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Oh, Calcutta!

Of our five senses, touch made the first appearance as I stepped out of Calcutta’s NSC Bose Airport and into the smog-filled road. The smothering heat palpably sank into my skin. The swampy air lingered around my face as sweat beads immediately started to form on my nose and forehead. Time seemed to stagnate as we stood in the heat awaiting the car that would take us home.

My mom and I had journeyed for a total of 30+ hours and were primed to lay down and expand our legs. We had left our Arizona home at 4:00 AM on a quiet and windy Monday and had arrived in India at around 5:00 AM on a noisy and sweaty Wednesday. The two hour drive home from the airport included abrupt stops and bumps as the car hiccuped through the crowded streets of Calcutta. Throngs of people lined the roads, and jaywalking was no stranger to them. I quietly listened to my mom and my uncles enthusiastically quip and banter while my gaze remained outside the car in order to soak up as much of the city as I could. I only had two weeks to chisel my memories to last me the next four years. Not only were these trips to the motherland becoming more and more sporadic, but they would also now be limited to only a few weeks (due to being an adult and having a real job). And although I’ve never considered myself nationalistic in any sense, I did let an ounce of pride seep in during my visit because Calcutta had never been more beautiful.

Calcutta is a collage. In fact, Calcutta is the Indian equivalent (not that it requires a frame of reference to strangers) of New York: a melting pot of culture and language. The streets host a variety of shops and houses for people from all different walks of life. Although social stratification still continues to exist, fluidity within the classes is more prominent. The lower class neighborhoods are filled with tin roofs and low-ceiling shanties while the upper class neighborhoods have endured the bulk of the British influence. As the capital during British rule, Calcutta maintains quite a bit of Western-inspired visual aspects as well as road names (patriotic pride crept in around 2001 and Calcutta’s name was changed to Kolkata to align with its proper pronunciation). Most of the buildings are tinged with Victorian architecture and giant, flaming red Krishnachura trees loom over them. Cobblestoned streets complement the wrought-iron gates that are prevalent throughout the winding alleyways of Kolkata. Juxtaposed among the western-influenced buildings live the more run-down shacks and shops selling mostly the counterfeit, cheap items. Yet, bouquets of beautiful white and pink flowers still bloom next to these conventionally unpleasant establishments. It is easy to derive Kolkata’s aesthetic pleasures solely from the tall modern buildings, but the unrefined, simpler architecture offers a refreshing dose to the visual palette. Unfortunately, Kolkata suffers from pollution, poverty, and overpopulation, which inevitably leads to unattractive traffic congestion and a frustrated public. Nevertheless, I found myself more in love with the city than ever before.

The first few days in Kolkata consisted of tagging along with my mom as she ran her luxurious errands throughout the city. Our first stop was ByLoom, a quaint cove of hand-woven tunics and saris tucked away in one of the many back alleys. The employees of the store surprisingly remembered my mom’s visit from two years ago. Their cozy hospitality led us to buy a Calcutta-print sari with red double decker buses running down the body, a mesh red with black net blouse, a printed blue and red palazzo, and a few more printed wraps. The next stop was Fabindia, the more contemporary counterpart to the snug local ByLoom. Fabindia is a chain store that similarly sells hand-woven textiles and garments, which is probably why the stores are relatively close to each other. The rooms that dwell in Fabindia are expansive and cold, and the employees of the store are ever-changing, lending to their standoffish customer service. Yet, my mom paid no heed to the general apathetic atmosphere. She was on a mission with limited time, and thus, we finished our errands there. Having exhausted our shopping energy, my mom and I intuitively entered a restaurant called Bedouin to recharge and indulge ourselves in one of my favorite foods in India: fried rice and chilli chicken—a seemingly atypical meal for an Indian city, but a taste that I have found nowhere else.Oh, Calcutta!During my last week in Kolkata, my bowels decided to rebel without a cause. Illness took over, and I found myself consumed in books. Within the two weeks I had been in India, I finished three books (a record for me). Still ill, I left the house for the first time since my last excursion to walk up to the terrace. From the terrace, numerous buildings could be seen, which were usually covered in a blanket of gray smog. Yet, that day, the buildings were dripping in the hues of the warm orange sunrise, while the sky was lined with aimless wisps of clouds. The taller, more established buildings and flats hung back in the mild blue shadows, reluctant to meet their more colorful rural counterparts. The exteriors of some of the buildings had lost their synthetic pastel and fluorescent colors and instead took on their original earthier tones. But almost each terrace had clusters of green flora littered haphazardly throughout their terrace floors almost to compensate for the otherwise lackluster color. A few of the terraces even fitted a full-blown greenhouse.

