Do I really have to count my blessings?

On Monday, I start work again. There’s is no need to explain why the work stopped and even though technically, we were still working from home and I still managed to edit my first manuscript (now under review) and draft the second one, the time from 16th March has not been pleasant (to say the least).

While my life is cozy and I have always had a great support (albeit virtually for the most part) system comprising of friends, family and my partner, who constantly keep a tab on my mental and physical health, this was my first brush with actual “hard times” in life. Everyone’s world changed radically due to government mandated lockdowns, and so did mine. I should have counted my blessings but I went the other way and started feeling disgusted with the life I have. I hated that I still had a job, salary, support, and insane quantities of love. I hated that no one at work critiqued my performance or called me inefficient and a worthless burden on the university, because, in absence of any references, I did feel unproductive. I also found that despite all the wonderful people telling me that I was worth being loved, respected and cared for, and that losing access to lab due to a global pandemic was not my fault, it was surprisingly easy to loathe myself.

While my self-loathing has not gone away and my self-worth is still precariously balanced on my work and productivity, I did find some ways to come to terms with situation. During this lockdown period, I found walking to be the most useful thing I could with myself. I did take it a bit overboard and started doing 10 km walks a day to just feel something close to “a sense of achievement”. However, over the last few weeks I have established a healthier relationship with myself and while I can’t save the world, I have decided to save myself from myself (I think the Finnish government has already ensured that I am safe from the virus).

What I realised during my walks was essentially, when you suffer from issues related to low self-esteem, appreciation is absolutely the last thing you want to hear but the most important thing you need to hear. Also, internalised self-hatred sticks to your heart and soul like hot glue. And if I didn’t have so many lovely people in my life telling me repeatedly that despite of what I think about myself, they consider me a worthy member of human civilisation, I would have probably never bothered leaving my house ever again.

Since Finland is such a beautiful country, I had taken a lot of pictures during my walks. Looking back at them I realised how similar yet strangely different they were and how much of what I found worth clicking depended on my own mood during the day. I guess the cliche that you need to look at things in a different light to get a new perspective holds true. So here are some of the pictures during the walks.

Stuck between a quarantine and a hard place

Let me get this out of the way. The world feels too surreal and weird right now. A virus in combination with the indomitable human stupidity has ground the “normal life” to stand-still. However, we are all expected to carry on. And we should. If you don’t get up every morning and crib about the weather or the news or your neighbor, the virus would have won people!

Our university is now a virtual reality and Microsoft Teams is the new meeting room. We are still supposed to carry on with our everyday duties, the only difference being we #workfromhome. I still have to teach a class of graduate students the importance of Life Cycle Assessment and I still have to make sense of my experimental data. As a doctoral student, I also have to publish four papers in reputed journals in my field if I wish to get that ‘Dr.’ before my name (or Anubhuti Bhatnagar, PhD if I were humble) by 2022. Before you roll your eyes in derision, no, this is not the reason why I joined a doctoral program. I do love research and getting paid for just thinking about things but PhD is the license to be allowed to do all the thinking and get paid for it. So right now, it is just about the title.

So far I have 0 papers. I wrote my first research paper in pre-Covid 19 world and submitted it for the process of peer review that all scientists love so much. On 10th March (when Covid 19 had taken over our lives), after three months of anxiously checking my inbox everyday, I received the Editor’s email. They thought my paper was crap and needs to be burned and eliminated from the world or as the editor put it: “I have decided that the manuscript cannot be accepted for publication.” This is the third time my paper had been rejected, and the only takeaway I had in terms of criticism was, “whatever you are doing is wrong.” It is the first research paper I have written in my life so obviously I know it is a bit shit but they could’ve just said, “Accepted with major (Mt Everest sized pile) revisions?”

I don’t take rejection well. So naturally, the first response was two hours of wailing in front of my ever-patient partner. Then I contemplated quitting school and finding some sort of job that provides, what my favorite comedian David Mitchell calls, a long period of bland contentment. But, eventually, I got up, dusted myself off, and began the process of writing all over again.

I had spent past two weeks in recovering and rewriting, along with worrying that the world might end before I get published. Yesterday I mustered enough courage to send the edited paper to a colleague who’s generally given me good advise in lab and my father who is a respected scientist, but more importantly has been reading my crappy essays, articles, and poems since I was 18. My mother’s a scientist and an amateur writer as well, but she’s too much of a cheerleader when it comes to her kids to give an objective response or critique.

