To Look up or Not to Look up: That is the question

I was yawning the other day as I walked into the office. It is not like I had not slept well. I had, in fact, put logs to shame with the night’s repose. Optimism was brimming as I went to bed early after setting an alarm for the break of dawn the next day. The alarm, helpfully titled,  ‘Fresh Air Beckons!’ , was to nudge me towards getting in a wisp of fresh air before the rigorous day got under-way. But I had snoozed the alarm and had slept on till my usual time. So far so good.

I opened my browser and I kid you not, the first article to attract my attention was this one: (The article told me, quite morbidly, that folks who sleep longer die sooner.) Well, it doesn’t quite say it like that, but you know – sleepy heads, still muddling about before coffee and all that. In my befuddled state, this was like an alarm. It certainly worked better than my ‘Fresh Air Beckons’ alarm and I bustled about after a cup of coffee, desperate to make amends.

I mean, with the internet, there are studies on studies and studies on no-studies, studies on sleep and studies on no-sleep, studies on exercise and studies on no-exercise. It can all be a bit much. As long as you feel energetic and feel like you are living a healthy lifestyle, equip yourself with knowledge but don’t dwell on them is my philosophy towards it all. I am not sure it is a great philosophy, but the fact of the matter is that what we know today ‘for sure’ can change tomorrow with another research article that argues the exact opposite with statistics. So, how am I to find out what is best?

Of course, there are advantages too, for you can backup anything with research. Shirking at home without exercising? Just find a study like this to assuage your guilt: Too much jogging the same as no jogging at all. Having done your part, you may now kick back and relax nibbling snacks of your choice. You just stamp pretty hard on that nagging squeak at the back of your brain telling you that you mis-interpreted the study.

You can do it with anything. Watch:

1) Prefer to turn your eye when cleaning beckons? Do you see socks lying everywhere, shoes waiting to be stacked, books waiting to be cleared away? No problem. Science shows people with messy desks are creative.

2) Feel like sleeping in late, and battling against what people have been telling you for ages about the benefits of being a early-riser? Find another research article. 

3) Got up early one day and feeling complacent and righteous? Casually toss out another study.

I wonder if there is a study on seeing why we need to feel validated by studies. Can somebody research the topic and let me know?

Smell the Phone!

Literature affects people in different ways. There is a reason I like light-hearted fare and uplifting works in general. Bear with me while I traipse down a familiar path.

I have noticed my literary fare of late has been morbid, laissez faire or tepid.  After one book that made me want to cry while looking at tomato soup, I picked up some books with jolly titles : books with names such as ‘The Happiest People on Earth’, only to find that the happiest ones are probably the ones that did not pick up that book. Classics, good old classics should always set me back, I thought to myself as I picked up some classics to smooth things over – they turned out to be so depressing that I could not bear to even have sunny-side-up eggs for breakfast. It seemed like I was letting the author down by smiling or watching beautiful Spring unfold around me.

I usually spice things up a bit in my reading. One morbid, followed by two up-lifting. Then, one that hurts the brain followed by two that hurt the jaws while laughing. But really! Why is uplifting fare not given its due? This necessity to cry and make others cry is appalling. Schadenfreude is what it is. I have written about this with a certain whim before and shall do so again.

What then should I have done? Fallen back to my tried-and-tested pick-me-ups? But I did not want to do that just yet. There will always be misery, problems and what-not. Literature can and should teach us to take the rough with the smooth with grace. We need more authors who embrace the stout heart and the practical mind with a dose of humor. If any body has authors firmly placed in that league, please let me know.

With spring in the air, I thought I would be spending time sniffing the flowers and admiring the trees, but I got to tell you, this depressing reading has taken its toll. I haven’t exercised much, I have managed to fill my days up with a whole list of should-dos and have neglected my must-dos. (Incidentally, I read this piece about should-dos vs must-dos that I thought I must share with everybody)

“This busy-ness is a malady.”, I cried as my husband and daughter rolled their eyes once more. I ignored it with a master stroke and continued, “What with the invasion of cell-phones and laptops into every aspect of our lives, our social lives blend with e-social, blend with the professional, where does one’s silly-side-up shine? Where does one get to be the person who stops to smell the flowers? “

smell the phone
smell the phone

My son took the iPhone, picked out a picture of the flowers and sniffed it. I started laughing.  That’s it folks, take the phone, smell the flowers and galvanize yourself to go out and embrace Spring. The sidewalk is filled with flowers if we stop to look and sniff.

Happy Spring while I go and read a wonderfully uplifting piece of work.

A bad rinse is good?

