Monday, December 31, 2007


The postings on this site ares my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Possibilities Are Endless

A developmentally-disabled guy is bagging our groceries at Shoprite earlier today.

He asks, "Did you get that hat in India?"

"Yes, I did. I lived there for six months and just got back. It's a cricket cap. Cricket is like baseball --"

"I know what cricket is. It's like baseball, but the bat is wide and you throw like this [he winds his arm up and throws an invisible ball overhand toward the floor]."

"That's right. I didn't know what cricket was, really, till I went to India."

Pat says to him, "You know more about it than most people [in this country]."

We thank him and wish him a happy new year. I walk away inspired.

Straightening up for the New Year's dinner we'll host for our friends David and Gerard, I see a postcard of a show for an artist with whom I was friendly when I lived in Chicago, Riva Lehrer. Much of Riva's art focuses on physical disability.

Riva's work and the conversation with the grocery bagger this afternoon remind me that all of us have gifts and ought to express them. Also, the qualities that society sometimes thinks ought to limit us differentiate us and can serve as our core motivation and means to connect with others.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

My Left Ear, Or How to Listen Fully

The postings on this site ares my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Earning a "C" on a Hearing Test

"Say the word, 'hotdog'."


"Say the word, 'cowboy'."


"Say the word, 'knees'."


"Say the word, 'bold'."


"Say the word, 'railroad'."


"Say the word, 'death.'"


"Say the word, 'sing'."


"Say the word, 'peer'."


"Say the word, 'halt.'."


"Say the word, 'lengthen'."


"Say the word, 'inkling'."


"Say the word, 'hostile'."


"Say the word, 'hopeful'."


"Say the word, 'juice'."

Jews? "Juice."

"Say the word, 'car'."


"Say the word, 'bashful'."


"Say the word, 'smarmy'."


"Say the word, 'showoff'."


"Say the word, 'woolen'."

"...? I don't know."

"Say the word, 'panic'."


"Say the word, 'tearful'."


"Say the word, 'deflate'."


"Say the word, 'winner'."


"Say the word, 'shelter'."


"Say the word, 'airplane'."


The audiologist to me: "Let's try it again at 10 decibels higher."

I look at her questioningly.

"When you get more than five wrong, we just raise the decibel level just a little bit."

Oy! I still can't hear everything. In my left ear, I hear just 76% of the words correctly the first time, and then only 84% when she raises the level.

This shocks me...frightens me...makes me feel like a failure. Since 10 days of steroids miraculously restored my excellent hearing after a sudden hearing loss three years ago -- where out of nowhere, I could hear only 60% in my left ear -- I've been breezing through these twice-yearly checkups. I had assumed that Thursday's would be no different.

Listening as Well as Hearing

The doctor tells his automated dictation software program: "Slight decline in threshhold and discrimination in the left ear."

"What does threshhold mean?" I interrupt his dictation.

"The level at which you first begin to hear two-syllable words." And "discrimination," I can figure out, means my ability to hear the words that are being said."

I *hate* that hearing test guy's voice. I never want to go into that booth again. I dislike the experience typically anyhow, but now it's a chamber of doom.

"You're doing fundamentally well," says the doctor, "All of the other tests were good, so come back in three months, rather than six, and let's do an additional hearing test then, beyond what you did today, where we'll put background noise in your left ear at the same time that you're hearing the words in that ear."

"Could this be from stress? I mean, the assignment in India was great, but it had stressful moments, too."

"No. We're finding that [otosclerosis] isn't stress-related, but typically is triggered by an inflamation -- inflammatory cytokines are the trigger, not the cause." My doctor and the web have already told me that no one yet knows the cause.

God's message to me: Do not take your hearing for granted. Enjoy it immensely while it lasts, which might be till you die, and which might be till you wake up tomorrow.

I don't hear the message till I'm writing right now. Instead, I hear, Poor you! You're following the doctor's regimen and you're still not stemming the disease. And then I have to remember what he told me when he put me on it:

"There's no cure and no established treatment for it, and other doctors will tell you I'm nuts, and you could try this and go deaf anyway, but if you don't try it, and you go deaf, you'll always wonder why you didn't try it."

It=Actonel twice a week, Caltrate every morning and Monocal nightly, plus only food that isn't pure sugar, and that doesn't as readily turn into sugar in my body, and so no sugar, honey, corn- or rice syrup, potatoes, flour (pasta/bread), rice, corn, many types of fruit, e.g., mango, melon of any kind, pineapple, only the equivalent of half a tomato at any meal....

If I remember correctly, he explained that blood-sugar is the engine that runs our ears and that foods that are high in sugar pull the blood-sugar away from our ears and focus it in our stomachs(?) or other parts of our bodies, rather than by our ears, where I need it, or something. In any case, I didn't really care about the full explanation and was willing to do whatever I needed to do to keep my hearing.

How babyish would I sound if I said that I felt like having an ice cream sundae right now?

If there's anything I could be addicted to -- other than self-reflection -- it would be sugar. Fortunately, I recognized it and stopped eating refined sugar, honey, barley-malt, corn- and rice-syrup nearly 18 years ago, and so when the doctor put me on this regimen more than three years ago, it was not impossible, just difficult. It's ironic because the very thing that jeopardizes my hearing health (let alone the rest of my health) is the thing I've always craved my whole life.

"Exodus" 24:7 -- Naaseh v'nishmah

The biblical Hebrew phrase, in English, stated, "We will do and we will listen."
This phrase embodied what I did with accepting the doctor's strict regimen -- Do first and listen for understanding later.

This statement was the people's response to Moses as he read them the sefer ha'brit (Book of the Covenant) at Mt. Sinai. The sentence with their response included the phrase, "Vayikra b'ozney ha'am," i.e., literally, "And he [Moses] read it in the ears of the people."

Directly after he read the sefer ha'brit in the "ears of the people," they responded, "All that God has spoken, we will do and we will listen."

Since first learning it as an elementary school student in a Modern Orthodox Jewish Day School, "Naaseh v'nishmah" captured my imagination. How committed would the people at Sinai have been to be able to make that pledge, I marvelled. Whether sacrilegious or not, often, when I committed to anything, growing up, I heard that phrase in my head and it spurred me on. The pledge of loyalty to God appealed to me, and then it served metaphorically as a pledge of loyalty to any secular enterprise that needed my dedication.

Also, the focus on deeds liberated me; it was a reminder not to over-analyze everything...which of course has been historically nearly impossible for me, but this was at least a vision or an aspirational statement for me to call up.

Peace Hunting in Shul

Last night, Pat and I met our friends Kathy and Julie for dinner and Shabbat services. During the past week, I had had the bad news about my ear and almost ceaseless chores to do -- came with the territory of being gone for six months, and yet I was resentful nonetheless -- and I felt at some remove from my reality, having been in a parallel, different one for the past half-year. As a result, I felt a bit reluctant to meet them, wishing instead for isolation from the over-stimulation of being home.

Dinner proved the longevity of our friendship, though, as I was comfortable around them like I was with my family. That was a huge relief.

After dinner, shul was the perfect dessert. Rabbi Cohen introduced us, "I'd like to welcome Pat and Sarah back from a long time in India, to light the Shabbat candles." I was shy, but then sang like I was young again, remembering how it felt when we learned to sing the blessing as girls. And then she asked us to join her and the cantors at the bimah, to sing "Shalom Aleichem."

Just sneaking peeks out at the congregation, full of gay, lesbian, bi and trans Jews and our friends and family, I stared mostly at my prayer book, like we were taught to do in elementary school -- no showing off that we could recite the prayers from memory. What a miracle to see so many from my community after having been a community of two Jewish lesbians (ourselves) for the past six months.

Welcoming the congregation into Shabbat, Rabbi Cohen made reference to how in dire need of peace the world was, referring Benazir Bhutto's assassination. How privileged I felt to have such a warm, concerned community to return to.

Say the word, "grateful." Say the word, "shalom." Say the word "Amen."

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Purpose-filled Purpose

The postings on this site ares my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

My Own in the World

What I need to write about feels much more personal than revealing that one of my family just had a brush with cancer (which I did in recent postings); it's about continually searching for my purpose in the world.

I'm still searching for my ideal role. I do feel closer and closer to it, and I do feel that IBM has enabled me tremendous freedom in charting my contribution to the company and its clients and colleagues, yet the problem with vacations is that they provide extra time for reflection.

I'm coming off of a peak experience in terms of the leadership development mission I just advanced while in India, and I hope it's understandable that inevitably, I'd be wondering, How can I top that? How can I be my most useful and also my most creative in my next mission, which hasn't yet been announced, and so I cannot write about it.