I knew something was horrendous about my paper, when in the evening my father called me and said, “First of all, you are a very cute daughter. Now, about the paper…..” and he told me in very polite terms that it looks like I have no idea what I am doing, which is true to an extent. So I went through a lot of second-hand embarrassment while I waited for my colleague to get back to me. Their email started with, “Don’t be overwhelmed with the suggestions, but….”

I realize it sounds self-indulgent and pitiful to be complaining in these trying times about something as trivial as this. But when I read that email, I could feel the old Impostor Monster that lives inside my heart and soul, leap out and perform an interpretive dance about my lack of writing skills. Then it took a couple of cheery laps around the house (because you know…#stayathome).

Obviously I asked them for their help voluntarily, and would have hated if they had tried to mollycoddle me. Additionally, I would much rather get all the criticism now and work on my paper than see another rejection letter. But it is still quiet disheartening to be told (in the most kindest way possible, I should add) that unfortunately I am pretty bad at the one thing I actually like.

The day I got the third rejection, I read a lot of blogs and advisory columns by professors and doctoral students that academic writing is a different ball game, and it really doesn’t matter if you know ten synonyms for the word competence, as long as you’re incompetent at getting through to your peers. Clearly I am a bit overwhelmed by the suggestions and corrections I have to make. But now that my monster has had some fun, and I have wallowed in self-pity on this platform, I hope I can get some work done.

If nothing else, I want to come out of this world-wide quarantine with the writing skills of Shakespeare. Although he’s probably a wrong role model since academic writing is supposed to be compulsively pithy. I should probably be aiming for the skills of Oliver Lowry and his collaborators. By 2014, their paper had over 300,000 citations, which is the maximum for a paper to date.

You can read it here: http://www.jbc.org/content/193/1/265.long

Also this: https://www.nature.com/news/the-top-100-papers-1.16224

Edit on May 31st: I didn’t quite manage to get the hang of the writing skills. Plus had another major breakdown on May 18th and barely managed to keep my sanity. You can read about how my two months went in the next post.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? Or weaker?

As I sit on my desk, phone in hand, contemplating for the nth consecutive day about creating a new blog entry, I can’t stop wondering about the validity of “what doesn’t kill you makes your stronger.” Surely some things just make you weaker or leave you unaltered. I did get off the desk and go to work on each day…its just that creating something for a blog on a weekly basis starts to feel annoying very quickly.

A quick google search reveals that it was none other than Nietzsche that came up with this maxim, and it doesn’t surprise me. While it looks great on a T-shirt or a get-well-soon card it doesn’t stand my test of what ‘a good idea to live by’ should be. There are plenty of things that have happened in our lives, which have left us vulnerable and susceptible to further damage. This might sound like I’m talking about COVID-19, which seems more dangerous for the old and the ones with a pre-existing condition, but I’m actually just talking about personal life experiences that we all have everyday.

Give a bad presentation…and every future presentation will scare you.

Go through a heartbreak and you’ll always be scared to love someone again.

Get in an abusive relationship, and you’ll be suspicious of anyone who’s ever nice to you.

For some people (like me) bad experiences are permanent lesions on the skin that can’t get healed completely. They are easy targets for new bad experiences and the world can hit you right where you’re the weakest. It can’t destroy you if you’re careful but it definitely brings back the familiar pains.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger seems to come with a baggage of constantly proving that life can’t one-up you. Well sometimes it can…sometimes you just feel like shit and get on with life nonetheless because that’s what you do. The need to put a positive spin on the nightmare that your life can feel like at times makes me anxious. I don’t know if I’m doing the world such a terrible disservice if on a bad day at the end of a bad week closing a bad month, I decide to curl back into my blanket and not get up with a “never say never” attitude. I’m not saying I’ll stop living or taking risks because then I’m probably not doing my species any justice, but I do like a break from positive fighting spirit.

I know what you’re thinking… “here’s a motivational speaker we have been missing!!” Well the truth, as I see it, is life and people and situations defeat you at times. What gets you through can be an “I’ll fight it out attitude” or can be just the passage of time healing your wounds enough to make everything usable again, and the evolutionary tactic of having a finite memory space in the brain. One day you’ll let it go either by choice or by habit. I think both of them are valid routes to take. So if you see someone going through the pain of public embarrassment, heartbreak, abuse in a relationship or COVID-19, please avoid saying, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!”