It had been a rather long journey for us.  We had already spent 13 hours on the bus. We had gone from (hot and sweaty) to (cold and hungry) overnight. The journey had been rocky and not, altogether pleasant. The bus had droned over endless hot, dry plains, before beginning its 3 hour ascent to the cool, refreshing hills in South India. It was 6 a.m. when the driver stopped for a break at a riverside village. “Vandi patthu nimisam nikkum” he shouted (The bus will stop for 10 minutes. )

Our knees looked like gnarled trees as we stepped out gingerly to stretch ourselves. I was happy to breathe in the fresh mountain air. We could hear a swift river flowing nearby and this small village was named after the river.


To add to the appeal, the fresh smells of Nilgiri tea wafted around us. The father and I made our way quickly toward it. The tea-shop was a shanty like any other on the route: A tin-roof, a couple of kerosene stoves and glass tumblers that were narrow at the bottom.  

The point is, there we were, sleep-walking towards the spot where our noses were leading us and our bodies shivering with the early morning cold. The father ordered two teas in his booming voice.  It was then that I stirred and noticed the men in the tea shop were clad in dhotis. The guy making tea was obviously a bossy sort, for he clicked his tongue at his helper. Distinctions were evident between employer and employee. The employee was a man, clad in a much-dirtier dhoti than his employer. I mean, if you are going to become this filthy, is there any point in wearing a white or cream colored dhoti? Why not just wear a brown towel or a tree bark and be done with it? Maybe it was their corporate dress policy, I thought to myself and settled into a sort of stupor again, my mind wandering. What if he wiped his hand on his dhoti and then put his fingers into our tea-cups? It happens all the time. Should I say something or risk it and down the life-saving and hope it would not become the life-taking in this case?

The teashop near the hills and river
The teashop near the hills and river

I peered into a vast vat with what seemed like steaming hot, very watery tea and said, ‘This isn’t the tea is it?” The father peered in looking worried. You don’t drink 100’s of cups of tea for nothing. When you peer into pots of murky liquid that you suspect is tea, it doesn’t make very good tea. I hesitated before asking the man – you see these chefs can be picky blighters. You look dubiously at their tea, and the next thing you know, they behave like recalcitrant mules on a mountain path and refuse to part with a biscuit packet, marketed by Parle-G.

I was trying to see how to put things tactfully (I can’t say I have progressed much over the years), when the bossy bloke bellowed to his helper, possibly the sous chef in the establishment.  The disgruntled helper, or sous chef, wiped his hands on his dhoti and then plunged his hand into the vat I suspected to be tea and extracted a few glass cups. I mean! What? Had I not caught myself, I might have fallen over backwards in a neat scoop. The s. chef, however, noticed nothing and bustled about with his work. Having extracted the glasses from the muddy waters, he wiped it dry with a piece of cloth that would have given food inspectors in the western world a heart attack and deposited the cups on the counter for the tea.

The father and I exchanged deep looks packed with meaning and I saw the light of resolve and understanding dawn in the father’s eyes. His eyes had the it-is-a-simple-matter-of-education gleam in them. Once a teacher, always a teacher. He said to the pair of them, quite politely in my opinion, something to the effect of washing the cups in flowing water before offering us tea in it. Washing, he said, does not happen in stagnant water that looks like tea.

The disgruntled helper or sous c. growled. “Saar! It is washed!” he said

My father appealed to his inner teacher once again and explained that washing dirty cups in dirty water still leaves the cup dirty.

It did not go down well. The sous chef now looked like a sulky sous chef.

Saar! All washed Saar. I wash again.”  He smartly picked up the cups and dipped them into the same water again. I moaned. The father moaned and the chef groaned. Maybe the code of conduct with respect to washing cups had been gone over several times in his training, but had not registered much like the corporate dress policy.

“Flowing water pa! You must pour water over the cups and wash them. Otherwise, all the dirt will be in the cups too. What you want is to go for the clean effect of flowing water. Remember your town was named after flowing clean water from the river.“

What happened next could try the soul of the most optimistic teacher, for the man, simply plunged his hand into the water, took a cup and filled it with dirty water and poured it over another cup and washed it. He beamed freely at this bit of going-the-extra-mile-for-the-customer while we cried in our hearts.

“Clean water my good fellow. Clean water!” cried the father, while the helper stood there looking confused.

I noticed with a sort of sinking feeling that the father’s voice being a stentorian one, all tea-makers in the little river town on the mountainside heard this little altercation, thereby dishing our chances of picking up tea elsewhere.  I tugged the father’s sleeve to let things be and asked to buy a bottled water. I then smartly poured a little bit of water on the cups and then asked for the tea in them.

