The Terminal: Airport diaries 

If anyone has watched the Tom Hanks movie called The Terminal, you will catch the theme of this post. If not, go watch it, it’s a very intriguing movie!

In the movie, Tom Hanks plays a character who is stuck at an airport terminal (JFK, New York) for months, with a passport that was deemed invalid, due to a war that was going on in his home country of Krakozhia. Now I happen to be a pro at spending countless hours at airport terminals (pre-checkin).

My first instance of spending excruciatingly long time at the airport stemmed out of a fear of missed flight connections. I spent close to 15 hours at the Des Moines International airport, reaching 8 hours in advance, due to a winter weather advisory. I was hoping to catch a morning flight that was subsequently delayed over 7 hours, due to a snow storm. Which led to a chain of delayed and missed connections, with a long halt at the prestiged JFK airport. I spent an entire night there without a valid ticket out of the country, while I was travelling back to India.

There, I befriended an Angolian girl who was caught in the same situation, and I also finished AND submitted my final report for one of the courses that I had taken in that semester. The only charging ports that were available were at restaurants, which had been closed for the night, so we hunted down a spot and alternatingly charged our phones and laptops.

The second airport “all-nighter” that I pulled was in a recent travel. I was in Chicago for a symposium, so it made sense for me to book a direct flight from there back to India. Only, I had no accommodation for a night, so I decided to spend the night at the terminal again, possibly thinking of replicating my previous crazy overnight adventure at JFK. But this time, I was prepared. I stuffed my bag with snacks. Got my laptop out, watched videos on YouTube. Kept trying to find a cozy location to sleep. Thankfully Chicago O-Hare has a plethora of charging points at the terminals just before the checkin counters.

This time, I realized that I wasn’t the only weirdo playing this game. There were several airport transit all-nighter people like me. Now you might think, how big of a hole does it burn in a girl’s pocket, to go out and explore the city or check into a hotel for a night? It’s a purely mental thing. It makes me feel better about splurging money at other times. Also, I’m always up for new and interesting experiences!

It was interesting to see how well prepared some passengers are, for these all-nighters. There was one man who had a sleeping blanket and a bed-sheet that he spread on the floor behind the seats, and slept peacefully. Those who were thin and flexible, slid themselves below the armrests and slept on 3 consecutive seats. Ingenuous travelers! I adopted the same technique on my flight to India, when the girl occupying the next seat left it for another.

Now, I wouldn’t say that spending long hours at the airport is fun, but it is definitely a different experience. Plus, at the end of it all, nothing beats the excitement of “going home”!

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The sexist washroom arrangement

… and other inconsequential matters.

So, I happen to be a PhD student at the Electrical and Computer Engineering department at university, and there is a very strange problem that I face every day. There is only one women’s washroom on my floor. Two men’s washrooms. The one women’s washroom is actually pretty far from my lab. I bumped into another girl student in the washroom today, and she commented on how sexist it seems. I agreed. I had thought the same thing when I had first found out.

The thing is, my department has a very skewed proportion of males and females. I’d pin the best case female-to-male ratio to about 1:6. One female for every six males. Bizarre!

It’s rather disappointing for a multiple reasons. Where are all of my brainiac women at? I’m surrounded by a bunch of guys who only talk math and understand little or no social or friendly convention. Heck, one of the reasons that I’m writing this post is because I’m supremely pissed at how little my male “friend” actually cares about being there for me, when times are not that great. He just point blank refused to listen to me. No explanations. No regards. I’m not only offended, but I’m also hurt. And there’s only one washroom to go cry in! Just kidding (okay, sorry if that was awkward… I’m not crying, you are)!

Such is the situation, that I’ve decided to fly back impromptu to India for three weeks. At least there are people there that care. I’m quite excited to see my boyfriend after a very long time; times have been tough for him to say the least, and I am really hoping to dump a heap of presents, loads of cheery joy and some mindful wisdom on him!

I’m also attending a machine learning symposium for the first time, prior to that. I’ve attended a workshop before this, but a symposium is a first, and I’m also supposed to present a poster of my work so far, there. I remember wanting to present my research work at Open Day, at IISc (my previous place of work), but didn’t get the chance to. So this opportunity is exciting!

I took my sketching skills to a new level by drawing face portraits. I wanted to capture a mysterious girl with a pleasant melancholy and I couldn’t think of anyone better than Hannah from Thirteen Reasons Why. I think the actress portrayed the role to perfection, and is very pretty.

WhatsApp Image 2017-06-09 at 1.29.37 AM

I’m a bit rusty when it comes to my sketching skills, but I personally think it’s a good start. At least it looks like a human! I find artwork quite involving, and a good distraction from the sense of despondency that creeps in every now and then.

And then finally, when I find my spirits dampened, I usually resort to finding yummy things to munch on. I went to McDonald’s yesterday and tried their Pico Guacamole Signature sandwich with grilled chicken on a sesame bun. I was pleasantly surprised! McDonald’s and quality food? I’m definitely going to try the other two options (they have bacon in them) soon (or depending on how often I feel friendless, in this sucky place).