The view from the terrace partially satiated my cravings to roam the city. Sadly, my sickness prohibited me from straying any further than 10 feet from the bathroom. Luckily, along with the homeopathic pills, I also received heavy doses of conversations rich in family values. I realized that the aspect of community bled though each and every story exchanged, and I wished it would serve as significantly in my life as well. This particular brand of community takes its form predominantly in “adda”—enriching conversations that take place among geographically, economically, emotionally, and politically close-knit groups. The concept of “adda” goes well beyond its pure definition, however, and that is evident in the fact that it reserves its own wikipedia entry. “Adda” culture provides an environment for intellectual discussion as well as leisure gossip, and most importantly, is notably inclusive. But, ultimately, this Kolkata-exclusive culture ensures a sturdy backbone for the families who are not blood-related and allows one to feel well-connected and safe. Unfortunately, I have been searching for this facet in a place where that is advised against under the guise of “individuality.” What America sees is the sugar-coated concept that is most often accompanied with a repressive, conservative, gossiping community (partly thanks to Bollywood movies and the general media).

Yet, I found Kolkata to be surprisingly more liberal and progressive than the previous time I visited. There are definitely components that feel restrictive, but I have to remind myself that I am comparing it to America. And let’s be honest: Western civilization is not the benchmark for progress (as reiterated by Big B’s character, Bhaskor Banerjee, in Piku). This is something I tend to forget and have noticed that my family in India does as well. It’s easy to consider myself privileged because I have, without a doubt, had access to numerous facilities that have eased and placated my life to a degree that I can no longer fathom. However, it would also be wrong of me to think that my counterparts here in Kolkata are by any measure underprivileged because they did not enjoy the exact aspects of America that I did. Our lives are distinctly different, and I think that’s how it should be seen. Not everything needs to be measured against each other. America is established on the basis of individuality, and thus facilities are organically born to enhance that mechanism. India, on the other hand, is based on community, and likewise, certain structures are in place to aid this inherent value. More importantly, it would be a great disservice to my family to conclude that Kolkata does not believe in autonomy at all. In fact, most of my family members are self-governing agents who also operate in community-like groups. And that balance has been the biggest takeaway from this trip.

Arriving in Arizona to its arid heat could not have been more depressing. Not only was the climate the exact opposite of what I had experienced in Kolkata, but the noise pollution was also nonexistent. Everything was muted (probably also in part because my ears had plugged themselves during the flight’s descent). I enjoyed the general loudness in Kolkata and knowing that it was always alive and full of people. Arizona’s quietness was a stark reminder of how much time I would have to spend alone. I knew it would take just a few weeks to be fully adjusted back into the independent life I enjoy in Phoenix. Yet, I still couldn’t help but feel a strange sense of homesickness upon landing in Arizona.

I have been doused with a refreshingly new set of values during this grounding trip (as dramatic as that may sound). All I can do now is retain that until the next time while reveling in the memories I have created. Although I never was able to eat the coveted phuchkas this time, my trip was still nothing less than wonderful. And, of course, a trip to Kolkata is not complete without multiple mysterious red bumps on your arms and legs, half of which are undoubtedly from mosquitoes. The other half is a parting gift from Kolkata for your pleasant visit.

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Still in San Diego

Days 2&3:

Rainy nights, throbbing headaches, snoring dads. That’s what little trips are made of. A surprising amount of personal space is given up during this trip. We are all crammed into Tinni’s old 10 x 10 bedroom where Tinni’s dad currently has his office set up. My mom self-allocates the bed for herself and me, while the floor is designated for my dad and my brother, which they are both satisfied with. It takes me forever to fall asleep with my dad’s inconsistent snoring. Every time I get used to a certain snore pattern, my dad switches it up. Sometime in the middle of the night, I notice that my mom has completely usurped the blanket. The next morning, I wake up to find Tinni’s dad working at his table with his second laptop on the edge of the bed. I stay still for a while, eavesdropping on the parents’ conversations downstairs and watching the rain hit the window and decide that I should quietly check my privilege before going down for breakfast.

Yesterday and today have been indistinguishable from each other. Yesterday, we went to Ocean Beach, ate at Thai Bistro, and came home to laze around and watch old horror flicks. Today, we went to the mall, ate at an Indian Chaat place, and came home to laze around and nap. A few movies here and there, passing comments about weight and a whole lot of politically incorrect remarks later, here I am, still trying to count my blessings. But, it’s getting a little tiring to be at the age of 21 and still be restricted to go downtown at four in the afternoon. It’s getting a little tiring to be told where to enjoy my coffee and what to wear. It’s getting a little tiring to have such limited access to the wholesome freedom that I regularly take for granted.

