On a new Workout Regime, bound to Fail..

Apparently, some of my best pieces of writing are the ones where I write about my attempts at staying in shape and keeping up with personal health. For over a year now, much thanks to my never-changing eating habits and the fatty nature of Estadounidense food (not American food, because 'This') I've begun ballooning. It's almost like the fat trapped inside Anant Ambani's body is transiently entering in my body, without my permission. Technically, that'll be an 'invasion' but they're rich people, so who's to listen? Look what Russia did to Crimea (shakes head).

I was so pumped up before November, last year. "Must. Lose. Weight." had become my slogan. I had stood naked in front of the mirror (despite early near-fatal shocks, I've conditioned my eyes to stand the view) a number of times, narrowing down the parts of the body that I need to cut down or build up. Some parts didn't need to be touched at all - they worked just fine! Others needed my immediate attention.

So I hauled my roommate Jason. Set up a work-out routine. Gym, every evening. Tennis, every other day. Squats, every Friday (because we meet interestingly beautiful women doing the same thing at that hour... Sigh). But like the wuss that you can imagine us to be, we dropped the whole plan when winter stepped in and a 5K on the treadmill didn't do shit to send the shivers away. I took the trip to India and passed by my old gym. I glanced at the building now buzzing with new regulars, belittling me. Mocking me. I guess, I failed the test of perseverance once again.

That failure persisted till I and my friend Emily had a little conversation. She runs. I don't. That should be declared right out, as we move deeper into this pointlessly tiring post.

"How? How do you do it? How do you put up a brave face every day and go out to face the road?" I asked.
"There's this app.." (there always is one) said she, "It makes you do it!"
"How do you mean?" inquired I.
"It tracks you. Your movements. Through GPS.." replies she.
"Like NSA?" asked I, a little scared.
"More than that! This app tracks your movements. Like where you're going. What speed. What elevation. And when you're contemplating giving up on that 1 mile climb, it's there, watching you. Judging you.. So you run!" said she.
"So you run.." repeated I, as if in a trance.
"You can add friends in there too, and compare how much more you've run" added she.
"Damn.." concluded I, as I was effectively hooked to the idea of it!

The next day was the first day of the weekend. I woke up and I downloaded the app. "Please permit us to post on your behalf on Facebook. If you run, we post about it. If you don't run, we go viral. Please give the app permission to do all this shit" said the app, upon it's first start. "Not now" said I. That it'll only be a cause of humiliation, I was assured of it.

I couldn't wait till Sunday. It was supposed to be a beautiful day, and I would be using the app to make me run. My roommates and friends had planned to go to the beach, but I had other worldly plans later that day, so I woke up early and planned the whole day on my own.

"You coming with us for breakfast?"  asked Chris, the Tall One.
"Where are you guys going?" I asked back, as I was gearing up for nothing less than a 5K.
"Chicken, Bison, Buffalo meat-eating extravaganza for breakfast. Humans Rule!" (That's not the place's real name, but it should be). "You coming?" asked Israel, the Jobless One.
"Damn! That's too much meat to start a healthy day, dawg!" I exclaimed.
"You, wuss", exclaimed Jason, the Jew as they drove away to meat haven.
"We'll see about that, clogged arteries!" I shouted after them, waving my clenched fist.

I set my target. Chose my route. Set up some music. Reggae (yes, I wanted to take it slow at first). Locked the door behind me. And started my run. However, less than 50 feet later, I get a call on my phone. It was my dad. And he wanted to talk to me on FaceTime.

"Baba, I can't.. (huff).. talk right now.. (puff).. I.. am running.. (cough).." I quickly let him know.
"Running? RUNNING? RUNNINNNGG?!" he exclaimed, totally taken aback.
"Yes" I replied, curtly.
"Deep's mom! Deep's MOM!!! Listen up! Guess what your son is up to, today morning?" he started talking to Ma, on the other side.
"Oh come on, Baba.." I pleaded.
"Sleeping, you say? Nope! What? Eating, you say? Chicken? Nope! Lazing about the house? He wishes, but nope! He's RUNNING! Yes yes, RUNNING! No, I too think he's completely making it all up right now!" my dad kept up the conversation with mom. Sigh.
"I'll talk to you later, Baba.. give me an hour!" said I before I switched him off.
Last I heard, he was still laughing about my planning to have run for an hour.

I ran the first few steps the hardest. I was on the trail, running alongside some seemingly seasoned runners, pet dogs and other semi-naked Floridians of Tallahassee. A cool breeze was hitting my determined face. My arms were synchronized with my legs perfectly, which were rising all the way up. I was one with nature. Peace. It was going to be a good day.

