and then take into account when I started to work in a team in India. The nice thing about America was that you were granted the benefit of the doubt as far as your character assessment went. You were free to shape an opinion of yourself in other people based on your interactions with them; while your past could be used to colour your personality landscape, it was just a little dab of white. In India, regretfully, I feel that we do not do this. From marriage alliances to rentals to office interviews, a thread of prejudice remains. 

We carry around a format of how the world should be and each person we meet has to fit into a personality type defined by our cultural and moral perceptions. Veg vs non-veg; brahmin vs non-brahmin; south-indian vs north-indian; muslim vs hindu and the list is endless. Each of these items forms part of our mental list and is given a certain weight depending on our view of the world. I believe that we do this so unconsciously that we don't even realize it. Often I have had to catch myself from using my list to make up my mind about people. I have also been at the other end and I know that there's a breakdown in this checklist when I announce that I have no last name. Because nestled in that innocuous question, is an entire sub-section of items which cannot be immediately answered, but would have to be drawn out of me. And I, devious and devilish, do not wish to be categorized so I make all attempts to be truthfully evasive.  

Where were you born? In Rajasthan. We moved about a bit as kids since my dad was in the Air Force and fiercely non-traditional, my father insisted that my sister and I be born where he was stationed as opposed to my mother being sent to her parent's home. So, this too is a dead end. What's your mother tongue? My mother speaks six Indian languages fluently, but she counts in Hindi. No, no, what's your native language? Oh, that would be English. No, no, what is your house language? Kannada. You don't look like a south-indian. By this point you can be sure that I have already found a niche in their people-canvas. Ah, but now the tricky part where questions cannot do. How to reconcile how I look, speak and gesture with the fact that I am a no-last name south-indian who speaks Hindi fluently? The tactless ones will also remark about the colour of my skin not fitting in with the profile. The interrogation now takes on another hue to  determine my social pecking order. Veg or non-veg? Both. Siblings? One. Married? Yes, to a Sikh. The plot thickens. Are you from Bangalore? Yes. Which part? Indiranagar. Now some mental arithmetic follows where these are computed in the person algorithm. Beep. Bo. Beep. Enter. 

A smile follows. Despite the absence of a last name, I'm not a threat to their world view. Ah, but if only they knew my secrets...