The audacity of a non-consensual grope

We have been made to believe that “tehzeeb” is akin to the SPF 50 that you wear before going out to the beach. Ironically, going to the beach in swimsuits is a sure shot way of getting assaulted, according to the Hitch hiker’s guide to women safety written by the uncles and aunties of India (read: perpetrators of misogyny).

“Pull up your shirt, your cleavage is visible.” “Dude your strap is peeking.” “Cover your head, there are elders in the house.” “Where’s your dupatta, there are strange men here?” “Why is your dress so tight?” “You didn’t share the cab location?” “Were you wearing make-up?” “Why did you stay for another drink?”

These are just some of the things one hears from family and friends, if one happens to identify as a female. We have so many responsibilities to take care of and to make sure that we’re safeguarding ourselves from what ever ugly stuff happens to us in daily life…it’s amazing that we can get any work done.

Some well meaning and all together functional human beings will always preach that rape is apparently a choice that women make. They were careless, dressed inappropriately, inebriated, asking for it, going out of the imaginary line of “maan maryada” (customs). But I don’t want to write about rape. In stead I want to write about something that I consider to be a “gateway drug” for the inappropriate behaviour. Groping.

Sadly, I don’t know any women who haven’t faced a sex pest lecher in life. For us the encounters of the perv kind are as ubiquitous as holy cow on the BJP manifesto. I don’t wish to discount the experiences of the queer and transgender people, as well as many male victims of sexual offences, but I will keep my opinions to the stuff I have personally experienced rather than preach about the stuff I don’t know.

I first experienced the shit show that is groping when I was 14. A cute boy of 16 went with me in the same school bus. I was never very talkative when he was around because of the huge crush I had. One day I sat next to him by happenstance. Suddenly I noticed that his hand had was on my leg slightly above my knee. Not a place where it could’ve been placed by mistake. No no. He had managed to slide below my school bag, pull my skirt up a bit and keep his hand on my bare leg. The journey home lasted 25 minutes and I was acutely aware of his hand grabbing my leg. I couldn’t move. I didn’t want this. I have thought about it so many times, and all I can recall is the nausea I felt all the way home. I froze because in my childish mind, I thought, “Look, you liked this guy, and now he’s touching you. Don’t complain.” Like I have somehow manifested this undesirable behaviour from him.

I locked this incident somewhere in the back of my mind, and never spoke about them with anyone until a couple of years back when my partner and I were discussing some traumatic experiences from his childhood, and this came up.

I can easily recall several other instances of grabbing, pulling, cat calling, etc. when I have been walking around with female friends or in the bus/ train or even while cycling down the road. Although my experiences do seem a bit lack lustre compared to some other creeps out there.

At what point did everyone become au fait with this audacity? I’m not claiming to be a “survivor” here. It fundamentally changed my outlook and behaviour even though I consciously never thought of those incidents for years afterwards. I find the connotation of being a survivor to be an act of heroism that I didn’t partake in. I was a victim of my vulnerabilities, and those are still there.

The vitriol against women and the need to punish our “indecency” that is being strewn around by the likes of Mohan Bhagwat, and if you’re unlucky, your daily family WhatsApp groups is both scary and sadly unsurprising. I say this because the person on the bus was only two years older than me, and yet he knew he’d get away with it. When did he learn about his power?

Jumping to conclusions: My primary superpower

  • My neighbor went back inside, when she saw me leaving my house, she’s probably a racist and hates foreigners.
  • My friends didn’t wish me on my birthday, maybe they don’t like me anymore.
  • She’s checking her phone while I talk…wow she’s rude!

These are just some of the prime examples of me getting on thought train then mid-way turning it into a flying saucer and flying it off to conclusion station without going through the track of logical reasoning. This what psych speak calls Jumping to Conclusion.

Got the idea

Be it Columbus’s discovery of “India” or the primitive human’s understanding of God/gods. The ability to see something and deducing something that is completely antithetical is a common practice throughout history of humanity. The arguments by creationists is often that we’re too perfect to have evolved. We must have been put here by a higher authority, is a masterful example of jumping to conclusions. A bit trivial but no less pernicious idea is the Neo-Nazi idea that because some of them can drink milk, they are superior to the rest because most humans have not evolved to process lactose after childhood. This is not only spectacularly wrong but really hard to take seriously. The conclusion of current right wing hindutva advocates that Hindus are in danger based on the mere existence of Pakistan is another such example.