After what seemed like more than 10 miles and a couple of hours, I was beginning to wonder if the intimidating lady in the app gives any kind of feedback as to how much I've run till now. I didn't want to overrun. If you remember what happened to me the last time I ran that hard, you'd know why I didn't want a repeat of that. Also in any case, this was not confined to the limits of the four walls of a gym. I was beginning to go seriously short of breath and no matter how much of those green leaves made oxygen around me, I seriously considered pausing my run, as soon as possible. Right about then, the intimidating lady from the app spoke up to declare "You have run.." - finally - "0.5 miles!"

"WHAT?! This distance was only 0.5 miles? ONLY?! There's got to be a mistake!" I stopped and sat down by the side of the road. The sight of me wasn't the best you would see of a young man panting and puffing by the side of the road. I still had 2.6 miles to go for a 5K. Fuck.

I got up and decided to push it. I would not run too hard, but only lightly. Movement over speed. Determination over performance. I could do it. And so I ran again. I decided that I should move away from the trail and move onto the street. This'll keep me distracted, enough to keep going. I changed my route from the intended "around-the-campus" route to "run till you reach Biology building (if at all), come back home by the shortest distance" route.

I ran by the stadium. I ran by the gym. I ran by the track and I ran by the psychology department and med school. I made a stop at my department, where I bought a bottle of vitamin water from the vending machine. As I started sipping on it, I went and sat (my first big break from all the running, which was commendable) at the floor of the lobby. I guess, I passed out of my senses for about 10 minutes. My tired legs reminded me of bygone episodes of shin splints. I just sat there thinking about how many people were currently in the building. It was quite early in the morning on a Sunday.

I got up and prayed for some kind of a second wind. I looked at the map and tracked how much I had already run. The route I had followed till now curiously looked like the map of Florida for some reason. And, guess what, I had just about 1.3 miles to complete a 5K! Not too bad, right? I decided to run a particular way to finish the map of Florida and by the time I reach home, I'd have completed a 5K effectively.

I got on the road again. My mind began to wander. I wondered how this app works. It tracks the movement of my arm and not simply locomotion. What would happen if I was to climb on that fast approaching truck and keep moving my hand? Would I be breaking a land speed record by walking, according to the app? I wondered about stupid things like these. Like I always do. But it helped take my mind off things and I kept pushing.

By the time I reached home, I had to come over a huge elevation - the greatest climb in the whole track. Needless to say, by the time I reached home, I was done. I was done running that day. I prayed that I hope my calculations were correct and that I had crossed 5K but alas, the app reported that I had run 2.91 miles. About 0.2 miles shy of a 5K. Well screw 5K, said I and went inside the house. I dumped a giant scoop of cookie dough ice cream on the largest available bowl, put on some chocolate syrup and topped it off with whipped cream. And as I turned on the tv, I sent Emily the map that I had just created. Like a 10-year-old that I am, that was my biggest achievement and not that I had almost run a 5K after half a year of hog and sloth.

Later in the day, Emily sent me her map - one she didn't plan on making. She had no plans to run that day. But she did. It was a hot evening and she ran a lot. I asked what kept her going? Prompt came the reply, "Your almost 5K!"

"What? How?" I inquired.
"Your map triggered it!" she said.
"How is that even possible?! You run way more than I do!"
"I wanted to give up the entire time because it was kind of hot this afternoon, but I was motivated to at least go a little bit farther than you.... So I forced myself to go three miles, which is 0.09 miles more than you! HA!" This is exactly what she said, I had to refer to my Messages on the phone to write this down.
"Unbelievable, Em!" I complained.
"I know, Deep. But competition works.. and I am a winner tonight.. you, the sucker!"

Well, she didn't exactly say that. But I felt the sucker punch way below the belt anyway. Goddammit, this is on. This is SO on. I thought about how I will keep pushing, run for miles, more and more with practice. If only someone could get me off this 'three scoops of cookie dough, with a chocolate syrup and whipped cream topping' bandwagon.


Musings on my Colonial Hangover

I have always been severely judged in the way that I talk.
"What is that, a colonial hangover?" I've been asked.

When I moved from a city in northern India to the eastern part of the country, my first reaction was "Wow! I can't have spoken secrets now. Everyone here speaks Bengali!" - which blew my mind. I suddenly found myself relatable to the kids in the neighborhood. They spoke the same language, confided secrets in similar tongues in to their mother's ears and listened to similar reprimands from their fathers, just like the 10 year-old me. I made friends - who quickly became my closest friends - perhaps because I connected with them more personally, our mother tongue being the common factor here.

