Wednesday, July 25, 2007

First Female President

I was supposed to write this post yesterday but got home rather late last night. I am quite tired hence please forgive my typos and probably grammatical errors.

Those who are from India and those who aren't but read newspapers must be aware that yesterday, Pratibha Patil took reins as the first female President of the country. This is a landmark as next month, on August 15th, India will complete 60 years of independence. Last night Jay Leno made a crack about this by saying that India has the first female President and George W called India not to congratulate her but that he had a computer query. It is funnier when Leno says this than I recollecting and typing the punch line.

First of all the role of the President of India is largely ceremonial based on the model of the British monarchy. On the other hand the Prime Minister is elected by the electorate. Our first female Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, was elected in 1966. She was in power from 1966 till her brutal assasination in 1984, except of course the dark era of Emergency and the subsequent change in rule. So there is no big deal that there is a woman President. Does anyone even remember who all the President's were since the first President, Rajendra Prasad and the last President A P J Abdul Kalam? So incidentally this position is largely ceremonial and if I may say so, a token post. In fact this particular nomination has been riled with controversies as well which I don't want to get into especially since I am a simpleton with no aptitude for politics.

The BBC website states that her supporters suggested Mrs Patil's election would prove to be a landmark for women in a country where millions routinely face violence, discrimination and poverty. I take an exception to this assumption that this would empower women as incidentally India is a culture which worships women. There is this concept of worshipping Lakshmi (Goddess of wealth) and that a birth of a girl child should be treated like the arrival of Lakshmi in the parent's home and the newly wed bride is called "Griha Lakshmi" as she brings wealth into the house of the in-laws. Yet in parts of the country sex selection is being practiced where female foetuses are being aborted and there are dowry deaths as well. There are laws to protect women yet they are treated as secondary citizens. Therefore as this exalted status of women is just a token and not practised therefore it is hard to believe that a token female President would change this in any way and would aid in empowering women. Most importantly the status of women did not change drastically since the election of the first female Prime Minister 41 years ago!

PS: I would also like to note that India is a paradox and it would be incorrect to paint it with broad strokes of generalization. The status of women is more a socio economic situation which is not going to change overnight! Also women in urban and upper middle class situations are most certainly not disadvantaged or face the proverbial glass ceiling. Case in point being CEOs like Anu Aga, Lalita Gupte of ICICI etc.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


Those of you who live in New Jersey already know this but those who don't live here might be aware that in Jersey one has to get their vehicles inspected every two years. This is required pursuant to the 1990 Clean Air Act. Jersey being such a tiny state and so densely populated, I think, this requirement is a good thing. I am however not certain how efficient measure it is. Anyway like a true Jersey resident all I can say is "You gotta do what you gotta do. There ain't nothin' that you can do about it."

According to the DMV website, this is what they do:
  • The inspector will determine your car's engine type and prep it for testing.
  • Your brakes' suspension, steering, wheel alignment and safety features (headlights, taillights, tires, horn, windshield wipers and turn signals) will be checked.
  • The inspector will perform the appropriate emissions test based on the year, make and model of the vehicle.
  • The final stage of the test will assure that your gas cap is stable and limits the escape of fumes into the environment.
  • Upon completion, the inspector will place a new two-year sticker in your windshield

That sounds fairly straight forward and simple, doesn't it. But no, nothing is simple or straight forward in life. If you don't know this then you are living in a vacuum and please may I join you there. So on friday evening, I take my car to the inspection facility hoping that all is well and that I will pass the test with flying colors. I have terrible test taking skills so I am always nervous. This friday however I was cheerful and life could not have been better. I pulled in the facility in Mercer County. There weren't that many cars so I was pleased as a punch. In fact they called me and few others into the reinspection line, which is a seperate one than the one for cars being inspected for the first time in two years.

I pulled in, the guy checked my registration, license and insurance policy and asked me to step out in the waiting area, which is air conditioned. The temperature was in the lower 80s but the waiting area was freezing cold. After a 15 minute wait I am informed that my car failed the test for safety reasons because apparently the rear braking was uneven. I look at my car like a parent would look at their errant kid when he/she screws up in the school exam. The inspector informed me that some minor work was required and that I had 45 days to get it done. I really didn't have the patience to wait for 45 days so instead called my mechanic right then. I had got some brake work done a month ago to the rear brakes and informed him so. Of course he didn't remember me or my name despite being from India (Gee I wonder why!) and asked me to come in first thing in the morning. So last morning, when it was nice and sunny, I took my car to his facility at around 8:00 AM. He fixed the problem within 45 minutes and assured me that I should pass the test.