It's fun, but daunting, to daydream about my purpose. Last April, one of my mentors suggested that I write my vision -- all in the present tense in service to the power of suggestion, in cases where I haven't yet achieved the item -- and here are excerpts from it:

  • I am moved to laugh routinely and often, and to help others laugh
  • I am spiritually connected to people, including people who seem different from me initially
  • I transform these connections into art through writing that is appreciated worldwide, by thousands, or even millions
  • My writing helps others and me, particularly to feel less lonely in our experience
  • I have work that enables me to:

    • Meet interesting, kind people
    • Write reflectively
    • Lead
    • Be part of a profound mission
    • See the world
    • Give charity to causes I value
    • Afford more experiences and things that are high-quality, stylish and stimulating

  • Along with physical exertion and self-expression...I become refreshed/recharged by appreciating as well as producing:

    • Visual art
    • Music
    • Reading.

Earlier today, I read an article on Flannery O'Connor from a past issue of "The New York Times" that I had left on my night-table prior to our departure for India, and it reminded me of an author's advice in her careers for creative people book; she suggested, for inspiration, also thinking of "a creator" whose creativity I admire. I love Flannery O'Connor! How can her creativity inform my future creativity?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Unearthing the Gifts

The postings on this site ares my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Not the Spiritual Kind

This morning, we'll go to my mom's in Stamford and meet my sisters and their families for lunch and to give them the gifts we brought from India. That means that we need to unpack!

I'm doing this while Pat showers because I've an urge to blog and because it feels difficult to get started with unpacking.

The spiritual gift of today will be seeing them again for the first time in half a year, but I'm preoccupied with not forgetting the material items we bought for all of them.


Blogged; Pat and I went downtown to the car dealer; it didn't have the car I was looking for, though I sent my specs. to the dealer three weeks ago by e-mail to give it time to locate the one I wanted; I was frustrated and said so firmly, and they'll try to accommodate me by Wednesday, but I'll believe it when I see it....

I'm reminded that there were moments in India, where service people would promise to call us back and then not do so or make other false commitments and I'd find myself thinking viscerally, Why do they have to lie to me systematically?

And then yesterday, twice I was reminded that that's how service people can be, unfortunately, the world over, since the car dealer had written back to me, "I have the very car...." and then didn't, and because our phone provider had promised to restore our service by the 22nd and then when Pat called yesterday morning to say it still wasn't working, she got, "I apologize. It will be ready in an hour."

You can guess that when we came back hours later it still was not restored. This kvetching/complaining, in India, was called "cribbing" or "winge-ing."

We did, though, enjoy ourselves a bit, too, having lunch at Raymond's on Church Street, having a quick look at the Montclair Book Center and then spontaneously deciding to see a movie and picking "Atonement," since it was the movie that was playing next; we had wanted to see the one with Laura Linney and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, since they're among our favorite actors, but it wasn't for another hour. We loved it. Very good, memorable. Vanessa Redgrave was amazing.

In the evening, we fell asleep, watching TV, and then forced ourselves to stay up till 9:30 pm, though I had a dream while in the bathroom prior to getting into bed(!)

The Spiritual Kind

Today, I have an opportunity to enjoy more than just the material gift-giving. I get to see the people -- other than Pat -- who mean more to me than anyone, including the family member, who recently had the cancer removed and who was just given a clean bill of health.

Our nephews and niece will be taller and that will unnerve me, and I don't know how to predict anyone else's changes. I'm so grateful to have a family that's so excited to see us. It's really a big gift -- not to long for familial love, which I know some people do. How weird for familial love to be unrequited for some, but it is. Thank God, not in our case.

Monday, December 24, 2007

What's New?

The postings on this site ares my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

If I Didn't Come Home a Horse...

...then what was new? I think my eyes were new and my own sense of my outsider status was expanded, so that in addition to all of the other facets of my somewhat rare identity, now, I was a repatriate.

Prior to my time in India, my eyes were less alert to the ample opportunities for gluttony in Shoprite. In India, there were numerous times, where we couldn't find basic provisions in the market, e.g., reasonable fruit, or any yogurt, or skim-milk....

Passing the local grocery's bakery, I said to myself, "Don't forget the starving children in India;" when I was very young, in the late '60s, it was a common phrase of adults, who wanted us to finish the food on our plates.

And then I felt a layer of distance from everyone around me. Standing in the pre-Christmas, giant line to check out, I thought, (and I meant no disrespect or trivialization of the mission of many soldiers today) This must have been the experience of soldiers, who came home from more remote, less western locations: No one standing in the check-out line -- other than soldiers on leave -- felt as much like an apparition as I did, I was convinced.

It was tough to act natural. I had to tell the cashier how I had just returned from six months in India and how good it was to be able to shop for the variety of fruits and vegetables. Fortunately, she rose to my occasion and looked at me for a moment, smiling kindly, and then returned her focus to scanning and bagging the items.

Re-reading my comparison of myself to a soldier just now was embarrassing. Compared to a soldier, my work was not death-defying, nor my accommodations spartan. It was simply the closest analogy I could think of. Probably, it would have been much better to compare myself to a fellow expatriate. Michele was there for nine, not six, months, and so reading the latest of her posts on repatriation was helpful.

Also, I was so fortunate that Pat was retired and able to accompany me, so that I didn't have the experience Michele had, of getting re-acquainted with her spouse. Pat was a witness along with me. Part of us will always be extra-outsiders from now on, I think, as no one really can understand the experience without having it. The beautiful part is that it made us even closer as a couple and as best friends.

Was India a Dream?

The postings on this site ares my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

A Full Chandra (Moon) Over My Right Shoulder

How would I know the word, "chandra," if it had been just a dream? And yet, even as spooked as I am by the fiber-optic, frighteningly-fast Internet access I have here from my home in Montclair, it feels almost like it never happened.

This morning, I woke up at 4:30 am, having fallen into bed at 9:30 pm without having remembered to eat dinner. In my home office, the calendar on the wall was the June page, so it must have happened that I was away for six months.

"The New York Times" slapped against the driveway just now, though it's still dark out. In Bangalore, it would be light by now and I'd just open the front-door on either side of which a carved, wooden elephant-head was mounted, to a short walkway lined with roses and hibiscus flowers; I'd hear the maids in the kitchen of the house across the street and I'd bend over to pick up our copy of "The Times of India," which was a racier version of "USA Today."

We could have subscribed to the "Deccan Herald," or "Economic Times," both more respectable publications, but the owner had subscribed to this paper, and besides, how else would we know all the Bollywood celebrity gossip?

This morning, I'll need to put on my down jacket and a hat and mittens to retrieve the paper from the dark, wet asphalt; there was snow on our lawn when we returned at 11:30 pm on Saturday night, but the non-stop rain of yesterday washed most of it away. I won't hear my neighbors when I walk outside because our houses are further apart and because it's too cold for the windows to be open.

I'll come back in the house and will try to remember to kiss the mezuzah. Our mezuzah and Vikram's (the owner's) elephant-heads -- they're fundamentally different from one another, yet both appear at the entrance to our homes. In our case, we also have a mezuzah on every doorway in our house, other than bathroom and closet doors.

"Domestic harmony and success" both are associated with Ganesh, according to the eBay page I found when I went hunting for "carved, wood elephant head," so I could learn Vikram's purpose at posting them.

The Ravi (Sun) Also Rises

The chandra's starting to dip below the trees and it's light out now.

Thinking of all the non-western moments I experienced over the past six months, I'm at a loss at how to integrate them gracefully into my current experience. I was about to write about my current experience as being like the experience I had prior to going to India -- waking up and getting the paper, going to the plentiful grocery store to buy whatever I wished, talking to U.S. neighbors and family freely without worrying about time-zone issues -- but I realize that those experiences are not the same now. I will never not know about India in parallel with how I live each day in the United States.

I was trying to figure out why I didn't yet (might never?) feel graceful and articulate about my India sojourn and I found some solace in these famous travel quotations. The one that struck me especially was, "If an ass goes traveling, he'll not come home a horse." -- Thomas Fuller.

Fundamentally, I'm still me, but with some new colleagues, friends, work accomplished, rituals witnessed, sights seen, bits of another language learned, pools swum in, clothes, books, jewelry, gifts and a rug (which was shipped, and which hasn't yet arrived).

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Nearly at Home, at Heathrow

The postings on this site ares my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Guiltily So

I'm struck by how at home I feel, just being somewhere western, even though it's not yet New Jersey. It's a guilty sort of feeling to be so relaxed in a way I haven't in six months. I don't want to be provincial, but it's refreshing not being the only one with an American accent, or not being the only one without an Indian accent.

And it's fun to hear an Israeli accent, too. I feel so, so much less self-conscious than I have this past half-year.

It's also a sweet feeling to be back in Heathrow, having succeeded at my assignment, rather than still being in Heathrow just prior to the start of it, being optimistic, but necessarily wondering how it would go. Now, I know how it went.

What I'm Looking Forward To in Chronological Order

  • Our house
  • Pat's and my bed
  • A long bath
  • Breakfast at our favorite diner with the Sunday "New York Times"
  • Mail review
  • Shoprite and Batampte half-sour pickles
  • Whole Foods and almond butter
  • Our furniture
  • Our neighbors
  • Our family and friends
  • Swimming at the YMHA
  • NYC
  • Synagogue
  • Getting my ears checked - routine checkup
  • A six-month teeth-cleaning at the dentist
  • TV, DVDs, movies
  • Car-shopping....

