Friday, March 30, 2007

What's in a (nick)name?

So I was leafing through “Woman’s Era” while waiting for my turn at the salon, when I spotted this column called “How I met my husband” .As I sat there reading an interesting account of an ad professional’s first tryst with her boss,who went on to become her husband, I smiled. Thinking of my own.

Cut to 2003, when I was on this offshore team for a US based client. Most of my interaction was with this guy called G at client site . I'd never seen him, but we’d worked jointly on quite a few projects together.He was no more than a voice on the phone for me. It was another matter that I thought the voice ,one of the deepest I'd heard, was the stuff that could give any RJ a run for his money!

And one day, there was news that he’d return to Bangalore to join us. As I tapped away on my keyboard that day, something caught my attention. I noticed this tall, extremely fair guy having a little chat with my project lead. And as I wondered who this ‘bili jirle’ (white cockroach!) was, my project lead walked up to me and introduced him as the ‘client site guy’ G.
Man! Was I so wrong when I thought the baritone was the first thing I’d notice about the guy if I met him in person.It was his milky white complexion, all the way! All the months he’d spent in the freezing cold weather of Minnesota had made him look like the male version of Snow White. He could so easily be the “After” guy in the ‘Before-After’ segment of all the ‘Fair and Lovely’ ads. He was tall alright, handsome..err..okay fine,granted, but dark?Hell no!

A co-worker friend in another team, who happened to notice this latest addition to ours, got curious. Like me, she couldn’t help but take note of the lack of sun on his skin.

Over a cup of coffee on the same day, she inquired- “Hey who’s that cone of vanilla ice cream in your team?” sending me into fits of laughter.
And the name stuck. That was his secret nick– ‘coz everyone except him knew about it! I’d even use it as a code-word while gossiping with others, about him!

I even had my own set of corny one-liners for him.

When he’d be in a grumpy mood, I’d say,
“Oh Man! Looks like Vanilla ice cream is hot today!”

When he’d help me out at work
“Isn’t Vanilla ice cream so sweet?”

When he’d turn up in a dark brown shirt
“ Wow! Vanilla ice cream has a chocolate fudge topping today!”

And so on.
A year later, we were married. I went on to give him many more nicks, soon forgetting the original one.

Cut to 2007. I’m taking this totally harebrained quiz called “What flavor ice cream are you?” on, out of sheer boredom. But the last line of the quiz result brings a smile on my face. Take a look!

You Are Rocky Road Ice Cream
Unpredictable and wild, you know how to have fun.
You're also a trendsetter who takes risks with new things.
You know about the latest and greatest - and may have invented it!
You are most compatible with vanilla ice cream.

Looks like the first nick I gave him was the ‘coolest’ one after all!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Of 'growing up' and 'becoming'

During a chitchat session, my dad had me in splits when he mentioned that, as a kid, he always dreamed of growing up to become a bus conductor.
“Wow! What a rewarding job , Dad” I said, still laughing at his atypical choice.
But to him, the rationale was straightforward – You get to ride on a bus all day and what’s better, even get paid for it! :-)

And that made me go into flashback mode.

Here’s a list of the dream jobs that I aspired for during my ‘wonder years’ and beyond..

Bollywood Heroine – I was probably 6 or 7 when the movie Mr. India was released in Bangalore. I still remember sitting in the balcony seat of Drive-In theatre, nudging my mom every 3 minutes to translate the Hindi dialogues for me. It was fun to watch Anil Kapoor’s antics and the kids’ cavorting all over the place. But when Sridevi appeared on the screen, it was something else! As I watched her boogie to ‘Hawa Hawai’ and play powerchick journalist with equal oomph, I was floored. And hey, she even got the superhero in the end!I was convinced - I wanted to be her.
The next day, as I played a little “Mirror Mirror on the wall” with my dressing table mirror just to double check , it said “You’re alright, except for the two bunny teeth jutting out of ur mouth” . Oh No!! I ran to the resident Bollywood expert, my mom – “Mommmm..Is there a heroine who doesn’t have err...perfect teeth?” . Not realizing how life changing her answer could have been , she replied casually “Hmm..yeah there is, Moushumi Chatterjee”. Phew! That was reassuring!