Anyway I reached the Inspection facility about 9:30 AM and drove through the seperate reinspection lane. I was very confident and knew that my car will pass with flying colors. Well, it didn't and failed the inspection because the rear brake light was not working. I asked the insepctor that I had come to the same facility less than 24 hours ago and why they hadn't noticed it at all then? He told me, "My bad....they probably missed it. You know that you have 45 days to rectify this." I am seething but keeping my calm tell the guy to please check if anything else is missing because I didn't intend to make it a habit to spend all my time in this facility over and over again! The guy was embarassed and told me to run to Sears, which is located literally next door to get the bulb.

I went to the Sears Auto Center and found that there was a long line with probably just one person in attendance. All I needed was one small bulb, which I was going to replace myself. I went to the aisle and noticed a small booklet explaining what type of bulb would work depending on the make and year. I did not find anything for my car. I saw an employee walk by and requested him to guide me. He said that I should wait in line, which incidentally had six people waiting ahead of me, and someone would then tell me what bulb I would need! Of course I walked out of the store sans the bulb and decided to go Autozone, which is located a couple of miles away. I walked in the store and noticed that were a few people waiting but there were quite a few very helpful attendants as well. I was not sure which bulb would be the correct one so took whatever I thought might work to the checkout lane. The cashier very efficiently pointed out the correct one for my car. I replaced the bulb rather quickly, as thanks to K, I had a swiss army knife in my glove compartment, which incidentally has a screw driver as well. K had kept this in the glove compartment in case I ever needed it. I never required to use it until last morning so I made a mental note to thank K for his thoughtfullness.

So I returned to the facility at around 11AM and found that there was a rather long line of cars waiting for inspection. All of them were first timers! I wanted to get on to the seperate lane but found that the idiot waiting before me, was plonked right in the middle of a two-lane driveway! I was in no mood to sound the horn and ask him to move because that doesn't work with Jersey drivers. So I negotiate gingerly next to this moron, who is playing music rather loud on his system, partly into the grass and dirt hoping that my wheels don't get stuck! Luckily the other drivers are better and have parked in the their lanes, so I finally got to the reinspection lane. The inspector recognized me because as soon as I pulled in, he said "Hey I noticed that your brake lights are working just fine now so don't worry I shall replace your sticker right away. You might have to wait though because there are two cars ahead of you." I gave him the most beatific smile I could manage and thanked him. He promplty replaced the sticker and apologised for the trouble. I smiled and thanked my stars that I have to inspect my car every two years. Therefore I should be fine until July 2009 and not have to deal with the DMV, of course unless my license expires prior to that.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Summer Cocktails

I had a very long day today and right now I am unwinding with a fuzzy navel. This is such an excellent summer drink and is so refreshing. In case you don't know the ingredients or the recipe here goes:

Fuzzy Navel

3 oz. Peach Schnapps

3oz. Orange juice.

Of course this is stirred and not shaken. It is served in a highball glass with lot of ice. Speaking of cocktails let me share two other favorite summer cocktails.

Blue Lagoon

2 shots Vodka

2 shots Blue Curacao and

Top this with Lemonade. Garnish with lemons. This is also served in a highball glass

Peach Martini

2 oz. Vodka or Gin or White Rum

2 oz Peach Schnapps

Mix the two in a shaker with ice. Strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a thin wedge of peach. I also prefer cherry garnish as it renders a cool color to the drink.

Like they say in all alcohol commercials....please drink responsibly and do not drink and drive. Cheers!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

American Visa

My blogger buddy Lotus has reviewed a book titled "American Visa," by Juan De Recacoechea, which you can read here. It reminded me of the time I had applied for my student visa to come to the U.S. for my graduate school. I had to go to the Consulate in my city. At that time it was really chaotic as one had to go there at an unearthly hour and wait in a long line. Then they would let a few people go into the building where one had to go through the arduous security screening, much worse than airports, to finally get into the room where they conducted a visa interview. The interviewers were on the other side of a window pretty much like the ticket windows you see at the subway stations in NY or the NJ Transit Ticket windows. It is high time they have vending machines for the visa applicants like they have for tickets at train stations.

I remember our driver had taken me to the Consulate at an unearthly hour. On reaching there I noticed that there was a huge crowd of people who had come from outside the City and from other parts of the country, patiently waiting in line. There were stalls outside selling water, cold beverages and even snacks! Then there were a few enterprising people who had set their tables and chairs to sell bank drafts in the event that the visa applicants had forgotten to get the requisite amount. I couldn't imagine anyone doing that but was surprised to find that quite a few people were buying the drafts from them. I think the way these visas get denied, this non-refundable fee must be providing enough revenue, not just to support the personnel and other overhead expenses but also to make a handsome profit (I don't know but I am just guessing).