Conservatives have often called poverty a fault in the character rather than lack of money. [Side note: Rutger Bregman has written an excellent book called Utopia for Realists on poverty alleviation through basic income]. All these points have been proven false through statistically significant data sets, yet the excuse is always, “just because they haven’t proved it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”

Ignoring the hurdles of logic

What my limited world view and echo chamber shows is that if half the humanity can be so wrong about so many things, how can I be immune to this flaw.

Reinforce my bias

I have decided that instead of concluding someone is dead when they don’t call me back, I will give them 24 hours to get back to me. Also when things go wrong in the lab, I will not assume that the universe is out to ruin my life.

Hope you take the slower route to conclusions as well.

Anxious when I am, Anxious when I am not

I don’t have a condition. I had me tested by people (well…one therapist) who told me that I definitely do not have a condition. Although she did say that maybe I seek a diagnosis because it would make my life easier since it would give me a mask to hide my flaws. Actually, what I have is an ‘issue with my existence’ syndrome. This is based on my personal nomenclature practices so don’t look for it in the revised edition of Clinical Handbook of Psychological Disorders.

Yes, it sounds like an issue a 14 year old might face. Also known as ‘the teenage angst’. And maybe since I never went through this during my teenage, it is striking at 29. Maybe everyone gets it at some point…like chicken pox! Although that has almost been eradicated now while teenage angst has become a legit condition.

My current lifestyle choices grant me the time and space to introspect so much that my inner voice never goes to sleep. Talking of inner voices….what does yours sound like? Mine is made up of three groups. Group one is made up of a slightly more compliant version of my actual friends (CVAF). They are the ones I talk to when I want to work through some concept or idea related to studies, and when I want to recount a funny story that no actual living soul must know about. Group two looks and feels like the omnipresent judgmental neighbors (OJN) who use my foibles and peccadilloes as a source constant amusement. Group three is the Clan of Impostor Syndrome (CIS). Now those guys…they can only be described as a mob of death eaters and dementors. They feed off my fear of being found out to be a fraud….something that happens way too often during graduate school. They glare and sneer at me from inside my head till I fumble and fail. The days when I can manage to keep my calm and not give those clansmen the debacle they were hoping for, it feels like sex, love, chocolate, beer, and the joy of peeing after holding it in for an uncomfortable amount of time.

My crisis of existence syndrome comes from the overwhelming power of the OJNs in my life rather than CIS because I have learnt to keep the latter in check but the former still looms large in the everyday. My OJNs are not interested in the high art that is academic failures. It’s the day to day scope of public humiliation that they enjoy. From the minute I open my eyes, their gossiping begins. They wonder out loud in my head, addressing my CVAFs and CISs, about what all could possibly go wrong with me today. Will I fall in the bathroom and break my leg? Or will I burn my hand while making toast? Or will I choke on the coco-puffs that have not softened even after being in the milk for ten minutes? Will I fart so loudly in the toilet at work while someone waits outside that I might have to pretend to have fainted inside till they call a security guard and break the door to get me out, turning their secondary embarrassment and my humiliation into abject pity? Or will I trip on the stairs while telling an amusing story to my colleagues? Will I make a faux pas in the canteen? Will I break something valuable in the lab? Or maybe leave my zip undone? My OJNs have a bigger production budget than Nolan, for sure.

I had often wondered whether everyone talks to themselves as much as I do? But then I recently read an amazing book called ‘I’m a Joke and So Are You: A Comedian’s Take on What Makes Us Human’ by Robin Ince. He spoke to comedians and psychologists about what makes a comedian’s brain tick differently from everyone else’s. He wrote extensively in his book about why this phenomena of hearing the voices in our heads tends to remain an ‘inner thing’ and not an ‘outer thing’. Apparently this has an evolutionary benefit. If you were an ancient hominid hiding from a predator, your safety was dependent on keeping your mouth shut while your inner voice was screaming. This seems fair enough. According to him, while everyone does have an inner voice, comedians generally find a way to mine it for content while others like to suppress it in order to keep sane. Since sanity is not a top expectation from comedians, the good comedians have mastered the art soliloquizing their inner monologue, while I am expected to keep it from leaking out in the everyday. Probably that’s why so many people love giving their opinions on social media. They have a legit space to think out loud. Probably that’s why I am writing this blog. In my case, the ancient predators have been replaced with colleagues in the class/ canteen/ corridors, people in super markets, and flatmates in the house.