Interpreter - Soon, the heroine dream wore off . With my parents constantly motivating me and my siblings to excel in academics, I probably realized they wouldn’t be as excited about the Bollywood angle as I was! And excel , I kinda did. I topped my class most of the time in middle school, although there was the occasional underdog who would saunter in and beat me to first place! But I was unbeatable in languages. I top scored every single time in all three languages in the curriculum– English, Kannada and Hindi. My mom would beam with pride in the Parent-teacher meetings whenever my class teacher was all praise for my language scores. As we walked home from one of these meetings, she told me about these amazing people called interpreters. People who had a multitude of languages at their fingertips. People who accompanied hi-flying politicians, beaurocrats et al on foreign jaunts just to help them understand what another person was saying in another tongue. People who were paid 60 bucks(!) a page to translate a script to from one language to another! And it dawned upon me- I could be one of them- the high flying, money spinning multi linguist!

Housewife(!!) – I know I know, it ain’t a job. But it was a dream nonetheless! I was in class 8 when two completely unrelated events occurred – I fell head-over-heels in love with one of my bro’s pals and my cousin sister tied the knot. Her marriage was the stuff that dreams were made of. A typical day in her life consisted of lazing around home all day and getting decked up in the evenings for cotton candy/bhel puri outings with hubby. And then, the million and one phone calls from hubby during the day, where she’d blush as he whispered sweet nothings into the receiver. I wanted my own fairy tale too! I was yearning to lead the domesticated life, of course with my crush , happily ever after. All my smitten self just wanted was to emulate them! All of a sudden, housewifedom was happening!

Doctor – With time, my crush met with its fate. It was over. It just faded away, just like that!And I was back to dreaming about less rosy stuff. And this time, it was about the medical profession. At Class 11, all thanks to my great scores, it wasn’t hard for my Biology professor to believe I fitted the bill perfectly. While the rest of the class dozed off during lectures about the human digestive system, I would be listening with rapt attention in the very first bench. He’d exhibit my near perfect answer scripts for the entire class while I’d smugly smile at everyone from my seat.After Class 12, I even gave my medical entrance exams scoring twice as better as I did in the engineering entrance exam. But then, this was not to be either. My parents and everyone else in the family very successfully put a damper on my spirits when they scared me about how I’d be studying forever and ever and ever, while my peers who opted to study engineering would be having high flying careers, earning 10 times more!

And so I gave up. The doc dream was over too. And I made a half-hearted choice. To be an engineer.The irony hadn’t ended just yet. I studied to be an electrical engineer and ended up in the software business!

Looking back, there aren’t any regrets. There is absolutely nothing I’d want to change. My job’s been empowering in a lot of ways-Given me the gift of self belief. Made me independent, well financially atleast. Given me the opportunity to travel. I even found myself a husband, while at it! I couldn’t have asked for more! Finally, I had ‘become’ something.

And I had ‘grown up’ as well. I’d learnt to judge what was best for me. Realised that what you want changes with time, as you evolve as a person.That you weigh out pros and cons and make a well-informed decision. Acknowledged that your parents know best and letting them decide for you isn’t a bad idea after all. Concluded that ‘Everything that happens, happens for your good” is not just a cliché but a fact of life as well.

So, what did you want to be when you ‘grew’ up?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Bus Chronicles

As a teenager, I'd always be chided by my mom and aunts for my aversion towards travelling by public transport buses.

Of course, the older generation was a strong advocate of the public transport BTS bus, thanks to all the money it saved, in comparison to an autorickshaw.

During outings, while my mom would still be deciding between a BTS bus and an autorickshaw , I’d jump into the first autorick I’d spotted, leaving my mom much displeased about her spoilt daughter’s ways! Unlike my mom, it was an easy choice for me. Why the drudgery of a crowded bus when travelling is a breeze with an autorick? One of my aunts even gave me the nick “Auto Rani” as a tribute to my fancy for the three wheeler!