Soon I developed a childhood crush on this girl who, among other common friends back then, was the only one who spoke Bengali and we used to go out skating in the evenings, hide together for hide'n seek and row together on imaginary lifeboats on Sunday afternoons.

But then, I went to an authoritarian boarding school which housed most of the students from Bengal, specifically from rural Bengal who even dreamed in their local language. In the very first class, I was asked by our aged class teacher where we were from. Having just moved into a wholly new city and having just turned 10 years old, I could only recollect my address from the nearest subway station which was at a walking distance from my neighborhood.

"Tollygunge" I said.
The teacher squinted, indicating that he didn't hear me.
"Tollygunge.." I repeated.
He skewed his head a little to his left side, trying to hear better.
"TOLLYGUNGE" I exclaimed loudly, enunciating the words carefully, "..or that's what the metro station reads."
"I am not hard of hearing, boy. You're just not saying it right" the teacher remarked sternly.
I kept quiet. I was really shy back then, and the prospects of living without my parents in the room next to me was hitting hard only then.
"A true Bengali would call it Taal-ee-gonj" he corrected me.
"Taal-ee-gonj" I repeated after him, feeling like I've failed my mother and my mother tongue.
"Are you a probashi?" Probashi is a word for a Bengali-speaking person who lives outside Bengal. If you are one, you must've been subjected to the sermon of how your Bengali sucks ass.
"Yes sir." I replied.
"Evidently. What's your opted second language?" he inquired.
"Hindi, sir." I replied.
"Very good. A Bengali's son chooses to study Hindi. Disgraceful." said he, not very impressed.
As a 10 year-old, I was unfamiliar to sarcasm, so I sat down.

A Quick Bit(e) of Desi Nostalgia

As y'all probably know, I went home to India last year in December. I met, snuggled and caught up with my family, cousins, girlfriend, friends, their families, the house staff, the local grocer and the the homeless man down the street. No I didn't exactly snuggle with the last two. They all asked me about my Floridian life and whatnots. They carefully stayed away from any kind of update on my work life. They're not a very 'sciency' bunch back home. Which was good, because I took a backseat from all the work and instead tried to suck in all the Indian-ness that I've missed all this time.

The first thing I did was talk in my UP-waali Hindi with the cab driver on the way from the airport to where I stayed the night in the capital.

"Bhaiya, thand nahi padi abhi tak aap ki Nayi Delhi mein?" I started a warm conversation about the speculated delay in the onset of winter in New Delhi.
"Nahi, sir ji. Thand ki toh maa ch** rakhhi hai Dilli mein!" replied the driver. Winter is (as he much eloquently put it) quite fuc**d.
"Pollution toh kaafi badh gaya hai yahaan, bhaiya?!" said I, without sounding too condescending about the rise in air pollution in the country.
"Arrey ka bataaye aapko sir ji, ee behn***do ne sab police logan ko khila-pila ke bh**wa bana rakkha hai.. aur pollution ki maa ki a**kh ho rakhhi hai!" said he, as we sped across on the highway, leaving a thick black smoke behind us. The cuss words he spewed time and again while describing how widespread corruption has rendered the police system decadent, were absolutely on point. Almost like the beats in a peppy South Indian (read, Telugu) song. He was probably talking about the vehicular emissions and how the cops are supposed to keep a check on them.
"Construction bhi toh kaafi chal raha hai.. dhua-dhua ho gaya hai sab." I remarked, keeping a straight face, making note about the impact of construction work.
"Arrey unki maa ka.." began he. But I zoned out instantly.

Panic Attacks of a Returning Indian

Panic attacks, not Paris attacks. Although my condolences and solidarity is with them. I know I've been writing some really serious stuff on my blog almost exclusively, and that it's been a while since I wrote something lighthearted from my everyday life. In the desperate attempt to keep my blog relevant, I have sought refuge in promotional posts, movie reviews (which is worth it) and global issues. A panic move, perhaps. I have really been busy off late with work and otherwise. But as I am gearing up to spend most of December with family back in India and Christmas with my dearest friends, I might have found something to write about.

So, here goes.

I got a message from my sister a few days back. I read it while I was half asleep - 'I have emailed you a list of things you have to get me when you come home'. Alarmed, I woke myself up frantically and tried to get hold of the nearest gadget to view the email in it's full resolution. Reading emails from my sister on the cellphone just don't do justice to the temerity of her demands. The list didn't disappoint.