Some doctors encourage people suffering from depression or anxiety to create avatars for those feelings so that they can visualize their monsters and then work on culling them, but I don’t know what is the solution for an already fully formed mental archive of monsters, demons, and poltergeists that seem to overrun my life.

Shopping hungry and some other bad decisions

I recently noticed, with immense chagrin, that on days that I entered the supermarket hungry I spent almost €10 more than I did when I entered with a full tummy. This looking back through bank records led me down the road of casually looking back at a lot of bad decisions I have occasionally taken.

Fortunately for me, I have kept a diary on and off since I was 12 because with an internal monologue as loquacious as mine, I needed an outlet to be able to sleep with a modicum of inner peace. Occasionally I can use these “mini memoirs” to see how my personality has devolved from an overly sanctimonious child to a garden variety cynic. And they also suffice as a record of all the weird/ bad/ inexplicable decisions I have made in the past. Some are so regrettable and embarrassing that I wish I hadn’t written them down. Ideally, all my pens should’ve dried out and my diaries should’ve self-immolated to avoid ignominy.

A lot of my diary entries between 2011-2013 were either a result of being in love or being out of it. Hence the unending embarrassment. Be it the time (a year almost) of pining for a man I knew was into someone else (because he told me), to pining for another man who just happened to be nice to me, to pining for a guy who was dating someone else but lying about it. Whereas since November 2014, I have no such embarrassing diary entries because life has been much more settled. Also by then I moved to digital books and due to hard drive damage, all the files with the embarrassing events of the beginning of this relationship (and during) are permanently lost. We can now remember all the good stuff only through delightful anecdotal evidence,and eventually I’d be able to forget the embarrassing times when I used to sit and wait for him to come out of class after 5 pm then pretend to bump into him at times and nonchalantly hint about getting a chai and kachori.

This brings me to the reason why I think record keeping is important. It keeps you from repeating your bad decisions! Old sailors kept a record of everything…from the most mundane to the most adventurous stories. They probably were both supremely bored and somewhat aware of the fact that hindsight might find the events passed to be more relevant than they did in that moment.

This is why I am sure that our present government doesn’t like holding press conferences and talking about facts. What they say would become matter of permanent record that can’t be denied or blamed on opposition. They wouldn’t be able to refute the evidence of their own words.

I found it very interesting that when a word from the Prime Minister’s speech in the Parliament was expunged recently, it wasn’t considered an issue worthy of discussion. In fact, it is a common practice and this was not the first time in the parliamentary history that a part of someone’s speech has been edited/ removed for the purpose of maintaining “parliamentary language”. I still find it to be an Orwellian move. Shouldn’t the standards of parliamentary behaviour be always maintained by our elected leaders? And if they slip, shouldn’t it remain a matter of record so that we know of their regard or lack thereof for rules and appropriate conduct?

Looking back at the past 19 years, it seems like the world should’ve ceased to exist at the end of the millennia because since then things have regressed dramatically. Now I’m not saying that technological achievements should be negated and that nothing good has happened to us. However, the rise of right wing populism and the hate rhetoric has seemingly taken us back a few centuries to the time when the concept of identity and thus, unity, was limited to your immediate clansmen. World leaders like Trump, Modi, Bolsonaro, Johnson, among others are mere beneficiaries of the times not the original instigators of this unrest.

Everyone takes some wrong turns in life that land us in trouble and remembering our past or better yet, regularly reading back through the records about our past mistakes is bound to make us smarter. Although an excess of remembering might land us in trouble…like that Jodie Whittaker episode of Black Mirror. I actually have pages in my diary where I’ve written, “something disturbing happened but it’s unlikely to matter in a few days so I will not write it down because I don’t want to relive it while reading the diary and anyway this incident is best forgotten”. I was right, because I have absolutely no recollection of what it was and it clearly didn’t affect me in the long term. Most likely it was something to do with a heartbreak over one of the many “boy troubles”. I guess I am now faltering on my own argument of learning from your bad decisions.

It’s just that the world needs a good mix of the revision of their own history and a bit of revisionism of their history.