Not that everyone’s bad here. I’m the one at fault. I don’t socialize as much myself. So I decided to make newer friends, after the person I thought I could rely on ditched me. I thought to myself, why not go speak to the one person from my research group, that annoys me the most. It was a Eureka moment at peak-time anxiety. He actually gave me some good elder brotherly advice and I really appreciated it. Speaking to people really helps. He also mentioned some insight about Freud and that just reminded me of another senior-friend that used to mention Freud to me when I would go to him in a distressed state. This is a rather weird pattern that I do not want to fully understand!

Oh and in other news, Bollywood has sunk to insane lows in naming upcoming films like Jab Harry Met Sejal, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha and Tubelight. And these are just off the top of my head. The new Katy Perry music is bizarre to say the least, and haters can say what they want, but Linkin Park is not a sellout, I do enjoy the sound of their new music.

That’s all for the pensieve today. Till the next contemplation overflow, good day y’all!

Dude where’s my card?

**Context: I had posted a valentine’s day card to my boyfriend, a couple days past VDay and it never reached him. With the card, I had enclosed a letter, a letter that contained some confidential information. This post is a continuation of that letter, but I’m just choosing not to post it, because I don’t trust the US Postal services/India post any more.

Disclaimer: This is a spoof blog post and is not an accurate representation of my thoughts on any political or postal system. Also contains some Harry Potter references (yeah, I need to grow up).**

Dear Drake,

Firstly, let me re-apologize. I had apologized in my first letter about how it would reach you late. How it would be intercepted by the Inquisitive Squad under an Umbridge-like surveillance, which has been tracking and snooping on everyone’s mail. I didn’t hear back from you for over three months now, so I will assume that the new regime has been successful in taking away people’s right to free expression. Or that international postal services are careless with “first class mail”. But my suspicions were right: my letter never reached you.

I am therefore resorting to electronic broadcasting means, and I hope that you stumble upon this “letter”, as long as you remember to check my blog at regular intervals. (Since this is a public medium, I urge other watchers to follow the same strategy. Keep following my updates on my blog, in case you have been meaning to hear from me, but haven’t in a while.)

I hear that you are in crisis. I had sent you a “portkey” to teleport you here, but I have obviously failed. Or maybe the postman accidentally touched it and got teleported instead; I clearly didn’t think this through. I will come up with a better solution, and find a way to meet you, by fight or by flight!

In other news, yet another Indian origin kid became a spelling bee champion; people prefer watching girls at the bay over girls in Baywatch; the top Google trends in technology news today are literally an advertisement for different Apple products, with the topics Apple, iOS, Siri, App Store, iPad Pro, iMac, MacBook Pro, iPad and Macintosh forming 9 of the 10 trends (I think Apple managed to hijack Google’s clustering algorithm somehow, but Google’s No-got any time to look into that (geddit? Nougat?)). This is the news as I see it here on the 5th of June, so this is the digital equivalent of holding up a newspaper to showcase what date it is, for fact checking evidences.

Meanwhile, scientists, including the likes of yours truly have reached a step closer to unlocking the secret for true happiness: it consists of rotating a 3 armed UFO like object called the fidget spinner. People are still unsure about its calming effects, though I think we’ve just demonstrated the biggest placebo effect in action ever. Those things work, just like how that detox tea makes you slimmer and that Avengers tee makes you look like a Marvel fan. Let’s just admit that we just got those things at a cool discount and they didn’t disappoint. So I think you should watch out for a fidget spinner in your post. Or a Marvel tee. Or detox tea. Or neither, depending on space and time constraints.

If you think that this letter is progressing rather aimlessly, then you’ve actually successfully caught on to the unaltered version. It is usually difficult to decrypt utter gibberish and that’s the language that I’ve chosen to encyrpt this message in. 

If you receive this message, send me a distress signal; a rescue ship will be on its way. 

P.S. The ship is a metaphor for this blog post, don’t expect an actual ship. Though it might be cool to own one, one day. If and when I do own one, I’ll definitely send it if required. 

Point of infliction

A couple of weeks back, I finally managed to write a paper to completion and submitted it for a technical conference. But until then, for about three years, I struggled to get to this point. Not due to lack of talent. Not due to lack of ambition. Things just didn’t go right for me.

And I continued to assume that I was a failure. So what is failure?

I guess failure is to fall short of a universally set standard for happiness. The ideal of a perfect life. Having the right kind of money, a loving family, nurturing relationships, a good environment for living, basic necessities, good health, prosperity that grows proportionally with effort and respect in society. Failure, for many, is the inability to achieve all… or any of this.

For me, it was the inability to achieve a set of seemingly unrealistic ambitions for myself. I think as humans, we’re trained to be competitive, grab the best kind of resources for ourselves, because there is a clear lack of those. The idea of a perfect life etched out for us by our forefathers (and foremothers) mimics Darwinian principals of the survival of the fittest.

The fact is, there is an inequitable distribution of resources among people in the world, in general; in order to get to the Utopian state of unprejudiced equilibrium, one would require years in terms of time and effort. Steady state would come, after infinite time passes. But that’s the glitch in the whole grand theory of a perfect life, right?