This posting is not as spiritual as I imagined it could be when I thought I'd spend time, blogging while waiting for our connection. Instead, I'm reduced to fantasizing about creature-comforts, and thinking of immediate ones, too, e.g., changing the head on my electric toothbrush, and running it under the tap to rinse it, for the first time in six months. I'm signing off to brush my teeth.

Friday, December 21, 2007

So Happy I'm Sad

The postings on this site ares my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

From Mattafix to Michael Franks

At 3:30 pm, I left IBM at Subramanya Arcade, Building 1, singing to myself, "I don't know why I'm so happy and sad..." which is how I always remember Michael Franks' great song, though the lyrics are actually, " happy I'm sad...."

My happiness was more of a satisfaction at surviving and ultimately mostly thriving in India, and my sadness stemmed from saying so long to sweet colleagues and not knowing the future. I might never be back in India again, or I might. In 2005, I didn't know when I'd have occasion to return and look at me now.

Was there another IBM location in the world that sat by a mosque, and across from a Hindu temple and goatherd? One of the goats, I noticed yesterday, was dyed hot pink. I don't know why.

How far I was from the IBM site, where I worked in the early part of the decade, at Madison Ave. and 57th St. in NYC.

Now, returning, effectively, to what I know, I need to stay inspired. Fortunately, for what seemed like the third time this week, during my commute today, I heard the song that includes the powerful, hopeful lyrics, "You shall rise." I found it on YouTube.

The best part of the lyrics were, "...where others turn and sigh, you shall rise," and "...Sooner or later, we must try living." At lunch today, an Indian colleague asked that I mentor her. We agreed that both of us have a radical education philosophy, that is, that *the* purpose of education is to inspire social change.

I figured that she'd keep me from feeling too alone in my idealism and that our joint enthusiasm really might change some part of the world for the better. I said, "Yes."

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Culture Trail Mix

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Travelin' Thru

At 3 pm (Eastern Time), my relative will receive the pathology report, which will show the latest on my relative's cancer. I should be asleep by then, as it will be 1:30 am (India time).

I've the urge to treat myself to blogging as a distraction from the wondering.

This week, I have felt unusually aware of the culture I'm in and the one from which I hail. Dolly Parton's "Travelin' Thru" feels apt; all of us are on a journey and God made us for a reason, I agree.

Om Noel Om

Tonight, Pat and I were invited to a colleague's home for a farewell dinner; Pat didn't feel well and I went alone. The family are observant Hindus and yet they had a little Christmas tree, including cotton-snow.

"You're so flexible," I said and asked what inspired them to post it. My colleague pointed at her young child and said, "He likes the idea of getting gifts."

Even in a Hindu home, where I took off my shoes upon entering, Christmas was a guest-star.

I said, "You know, right after we got that e-mail message today, encouraging us to be inclusive and simply wish colleagues "Happy Holidays," rather than naming a specific one, I received Christmas wishes from a colleague in Singapore.

We laughed and then I said, "During Diwali, I didn't mind being wished a Happy Diwali at all, as I was certain that few people assumed me to be Hindu, whereas whenever someone wishes me, "Merry Christmas," I believe it's because they assume I'm among the majority of Americans and am Christian."

"I very much identify with what you're saying. It's a matter of identity," my colleague said. I felt better.

Nanu nininda agalootidene

(This is Kannada for, "I will miss you," according to my driver Channa.) I will not miss the cat outside our house that is crying through her heat, but I will miss the authenticity of daily life otherwise -- the constant motion, the continuous enterprise; yesterday, I saw a man pedaling a woman and a baby -- his family probably -- on a Hercules bicycle, not even a motorcycle, and earlier this week, I noticed that even the pickle shed near our home read, "Shashi Enterprises" over the tiny awning.

I will miss my colleagues and Channa, and Kavitha, our maid, but I won't miss feeling isolated from my Jewish and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.

The first Friday we're home, we're meeting our dear colleague, friends and fellow congregants for dinner and then synagogue. I wonder if I'll be over-stimulated there the way I was here for so long by the sheer number of people, animals and vehicles in one form or another of action here.

Yesterday, two men traversed the traffic on a small scooter, the one in the back, holding onto two, tall sheets of plate-glass, and the day before that, two men on a motorcycle passed us, one holding a slim cardboard box that read, "Anglo-Indian Toilet Seat Cover."

This morning, I heard Sarah McClachlan's "I Will Remember You" and verged on feeling maudlin, but kept it at bay. At my colleague's house, she said goodbye, sending me off with two exquisite gifts -- a black and red wool shawl in a pattern I'm dubbing Indian tweed, and a pair of moonstone and peridot silver earrings from Rajasthan.

Putting on the earrings and wrapping the shawl in the way she recommended, I felt transformed from my western self in sweater and jeans into someone almost Indian. Almost....

Once home, I checked my e-mail accounts and found a new video from Princeton and IBM alumna Sandra Grace. It was refreshing in its ample lesbian imagery and felt so foreign compared to Pat's and my daily low-key existence here in Bangalore.

Sandra Grace's tragicomic "Do You Have a Lover?" tune (see her web site) was like food to someone starving for lesbian culture, including the tongue-in-cheek variety.

And now, it's about 60 minutes till the test results come back. I distracted myself with Rajasthani jewelry description and a replay of a bit of dinner dialogue, and ultimately with lesbian pop, and yet, the distraction is incomplete.


Maybe sleep will distract me further...but first, last night, I dreamt that Channa drove us out to the middle of a huge lake that had "Steel" in its name in Hindi or Kannada. The water was serenely calm and gorgeous, almost as though it were meant to be lapped up, and yet it was disconcerting that we could see only water in every direction. The car stayed aloft and I watched Channa swim back to it to put away a notebook in which he keeps my daily transportation bills.

I returned to the edge of the water to remove my shoes and socks, so that I could swim freely, but I never got back to the center -- just remained at the edge, continuously preparing to plunge in.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

I've Been Quiet

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

...but My Mind Hasn't Been

Another of my family has come down with cancer -- not Pat or me. In deference to my family's privacy, I planned not to blog about it, but then I found a whole weekend went by and I felt unable to blog about anything else.

I tried to imagine blogging about silly topics, like seeing two mansions in Bangalore -- one that had, "Taxman's Haven" etched in a black marble block on its white marble fence, and another, "Abracadabra," which my friend Chitra told me the owners named "Abracadabra," since magically, they were able to finance it when they had thought that they wouldn't be able to.

And I considered commenting on the incongruity of riding down 100 Feet Road in the Indiranagar section of the city during a warm, sunny, Bangalore day earlier this week, listening to Dean Martin's "Let It Snow" on the radio.

Or that we bought a rug this weekend -- from Kashmir, in the Mughal style.

Or that we're nearly packed, or that based on my recommendation that the hair stylist do whatever he thought would be most chic, my hair is shorter than it has ever been...and I love it...and how Pat told me simply to respond, "What haircut?" if people at work seemed shocked by it.

Side-effects of Another's Illness

When I was just 17 and my dad had cancer, my immediate urge was to wish to have a baby. Now, at 42, when a family member has cancer, my immediate urge is to consider my own mortality and to thank God that I'm well currently, and at the same time paradoxically, to feel excluded that I'm not part of the Cancer sorority and fraternity. What a sick sort of envy!

Cancer is becoming business as usual. Pat said that it'll become like other, albeit tragic, illnesses that are managed via medicine, e.g., HIV. Cancer will never be casual in my mind, as it shook me so early on with my father's death from it.

Ideally, my family member ought to be fine, as it was caught at Stage I. Still, I feel very far away right now, and look forward to seeing my family relatively soon.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Tiger- and Zebra-stripes in One Day

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

My Own and the Real Ones

Today, I wore a no-sleeved, dark-on-light-pink, silk, mock-turtleneck shirt that featured tiger-print, and since no-sleeved blouses are considered provocative on women in India, a long-sleeved shirt over it, left open. I amused myself, wearing tiger-stripes for our outing to Bannerghatta National Park, and Pat and our friend humored me.

We drove through a eucalyptus grove on the way. At the park, while Pat was some distance ahead, photographing one of the animals, our friend picked up a fallen leaf and told me to smell it. I was reminded immediately of my father's mother, my sabta (Hebrew for "grandmother"), and couldn't remember why.

In the car, Pat talked about how Halls used to sell eucalyptus cough-drops as candy, but when they were unpopular, they re-branded them as cough-drops. At that moment, it hit me that my sabta once must have eaten one and given me one, too, when I was very small.

At the gateway of another part of the park, our friend called us over and said, "This is what I remember most from prior visits here." It was a hinged sign that read in Kannada and English, "Open the door to see the most cruel being of the world."

As Pat opened it, she predicted that it would be what it was: a mirror.