The psychobabble is unstoppable at bedtime

Hi guess what ?! I am a person and I have opinions. I am so tired of listening to and reading other people’s takes on things, and ending up feeling like my opinions are as worthless as water to a dead fish or pineapple to a pizza.

This is a controversial sentiment that I am putting out there to filter the brave hearted who will read ahead, from the pineapple pizza lovers who will be offended and leave at this point. If you are a pineapple lover and still reading, thanks for staying. We need a society that can have two different opinions co-existing peacefully unless it’s anything more bigoted than pizza toppings, in which case go away!

This is a “stream of consciousness” kind of blog. I’m “blind typing” right now, without editing, and it feels like I’m high. The alcohol that gives the best buzz is beer because I have a delicate stomach for whiskey or anything hard. Besides, most alcohol seems to have a class connotation (lower or higher). Beer seems to be for the socialist or the egalitarian! Although, as far as I know, the real socialists love their vodka.

There’s two things in life I know myself to get worked up about: religion and politics, and ignorance. Religion and politics are two different things you say. Well, my friend, I’m an Indian, and for us they are two sides of the same coin. We have too much religion and too much politics with some cricket and folk dancing thrown in for variety. However, I’m sure that during every open heart surgery, the doctors find an image of the god we love to crib about having tea while discussing cricket with the politician we love to crib about, practically embedded in our auricles and ventricles.

Look at the state of my country right now! People are defending the indefensible shameful bigotry and hatred spewed around by the ruling government and their minions. Also I don’t think there should be a need for ruling government…surely it should be a serving government?! You know the one that was created on the concept of “By the people, of the people, for the people.” While I love the juxtaposition of hatred with the hopeful sight that is the women in Shaheen Bagh protesting, I am sometimes unsure if they have been co-opted by the liberals for their own agendas. It has now become a haven of protest and a symbol of “azaadi” and “inquilab”, which are words I never thought of hearing outside the period dramas about India’s freedom struggle. The pernicious problem with religion in our country is that it makes people give up reality and logic for imagery and symbolism. And this seeps into the very being of Indians. Watch the music video of an average Indian movie song (language no bar). Each one will have a catchy chorus with an utterly reproducible and repeatable choreography that can be performed in unison by the whole family at the next wedding/ sangeet. Oh my, this sounds like my work actually! I’m an experimental chemist…as in, I perform experiments in lab everyday not that I’m experimenting with my life as a chemist. But that was probably clear to you and I have now over explained everything. Anyway, reproducibility and repeat-ability are also the cornerstones of my work life though it doesn’t involve dancing in unison with my family. Side note: experimental chemists are a dying breed honestly, no one needs us any more and the more experiments I do the more I am making my self unemployable. Everyone loves programming and snazzy models these days. Please buy beer for the next experimental chemist you see.

So far, reading back from line one feels like, an incoherent psychobabble, which means I have succeeded in my goal and if you hated this, it’s because you don’t like to be challenged. I have been reading a lot of difficult books lately…books that are so tough to follow yet so rewarding when you do that if you last through them you want to get a standing ovation from a bunch random pedestrians who flocked by your reading table to applaud your ability to finish a tough book. It would be much like Mamma Mia, where Meryl Streep gets people to clean the rooms, while dancing at the same time in unison. I love that shitty movie because I love ABBA. Always have and always will.

The second thing that annoys me is ignorance because if you stop being curious about the world then what are you! Why are you breathing? You shouldn’t get all your information from only reading twitter or Instagram posts and if you do then maybe you can give up on life now. Go read an actual book on history of the world, the city you live in or just the coffee you drink, and keep reading till you start to feel as worthless in your opinion as the water from paragraph one. Doubt is as important as curiosity. Beware of the self assured unless they are your doctor about to perform the aforementioned open heart surgery.

My boyfriend inspired me to get into quizzing and get excited about factoids and random pieces of information that have no relevance to anything but help create moments of elation in being the only one in possession of the absurd piece of information. Someone at lunch said something about astronaut food or something (I don’t really listen to other people talking)….but I heard astronauts and I could point out that astronauts don’t get the urge to urinate when they are in space. They need to go wee in a hole in the wall every few hours because the ability for muscles to tense up reduces due to traveling at near orbital velocity or in absence of earth’s gravity.

