Kitchen For One

The lady in the apartment across from mine has a view into my living room-kitchen situation. Only she knows (well, now you do too) the way I chomp down boiling Wei-Wei noodles straight from the pan first thing after I’m back from a grocery trip, standing at the sink with abandoned bags on the floor, leaving the the icecream at peril and the frozen fish to thaw.

Living alone has been a humbling affair so far. I finally realized that the unholy hair that grazed dishwashers in previous apartments must’ve been mine and not a roommate’s. There’s been so many other discoveries from living alone, of course I have to enjoy it since I chose it (and since I pay a ton in rent).

I always wanted to live in Mia’s house from Princess Diaries. With cozy, lived-in cushions strewn across rooms and throw blankets laid on mismatching couches that you could throw yourself onto after a long day at school/work. And most importantly, the many ugly, wide-mouthed mugs.

These were obviously picked up off shelves at a neighborhood Ikea or Walmart by the budget-conscious artist battling Targetly tendencies (we know they’re not from Target cos they’re – did I mention this already? – not pretty). The mugs were the nicest characters in that movie. Held in warm palms at windows as evening rain beat against car wipers working relentlessly on the street, while you’re safe at home with nowhere to be.

So I would’ve never imagined that kitchen towels and not mugs would become my best friend. My palms are constantly wet and they have indeed been saved.

With great freedom comes.. interesting discoveries

The best part about having my own kitchen is obviously the freedom. Last week I found that I can fix the sweetness of my pineapple snack by simply drizzling a little honey over it. This was a snack to sustain me while I waited for my dosa to cook. I should.. elaborate.

Not for the faint of heart – the dosa wait

In the time that dosa crisps (on its first side), I can put together a sandwich from scratch with neatly zigzagged mustard AND ketchup on it AND eat it. So now I’ve lost my sentiment attached to dosas. I like idlis more anyway – practical, fluffy, easy on the stomach. The 20s shifted my priorities and ruined me, and the near-absolute freedom means dosa batter often lives in my fridge for over 3 weeks.

There’s also been more concerning findings. I can and will consume a whole pork curry prepared with 1.25 lbs of meat within 24 hours simply because it tastes good. (It always tastes good too, which might be a problem and is most definitely a brag)*. Boiled milk can last for a week in the fridge, circumstances that led to this finding remain dubious. Costco hotdogs will taste exactly the same at home, nobody misses the crowd.

Of course all personal preferences had to be reaffirmed in the new apartment – do you like eggplant in your sambar, ginger in your dal and tomatoes in your meat? Will you be depressed if you don’t eat rice for 3 days straight? Do you truly like aromatics including the divisive bay leaf, or was that before gaining kitchen real estate?

Then there’s the random lessons I brought with me picked up over time watching homecooks and reading recipes at the back of magazines. Stay away from vinegar when you poach an egg, poaching only needs a vortex – I’ve held on to this theory despite never having done a practical. Add salt to water while it boils to avoid spots on the bottom of pots. Raise the heat when you add mushrooms to anything and do not cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink.

The nice thing is life is long enough that I can hope to slowly put them to use one by one. (:

Leaving you with a little bit of Nigella I borrowed.

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Ants, Balls, Rolling My Eyes

I was thinking about ants today and realized I haven’t seen one in a while. But I saw a cockroach today – I just moved into this new apartment last weekend and am already seeing roaches.

I thought about ants today because I thought about balls, and that one time I found an ant holding onto the warm fabric of this guy’s underwear. I commented something which I immediately laughed at cos the whole thing was too witty to me. I don’t know why I had to tell you all this, but I’m glad all of that’s out of the way now.

Balls. Ants. Roaches. The human mind is quick. Of course what’s interesting is if we go further back… we probably won’t do that today.

Recently someone told me I rolled my eyes while they were speaking. I know for a fact that if I did roll my eyes (which happens often, my face has a mind of its own) it had to be at something else and not at whatever they said. I don’t know if it’s worse that I was likely mentally checked out when they spoke, but truth is I could’ve been rolling my eyes at a million different things.
I’m constantly annoyed by the temperature of AC no matter where I am. I’m pissed that loud people get away with talking over others, both around me and everywhere else in this world. I’m mad at the % of genes I inherited from dad’s side instead of my mom’s. In some ways I’m also upset about disturbing that unsuspecting ant in its haven.
There’s so many other things seething in there, I’d be impressed if I rolled my eyes at what they said. Of course if you, instead, said Pay attention, I would have to agree and take your advice.

Fleabag and its Success

I rewatched Fleabag again today.