I had, of course, affronted everybody by doing this. The father, for he felt that he now had to explain Economics to his daughter (Who spends Rs 20 on bottled water to wash teacups  when the tea costs Rs 5 each?)  The chef and sous chef cried too, for they never understood why folks bought water in a bottle in the first place, when it could be had for free in the river. To use good money to wash already washed cups was just excessive. They probably went home that night and lectured their children about not becoming obsessive and how a little bit of grime and dirt never hurt anybody.

As it turns out, they may have been right.

I quote from the article:

The findings are the latest to support the “hygiene hypothesis,” a still-evolving proposition that’s been gaining momentum in recent years. The hypothesis basically suggests that people in developed countries are growing up way too clean because of a variety of trends, including the use of hand sanitizers and detergents, and spending too little time around animals.

Squeaky clean dishes contribute to lower immune systems and therefore higher allergies.

P.S: The episode above happened about 20 years ago, but the mind has a way of resurfacing old snippets when it reads something new.

Who is a Super-Hero?

It was ‘Profession Week’ at the son’s pre-school. It is at times like this that you feel like a celebrity if you are a fire-fighter or a policeman. Imagine drawing up to the school-yard in your impressive red fire-truck and talking about your average day to a bunch of star-struck toddlers. I would have loved to do that. Only I am neither a fire-fighter nor a policeman. I work as a software engineer and as far as glamour appeal goes, computer engineer is as low as it can get on the toddler ladder of professions.


It did not help matters that another computer engineer had already been in to see them the previous day. The son told me that they ‘already knew all about laptops’. What, he wondered, could I have to say that they did not already know in the field of Computer Science? I felt my spirits sink a bit.

Let’s suppose you are practicing to perform at a concert. You spend a good amount of time getting your voice modulation and crescendos just right for that perfect rendition of ‘Let It Go!’. You then gingerly move on to the stage, hoping that your confidence will build up with the song’s tempo, and belt out your best attempt of the sensational ‘Let it go!’. You survey the audience (100-watt bulbs pale in comparison) as you beam around, only to find that the audience is slightly scornful and mutinous. You then learn that three performers before you had already rendered that very song. The first one got a thunderous applause, the second a warm hand because, well, who doesn’t like an encore? The third : a polite, but appreciative nod, and the fourth absolutely gets the bird. The fifth will probably get eggs and potatoes. The whole thing reminds me of an excellent short story penned by P.G.Wodehouse on these very lines: Sonny Boy (,_Beans_and_Crumpets)

Judging by the response I got, I was in the position of the lucky fourth performer and not the fifth. I beamed around the class and spoke to them about all the wonderful uses of computers and how even their toys and favorite movies are made using computers. I gasped to make them gasp. I spiced up my lines. I threw in guffaws. I went on about how computers are used to send rockets to outer space and some children were mildly impressed. I got to tell you, this was a hard group.

My brow was beginning to sweat a bit. I mean, every place in the talk where I thought I would get an impressive-something was a complete washout. I felt like a sad stand-up comedian getting no laughs out there. It was brutal.

“So, anyone wants to be a Computer Engineer when they grow up?” I asked, with that falsetto ring of cheeriness.

One boy put up his hand. I pounced on the gesture with enthusiasm. I said, “Oh wonderful! There he is. He wants to become an engineer. That is great!”

An older child might have humored me and let things be, but not this boy. He shrugged and said, “NO!” (I really don’t think that vehemence was necessary) “I want to be a super-hero!”

I gulped a bit looking quite the ass. I mean, my ecstatic smile was frozen on my face and I tried to salvage the situ. by  laughing some more. But it came out sounding like a dog learning to laugh from a hyena.

One child, bless her, raised her hand.  “Yes! She has something to say. Do you want to become a computer engineer dear?”

She turned away, with a bored expression on her face and said , “Policemen save lives.”

I mean if you are looking for nobility….

The teacher must’ve taken pity on me for she said that doctors, policemen and super-heroes use computers to help them . It was at this point I noticed the other teacher straightening some of the kids saying, “We want to sit on our bottoms and listen to her, not lie down on our tummies.”

I tottered out. Dreams of inspiring the younger generation forsooth!  I mean to say, in a 10 minute talk, I was already getting otherwise active 3-year old children to lie down? How their teachers managed to keep them interested and learning for the whole day is beyond me. You want to know who the true super-heroes are? Those teachers. If I were in a profession that wore a hat, I would tip it to Teachers.

P.S:  The irony is probably half that class will land up becoming Engineers of some sort.

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