Getting back to religion…the problem is that it has possibly outlived it’s use as a force of bringing people together and is now just a way of keeping them apart like the strong and weak nuclear forces. You can bring two electrons only as close and no closer than the limits permitted by laws of physics and nature. We have now done to our country what most crumbling economies and literary dystopias (such as Animal Farm) do…we have started “othering” our own people. We look the same, eat the same food and have major overlaps in language. We are even of the same species. Yet we refuse to build a common identity and believe when the idiots in power say we are different because my uncle prayed to a different god than my neighbour. Well I refuse to read godly literature and pray to anyone so who does that make me? And why would I care to take the opinion from some weirdo who happens to be in the parliament ? They don’t know me. I was born in India and I recognise its history…the good, the bad, and the ugly. Thanks but no thanks.

I think it’s time to ebb my stream of consciousness because I have written too much (1500 words in 25 minutes). Amazing, right? I almost don’t want to edit but I won’t put you through this weird post without at least using spell check. I do care for your opinion on my opinion so I hope that you liked it. And if you didn’t, I can recommend some very smart people with amazing opinions who sure will do the trick.

Goodnight!

Snow boots with dresses: transgressions for the weak

I am heading to a “networking meeting” organised by some important people to help other important people (I include myself brazenly) meet up and find a possible “network.”

Like clockwork, when asked to put my best foot forward, arrives the crisis of confidence in both my personality and in my wardrobe.

Why is the corporate and conference culture so obsessed with formals? And more importantly why does it send me in a tizzy? There’s something about the idea of putting on a jacket that boils my blood. As if I am only worthy of being considered a serious student/ employee/ employer (what have you) only when I don the grey facade.

I’m a fairly compliant person with no will or interest in transgressive behaviour. If I have to be described for a police sketch, the sketch artist would automatically put me in a t-shirt and jeans without the need for consulting or verifying with the witness. Boring, isn’t it?

Now when it comes to dressing for formal events such as this one…what drives me mad is the need to look “professional” because it is a bonkers notion. If by professional one is implying that the costume I wear should appropriately reflect my profession, well then, I should be turning up to events in full length clothes, closed toe shoes and lab coat (eye glasses and gloves optional). However, as per accepted conventions, the implication of formal events is to go with the “corporate look.” The fault with this is that in today’s world the biggest corporate giants actively encourage hoody and shorts in working life. Kindly look at the average engineer at Google!

In August 2019, I went to my first “conference” as a graduate student looking for peer approval for my work. It was an industry heavy audience (read: big men in suits). One look at the crowd in the hotel near the venue told me that I had to wear the dreaded “professional” clothes. After spending €200 and still not feeling confident I decided to wear my own sneakers for the presentation. This was my first time speaking in front of close to 50 strangers and I was not going to trip on my way to the podium in “corporate culture approved heels!” The minute I put my sneakers on, my feet were happy and I felt confident. I recognise that my grasp on my own presentation must have played a part in my confidence but as a person with severe anxieties about the idea of being “out there” and being one of only three brown people in the room there was a certain constriction in my throat the night before my presentation that seemingly dissolved when my heels came three inches down and directly earthed my body. I apparently work like a tall building with a mounted lightning pole! I understood in that moment why transgressions pump dopamine in your system and why some people love breaking rules. This was me breaking my own accepted conventions.

So today despite putting on a plain grey long formal dress which according to my boyfriend makes me look like a Congresswoman of the Clinton or Warren ilk, I put on my everyday ankle length green and grey snow boots. It’s all petty and pointless, I hear you wonder out loud. But I submit to you that if you’re a swagger-less human trying to navigate the world, and if you suffer from tiny social anxieties in your everyday life, finding something that makes you feel grounded before you step out goes a long way in keeping you sane.

Additionally it works as a filter. Only someone with a whacked out sense of what’s appropriate or someone with a complete disregard for conventions would indulge in a conversation with me. Hence I have decided that wearing sneakers in a crowd of black leather shoes and click-clacking heels is a tiny transgression I will not shy away from.

So I wrote all this stuff on the way to the conference in the morning but at the time of publishing I have already attended the conference and am on my way back home. So here are the thoughts post today’s conference: To be completely honest this piece (read: rant) is pointless because when we reached the venue for the conference today I found myself in a sea of sweatshirts and sneakers. I remembered the oft repeated maxim…you become what you hate.