Apparently, my behaviour did not go down very well with the Bus Gods. And I was cursed.

When my husband and I,(who work for the same company) returned to India last year from the US, we found out that our office had shifted base to a tech. park more than 20 km away from our home. The traffic during peak hours in Namma Bengaluru can take the wind out of your sails on any given day. And I wasn’t gonna let my husband, G, brave the crazy traffic everyday by driving to work!
Much to my dismay, I learned that, the most pragmatic mode of transport was – yes, you guessed it – The Bus!

And so, the journey began. Literally and otherwise.

Initially, I’d get all riled up with the unrelenting traffic jams. A good hour and a half spent each way ate up the better part of our weekday hours outside office. Here I was, spending all my evenings in a stupid bus, instead of, at home, with my family or with friends.A nagging lower backache cropped up. The sheer boredom of having to sit through the unending commute was killing me, day in and day out. All in all it just made me want to pull all my hair and scream "Bus Karo!"

But as the cliche goes- every cloud has a silver lining. And did I find mine? You bet!

-I discovered the FM Radio- my steadfast travel companion. Nothing better than starting your day with music,they say, and what's better, I even get to end mine, the same way! The RJs on Radio City, Mirchi,Radio One et al,albeit a little annoying at times, are great company.

-Sometimes,people seated close to me drive me nuts with loud conversations on their cellphone,specially when my fave song's on.But then, when I turn off the radio, turns out their conversations are a lot more fun! Once there was a guy seated behind me, who was having a telephonic brawl with his wife. He was screaming his lungs out at her when the journey started. I was so worried that I might not get to know who won in the end ,if I had to get off the bus before him. But then, much to mine and everybody else's (every single soul in the bus could hear him) relief, he made up with her on the phone itself(!) in the end, cooing little "I love you"s furtively, in end! Awww..:)

-The "cold war" between me and this pretty young thing in the bus stop. It all began, one day when the bus pulled in to the stop, and as I started my ascent up the stairs, Ms.PYT came running. Pushing me aside rudely, she made her way into the bus. As I stood there, apalled by this boorish act, she turned around and smiled at me. Hello? I was kinda expecting a s-o-r-r-y?. And what was this hurry for? She wanted to make sure she found a seat in the bus next to her best bus friend! :-o So, when I see her in the stop, I somehow get into the bus before she does and promptly help myself to a seat adjacent to her best bus buddy. Hah!

-The apartment complex of my dreams, that's still under construction, falls on the way. I peer outside the window to catch a glimpse everyday. I've been kinda tracking the progress keenly everyday,not once thinking about the astronomical real estate prices! And if G's also traveling with me that day, I nudge him and say "Look Look,they've started building the second wing" and he replies without even looking at it and with a reassuring smile- "Oh yes baby, I promise we'll have a house there someday". Makes my day!:)

-When I spot two hundred people squeezed into a public transport BTS bus, travelling alongside ours on the Bangalore roads. Sitting pretty in our exclusive tech park bus, where a crowd is almost unheard of, I feel compelled to thank my stars.

-When G falls asleep on my shoulder during the commute, at the end of a tiring day in office. They say its a priceless feeling to have your baby fall asleep in your arms.I don't have a baby yet,but I'm pretty sure, what I feel at that moment is kinda close.

-The long conversations with G, if we're on the same bus. Our dialogue ranges from bitching about colleagues to discussing our college crushes.Its probably 'coz we have nothing else and nobody else to distract us during those 90 minutes!:) But then, isn't that a lot of quality time spent with each other? I know it is, specially when you are a working couple and live with your extended family.

And then things were never the same!

Sure, long commutes are not what you'd call exciting. Traffic still sucks. The lower back still hurts. The zero-social-weekdays still bother me.But I am glad about one thing – I’d learnt to make lemonade out of the proverbial lemons that life gave me. True to the spirit of the quintessential Bangalore catchphrase "Solpa Adjust Maadi" (Please adjust a little) - I'd learnt to do just that- adjust. The journey has taught me to appreciate the little joys that cross your path so quietly, and be grateful for them. It has made me realise that throwing a fit and cribbing endlessly take you nowhere. It's taught me that a little patience is all it takes.