The sign reminded me that I did manage to get Pat to see tigers while we were in India, just not at that resort that I wrote about some weeks ago. I was reminded, as I had asked the hotel keepers there, under special requests online, for feather pillows! It occurred to me later that even if the hotel had a vacancy, it wasn't interested, given where it was situated, in accommodating a guest's feather-pillow request.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Facebook's Allure

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Facebook Is to Blogging What TV Is to Reading/Writing

How can I stay disciplined with my blogging when Facebook lures me away? Blogging used to be my guilty pleasure, but it has become my necessary outlet.

Facebook truly is, and will remain, a guilty pleasure -- the way that watching TV, rather than doing our homework was when our parents were out; we'd listen for their return, for the tires on our gravel-driveway, and then we'd race to our homework positions....Kids whose households have computers have it easier these days; they're already in their homework positions, sitting at their monitors, and so they just need to exit out of Facebook and toggle over to their homework.

Of course, they don't (and neither do I(!)) necessarily ride bikes as often as I did, though, having ready-made, if 2-D, escapes right in front of them/me.

Here, in all of its frivolousness, Facebook has felt like a pop-culture way to be not so far away from home; a way to procrastinate; and a way to learn things about colleagues and friends that I'd never have guessed, e.g., that one of our senior executives and I are "Soul Mates," according to the movie rating app.

And besides, how else can I keep up with my teenaged nephew and niece so pictorially?

Time for dinner, which Facebook can't provide...yet.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Music and the Moon x 2

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Sangitha, Chandra and Shashi

These are recent vocabulary words for me; here, there are two words for moon, and they are common names for people, too. I know two Shashis, for example.

Tonight on the way home, we listened to sangitha (music) on Radio City, 91.1 FM, during a commercial on Radio Indigo and I heard a gorgeous singer, Adnan Swamy. His song included the words, "Tera bina," which Channa said meant, "Without you...."

His voice's romantic beauty moved me. I'm not sure I've found the right one, as my connectivity's poor tonight and I cannot hear much of it, but I've found a YouTube version. Watching what I could of the video, he reminds me of an Indian Barry White, i.e., I can't imagine him ever singing anything other than love songs filled with longing.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Road Trip

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Through the "Time Tunnel"

Now we know: If we want to hear music mostly from Pat's college-days and my childhood, we need to listen to Radio Indigo's Time Tunnel program on Saturday mornings. During yesterday's ride to Mysore, we heard:

  • "Spinning Wheel" by Blood, Sweat & Tears as we pulled out of Palm Meadows; Pat spoke of seeing them, and Laura Nero, Friends of Distinction and others when they came to her campus
  • "Big Yellow Taxi" re-done by Amy Grant and both of us swore she sang, "...charged 25 lakhs [instead of bucks] just to see him...." We have been here for nearly six months.
  • Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge over Troubled Waters" as we sped down Outer Ring Road -- Pat recalled her landlady from the summer during college when she worked in Door County, Wisconsin, exclaiming, "That'll never be a hit."
  • "My Baby Takes the Morning Train" by Sheena Easton -- As Pat was singing along softly, I thought, How remote the lyrics are from our own experience...but then, not really; Pat's retired and typically does have dinner ready when I come home (when we're in the States, where our kitchen has an oven)...

"Have you ever asked yourself why cowboys ride horses and drive cattle, and not the other way around?" asks an older man with a sort of British accent -- Pat just peeked in and sang giddily: "Leavin' on a jet plane; don't know when I'll be back again." We started to do a little bit of packing, a sort of partial dress-rehearsal today and it's got both of us a bit wired, in a good way -- "That's right! And that's why the hottest energy drink between California and Dubai is called Power Horse and not Power Moo Cow!...Power Horse, the energy drink with the black stallion!"

This radio commercial has been the most persistent of all I've heard while in India and all these months later, I still don't grasp its logic, and still, have never seen a can or bottle of it in any store. After the commercial, the tunes kept coming:

  • "Rhinestone Cowboy" by Glenn Campbell -- how can I help you understand just how incongruous music like this is while watching street scenes of Bangalore whiz by?
  • "Never Find Another You" by the Seekers
  • The Byrds' "Turn, Turn, Turn"
  • "Midnight Special" by Harry Bellafonte, which the DJ told us featured Bob Dylan on the harmonica
  • Elvis' "Suspicious Minds"
  • "House of the Rising Sun" by The Animals
  • "Jive Talking" by the BeeGees
  • Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive"
  • "Sexual Healing" by Marvin Gaye
  • "Urgent" by Foreigner
  • "Shattered Dreams" by Johnny Hates Jazz, which if remember correctly, was popular when I lived in Jerusalem in 1985.

When Pat heard the Byrds, she said, "I really like this one."

"What are some other favorites?"

Pat rattled them off, "'Mr. Tambourine Man,' too; and 'Hello, It's Me,' by Todd Rundgren; 'Hard Candy Christmas' by Dolly Parton; 'Yesterday' by The Beatles; 'Night in the City' and 'Clouds' by Joni Mitchell; 'Grapevine;' 'Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay;' and Madonna's 'Vogue.'"

Every one of Pat's favorites was from before she and I found each other 15+ years ago. I tried to imagine a Sarah-less Pat, feeling the joy, romance, sadness, wistfulness, buoyancy, playfulness, despair, sassiness of all of those songs. We have experienced so much together over this decade and a half, and still, the majority of our lives have not yet been with each other.

I'm considering all of this, too, I think, because I'm reading That Summer in Paris by Abha Dawesar. I picked up the novel, as it's by the same author as Babyji, which I really enjoyed.

This novel is about two writers, falling in love despite an age difference. The book's characters' is much greater than ours -- 15 in our case and 50 in theirs -- but it's on my mind....

The Indian Clerk, which I just finished, was about two mathematicians from different cultures -- Indian and English -- and now, I feel like I'm reading about another intercultural pair; in this case, the cultures are informed by their age difference.

And 15 years is enough distance that Pat and I also come from different cultures, it sometimes seems, for example, my campus hosted Lou Rawls (old-school by then) and Elvis Costello when I was in college. Still, it works ultimately.

Culture does matter and I guess love matters even more, as long as the couple has basic values in common.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Peacock Plumes at the EGL Office Park

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Her Name Was Kolapi

My neighbor, when I used an empty cubicle at EGL for a day yesterday, said her name, Kolapi, meant, "The plumes of the peacock. It's Bengali."

When I was very little -- and a long time ago, I really was -- my parents used to take me to a nature center near our house...I'm from Stamford, Connecticut; it was always early in the morning and they'd let me run after the peacocks, who were always gathered on the great lawn there. I loved chasing the peacocks.

I didn't really look at her as I re-told this story, till the end. And then I looked at her a bit sheepishly, saying, "Thanks for giving me that nice memory."

She smiled kindly and we went back to staring at our respective computer monitors.

It's really true that people are not the same around the world. I really don't think I'd ever meet an American named Peacock Plumes...well, maybe a Native American might have a similar sort of name, but....I do have a Native American colleague and friend whose last name is Morningstar.

Intercultural Bounties

Perhaps I quoted this here recently -- can't keep my blog and my school paper straight -- but I thought, Yes! when I came across this on the AFS site, "We relate to each other because we are similar. We learn from each other because we are different."

My favorite moments of intercultural conversation were when something struck both of us as funny, and it was not Indian or Jewish or American humor; it was just universal humor. That's when I felt most comfortable.

I guess I learned most, though, when I couldn't relate directly to what a colleague described as routine, e.g., moving into your mother-in-law's house because that was how she wanted it to be in her old age.

Last night, I was talking with one of my U.S. mentors and told her that I felt like I scaled a mountain and stood proudly at the summit, having made a positive difference here with my work while struggling a bit personally to adjust to the new environment along the way.

Thinking back to 2005, my first trip to India, I really didn't have more than a romantic picture compared with living here for nearly six months so far. I stayed in a plush hotel and was a management development instructor for a section of particularly sweet and polite participants, who even gave me Indian souvenirs, and my colleague and friend Chitra offered me home-hospitality twice in a week. And then it reminded me of Israel terrain-wise and in terms of the flowers and trees.

Living here, I had to recall how often it was necessary to repeat myself because of my accent...and how white I felt, like never before in my life, since I always lived among a majority of white people without being super-conscious that I did...and how privileged, as whole families rode by on motorcycles because they had to...and how I had to steel myself whenever super-high-voiced singing happened, as I never did get the appeal of it...and how, really, it did not remind me of Israel at all, other than the flowers and trees....

And yet I learned more about my profession here in six months than perhaps in the past three years, since the growth here made everything even more intense than even I would have made it, and I found additional friends I want to hold on to, and I will miss my favorite foods, and the Hindi pop songs and videos, and the textiles....

I can feel myself repeating myself from prior postings, but I feel like I'm sorting and re-sorting what I want to keep forever from what I learned from, but want to walk away from due to the discomfort of it...and the thing is, I know I'll never be able to walk away.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Entering the Mood Elevator

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Going Up

Writing this blog-entry is a means to an end tonight. I feel down and I'm counting on it to help me feel better.