Reading such lists from my sister makes me uncomfortable. You suddenly feel vulnerable, like someone has kidnapped your dog and has demanded for your dirty underwear as ransom. Reading down the email, I gasped at the repeated occurrence of pop culture couturiers like Victoria's Secret (perfume, but does it matter?) and Chanel and Michael Kors. I closed the email. Turned the power off on the tablet and burned it. I must leave no evidence that I have read and acknowledged this email. Only till a few days ago, her stance was a pleasantly surprising "I'm happy you're coming home for Christmas, what more can I ask for?" - It did sound too good to be true! I should've grabbed the moment. Damn.

The Golden Age of Internet and Television

Remember the days when watching TV was associated with a looming guilt? 'Mumma-Papa are not home yet, let's steal some minutes of TV' - I bet I was not the only one to get such cheap thrills back in the late 90s. "Go play outside" they'd say. We were frequently reminded of the idea that watching TV is a lazy and time-wasting investment. We tend to associate with that idea time and again, when we say we 'binge-watched' something! As if to say that we have something better to do with our lives.

And to be realistic, they were correct. We did have better things to do than to watch TV. If you ask me, the last time we were glued to a TV set, it was when we had 'Hum Paanch', 'Sarabhai vs Sarabhai', 'Dekh Bhai Dekh', 'Office Office', 'Disney Hour', 'Small Wonder' and 'F.R.I.E.N.D.S' among many others. And then suddenly, the idiot box got corrupted with scripted soap operas that focused less on the script and more on Numerology and Vastu. Not long ago, the only reason I had the TV was to watch cricket and watch the news while I eat a mundane dinner. Rarely, movies too.

And then, if you turned out to be like me - a self-proclaimed TV connoisseur - Tony Soprano died (or did he?) to the tune of "Don't Stop Believing" and the world of TV watching changed forever. Albeit it had already changed in America, it took it's sweet time in India.

Danny Boyle's 'Steve Jobs' - A REVIEW

"Set backstage at three iconic product launches and ending in 1998 with the unveiling of the iMac, Steve Jobs takes us behind the scenes of the digital revolution to paint an intimate portrait of the brilliant man at its epicenter.

Steve Jobs is directed by Academy Award® winner Danny Boyle and written by Academy Award® winner Aaron Sorkin, working from Walter Isaacson’s best-selling biography of the Apple founder. The producers are Mark Gordon, Guymon Casady of Film 360, Scott Rudin, Boyle and Academy Award®winner Christian Colson.

Michael Fassbender plays Steve Jobs, the pioneering founder of Apple, with Academy Award®-winning actress Kate Winslet starring as Joanna Hoffman, former marketing chief of Macintosh. Steve Wozniak, who co-founded Apple, is played by Seth Rogen, and Jeff Daniels stars as former Apple CEO John Sculley. The film also stars Katherine Waterston as Chrisann Brennan, Jobs’ ex-girlfriend, and Michael Stuhlbarg as Andy Hertzfeld, one of the original members of the Apple Macintosh development team."

After the 1 theater play, 3 feature films, 3 graphic novels, 9 documentaries, 14 books and a few other sources that probably deserve more mention than I'm ready to offer right now, the world couldn't have been more prepared for Danny Boyle's cinematic take on the iconic Steve Jobs. And while the other 3 feature films couldn't dig into the legendary figure to make any difference, it took a great cinematic team and their extremely unconventional form of storytelling to make a dent.

But first, I must say that this movie might not have been possible without the making of the 2010 biographical drama 'The Social Network' by David Fincher. That movie opened doors to the idea that even the most nerdiest of tech giants are worthy of a profitable storytelling. A key takeaway message from that movie was it's pacing and the award-winning music (by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross) that provided the movie with a false sense of an edge-of-the-seat thriller while not actually being one! It must've been some kind of a breakthrough because the moviegoers really seemed to like it - the edgy, up-beat contemporary music and fast pacing of the movie seemed to go well with the retelling of one of the fastest growing industries in our lifetime.

Oscar winner director Danny Boyle might've have kept this in mind before making this movie as you find the similar ingredients in his depiction of Steve Jobs.

Why India would miss Kalam

I had two absolutely polar, but extreme reactions to the same news today.

I had just started working on the day's work-plan in the lab, when I got a text message from my dad - 'APJ has passed away'. Unlike half of other Indians (or perhaps much like them), I sighed, put the phone back in my pocket, turned up the volume on some Audioslave and quietly resumed work. I had a long day ahead of me and I definitely needed to get on with it. Moreover I had skipped coffee today morning as I was late to work.

I'm not much of an amiable person without coffee in the morning.