Now, only if the Bus Gods smile upon me and my office shifts base again to closer home!:)

From the other side of the table

“Fresher recruitment drive on Sunday. Calling interviewers for tech. panel”
When I saw this e-mail from HR, I went ‘Yeah right! Ruin a weekend over recruitment? More so, a long weekend? Bah!” Not that I’d planned a vacay to Goa or something, but the “Bah!” was still the loudest word in that sentence I said in my head.

Now, hitting the delete button on any group mail from HR is almost a reflex action for me. They range from stuff on Creative Workspace awards to lectures from the resident doc on back pain! Or about sports club meetings and Women’s day celebrations in the company. Most of which, never holds my interest beyond the first few lines anyway.
I know what u’re thinking. No No, I ain’t the nerdy types who sits and stares at the monitor all day long, while getting up from the chair only to take bathroom breaks. But I ain’t exactly an enthu cutlet either !

So, hit the delete button I did. And the pop-up message that followed did its usual KBC on me– “Are you sure?” it asked .
That was when the visions of my annual goal-sheet crossed my mind. That little one page document which decides my performance rating which in turn decides my salary thru the year which in turn decides how much will be left after my EMI eats up a sizeable chunk which in turn decides how much will go into the savings for my dream vacation which in turn decides how much I get to splurge on completely unnecessary clothes and shoes which in turn…whoa!

One of the things that your manager always does in my company is to set a goal about having contributed in “outside the call of duty” activities like participation in cultural activities or recruitment. Now, singing and dancing is not exactly my cup of tea, so recruitment was a lot more do-able.

And what’s never happened so far with a HR group mail happened. I hit the reply button.

On Sunday, as I stepped into the interview venue a little late , I was kinda overwhelmed by the huge crowd of software wannabes gathered outside. But then, I was relieved, knowing I ain’t one of them anymore. The view from the “other side” was kinda nice. No butterflies in the stomach , No last minute resume reviewing, No last minute mugging, No running to every person that got interviewed before you with a “What’d they ask? What’d they ask?” as soon as he steps out of the door!
All of ‘em freshies looked a lil too preoccupied with themselves doing one or all of the above , until I fished out my company id card from my bag and wore it. That was it. The banter suddenly died down and I was greeted with admiring glances and smiley “Hello” s !
I felt like this ‘khadoos’ professor walking into a noisy classroom.
Wow! And I always thought of my id card as no better than a glorified leash?

I was initially asked to form a panel with one another guy (let’s call him A). Some small talk with this guy, and I discovered we both had worked on similar technologies. So, that meant we couldn’t get away asking actually dumb questions, but still making ‘em sound fancy to each other!


First guy walks in nervously
Freshie – “Good afternoon sir, Good afternoon ma’am”
A – "Hey call me A man, don’t have to call me sir"
Me (in my head) – “Yeah right, he’s gonna call u A. The poor guy already looks jittery enough , don’t scare him! “
A – “I see you’ve got C on your resume. Tell me, how would you rate your C programming skills on a scale of 1 to 10?”
Freshie (still jittery) – “Err.. .5 sir.”
A (eyebrows forming high arches) – “Just 5? And you are an electronics engineer??”
Freshie looks heartbroken.
Me (still trying to figure out the connection between electronics engineering and above average C skills) – “Uh okay, can you tell us what a preprocessor directive in C is?”
Freshie answers correctly.
Me (pleased) – “Okay can you tell me when you use arrays and when you use structures?”
By now, freshie has calmed down quite a bit and is taking every question head on.
A - “Okay we are done with ur interview, do you have any questions for us now?”
Freshie – “Yes sir , what is the difference between a CMM level 3 and a level 5 company?”
A (in his head) –“Darn! What did I put myself into??!”
A (aloud) – “Err..Umm..CMM expands to Capability Maturity Model..Err..Umm..”
Me (after having sadistically enjoyed A’s predicament for a while) “CMM is blah blah..”
A (To freshie) – “Yeah Yeah, that’s right, so are you clear?”
Freshie (looking at me) – “Yes sir , thanks for letting me know ma’am”
Freshie smiles at A and me and leaves. I bet he said a silent “Gotcha!” for A while he walked out.