Today, an important meeting went well; I felt stylishly, yet understatedly, dressed and was complimented on my suit and how I looked in it; the weather was gorgeous -- cool, but not cold, and sunny; and Pat was her lovely self.

So why do I feel morose? Or at least, why did I until I forced myself to write something -- anything?

For example, did you know that barewahanagale means "traffic" in Kannada, or that (yesterday's word) aroge means "helpful?" Or that hasu means "cow" and nai means "dog?"

Food Fight

I think I'll feel even better if I recall why I learned the words, hasu and nai. It wasn't funny, but it was absurd; once the traffic picked up, Channa and I saw a dog on the roadside, growling at a cow, since both were trying to eat from the same trash pile. The cow was not afraid; she ignored the dog, who was trying so hard to be fierce.

The scene reminds me that I couldn't book a room for the weekend we wanted at that Cicada wildlife place. It occurred to me later: Maybe, they rejected us because in the "Special Requests" field, I asked for feather pillows.

Fortunately, one of my friends on assignment here told me about Bannerghatta National Park, which is just outside of Bangalore, and which will enable Pat to see tigers while she's here, which is a fond wish.

We will go there. The animals will be less wild than the cow and dog we saw today, as they're fed regularly.

The Only Way

Today, a colleague complimented me, saying that she learned more from me than what I coached her on -- facilitation. She also said she learned how to be " to other cultures while still getting your viewpoint across."

I told her that I appreciated her receptivity to my viewpoint, as it wasn't always welcome in my experience, i.e., not everyone wants to do more than just share about their culture. By "viewpoint," she simply meant my making it into a cultural exchange more often than not, rather than just exclusively learning about her culture.

Every day, during my commute, we pass a building near the Shiva temple, which reads on the three sides that I can see, "Jesu Krupa -- The Only Way."

"Channa, does 'Jesu Krupa' mean Jesus?" I asked.

"Yes, Ma'am."

It worked.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Poor Me

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Poor Them

Many of the entries are breezy, but this one might not be:

On Brigade Road this afternoon, I burrowed into Pat's side and turned my back on an approaching beggar. Pat put her arms around me and protected me.

The woman was tiny, with matted hair and hyper-alert eyes, and she was carrying a monkey, who was holding a baby-monkey. I was afraid of the monkeys. What if they scratched me? Or bit me?

Pat went into the grocery store a few minutes later and I waited for her on the sidewalk, so we wouldn't have to check our Blossom Books shopping bags. The monkey guardian made her way back up the street. I crossed the sidewalk and stood on the store's steps, out of monkey-arms' reach.

The baby was so, so little. Only its head peeked out from its parent's chest and the parent clung to the woman's small shoulder and tiny waist.

Earlier, a Far Bolder Encounter

Pat and I were killing time, since we arrived before our friends and before the bookstore was open, and so we headed down Church Street to Brigade Road, single-file, since the sidewalk was unfinished.

Soon, walking toward us were two women, wearing, atop their heads, wooden thrones with the image of Ganesh in the center of each of them. We were fascinated and stared at the little chairs as they approached.

Suddenly, the one in front cracked a bull-whip on the sidewalk right in front of me and thrust out her hand for me to give her money.

I couldn't believe that she was trying to intimidate me with the whip-cracking. I was furious. "No! No!" I said very loudly.

They didn't try it again with Pat, but quickly, imitated me, "No! No!" as they walked past. Adrenalin surged in me.

I turned around and yelled at them, "I could hit you!"

They actually seemed afraid, whether or not they understood what I said per se, and they moved away more quickly.

Loving and Struggling With My Location

The Indian friends that Pat and I have had and have made here, the fiction, the food, the flora, the Hindi pop-music all have delighted me. The routine reminders of my privilege have disturbed me.

A non-Indian colleague said recently, "I don't like to see the poverty." What a sincere statement, I thought -- much more authentic than many I've heard, that is, it bothered her to see it. Where she came from, the poverty was there, but she wasn't confronted by it so visibly and so vividly.

Volunteering One's Soul vs. One's Brain

I have spent my time here, rationalizing that by helping a segment of the population advance in its leadership, my efforts somehow have positively helped the economy and the society's future.

And then a local colleague told me that she's active in, which helps the society much more directly than my rationalization of what I've been doing here.

Other than the website, having been named "Crusade India," and the word, "Crusade" having been off-putting, given my Jewish heritage and identity, why did I not want to get involved with any similar organization at least?

Why didn't I want to in the United States either? Why, ever since I've made a corporate salary, have I wanted only to write a check in response to others' struggles, if I didn't know them personally?

That was it: "...if I didn't know them personally...." The poor, anywhere, were just another historically, and still, underrepresented group.

Prior to our arrival in India, Pat had been volunteering every Thursday at a soup kitchen and had made friends with a number of the other volunteers, some of whom might have had money-struggles of their own. One of them was a bathroom attendant.

In my case, I knew money-struggles personally, particularly after my father died when I was 17, and during college, though apparently, not on the scale of the people, who have begged here or in New York City. The difference between them and me has been my much higher level of education or my relative mental health and I have been so grateful for both.

I've had U.S. acquaintances say to me, "I could never take an assignment in India. I find the poverty so sad."

If poverty so saddened them, then why weren't they working for the Peace Corps? Rather, I think they actually meant what my colleague said sincerely, "...I don't like to see the poverty."

I did warn you that this might not be among my breezier postings.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Kannada Word of the Day: Gooli

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.


That's what "gooli" means. I learned the word because we were heading down the dirt-road, which is a shortcut to the Embassy Golf Links office park, and we passed a tiny shrine, in front of which was a little painted, plaster/wood/metal bull.

"Channa, I don't want to forget to ask you for a word today. How do you say, 'Bull' in Kannada?"

"Gooli, Ma'am."

Pimped Ride

We shouted this exchange with each other because Hertz "pimped Channa's ride;" this morning, he arrived with a huge sound system all over the inside of it.

"I locked all the doors one by one today," he said.

Whenever I drive in a city myself, I always keep my doors locked, but he hadn't done it in Bangalore, so I hadn't either...till today. I guess the sound system might be too tempting to resist.

You can hear us coming now and the floor tickles the soles of my shoes, since the bass is reverberating through it.

On the way, we listened to Hindi hits and smiled nearly the whole time. I couldn't wait to go home.

"Channa, this is very bindaas of you," I said.

He smiled proudly.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Oh, Kannada

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Today, More Than Just A Word A Day

When Channa and I were commuting this morning, I told him that I felt bad that I had forgotten to ask for my word or phrase of the day yesterday, so we made up for it:

  • Oota aita?/Did you eat?
  • Tindi aita?/Did you eat breakfast?
  • Shoobowdaya/Good morning.
  • Shoobadeena/Have a good day.
  • Shoobaratri/Good night.
  • Danyawada/Thank you.
  • Dayawitu/Please
  • Walaya chalaka/You are a great driver.
  • Navaratriya shoobashayagalu/Happy Navarati.
  • Madeema/used when referring either to radio or TV
  • Mara/Tree.

It was fun and humbling to be back to such basics in language. It's like being a baby again...only with many more responsibilities!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Chanukah Is Around the Corner

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

And I'm Still Watching Mosquitos Fly By

The eight-day holiday's really early this year, beginning on December 5th, and won't be on anyone's radar here. We've already been witnesses to the Hindu Festival of Lights, Diwali, but still, I'll miss our own Chanukiah in the window nightly.

I hear that it's cold where we'd be typically at this time of year, but instead, I'm whizzing past palm trees and the occasional mosquito whizzes past me.

Home is Relative

Tonight, my best friend here said that she wanted to come to our home before we leave, so that she has some sense of us in India beyond just at work, shopping or in her home.

I was surprised, and told her so, because she knows we don't even cook here -- don't have anything beyond a microwave -- and that the art on the walls and the furniture is the landlord's, and yet she says it would make her feel good to be able to think of us in our Indian home.

"I remember so well, staying with you in your home when I came to the States, the blueberry pancakes that Pat made me -- I don't have your memory for every single thing that ever happens to me, but I do remember..." and she listed lots more memories of the house and our time there, which made me miss our U.S. home.

Today, a colleague, who's been on a number of assignments told me to be ready for reverse-culture shock when I return to the United States.

I suppose I'll be talking like this a lot from now on because our departure is so relatively soon, toward the end of next month.

Leona Lewis, the Queen, The Indian Clerk and Me

Liz and I IM'ed today and she wrote that weirdly, she was thinking of me yesterday, too, as Kate and she were watching a documentary and the interviewee reminded her of me; it was on the Queen of England...and no, I didn't remind her of the Queen. She knew that I was referring to Leona Lewis as the singer whose hit reminded me of Texas tunes; Lewis is British.