So anyway I went through the painful wait along with the oppressive monsoon heat while G, our driver, was napping comfortably in the car. I must tell you at that very moment I had wished that he were applying for the visa and I was napping in the car, without any care, instead. Finally I was ushered in and went through the security check and into the room where they interviewed people. After about an hour or was it two hours.....I cannot remember....they called my token number to the window.

The guy who interviewed me had such a thick accent and might have been from the deep south. I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. He asked me a lot of questions and I kept asking him to repeat himself while struggling to hear him across the glass window. I was tired, hungry and so bored and the guy was making it worse by asking me totally ridiculous questions. Finally I told him that I didn't understand a word and that if he didn't want to grant me a visa, he shouldn't be wasting my time. He looked at me totally shocked and said that I am supposed to convince him that I can afford to go to the U.S. He told me that since I am not answering these questions properly he was forced to deny and that I should apply again. So I went back home totally confused as to what was so hard to understand from all the documents that I had given him to review. They looked pretty clear and self explanatory to me and thought that someone who interviews visa applicants for a living should have known this by now.

Anyway I went back after three days and went through the whole routine and was finally ushered in the room with the ticket office. Since I was applying for the second time, I along with a few other people, had to wait and after about three to four hours I was called to the window. This time the woman had very clear speech and asked me where I was planning to study. I answered and she smiled, wished me luck and told me to go and pay my fees. That was it, the interview was over in less than two minutes. Now couldn't the first guy have done that instead of wasting my time and money?

I must tell you though that I entertained myself watching other visa applicants and wondering about their lives. I also noticed some of the visa guys gloat over crushing some poor blokes dreams of going to America! It has been quite a few years now but I still remember it so vividly.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Surviving in a man's world

I am in a profession which is predominantly male. Of course my previous avatar as an architect was essentially in a male-dominated profession in a country which is perceived in the West as typically patriarchal. I have never felt limited or conscious of my gender at all. Perhaps this could be due to the fact that growing up my father was such a positive influence in my life. I owe a lot of things to him and have always been a daddy’s girl. He always made me believe that I can achieve whatever I wanted and that nothing mattered as long as I was determined and worked hard.

When I started working as an architect in India, I was the only female professional in my office. There were other women there but they were support staff. After a year of working, I was given my own project to manage. Of course this came to me by default. The firm had moved to this very swanky office building that the architect was building. When the building was almost complete, his eccentric associate moved there on site with just one draftsman and two architects, which included me. The remaining staff was at the old office. One morning the architect needed someone to quickly design something for the client based on his concept sketch. I volunteered to do it and worked non-stop to complete it. I had the drawings ready by about 8:30PM in the office, two hours after the normal office hours, when the architect walked in. He was surprised to see that apart from the cleaning people, I was the only one working and that the rest of his staff had gone home. Before that the architect always thought that I was killing time working for some pocket money till my parents got me married! So when he realized that I was serious about my career, he offered me this project to manage. Before that I had worked for him for a year and he didn't even know my name!

It was a substantial sized project for me as a young architect but rather small for him because he is an eminent architect in India and his clientele included who’s who from the country. I had to deal with a lot of bias on site because they were not used to taking directions from a woman, especially someone so young. One day the client, being a very traditional Indian man, complained about the fact that my boss was sending a “mere woman” to the site. My boss was furious and gave him an earful about his gender bias and told him that I was better than the ten male architects in his office! Of course since the architect's name and projects have a lot of prestige associated with it, he pretty much dictated terms to his clients no matter who they were. Therefore this particular client had no choice but to accept me as the project architect. Later the client was proved wrong and funnily wanted me to mentor his “poor little rich girl” daughter who wasn’t motivated in life, which is a totally different story. Anyway I was furious at that time, for one because I was in my twenties and had led a very sheltered life and didn’t know what gender bias was until then.

Later I married K, who like my father has always let me be and we have a relationship based on equality. I had completely forgotten about this incident until last morning. I am in the U.S. for the past seven to eight years, two of which were spent in graduate school. I currently have a female boss. Incidentally she is a year younger than me, has had an Ivy League education and is incredibly smart. A client complained to her that he didn’t want me to work on his project and preferred a male who wasn’t a foreigner! She was livid and told the person that how dare he make such lame comments to her and that he had no choice in the matter. She told him that I was not just qualified to work on the project but was in fact over-qualified. She told him that he had no credibility and to not waste her time with such nonsense! When she told me what transpired, this time around I was not livid at all but felt pity for the man. In fact I burst out laughing at his ignorance and even made jokes at his expense. I have reached a conclusion that no matter where you go in the world there will always be losers like that who unfortunately make a fool of themselves by putting their foot in their mouths. Such people deserve pity or perhaps not pity as much as a kick in some place rather painful!