After giving myself a mini pep talk about being excited about waking up in a different city, I sit up in the bed. I can’t romanticize this San Diego trip the same way I did the LA trip. That’s my issue. I came here with the wrong set of expectations. Had I come here with my friends, my expectations would be more appropriate. I stare at my brother who had been summoned to wake me up and struggle to find my glasses. Then I stare at the blurry figure that is Tinni’s dad and am frustrated all over again. I pointedly apologize as I get off the bed and am surprised by his sweet response. He is probably the one and only parent who tells me to sleep for as long as I want. That’s also probably because he makes very little effort to be selfless. Nonetheless, he asks me about school, and we have a strangely delightful conversation about circuits, which is something I never thought I’d ever be writing about.

It will be a New Year in three and a half hours, and I am currently waiting to pee out the last of the liquid in me before I get into the romper that is impossibly difficult to unzip. I have dropped my apathetic act and am ready to glam out for the new year. Surprisingly, I have no one to dress for as I am sure I will be surrounded by people I will have just met as I bring in the new year. But, I have weirdly adopted that thing where you dress for yourself. And I am quite happy about that. So, happy new year all!

HELLO SAN DIEGO!

Day 1:

Somehow, a five and a half-hour trip to San Diego turned into a seven-hour trip due to overactive bladders and voluminous appetites. But to me, that was a blessing. I embraced each and every pit stop and each and every traffic jam. It’s not that I was particularly uninterested in going to San Diego. In fact, I’m always excited for a change of scenery and doubly excited to see old friends. Yet, right as we crossed the California/Arizona border, my mind flipped, and I longed for my bed.

Now that we’re all finally here and our initial excitement has simmered down, the atmosphere has suddenly become very banal. We’re all at different stages in our life despite being only a year or two apart. And with the toddlers around, we haven’t had the time to embrace the hearty, soul-warming chicken soup talk that usually follows such reunions. And with the ever so ubiquitous nature of smartphones, we all seem to be consumed in our social network lives. It’s almost as though we’re living inside of our phones and our outer shells are controlling us with little rectangular pieces of aluminum.

It’s funny to think that about ten years ago, we would have made the most out of these infrequent visits to do the most imaginative things possible. Now it seems like we have all become codependent on things such as phones, drugs, and/or alcohol. I asked Tinni what we could do, and she suggested smoking marijuana with her friends or seeing the shroom mountains, which are essentially giant graffitied rocks. I’m not judging those choices by any means. I’m just saying that maybe there are more inclusive activities we can partake in considering this is a family trip. Ugh I just want to go try coffee places and am bitter that that mini dream will not be realized during this trip.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that everything takes a little time to get into the groove of (or something like that). So, I’ll probably enjoy this by the time we leave. I’ll keep you posted.

Beep Beep Boop, It’s Been a While

Rather than spending an entire paragraph and a half about mindless meta shit about this blog itself, my rambling might actually lead to something interesting.

Conflict resolution is not my forte. In fact, it’s clearly my Achille’s heel. I can rant up a storm. But I can never confront conflicts. I’ve tried, but I can never leave with a sigh of relief. That sigh of relief hangs over my head as my main objective when I try to relieve a contentious point of frustration with someone, which is usually exacerbated by my general affinity towards procrastination. I let the anger and frustration compound until vignettes of ancient incidents of sorrow and grief goad me into finally deciding I need to talk to said someone. By that point, I fear that my curbed anger will let loose, and I will say or do something I will regret. But, the opposite happens. All that suppressed outrage oozes out in a sugar-coated wafer of intimations. I start supplying justifications for the opposite party and become all too understanding. I stuff the remainder of my bitterness in little pockets in my mind and reserve them for later. The residual sourness ends up being the bulk of my woes, and I don’t think I will ever be able to get them out of my system to their full capacities. Sometimes, I dare myself to mutter them under my breath or maybe even sputter them out while intoxicated, but that has yet to happen.

I often resort to writing emails. It helps me sort out my thoughts and phrase things in a way that I feel will not only convey my message but also make it clear that I am disgruntled by an event. Unfortunately, writing emails also makes me feel like I’m 12. On top of that, my anger materializes in words and gets archived right as I send off that email, and I don’t like that. So what’s the solution?

A shot of vodka will suffice as a temporary solution until I think of something better. Having written this out makes me feel better as well. And at the end of the day, as sappy as it sounds, I know it all goes back to my insecurities. But, I have been trying so hard not to let that affect me. Maybe I need professional help.