Speaking of England, I woke up at 3:30 this morning and read for 90 minutes prior to falling back to sleep -- I don't remember ever doing that before; the book's good: *The Indian Clerk* by David Leavitt, one of my favorite authors.

Oh, today's Kannadian phrase was, "Have you eaten?" but I've forgotten how to say it(!)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Boxing Up My Books

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Complacency vs. Raw Alertness

Sitting on the desk here are the two gift-bags from the Muslim-Indian wedding at the Windsor that we were invited to crash in July. Getting ready to blog tonight, I was recalling how blogging was a major form of self-entertainment in those first five weeks at the Windsor Bengaluru.

Now, living in Palm Meadows in Whitefield, in a real house, with many rooms, rather than just one, I've become too business-as-usual. It's easy to eat dinner and then just go up to bed afterwards and read, rather than stay down here and blog.

Tonight, I got home earlier than usual, by 6 pm, and so we're back from dinner by 8:30, rather than by 9:30 or 10 pm.

Other than my final paper for school, the other thing in the way of blogging is the frequency with which I'm calling my family. For the first couple of months, I had no real cell service -- I think I recounted the tiresome story here prior -- and so it wasn't easy to pick up the phone and pay 4.7 rupees a minute (about 12 cents/min.) to call anywhere in the United States.

Now, it is. By the way, when I called my mother after blogging last night (India time), she was already out for the day, so we talked this evening. My mom asked:

"What's new?"

"I finished a draft of my final paper. And Channa's teaching me a new word or phrase in Kannada each day from now on."

"You should have asked him sooner."

"Chana girera?"


"Are you fine? Can you say that? Chana girera?"

"Chana girera?"


The Relevance of This Entry's Main Heading

Today, at work, I collected a box to send my books -- the ones I brought with me and the new ones I acquired for work -- back to my U.S. office. The box had a Thailand return address on it and had held a computer prior to being given to me to re-use.

I felt such excitement at packing them and some wistfulness in parallel -- excited at the actual titles and the pleasure they've given me so far; excited to be doing something official in service to going back to my home-country; and wistful because there's a lot to like here, particularly the people I work with, the work I do, the cuisine, the fashions, the flowers, trees and gorgeous weather, and the relatively lower cost of living.

My mother's counting down the days till my return and I'm so flattered. Why would I be flattered that my own mother misses me so much, but I am somehow. It's so good to have someone in addition to Pat, who is such an ultimate fan of me.

I'm their fan, too, of course.

This morning, during my commute, I heard that great song, "Bleeding Love," or whatever it was called and I realized what else I loved about it. It reminded me of the group, Texas, which my New Zealander friend, Liz, introduced me to when I visited her partner Kate and her in London while there on business more than five years ago.

Getting on the elevator at work today, I had such an urge to look for Liz on our internal instant message system, but I realized it was too early...and then I forgot completely in the crush of the day.

The moment of recalling Texas and Liz, though, was such foreshadowing of the ways I'm going to feel when I return to the States and a song reminds me of an Indian memory. It's too soon, but already, I'm becoming nostalgic.

Here are some of the songs that have been my Indian soundtrack; I can't guarantee that the titles or spellings are accurate:

  • Candyman by Christina Aguillera
  • Summer Love by Justin Timberlake
  • Rehab by Amy Winehouse
  • Hey There, Delilah by?
  • Big Girls Don't Cry by Fergie
  • I Got It From My Mama by a guy from Black-eyed Peas
  • Chak de India! by?
  • Hare Ram Hare Krishna by Bhool Bhulaiyaa
  • At least three by Mika, including, Big Girl, You Are Beautiful
  • Wakeup Call by Maroon Five
  • Jesus, Take the Wheel by I forget which country singer
  • Lots of others that I can't recall at 9:27 pm.

Probably, instead of Liz, I'll think of Channa because I heard most of them while we commuted together, and I'll think of my prior driver, John, too. And I'll miss them.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Mom or Blog?

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Pre-bedtime Dilemma

Well, it's not a huge conflict. Both. I'll blog and then call my mom. Last week, my mother turned 82, thank God!

Molly, who ate with us on Thanksgiving, said, "What are you most looking forward to in going home?"

"Seeing my mother," I said right away. My Indian colleagues here never would have left an 82-year-old parent for six months. Never.

I just finished reading a bunch of cultural theory to include in my independent study paper and Hofstede, the originator of the most lasting of the ideas (and an IBM alumnus), says that we're not as alike around the world as most of us would wish.

The difference in family life between my Indian colleagues' and mine are the most striking of all of the cultural differences I've noticed while here. It's true, though, that I'm happier, hunting for common ground than I am, focusing on our differences.

Sometimes, I like having exchanges with people about what's different, but I don't feel great, thinking of all the differences continually, as somehow, it adds distance between my colleagues and me.

At lunch, I was telling Pat that my sister Kathy, having gone to Helsinki for a year on AFS when I was 11 probably made me a lot more open to intercultural learning than I would have otherwise been.

And every December, local AFS volunteers in my hometown, Stamford, Connecticut, would host a potluck dinner. Everyone had to bring a dish from his or her native land. I loved that event.

The Benefits section of the AFS web site has a great slogan: "We relate to each other because we are similar. We learn from each other because we are different."

The other thing I can't wait to get back to is half-sour pickles. Chollo! Time to call my mom.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Discomfort Zone

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Lessons Learned

Comfort is not the best teacher, I've been reminded during this assignment. Discomfort is.

Months ago, I deleted the only blog entry I've ever deleted because I worried that it might alienate people here who read it. It talked of my discovery: that I'm especially open and hospitable to other cultures when I feel in the position of largess, that is, when I'm in my native country and people are visiting it from other countries. By comparison, I worried that I'm less open when I'm away from my immediate community and support infrastructure.

Today, I'm not worried about alienating any local readers because I have more perspective; I realize the reasonable truth in my discovery and also, that I'm still far more open and curious about cultures that are different than my own than many people I've met over my lifetime. Thank God. I'd have missed so much of life's most interesting lessons otherwise.

Time away from my homeland has affirmed that I don't need to relate to cultural differences to appreciate them at best and at worst, simply to observe and acknowledge them. I've reached a maturity-level, where I'm paradoxically grateful for the short-term discomfort I feel when I cannot directly relate, since it yields life-long learning and phenomenally richer self-awareness...I'm not yet so mature that I necessarily have the appreciation while I'm uncomfortable....

I need to qualify all of this with an obvious example: I don't need to relate directly to being Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Muslim or Catholic to appreciate the devotion that many of my colleagues feel for these religions, and to recognize that what they have in common with my passion for Judaism is the need for faith in something(s) much bigger than myself alone.

Language Lubrication

Recently, I made another discovery that I haven't yet posted about. Living in Israel for 12 months 20 years ago -- pre-cell phones, e-mail and blogs -- still was easier than living in India for six months because when I lived in Israel, I was fluent in Hebrew, one of the native languages.

For months here, I thought that Jerusalem was easier than Bangalore because I was in college, rather than needing to perform at work, and maybe that was some of it, but I really do think that knowing a key language of the country where I'm living is fairly essential to thriving there. Now, I did speak Hebrew with a hopelessly American accent, but still, felt tremendous confidence in my ability to express myself in a way that people could listen to relatively comfortably.

There were also expressions I learned that don't really have any equivalent in English, like "Teetchadshi/Teetchadaysh," (the first version is the feminine and the second, masculine) which we'd say to people, who had bought something for pleasure's sake, like new shoes. Its root was simply the word, "chadash" or "new" and it was just an acknowledgment of the newness, and a good wish for them to celebrate the newest thing that had come into their lives.

Today, I still say, "Teetchadshi" to Pat -- who reads, but doesn't speak, Hebrew, and so I taught her the expression -- whenever she purchases something she's been wanting...and there's no equivalent expression in English.

What major insight does such an expression reveal about Israeli culture? I'm not sure, and it doesn't really matter; I just know that it's distinct from American culture in that way, i.e., Americans, and people from other cultures, certainly purchase things they desire, but where's the communal celebration in it?

"Shalom bayit" is another great expression. So much of Hebrew has religious roots, since Ancient Hebrew was the language of the Bible and then Modern Hebrew uses it as its base, and since mostly, Hebrew is spoken by Jews. "Shalom bayit" comes from our rabbinic literature, I think, and means "peace at home." Specifically, it refers to peace at home between a husband and wife, but of course, I've necessarily re-appropriated it to apply to my family-structure.

I use the expression, i.e., that I'm behaving in a certain way for the sake of shalom bayit." Here's an example:

Let's say that my partner Pat buys a "Deadwood" TV show T-shirt online and I can't necessarily relate to why she'd wish to own the item. Nonetheless, for the sake of shalom bayit, I'd respond simply and enthusiastically, "Teetchadshi!"

My Command of Hindi, or Not

Britain's 200 years of colonization of India was tragic...and my saving grace, since it left behind English as a common language here. I know I'd be even more successful if I knew at least conversational Hindi or Kannada (the language of the state in which we live). I remember thinking about that prior to coming, and simply abdicating, figuring that my adult brain is too adult at this point to absorb a new language -- at least, I've read that it becomes much harder to learn a new language the older we get....

