Monday, September 17, 2007

Stories and Memories

Thanks to the International Friendship Program at Virginia Tech, we (my room-mate Arnab, and I) got to meet an American family. Sarah, the lady of the house and the mother of three children, is adorable just by her beautiful nature and and her excellent culinary skills. But on our second visit to her house, we got to know that she is also a beautiful story-teller. Sarah has been working in the Blacksburg court for nearly three decades now. With that experience, it is not a surprise that she is a treasure-trove of all sorts of anecdotes from the court-house.

We got to hear her stories on the second day that we visited her house. I have re-narrated some of the anecdotes that she narrated to us. But before that, I would like to mention another thing that happened that day.

Sitting outside in the porch, I was learning about American football from Sarah's son-in-law Matt. Arnab was explaining "depth-of-field" (a concept in photography) to Sarah's younger daughter. Sarah herself was busy in the kitchen. The mouth-watering aromas of her cooking, just like her good nature, seemed to permeate the whole house.

During this massive gossip and adda session, I got a moment to myself when I went to the restroom. I do not know about others but many of my deeper thoughts have come to me within the privacy of the restroom. Reflecting on the truly enjoyable time that I was having today, I was reminded of the times at my Dada-Didi's place. (Dada-Didi are a couple in their seventies, who I got to meet around two years back. Visits to their home were an infallible source of unadulterated enjoyment.) I felt that it was mighty unfair that due to my pursuing studies in the US of A, such good folks as my Dada-Didi would not be able to share similar moments of happiness with me for an indefinitely long period of time.

It was true homesickness that I felt at that time. Notably, this was another "Happy-Sad feeling" which had been evoked in me by my coming to USA.

Coming back to Sarah's stories, I have re-narrated some of the anecdotes that she narrated to us. Hope you enjoy them.

Story 1
A certain person in the county of Montgomery, Virginia was involved in the illegal activity of growing and selling marijuana. His house was full of potted plants of this "forbidden fruit".

The business was good - no one was suspicious of his activities and had things gone the way they were going, he would have lived happily ever after. However as we all know, man's mind is never at rest. This very trait of human nature made our marijuana-grower lose sleep over how to better protect his treasures. Thus he installed a state-of-the-art burglar alarm system in his house.

And true enough, one day, a burglary was attempted. As expected, an alarm was raised by the newly installed system. The sirens and lights made sure that the whole neighbourhood and the police department rushed to the site of the attempted burglary. The police were faced with a peculiar problem - they were having to arrest both the burglar, and the owner of the house which was being burgled. It was then that the marijuana-grower realised that when one is on the other side of the law, one should not be too choosy about the company he keeps.

Story 2 Then there was the other marijuana-grower who was going on vacation. He decided to keep his pot-plants in the car so that they would get ample light to live and grow. He returned to find that the plants were alive and fresh. However there was also an arrest warrant in his name.

Story 3 Then there was the time when Sarah was checking in people when they came for their drug-screening test. One day, a certain young girl was late for her test. Sarah was especially irritated by late-comers and she grimly told the girl, "I am sorry. You are late and I cannot let you take the test." The girl started pleading, in an earnest tone, "But I was late because I had cut my ear." This news surprised Sarah and she enquired as to how such a drastic event had transpired. Sarah was in for a bigger surprise when the girl replied, with a straight face, "I was running down the driveway with my chainsaw... And I tripped and fell over and cut my ear... Here have a look.", and the girl parted her side hair to show the stitches that had followed the unfortunate incident.

For a moment, Sarah was speechless. Given that the girl was in a state of mind where running with chainsaws was a normal thing, the drug test would surely come positive. Sarah was amused by the irony of the girl's earnest pleas to take the test on that day itself.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

A "Bread and Toaster" Arrangement

HR of my previous company must have made a very wise move by keeping provisions for preparing bread toast in their pantry. When I saw it for the first time on my first day at office, I was elated - I could make a snack any time I wanted. And bread toast is one snack that I really love. Strange as it may sound, my loyalty for the company was strengthened by the presence of bread, butter and a toaster in the pantry!

Let us for the sake of this blog, call such irrelevant perks provided by the employer as "Bread and Toaster" arrangements. I recently was provided with a similar arrangement at my new position as Graduate Research Assistant (GRA) at Virginia Tech (VT).

I had heard that the Newman Library at VT stocked quite a lot of fiction books. This was in stark contrast to the Central Library at IIT Kgp, which stood by its resolve of not letting any fiction books enter its premises. (Of course, some friends at Kgp had mentioned that they had found some classical Hindi literature there.)

So one day, I decided to set aside some time to explore the 3rd floor of Newman library. This was where the fiction section was located. I was in for a breath-taking experience.

I started by asking a librarian where exactly the fiction books were located. He told me that I would find "light" reading material (e.g. Stephen King) on a popular reading rack in the 1st floor. He said that the 3rd floor housed a lot of material including a lot of "heavy" literature. If I wanted to find some particular author then I should look up the web-based catalog. However if I just wanted to browse through books to get a feel of the collection, then I could scan the racks. And this is what I decided to do.

As I started my walk , I noticed a few known authors and many others that I had not heard of. Here and there, I would notice a book that I had thought about reading for a long time. But I refrained from picking such books from the shelf just now. The racks went on and my mental list of "Must Read", and "Can Read" books kept increasing.

In certain racks, I found a concentration of particular authors. For example, Dickens' whole collection was supplemented by an array of biographies and critiques. There were Indian authors too. One of RK Narayan's books brought back memories of the time when I had bought and read it. And this time I did not have to see the price at the back of the book.

Overall, I realised that I could spend a significant amount of my Ph.D. tenure with these books. VT had provided me an totally non-technological perk and I was really thankful of that.