Also, I had serious thoughts of posting this, but I thought about it. I always censor myself when it comes to sad posts even though, objectively speaking, it is an emotion just as happiness, so why hold it back? Can’t really go into this now because the tipsiness is wearing off, and as the age-old adage goes: I have homework to do.

An Iced Toddy, Please

After sifting through a few different shoddy internet connections, I decided to settle for Cartel’s, which was probably the worst of them all. But with their addictingly delicious drinks and urban, industrial-chic interior, they’ve turned me into a regular customer. I make sure to drink at least one cup of coffee there per day. If I stay there long enough, which I usually do since the couches in the back are more conducive to being productive than the couch at home, I’ll even order some more drinks. Sometimes, I’ll even supplement a cup or two more from Dutch Bros, a neighboring sub-par coffee place. I’m pretty sure I consume more caffeine than I do water. Don’t be surprised if my next post is about how I’ve been dealing my newfound kidney infection (Upon spending an hour actually reading up on caffeine-related health risks, I have learned that overconsumption does not explicitly lead to a kidney infection). In fact, I looked at my online money map the other day and noticed that I went over my designated coffee budget by 1062%. Obviously, with my caffeine-infected judgment, this only meant I had to raise my budget for coffee. And that’s exactly what I did. Anyway, I started this post intending to write about something completely different, but after I asked the barista today if I should try something new, and he said “Nah,” and just handed me an iced toddy, I realized that my coffee addiction needed attention. So, friends, please intervene and help.

Late-night Ramblings

I’m writing because I can’t sleep. I’ve been meaning to write something for a while since I last posted, but I didn’t have anything worthwhile to say. This semester has been pretty uneventful and all sorts of miserable.

I have come to the unfortunate conclusion that I am squandering my life away. I am studying a subject that I am completely uninterested in. And no matter how much I try to fake it, I still have not made it. That’s because I ooze apathy every time I crack open a book. I have to give myself pep talks before I can begin my homework or lab assignments. I dread going to class.

I like to believe that an individual has the capacity to learn any subject as well as he or she wants. However, a big factor in this ability to soak in knowledge is interest. And that is something I grossly and wrongly overlooked when I undertook this major. This could not have been made clearer this semester. I get it. Lack of interest is exceedingly inhibiting. But I’m more than halfway invested in this endeavor both money and time wise. So, what now?

I looked for potential exit signs throughout the semester, but my crippling self-esteem always found a way to stop me. So, I stayed on the safe route. If I could manage to finish and get a job, I could use the money to fund my true passions. That had always been the plan, which, in retrospect, is the stupidest fucking plan ever. And it spurred from the initial thought that my ideal future would simply land on my lap. I was hellbent on this idea, which made it easier to imagine. But, I realized that I’ve never truly put myself out there. I’ve never even truly disclosed what it is that I want to do in the future. And maybe part of the reason why is because there are so many things I would ideally pursue. But I am such an edited version of myself when I present myself and go through the daily motions of life. I am petrified by the thought of others judging me in any way. It seems like I should’ve shaken this fear off by now, but somehow it has managed to cling on to me like a pesky leech. And this has made it impossible for me to do anything productive or creative for fear of failing. I even shy away from writing sometimes. But I absolutely can’t imagine doing what I’m studying for the rest of my life. I’d rather be a failed, but struggling writer than a successful engineer. And by the looks of it, I’m probably going to be a failed engineer.

It’s probably the four shots of espresso talking at this point, but I think the four shots of espresso have helped clear my mind of almost all the self-doubt. The four shots of espresso have made me realize that at the end of the day, I need to make myself happy. The four shots of espresso have kept me awake to help me conclude that I better make 2014 my fucking year because I really have nothing to lose.

On the Topic of Butts (One of Many Feminist Rants)

Disclaimer: I want to preface this rant by saying that these are mostly half-baked musings. Hopefully, one day, I will be able to compile all these thoughts and make a more cohesive argument. But until then, here’s what I have.

Every once in a while I will come across tumblr blogs consisting primarily of pictures of butts. I mean, let’s be honest. What is tumblr even for if not some great butts? Everyone enjoys a good butt. However, some blogs will boast of curating only pristine pictures of butts of women belonging primarily to an ethnic minority group.

Something about a curated blog of ethnic butts just doesn’t sit well with me. First of all, the word “curated” implies a collection of objects or artifacts. With that logic, we are essentially, and very literally, objectifying these butts. Yet, there’s actually a bigger problem with this than just the objectification. This fetishization with certain ethnic groups is demeaning for the minority group. Racial fetishes feed on stereotypes. By posting these butts of ethnic women and relishing on this racial fetishization, these blogs are effectively perpetuating racial stereotypes. They are homogenizing and assigning certain attributes to an entire ethnic group. They are idolizing them and putting them on a pedestal. They are essentially dehumanizing them.