After nearly five months in India, here is all of the Hindi vocabulary I've managed to pick up, and unfortunately, I've not yet learned one word of Kannada:

  • Hum hain (We are here for you -- learned during an IBM conference of managers)
  • Sapna (Dream, and used as a woman's name; an Indian MTV trailer of the popular movie, "Apna Sapna Money Money" is where I first heard it)
  • Shukriya (Thank you -- learned that prior to coming, and easy to remember, as it sounds like the Arabic way to say thank you, which is "Shukran..." the word for which I learned consciously prior to living in Israel)
  • Namaste (I bow to you -- also, learned before I left, and I contradict myself a bit when saying it, as I'll clasp my hands together, but will not bow, since Judaism forbids prostrating myself to anyone other than God)
  • Raja (King, and the name of my driver, Channa's, dog)
  • Bhagwan kenam pe le le (For God's sake, please give me)
  • Bhagwan kenam pe de de (For God's sake, please take from me; my first driver, John -- before he got a promotion to drive a larger car and a VIP -- taught them to me, as there was a chocolate bar commercial in Hindi on the radio constantly when I first got here, which was all about how the candy was the opposite of what you'd expect, i.e., the cream was on the outside or something; in any case, the commercial was trying to illustrate the concept by having a beggar say, "Bhagwan kenam pe de de," the opposite of his or her typical request, John explained.)
  • I don't recall how to say this in Hindi, but when I asked the way to say hello other than "Namaste," a colleague told me there's no such word per se; rather, whenever someone sees you, he or she asks, "Have you eaten yet?" I love that. It's meant to express hospitality, i.e., if the person hasn't, then I inferred that it suggests that the greeter is prepared to feed him or her...or perhaps, it's not literal, but the sentiment is terrific.
  • Jalti chollo ("Let's go already," is how I understand it, and it reminds me of "Nu kvar," which is Hebrew for what has always meant to me, "C'mon already. [Get to the point/what's taking so long?], which "Jalti chollo" isn't; rather, it might be used to remind people that the designated time is up.)
  • Tike ("OK," and it is the most often used expression I've heard, and reminds me of what I heard all the time when I was in China on business for three weeks a couple of years ago, "Chige" and "Nige;" I don't even recall what they mean -- perhaps "this" and "that," but Chinese people that I heard speaking Mandarin used them as bridges in conversation continually.)
  • Jayanthi (birthday, e.g., "Gandhi Jayanthi," the national holiday, celebrating Mahatma Gandhi's birth)
  • murgh shorba (chicken soup)
  • gobi (cauliflower)
  • Dal Makni (black-lentil-and-kidney-bean stew)
  • Dahi (yogurt).

In addition, I learned two more expressions that I like:

I didn't learn the way to say this in Hindi, but there's an expression about hypocrisy: "The elephant has two sets of teeth" [the ones it shows, i.e., the aesthetic tusks, and the ones it chews with.] The expression is used when someone is trying to appear a certain way, but the appearance is false.

Finally, from Sanskrit, "Nindak naede rakhiye" ("Keep your critics closest to you" [as you have the most to learn from them]. The context: A colleague was facilitating a a leadership development program for new managers, and she was illustrating the value of feedback.)

Spending the start of my Saturday, considering how language-knowledge enriches my understanding of cultures makes me wish I were more naturally gifted at picking up new languages. Now, though, I must return to working on my final paper for my independent study; tike, jalti chollo!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Tandoori Turkey

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Sated by Surrogates While Hungering for Home

I'm happy that Molly's coming over to go have un-Thanksgiving dinner at the clubhouse in about 15 minutes. It's remarkable how people can serve as one another's family when necessary.

Earlier today, a colleague with whom I'm close here and I were talking by phone. She said, "Oh, I'm bragging too much. I shouldn't tell you all of this." She was happy with how a recent project had gone at work.

"Yes you should. Think of me as a hybrid of your friend and your family. I always want to hear whatever you want to brag about."

"What?" There was background noise and she didn't hear me. I felt self-conscious having to repeat it, as I had never before spoken to her this commitedly, even as we've confided in each other routinely, since meeting more than two years ago.

I repeated my offer and she said that she was moved and humbled.

And then I was even surer that I wanted to have her among my family.

Later in the day, she sent me e-mail:

Sarah, you are family- you listen to my foibles and you listen to me bragging- what more could I ask of you (a bit of turkey and pecan pie, but these broad hints don't seem to work, sigh!!!)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Less Than an Hour Till Game-time

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Go, Pack, Go!

At 11:30 pm (India-time), Pat will call her Green-Bay-based brother Jim on Skype and they will provide color-commentary for the Packers game as Jim watches it on TV and Pat watches it on her laptop computer.

There were two conditions that needed to be met for Pat to be happy with me on this assignment: I needed to take Pat to the Taj Mahal (done!) and she needed to be able to download the Packers games from (ongoing). There's a deal, where NFL lets non-U.S.-based fans pay to download the games on their computers.

Wisconsinites Are Everywhere!

Last week, at IBM in the Embassy Golf Links site, I met a colleague, who grew up near Green Bay. She's on assignment here for a month, on her own. She'll come eat with us on Thanksgiving.

I know that Pat will be happy to have another person with whom she can "talk cheese." (Wisconsin is famous for its cheese, and Pat refers to the conversations she has with people from WI as "talkin' cheese.")

Looking Forward to More Relaxing Times

The assignment feels like it did during the month before I arrived, now that the final month is approaching, i.e., I feel like I'm working non-stop to get stuff done....I say that as a disclaimer for why I've been scarce lately with my blog.

The fun part is that I'm synthesizing the experience of this Indian assignment, plus a literature review, into a final paper for my Masters independent study and it's pretty substantial so far. Can I make it compelling throughout? Just the right length? Will it intrigue stakeholders? I'm praying so.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Enjoying the Gift of Being Present

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Guilt Safari

"The only thing I wish we had had time to do was go to a national park [to see wildlife]," Pat told me over the weekend.

I'm spending a fair amount of time, trying not to feel guilty lately. Colleagues are saying, "Hey, don't leave now. Everything's not yet complete. You can't leave in the middle." ...I'm not leaving for more than a month, but it has begun already...and it's flattering, yet unsettling.

And then Pat told me she had a regret over what we didn't get to do while in India.

Presence Presents

Channa's friend, Manjunata, gave me a ride to work today, since Channa was ill. As we drove across the flyover in Whitefield, I saw a glistening elephant, fresh from a river-bath, with its trunk raised like a natural trumpet; over its trunk, a single word: "Come."

The elephant was gracing a giant billboard, like the ones we see driving into Manhattan from my sister Deb's and her family in Queens. It was an ad for Cicada Resorts, "Wildlife, Club Class." If I can get my final paper written by December 13th, we can go during our last weekend in Bangalore. We'll see. I did send an inquiry to the resort and received an automated message that they'd contact us during office hours.

How calming it would be to see wildlife. During a relatively recent visit to the Stamford Museum and Nature Center, I found myself soothed, simply looking at a herd of sheep and lambs running up and down a yard that was dedicated to them.

Tonight, during a conversation with one of my dear mentors, she said, "That billboard was a perfect example of making sure you don't miss what's going on in the present either by looking for too long in the rear-view mirror, or by looking too far ahead."

Hot Songs and a Cool Professor

This morning was full of gifts: On the radio, I heard two really great songs for the first time: Leona Lewis' "Bleeding Love" and "Androgyny." Lewis' voice was haunting-rich while "Androgyny" was fun in its invitation to play with our gender. Though it was first released in 2001, I never heard it on American radio, but maybe that's not so shocking....

Also, I heard a guy rapping so poetically that I was reminded of Professor Lauren Berlant, whose interview never was published by the magazine I wrote for during my first summer after college, "Inside Chicago." It stopped publishing altogether within a year of its launch.

Professor Berlant met me at McDonald's on Randolph Street in Chicago, rather than in her U. of C. office. It was the summer of '87 and she was passionate about researching rap at the time. If I remember correctly, she thought that the poetic value of some of it was huge.

I thought she was so cool and then they didn't publish the interview I wrote. I didn't save a copy. I'm glad and not surprised that she's doing well 20 years later.

Songs that Remind Me It's Nearly Thanksgiving

The ride was rounded out by two, super-cheerful tunes, which I can't get out of my head now, and for which I'm grateful: "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" and "I Got It from My Mama."

The "...Mama" song actually made me homesick for my mother, though I doubt that that was its intention.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Lip-synching and Channeling Lou Rawls

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Loose Lips...

Over paneer tikka at Cafe Palmyra tonight, I must have been under the influence of mint-garlic, grilled-cheese kabobs. Lou Rawls' silk-sari voice wafted above us and I pointed at Pat romantically, mouthing along with the beloved singer (beloved by me particularly), "You'll never find another love like mine...."