There are a lot of designations and honors that apply to Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam. President of India. 'Missile Man'. Scientist. Writer. MTV youth icon (twice, notably). Bharat Ratna. Many many more. This eminent personality passed away yesterday, owing to a massive heart-attack, while giving a lecture to the students at IIM Shillong. Poetic, one would say. He passed away doing what he much loved doing in his later life - inspiring the youth of the country.

I've had two instances at least, as far as I can remember, where I met Dr. Kalam face to face - one, at my school for an occasion I don't remember anymore. It would be sometime in 2008 or earlier. He might have been the President of India still, or had just stepped down from office. Next time I met him - and this time, I was much closer to have even touched his feet (something I do not much do naturally, much to my father's ire) - I was in IIT Bombay and he had come to inaugurate the new Biology Research building.

I do not know if I did that out of respect as the Indian-ness took over me overwhelmingly, or I just did it to feel some kind of an awe-inspiring connection with this charismatic figure. One thing that I could tell this last time was that he was really comfortable among students, who thrived to catch a glimpse of this 80 year old man. To us, this grandfather of a man was the coolest dude alive in India! (Ha-ha.. there's a weirdly healthy irony here). I stopped working for a while and smiled at myself as these thoughts passed my mind. The only Indian in my lab stepped in and asked me if I had heard the news of his passing away.

"Well, he was old. So it shouldn't come as a surprise, right?" I said, very much nonchalantly.
"I guess you're right.." she said quietly and returned to her work.

I don't get so touchy with natural death. The 'circle of life' philosophy runs deep in my understanding, since The Lion King still is my most favorite movie of all time. But something told me that I was borderline rude about my nonchalance, which mildly surprised me.

'Merica, 4th of July and Sexy Eyes

And suddenly the mundane fourth day of July isn't as mundane as it used to be.

All these years around this time, I'd be sitting through this hot summer day wondering what else to do except finishing that painting I started but never completed, except that holiday homework of 'writing an incessant essay on the second war of Panipat' in at least 120 pages and except practicing for the gymnastic classes I had been coaxed into signing up for. Really, this day had no meaning for me when I was a kid. It was usually the beginning of a very long summer holiday. We'd be collecting our WWE trump cards and taking the neighborhood up by a storm as we'd ride on our bicycles (and/or tricycles) and race against each other to songs of 'Eye of the Tiger' and 'Final Countdown' right around this time.

Why was Tim Hunted?

The legal system back home in India has gone bonkers over the recent furor raised by some lame sexist comments made by a supposedly sexist scientist at a conference in South Korea. Taking cue from the swift judgment in this case, lawmakers are seeking to sign MOUs with the respective CEOs of Facebook, Twitter and Tinder to fast-track the much needed improvement in the justice system of the country. Bright days ahead for the states, won't you say?

As those connected to my Facebook profile and worldwide Twitter feed know, life took a darker turn recently for celebrated biochemistry researcher and failed stand-up comedian, Dr. Tim Hunt. But considering that he has bagged a Knighthood and the Nobel Prize in this lifetime, they say that this dark turn is perhaps only a couple shades darker in the array of all the 50 different shades of Grey. He would now retire and dedicate the rest of his life to growing quince trees in his backyard English garden. Or gingers, for the much-needed piquancy in his Earl Grey, of course.

"Let me tell you about my trouble with girls," the Nobel Laureate reportedly said last Monday at the World Conference of Science Journalists in South Korea. "Three things happen when they are in the lab. You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry." Sadly the report did not further state what the professor was smoking at that time or where can one acquire the same.

The Language of Science

English, the lingua franca of modern world, has definitely done it's share in improving our knowledge of science. But does it also draw a divide and restrict those who do not have access to it? In this post, I'd like to sum up few interesting things that I've come across, on the topic: numerous POVs, a TED talk, a few scientific letters and a couple of articles, a few lessons in history, but mostly my bit of some loud-mouthed thinking as usual.

At the heart of this chain of thought is actually a trivial conversation in my office, where Andrew - who was peering into his laptop otherwise - made a comment on how easy we have it with most research papers being published in English. Me and Stefania chimed in, in agreement. To my knowledge, this group of casual chit-chatters had a cumulative knowledge of at least seven languages: Hindi, Bengali, French, Spanish, Italian, Sanskrit (at least in principle) and of course, English. (But even though we mutually tease each other's accents time and again) I and Stef were, in no doubt, supportive of Andrew's sense of relief in our being able to read most of the relevant research articles in English.

But why is it indeed, that most (all) of the scientific literature we refer to, are actually in English? Why is it that English has been chosen as the prime language of the free-thinking contemporary world?