And I don’t even know where to begin with these blogs and their blatant disregard to the hypersexualization that already exists within these certain ethnic groups. Hypersexualization within the black community has endured since slavery. It was constructed as a means to justify the frequent raping of black women slaves by their white male owners. And despite having moved beyond that point, this problem still persists today in a mutilated form. Whereas white women are perceived as pure, black women are degraded to the one-dimensional seductress, whose primary function becomes to satiate man’s lust for sex. Hypersexualization removes a black woman’s agency over her body as she is subconsciously goaded into believing that her identity is dependent on sexual acts. Reinforcing these disparaging archetypes simply reinstates the idea that a black woman’s self worth is entrenched in promiscuity.

If we disregard all the race issues, these blogs are still guilty of reinforcing a very narrow set of beauty standards. These blogs feature the type of butts that our media has glorified for years now. They do not celebrate the multitude of different butts that realistically exist. Instead, they lower the self worth of those whose butts do not live up to the aforementioned standard.

And maybe I’m really starting to spiral here, but let’s not forget that these butts are attached to human beings. Human beings who are more than just their butts. They have thoughts. They have opinions. They have emotions. Why are we, as a society, so obsessed with physical appearance anyways? Is the human race that vain? And why are we so addicted to labeling some people as “hot” and others as “not”? Do we not understand that the idea of beauty is meant to be subjective? Or are we really so brainwashed by the media, who has actually quite successfully warped and manipulated the general public’s perception of beauty with repeated exposure to “beautiful” women.

I understand that physical appearance is important. But maybe we should try changing our vernacular a little bit? Maybe instead of claiming someone is “hot”, we should try, “I’m attracted to this person”. Let’s assume X finds Y to be “hot”. If you look at the make-up of the statement, “Y is hot”, X very much regards Y as an object, especially considering that the statement very literally makes Y the object of the verb. X is not involved at all, even though this is all in X’s mind. By changing his vocabulary to say, “I am attracted to Y”, X alleviates the burden of “being hot” from Y and makes himself the object of the new verb: “attracted”, which is a much more accurate depiction of X’s thought.  It also doesn’t put Y in an unrealistic, imaginary pedestal for X. The latter statement does not attach any descriptor related to physical appearance to that person, thereby allowing Y to stay detached to the connotations that come with certain physical descriptors. In fact, the latter statement is euphemistic enough to encompass more than just their “hotness”. And in that sense, I also think the latter statement is more accurate in describing the type of feeling Y evokes in X.

Also, I think it’s important to remember that being “hot” is not an intrinsic property, which is something that I think a lot of people forget when using that word (or similar words). People assert their opinions as if they’re facts. We love the idea of “natural beauty”. Except, we don’t really realize that “natural beauty” is the most vapid, nonexistent thing ever. “Natural beauty” is a construct made up by the media. It is essentially the conformity to media’s image of beauty, which mostly stems from colonization and westernization.

In a society teeming with racism, sexism, classism, ableism, and many other forms of oppression, I think it’s crucial we choose our words carefully, not only to be politically correct but also to avoid reinstating the same stereotypes and issues in subtler ways. That’s not solving the problem. That’s simply finding sly loopholes that do just as much damage if not more since they slip under the radar. And I will confess that it is extremely difficult to point out these inequalities and injustices in a social setting. It’s easy to make a snide comment about it and roll my eyes, but rarely do I directly address the issue for fear of not having my thoughts organized enough to make a logical argument. But, that is not an excuse. I want to be able to educate people in this realm as much as I can, but in order to do so, I need to be sure that I am also not making any rash judgments due to my own biases that may exist. It is also pretty difficult to point these out in a group or in public because no one wants to be a killjoy. And to be honest, many a joke are made at the expense of the victims of these issues, and I am guilty of enjoying some of these jokes. However, I am resolving to make a more conscious effort to try and be more cognizant of these issues. I have friends who try very hard to be aware of the overt sexism and racism that still persist in our society today, but I think it’s understandably easy to overlook the much fainter implications of patriarchy that are equally as lethal. But if we want to strip the system altogether, we need to look at each lingering effect and dismantle it one by one. 

So, butts, I am not hating you. But can we please try and be more inclusive of the many different types of butts that exist and not focus on a specific race or gender? And let’s remember that each butt is an extension of a being and, therefore, different in its own way. So, let’s not be selective. Let’s embrace all the butts!