Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Driving Away!

When I was a kiddo, I got chauffeured around.
Either Dad or driver was always there to take care of me and my outings. Hence I never realized what went into driving on the roads...especially Indian roads.

It was in Los Angeles, in late April when I figured out that surviving my professional life without a car or driving experience would be next to impossible. Thus enlightened I set out to discover my latent driving talent.
I found that it wasn't latent. It was non-existent.

The driving instructor I hired to coach me in LA had "the time of his life" on the first day I touched his steering wheel. "Have you ever driven before?" he asked me before we set out."No, never." I honestly replied as I belted myself tightly.He gave a benign smile and added, "That's why I am there to teach you." And smiled a little more.I smiled back, not so confidently."Lets go", he said and off we rolled.
I am not sure what happened first. Him screaming or me going zig-zag in my lane. Sticking to your lane comes intuitively to most people-like drawing a straight line. To me it sounded impossible.Holding a steering wheel to keep yourself going straight!!! -how could that be done? Hence I wavered merrily about.
We practised turns in an empty parking lot next. "Right...left...right.....right...left..straight...right!" and the drone went on. He was satisfied after 10 minutes. We hit the busy road. I took turns, I went straight, I stopped in the middle of the road, I came close to other cars, I wavered in my lane, did everything a first-timer could think of and more, while holding onto the steering wheel for dear life. When the session ended, not only was I tired, my coach was tired too. He heaved a sigh of relief to hold his steering wheel.
If he didn't love his job, he probably would have given me up.

These sessions continued, After 3 of them I felt confident that I could drive a normal car. (The learner's car are usually fitted with an extra pair of brake and accelerator). I convinced my Chinese friend to trust me to drive her new car.She did. The very fact that you and only you are in control of the car and the fate of the other passengers - makes your task heavier.To top it, I didn't realize how bad I was until I was driving in my friend's car. My turns were terrible. Making a left turn I almost hit the oncoming traffic lane.Wavering in my lane I was about to hit the curb. She decided she had the "time of her life" as well and hence I had to quit.

I experimented my driving with a total of 4 licensed instructors and numerous unsuspecting colleagues. The instructors wished they got more students like me 'coz I was a source of steady income. You keep practising till you get it and if you don't your instructor earns!
My colleagues valued their lives, their work, and their family more dearly. They looked at nature with greater respect, life held new meaning for them, once they had a driving session with me.

Then came the driving test. California allows you to take 3 road test for every written test. I flunked 3 road test with ease. While in the first written test I had 3 mistakes out of 40, in the second I had none! Brilliant performance - one would say. Uncannily I failed the driving test almost periodically. Every time it was a right turn at a red light that got me.

Finally, the examiners at DMV gave up. On my fifth day, the rather plump disgruntled examiner, grunted away for 20 minutes of my test and finding inadequate grounds to flunk me- declared me "Passed!" Wow what a joy that was - for them.

When I reported it to my colleagues, everyone unanimously vowed that they wouldn't ride my car now as I was a "viable and licensed threat to the road!"

Funnily I had bought my car without a license almost 2 months before I finally got my license!
My driving adventures continues and I always end up with the weirdest things that can happen to one.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Commencement Pictures!

The Department Head of some department congratulating everyone who survived the ordeal!
There's an awesome me, sitting somewhere in the Pauley Pavilion, in my black gown with black hat, a yellow hood (a speck in the pic) and a "07" tassel hanging from my head.
A True Graduate indeed!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

After a long time.

I am back. Hopefully for good.

Its been sometime since I scribbled here. Loads happened in between - mostly good things and some bad!
I left my LA far behind. I am a professional now - or trying to be one. Life's different! From waking up whenever I had a class, to waking up to be there on time, from running home whenever I felt sleepy or hungry to sitting still and looking busy, from staying up as late as I wanted to- to sleeping as soon as I can, from having weekdays as fun as weekends to struggling to make a weekend fun, from being surrounded by friends all the time to being alone now - life did change a lot. And along with it I learnt.
Just two weekends back was my commencement. That was perhaps one of the best weekends ever for me. The journey back to LA felt like going home. As I stood still with a huge smile in the Pauley Pavilion, the Dean said, "With the power vested in me, I proclaim you ....Master of Science!" And then I attained it. It isn't like the enlightenment thing that Bodhi tree in Gaya gave to Budhha but it comes close.
My chinese connection housed me happily. I looked quite a graduate in my huge black gown, yellow hood, black hat and long black tassel which had "07" written on it. In my own biased words - "I looked awesome!" :-)
My commencement ceremony was scheduled for 12:30 in the noon. You were required to assemble before that in queues wherever you found your department placard. EE was perhaps the most populated. First the PhD hooding, then the MS walking and finally the BS marching endlessly - sums up the event. Not to forget the speechs and jokes thrown in by the professors and the chief guest. The event was huge. My family didn't make it but those who did cheered endlessly for that brief time 'delta T' when their kid came walking by on the stage. Cameras flashing eveywhere, I felt like a VIP.
I had entrusted my chinese friend and one Mr.N (the other Mr. N was graduating with me) with my camera to take as many pics as they possibly could of me. To my consternation I later discovered that my chinese friend was busying taking pics of her long time crush instead! :-P
Nevertheless I ensured that my pic was taken - after all no one does a second MS from the same Univ again!
After a while, I ran to find my advisor. A thorough search yielded him in the Alumni centre. Just when we posed to smile and take the pic of a lifetime, my cam died. Never to give up as I was, I forced my senior to run and get hers! And then the memorable pic was taken :)
At every statue, every corner, every flower I stood - insistent that my picture be taken . My friends were thoroughly tired at the end of the day and seemed joyous when I finally parted with my gown.