"Sarah, we're in a *restaurant*," Pat whispered.

I smiled a who-cares smile, but then felt myself returning to my one-layer-apart-from-my-true-self, typical societal [im]posture here. And it felt bad.

At first, it felt fun for a moment to have been "naughty" and scolded, but ultimately, I felt stifled...not by Pat, but rather by our perceived state of how it is here still, and how we need to behave accordingly.

Could I have been any more self-evident? I showed up to dinner in an Indian cricket-cap, sweatshirt and track-pants -- which I know any athletic female could have done, but believe me, at 5'10" with no earrings tonight, I differentiated myself.

It was all about don't-ask-don't-tell, though, and always, so far, it has felt like that to me in India. Probably, if we were staying for longer than six months, I would hazard a further outness rhythm; of course, I'm out at work, since IBM has a global non-discrimination policy, but am non-verbal, if not invisible, about my sexual orientation when I'm off-site. Four and a half months into our sojourn, tonight was my first "slip."

Lou Rawls kept singing, in any case, which was joyful. If only Barry White hadn't sung, "My First, My Last, My Everything" three songs prior, probably none of this ever would have happened!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Humanity Parlor

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

...Because We're Worth It

With no available synagogue services to attend on Friday night, Pat and I watched a couple more "Mad Men" episodes, including one -- spoiler alert! -- where the female friend of the most gorgeous secretary in the office reveals that she's in love with the secretary.

Looking at her unrequitedly, yet lovingly, the secretary replies, "You've had a hard day. Let's go out and forget all about it." This was in 1960.

With respect to my own lesbian identity, at times, living in India has felt like living in the United States in 1960. I am open about my sexual orientation at work, since IBM has a legacy of inclusion and since we have a global non-discrimination policy, but outside its walls, Pat and I don't tell, no matter how self-evident we might be.

While getting my hair cut yesterday, though, I opened up.

The guy cutting my hair asked about Pat, "Where's your friend?"

"She's here, too."


"Pat's on the other side, getting her hair colored [blond]."

[Here, this was a calculated risk, since my gaydar told me he could be gay, but if my gaydar were wrong, or if he were not comfortable with his orientation, I would be in trouble, as I still had half a haircut to go(!):] "Pat and I are a couple and I was thinking about how typically, other than our brothers-in-law and some friends, Pat and I don't have men in our lives routinely...but in India, the people, who have helped me most in some essential ways are men; the chef, where we eat most often feeds me well; the man, who keeps me safe and on time -- my driver; and the man, who keeps me stylish! All of you are men. It's nice to be taken care of by men, too."

He smiled, and moments later said, "Yesterday, all of us went to our boss's house to set off fireworks [for Diwali], and then I went to a gay party with my friend."

"What's your friend's name?"

He told me.

"Was the party all men?"


"Do you have any female friends who like women?"

"In Sri Lanka, I had many, but not here yet...

Bollywood En Route to Montclair

Who do you like of our actors?"

"Kareena Kapoor is beautiful," I said.

"She is, but she's too girly. I like Bipasha. She's sexier."

"Which actors do you like?"

"Shahrukh," he sighed.

Pat read a biography on Shahrukh Khan, which referred to him as being more popular than Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt combined. I asked him, "Which are his very best films?"

After my haircut, which did turn out stylish, he wrote down the movie titles for me and we found two out of three of them at Planet M afterwards: "Devdas;" "Kuch Kuch Hota Hai" -- couldn't find this one; and "Veer Zara."

The salesguy also persuaded me not to miss "Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge" and Pat found "ChakDe! India," which excited us because we didn't realize it was on DVD yet.

Pat and I opted not to go to the movies yesterday, but rather to buy a series of DVDs, so we could have our own Indian film fest upon our return to the States. In addition to the Shahrukh Khan films, we bought "Life in a Metro," for which I had seen a video trailer on Indian MTV this past summer, and "Corporate: Paisa Power Politics," which the salesguy handed me when I asked if he had any films that were more seriously dramatic. As a bonus, I saw that it featured Bipasha Basu.

Celebrating a Day of Leisure

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Easier Than I Feared

Could I let go, I wondered upon waking yesterday morning. Would I allow myself a solid, day-long break, whether or not there was "time" for it?


We showed Channa the address and he said, "It's the beauty parlor, ma'am?"

"Not that we need it," Pat offered.

He didn't get her joke. I did and laughed generously.

Here was the soundtrack of our ride, played by Radio Indigo, 91.9 FM from around 10-10:30 am:

While hearing R. Kelly, I looked up at a billboard of a woman in a sari, which read, "Buying a TV without Tata Sky is like celebrating Diwali without lights." In parallel, as we passed a gas station, Pat asked Channa if gas was sold in litres here, and then converted it and determined that gas costs around US$4/gallon here(!)

Next, we heard:

Music makes anything possible. I am so grateful for it. On the way home, we listened to two movie soundtracks we had bought from Planet M on MG Road: "Saawariya," which Pat had wanted to buy, and which was a bit too slow for my taste, and "Om Shanti Om," which hit the spot with its faster, more cheerful pace.

A U.S. friend wrote to me over the weekend and mentioned the two newest songs she has written, including, "An artist friend of my parents once said that all we really have of people in history is their art. It is art that tells us where we've been etc. One could argue that there is more than art. But she did make a good point--an awful lot of what survives humans--and is worth preserving--is their art."

Friday, November 9, 2007

Not in the Driver's Seat

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

I Haven't Driven in More than Four Months, but My Desires Have

They drive me to aim toward being:

  • A star in my work
  • Beloved by everyone I meet
  • Funny as a cultural bridge
  • Fully-conscious of the many gorgeous women I see
  • Attentive to Pat
  • Insulting of no one's values
  • Resilient when anyone unwittingly insults mine
  • Universally, recognizably stylish
  • Sated by, rather than a glutton with, the exquisite cuisine here.

Note: I do recognize that particularly the first, second and sixth items are not necessarily always possible.

I never want my desires to drive recklessly, but sometimes they want to. They want to stop using turn-signals; they want to beep the horn as an editorial comment more than to signal danger; they don't want to heed yellow traffic-lights.

Obeying the Signals

Living in another country these past four months, every moment is magnified, and moment by moment, my desires can lead me either to a delightful adventure or set off an episode of metaphoric road-rage in me or in the people I encounter...even if it's just the simmering variety.

I thought of all this because we're spending a day of leisure today, including getting haircuts and doing some clothes-shopping, and maybe even seeing a Hindi movie in an actual movie theater finally.

Today, my desires are at odds with themselves --in their own traffic-jam, or maybe having to repair a blown tire. I want to produce work that is brilliant (that's the star-wish part), particularly now that I'm in the stage of writing a final paper for my independent study. And I also want to be universally, recognizably stylish as well as attentive to Pat, perhaps unfortunately -- today -- in that order.

Getting Purposefully Lost

Every day, I want to be loving, mature, self-aware, discerning and appealing, and I struggle with being so 100% of the time. My mother promises that my intensity will mellow over time, but I do not really believe her. I think of it as earnestness, but my mom calls it what it is, which is intensity. "Sarah, why don't you let yourself live?" she asks me whenever I'm menaced by perfectionism or by any experience that would not torture a typical person.

Suddenly, I feel defensive and want to say that intensity is a two-sided coin -- there's the alienating side and the side that makes me so fully-present and enthusiastic most of the time.

If I can "let myself live" today, maybe I'll be driven in some new directions....

Thursday, November 8, 2007


The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Boom, Boom, Boom...

...was part of a fun '80s pop-song chorus by Paul Lekakis. The booms popped all day in honor of Diwali, and they're still bursting.

I found them a bit scary while Pat was purely amused by the firecrackers and their accompanying detritus, which lay all over the streets of our neighborhood.

The simply beautiful candles on people's doorsteps appealed to me most.


The House of Reps went for it yesterday. When it includes transgender people, I'll celebrate.

Animals Are People, Too

A baby salamander found its way into our downstairs bathroom today. I don't think I ever mentioned that one of the telephone numbers we were given when we moved in was for the snake-catcher. So far, thank God, we haven't needed to dial him.

My friend Chitra and her family bought an Alsatian German Shepherd today. I haven't yet met Miranda, but Pat's looking forward to it. My local manager, our colleague from Gurgaon, Pat and I had dinner last night and I asked them if they loved animals. Pat said yes, and one of them replied, "The human kind."

"Are we animals, Pat?" I asked this afternoon.

"Yes because we're not vegetables or minerals."

For the first time here the other day, I saw road-kill. It was early in the morning, during my commute. I'd thought that animals were safe here, even as they've ambled into the roads routinely. Pat taught me that it's considered bad Karma for Hindus to kill an animal.

I've missed this forum all week; I was in solidly off-site meetings till Thursday. It's hard to return to the groove when I've been out of it for more than a few days, which is why, typically, I try not to go without posting for more than three days or so.