A’s now seething , that he couldn’t get to grill the freshie and worse, got beaten up in the end. He pulls out his cellphone and frantically calls a geeky friend
“Yaar Sachin, C++ mein koi khatarnaak questions bol na,” ( Hey tell me some real tough questions in C++)
He jots down a few keywords like inheritance, polymorphism, encapsulation. And I am wondering if he knows anything about those words, other than their spellings?!

Next guy walks in

A (with a know-it-all smile ) - “Okay, u’ve got C++ on ur resume! How do you rate yourself? Can you tell me what polymorphism is?”
Freshie (firmly) - “Yes sir..I rate myself a 9/10” (proceeds to reply with the right answer)
A (cursing himself for giving him an easy one) : “Okay how about encapsulation?”
Freshie (firmly)- “Yes sir..” (proceeds to answer correctly)
A (getting restless) - “Okay how about inheritance?”
Freshie (couldnt have been firmer look)- “Sure sir “ (chimes in with the right answer)
A ( giving up and looking at me) - “ Do you have any questions? Go ahead..”
Me (ROFLing silently in my head )

Another guy

Me (all too enthu to ask first to avoid A’s “how-do-u-rate” charade) - “So what do you know about our company?”
Freshie (sounding like a kindergarten kid rattling off the table of six to a teacher ) - “ ABC is a very big s/w company. It was established on something something..It’s CEO is Mr. So and So. He joined the company on the date something something..”
Me (guffawing with laughter I just couldn’t control) - “Stop Stop, I don’t need an essay on our company.. “
Freshie (in his head) - “Damn! I spent a full half hour mugging up stuff right off their website and she doesn’t even let me finish?!”

After many rounds , I was asked to form a separate “panel” of just myself. I was only too glad to separate from Mr. Smart Aleck.

A “cool dude” walks in. Has 'Attitude' written all over him!

Me - “Could you explain a little about your final year project please?”
Freshie ( as animatedly as he can get) - “You know these switch control boards? They are placed inside every home right? But people don’t know how to use them? So we basically did this project to control them outside the buildings”
Me (after having lost him midway)- “What What What ? And can you give me some technical details?”
Freshie (very matter-of-factly) - “ Well, I didn’t do much in this project, I cant tell you the technical details and stuff..sorry”
Me - ”Okay what was your fave subject in college?”
Freshie (pauses for a long time) - “Hmm..Operations Research”
Me - “So what did u enjoy learning in OR?”
Freshie (very matter-of factly again) - “Oh I don’t remember”
Me (almost said it) - “What the…??”

A real ayyo-paapa looking gal walks in. She’s real nervous and I notice she’s even sweating.

Me (trying to ease her up ) - “Well, don’t be nervous, I won’t ask you very difficult questions”
She (wiping the sweat off her face) - “Ma’am I haven’t eaten since the morning and its 4 now..I am really tired”
Me (to myself) :”Oh No Missy! Don’t u try melting me!”
I swear I almost wanted to recommend her and push her to a restu right away!

Another girl,

Me (at the end of the interview) : “So any questions for me?”
She (very seriously) : “Yes, I am interested in knowing about different products of your company?”
Me (mentioning a software product that we recently sold to a US based bank) “ We have products for all domains – Insurance, Banking ..”
She (still very seriously) “ No, I was asking about salt, cars and soaps etc that your company makes”
Me (aghast, but wondering if she's trying to pull a fast one on me) “ Uh..sure the parent organization has companies that make those, but u are being interviewed for a position in our software services company, not elsewhere”
I thwacked myself for almost recommending her.

And after many many interviews, an eventful day came to an end.

As I headed back home, a thought drifted across my mind.

A vacay in Goa? Wouldn’t have been half as fun!:)