Flying back was tough - coming back to a life thats so remote from being a carefree student always is. The only bright part in my gloomy trip back was the fact that somewhere in my luggage, lay my black hat with its "07" tassel - a sign that I was a Graduate!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Happy Birthday!

It was my Birthday yesterday!

My earliest remembrance of my Birthday begins with my mommy kissing both of us awake in the morning with a "Happy Birthday" song! My dad smiling gaily beside. I remember him teasing us as to "how old" we were getting! I felt thoroughly adult in my small kiddish life at his remarks!
I dunno much about what took place on that day, except for the gooood food I got to gobble! Sometimes my aunties came over and decorated the rooms with balloons, sometimes we got friends of the building coming over and celebrating with us, and sometimes we just celebrated by ourselves. No matter what I had a good time!
The funny thing about our birthday was the fact that there were always other kiddoes in school or in BITS, who had their b'day on the same day. That distributed the fun.
It was fun wishing each other "happy birthday"! There is always someone who would remember it was my b'day (without alarms and reminders!!) coz it was theirs too! :)

This is my second American B'day. I must admit it was as rollicking as the first one. Thanks to my best buddies who have distributed the workload among themselves of making me joyous !!
Since my birthday was on Monday which is right after a Saturday and a Sunday, I actually had three days of Birthday fun! Ofcourse, I left no stones unturned on my part in reminding my friends that my b'day was approaching by subtle and not-so subtle hints! :P
A sponsored shopping spree on Saturday, a double-scoop ice cream on Sunday, cards, cake, flowers, food and friends - I had them all! I loved the scarf that my Chinese friend knitted for me, I loved the jacket that I am wearing now, and above all I love the feeling of being taken care of!
My sister had a different b'day. So far away, with her own friends and her own circle. It feels weird that the time difference makes her celebrate her b'day 12 hours in advance! Does that kind of relativity make me younger than my twin???

I just wished to thank everyone who made me so happy on my b'day. And Orkut for reminding my friends to wish me!


Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Jazzing up my life!

I am learning Jazz.

When I was a kiddo, I loved flinging my arms and legs around with music. My parents and other elders doodled upon me and exclaimed in unison, " Wow this kiddo is a real dancer!"
It made me happy and I just swayed myself more vigorously.
Needless to say I didn't remain a kiddo for long. In school I recall how my dance teacher pulled me out inevitably among a bunch of kids and made me stand and stare at the rest. I attributed her behaviour to her and not to my dancing abilities!
Then came BITS, Pilani. Most of my time there I was happying writing aritcles, stories, poems and notes for my classes. But in my last sem, the dance bug bit me again. I took part in DW - Dance Workshop. I learnt Charleston, Twist, Tango, Jive, Waltz and performed on stage with other workshopers. I loved the experience.
In UCLA there are myriad opportunities to express yourself. Classes are held from rock-climing to caring-for-herbs and encompasses dance from all over the world. There are Bharatnatiyam lessons too! I learnt hip-hop for a while here and then my classes became too hectic for me to dance comfortably. And I left.
This being my last quarter here, I decided to be more serious. I took up Jazz.
The instructor is a man who dances so beautifully that it makes you want to do the same. He moves his body with such ease in such painfully difficult steps that it makes you wonder whether you are made of wood while he is made of rubber!
The dance and yoga classes or for that matter most other classes are populated with girls. No wonder then, in our class there are 15 girls and 2 guys. My friends say thats the case with any other dance class here. Thankfully it isn't a pair dance and so the ratio is unimportant.
The class begins with fluid yoga, moves on to balancing acts and then the Jazz routine. By then everyone is sweating away to glory.
I like Jazz and I am hoping that by the end of the quarter I will be able to raise myself from the depths to the heights and justify those elder's comments!