While we, as humans, fight for finite resources, we ourselves have finite resources at our disposal and finite time to use them. So not only do we need to acquire the resources at deficit, we have few chances to attain them. And the crux of the problem is, given a bad initial point, even if it exists, one would probably take a very long time to reach the optimum. Quicker methods are high risk. In simple words, life is unfair. Unfairly depriving to some. Unfairly rewarding to others. So is mankind destined for failure?

The flaw in my analysis so far, is, a simple definition, or lack thereof. I have a clear metric for failure. What is the metric for success? Adhering to norms is not success. But deviating from them, is failure.

We often give such skewed importance to different facets of life that it throws us off balance, when those “important” things/resources go missing. For most of us, this could be either our career, or a close person, or an object of desire. Human beings are in general, goal oriented. Every life needs a purpose. That’s what everyone tells us, and to most, that purpose becomes attaining the attributes of a perfect life.

I think we should all work towards restoring equilibrium for everyone, not just ourselves; as a race, we are far better equipped to solve crisis in groups. Communication, is key. Crying or asking for help, should not be looked down on; it’s not a sign of weakness in character. It’s the sign that one has recognized the onset of danger and is trying to pull in resources from all around, to help combat the situation better.

Individualism is assumed to be a heroic trait, but quite honestly, it’s over-rated. The fact is, I felt helpless, agitated, annoyed, and disappointed, because I refused to take help from anyone. And while I’m quite proud that I overcame everything on my own, and don’t “need anyone else” to persevere, it might have served me far better if I had interacted with more people. Shared more. Observed and learned more, rather than isolating myself.

I think, my biggest mistake was that, it was I alone, that made myself feel like a failure. A lot of it was inside my head. I had internalized a lot of what I had thought was the society’s perception of me.

We need to stop taking ourselves so seriously. We’re part of an ecosystem that needs to thrive based on harmony. Just thinking about one’s own self would not lead to that. So on that note, I really want to take more time out to share my thoughts with more people. To touch as many lives as possible. If there’s one thing that no one ever educates us about, it is emotional well-being. And I think as a first step, we need to start educating ourselves on that. And maybe then, along the way somewhere, I’ll understand what success actually means.

Return of the Saucepan

It’s my first post after a really long time. And it’s been a very, very heavy month, so far. So people who know me must be wondering… “Really, Ga…(okay can’t give away my name) Parmeniac, your first post after so long, and you’re writing about saucepans?” 

To which I’d like to say, that I don’t exactly know the best way to eloquently express what has been going on, and at this point, I can’t give it full justice. So let’s ponder over relatively mundane things for now. There’s a life lesson in everything! 

Now this is a rather dumb event that happened in the past week. I’ve been stressed out at work. But one of my roommates has been particularly free, because she’s doing a mostly disappointing MBA course here at university, so her semester wrapped up a month before mine. Since then, she has become housewife (or the gender neutral homemaker, as they call it here). Which is a polite way of saying, she has no job (not that she contributes to household chores either, so technically homemaker is wrong too). Her good friend has also started frequenting way more often than I’d like a mere acquaintance of mine to frequent my house. I call him househusband (or the gender neutral… err… homemaker). Two many homemakers spoil the broth and make it a boiling pot of increasing inconvenience. 

Speaking of which, housewife happened to give away my saucepan to househusband without even asking me. Why? Because she wanted to support him in his homemaking skills. 

Apparently there exists a category of entitled people who think they can get anything they want, giving no regard to the people around them.  

And so far, I really had been letting it slide. Small things. But not my saucepan! You can’t take tea-making equipment from a tea addict! Specially during her peak tea consumption regime due to previously alluded to stress factors. 

And so, it came to a mild confrontation. I had to ask her about the whereabouts of my saucepan. And I had to push her into giving it back to me, which was also tough because she made it look like a case in which we couldn’t deprive househusband of basic privileges like having a saucepan. Here’s an idea. Maybe buy him one? 

I’ll excuse myself before the stupidity quotient of this post falls below my tolerance limit. So if you’re looking for the life lesson here, here it goes: sometimes in life, you have to fight for things that are rightfully yours. No, I’m not talking about people here. You don’t own people. But things, situations, experiences. So don’t hold back from seizing your happiness. Even if it’s just a saucepan. Carpe diem! 

Persistence : A take

What is persistence? 

Persistence is when your roommate sleeps right through an alarm that rings for 2 minutes straight, waking you up but not her. 

Persistence is when Iowa weather refrains from stabilising and staying constant for more than 2 days at a stretch. 

Persistence is when Paul, the check-out guy at Hyvee always has something randomly ordinary yet amusing to share during his extremely late night shift. 

Persistence is when the old veteran with the shaky hand, who rides the Cyride bus service, manages to make small talk with every bus driver, while travelling back and forth across campus everyday. 

Persistence is when one looks forward to sharing the events of even a mundane day, with someone special. 

Persistence is how I end up missing multiple buses, in spite of checking the bus schedule several times. 

Persistence is how I insert a pun into every article I write. 

Persistence is when I continue writing a list on persistence. 

Maybe persistence is just a force of habit. And maybe all the one needs, to persist, is to form that habit.