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Illuminating young minds!

I am a teaching assistant this quarter.
I am teaching Circuit Analysis.

Its funny feeling to see people come to listen to you. And actually jot down notes on whatever you blabber! I remember myself as a student - writing down every word that left the professor's mouth, but its a different feeling to observe others do the same to your words! To be honest, its a little unnerving!
The first class I had to take, took place at 8am. Crawling around the campus at that early hour, I was pretty surprised to see people actually show up for my class! My class began with a smile.
"Good Morning, I am your TA", and then started my first formal lecture.

It's easy to convince yourself when you are understanding something, but it becomes equally tough when it comes to presenting something so that someone else can understand. Especially students who expect you to explain to them in their own language.
It funny seeing my hands all white and chalky after writing on a board and not on paper. Its funny to have office hours. Above all its rewarding to see the smile of comprehension on the faces of the students after your explanation.
Lets hope my blabbering gets these kiddos through their course!


Saturday, January 06, 2007

Six Flags and still alive!

I am not referring to international convention of 6 countries.
I am referring to dare-devilry.

I went to Six Flags. In a small Santa Clarita city, resides this deadly attraction. Its a theme park meant only for the hot-blooded creatures. I am not one of them and it took me a trip there to realize.

We took a bus from Westwood early in the morning. The bus was huge and we were the only passengers. Through 405 and 5 Freeways the bus drove on.Mountains with hovering clouds and green valleys passed by. Los Angeles is beautiful - it felt more so during the early morning ride.My Chinese friend was busy taking photos through the bus window!
We reached Santa Clarita Transit station and awaited another bus. According to someone in our group, that wait was the deadliest part of our trip. It was unusually chilly and windy. We froze to the bones. No amount of joking, jumping or juggling with bus options, helped our cause. We kept freezing. Finally our bus arrived and we landed at our destination. For the uninitiated, it helps to know a little about American Theme Parks. Here they try to make it a wholesome experience for the guests. It's not as crowded as Indian ones and yes definitely neater. Food stalls flood the place and cartoon characters populate the road.

The first ride, or "starters" as my friend put it, was called the "Gold Rush". It was a roller-coaster ride. As soon as you were seated, you screamed. In a span of 3 minutes, daylight was knocked out of my senses. Up up up up and then swoosh it fell down- I grabbed onto my seat-belt. I felt weightless, couldn't scream (sign of being totally scared), shut my eyes and prayed. In afterthought, I feel it was really a starter. Worse was yet to come!
Next came "The Riddler's Revenge" - another roller-coaster ride. It had ups, downs, twists and turns. The seats were different, and the safety belts even more. I took a deep breadth and away I went at the speed of sound. All the centripetal and centrifugal forces that I hardly paid attention to in my physics class, came back to extract their pound of flesh! I felt the forces pressing down against me. Add to that the chilly winds that tore at my face - you have an ideal setting for a horror movie.
As if getting down from it alive wasn't enough, I went walking towards "Colossus". White structure and white toy train. "Wouldn't be that scary", said my fearless friend. I smiled weakly and sat straddled between multiple belts. Someone announced that people with motion sickness and weak heart are advised against the ride. Before I could contemplate my condition, Colossus took off. By now I knew what I had to do........ or so I thought. Hold on tight, shut your eyes, pray and oneday the thing will stop. However, Colossus had different plans for me.
It started off slowly and safely, lulling me to believe that things were great and before I could shut my eyes, it tilted sideways and fell...literally. In other rides, if they fall they do stop after sometime...Colossus only knew how to fall at different angles. It twisted and shook- trying its best to shake off the passengers - while I hung on for dear life! Its moves and shakes shook me to the bones. Meanwhile my fearless friend N, was having the time of his life. While people gritted their teeth to stop the fear, he took snaps, smiled around, lifted his arms to show his joy and generally had a good time. I must admit, I admire his bravado......or whatever that was!!!

That was the end..for me. The moment I touched Mother Earth, I promised I won't take a step towards another roller-coaster. My fearless friend went on to enjoy crazier rides like "Batman" and "Psyclone" and came back smiling. It was his second trip to Six Flags - in the first one he had already been to all these.
There were only two rides that I sat in after that. A swing called "Bucaneer's Boat"(populated mostly by kids) and a small car driven on ground in "Go-carting". Those were my type!
Our day ended with a bus trip back home.
I suddenly realized that I had been really brave that day. Atleast I had survived through those rides I took. Maybe many years from now, when I look back at myself, I can ask with awe, "How in the heaven's name, did I sit on those?!!!"