When I first watched it, I really liked it. But I was confused by its popularity, given Fleabag’s self-described sexually deviant nature. I guess I also didn’t realize people would enjoy being in someone’s head so much.

My experience has been a lot like Orange is the New Black in that, when I find people watching the show and mention I’d watched it once, they go “The full thing?” because it’s intense. Quite intense. It’s a good thing people often find they tolerate, even enjoy much more intense things than they knew they were capable of, or had the appetite for.

I found Fleabag during a broken-heart period of my life (read: present), but also at a time when I’m not moping in self-pity. And I think what people like in her really comes down to her authenticity. How she’s refreshingly raw and doesn’t shy away from her sexuality, but suppresses all of her guilt deep within. How she plays the role of the less cold yet awkward sibling that’s relentlessly trying to connect with her affectionate, stern sister. It’s endearing how she yearns for connection yet doesn’t quite go looking for it, how so much of her behavior is a cry for help (as we find it is in life), and how she begs to confess her sins because that’s what’s really eating her up.

It’s this that I think makes Fleabag so likeable. That she’s got her own stash, is unabashed in her shortcomings, of which there seems to be ample (and exaggerated) supply, but tries her best to go about life. Of course her sense of humor and her ongoing dialogue with us help, and I am happy with its success because it means people can deal with real people on screen.

Talking about the Blog!

I met Rohit in my CS 7643 Deep Learning class at Georgia Tech. We share a whole bunch of common interests, I’m sort of a private person but I had to jump on it when he asked me to be a part of his new conversation-series Talking to the Moon, to discuss my blog.
He is a great host and does a ton of research for each of his guests (in my case he painfully muscled through an excruciating list of blogposts, I’m sure you as a reader would empathize). We chat through a gamut of topics – from writing to LadyBird to the internet.

The full video is still a cropped one (the original was over an hour long), it was so much fun recording and I hope you guys enjoy this! Below is the trailer, watch the full video here.

Watch the full video here

#19 Postcard – Rewiring the brain, Making the bed

How do you build habits? Is it possible to change the way your brain is wired, is it decided by genetics, or is it malleable? Can behavior drive thoughts, or is it always the other way around?

After my writing workshop, our cohort was inducted into the Clear Writing community, and we each gave a brief introduction of ourselves. A few touched upon their untapped writing potential (and we take their word that its exists, we’re nice that way) – and their being okay with it staying untapped as other priorities took precedence.

Some also wrote about how they led rather mediocre lives (their words, not mine). Of course at no point does anyone define what a spectacular or even a non-mediocre life might look like.

It has been a running theme in my conversations with my mother, on generally unproductive days, that my father’s gene pool has taken over and that my laziness can’t be helped, my brain’s just wired that way. Now we bypass the discussion about genes and slap wiring onto a lot of things, including messiness.

At one point, it bothered me to see my bed empty. I think it might have hit my mother that believing it’s Nature is easier, so she gave up after two decades of asking me to make my bed. When I moved into this apartment the first thing I did was throw some books onto the naked mattress to give it some semblance of occupancy and home.

Then, three months ago I listened to the Make your bed speech and started making my bed the next morning. And now I cannot stand it if it isn’t neat. Last week I listened to this podcast about rewiring the brain, and I think I figured out why or rather how the change in habits happened.

Intention to change is only half the story.

In the episode, Dr. Andrew Huberman talks about neuroplasticity – the ability of brain to change and adapt – and in my tug of war between If you can then why shouldn’t you and But I’m happy this way (I know a few others who struggle with this dilemma), I’m sure you see why I listened to the whole 2 hour podcast. There’s two steps to neuroplasticity – deep focus and deep rest (and sleep, WHY DIDN’T THEY TELL US THE REAL REASONS WHY SLEEP IS IMPORTANT) – which I’ll try to tackle another time.

The one thing he explains about changing habits is how writing or talking or thinking about it is not as effective as just doing it – that behavior can and should be allowed to drive thoughts, it doesn’t have to be the other way around. This is antithetical how I thought I lived my conscious life. I’ve had trouble going with the flow and even in doing things I dislike or didn’t actively choose for myself. But on inspection I realize I have done it too.

I started making my bed the next day after watching that speech, and I sort of took upon it as a goal, because some of what the Navy Admiral said made sense to me. It’s one of the few times I fast-tracked to behavior first instead of brooding over the purpose of the action or getting stuck in thought. And when I wake up and make my bed every morning, I feel good from the minor accomplishment. In Huberman terms, it gives me a dopamine hit because it’s a goal achieved, and that primes me for the rest of the day – almost like working out before you dance.

And if it’s not making the bed, it’s something else that you attach a mental if unconscious goal to – it might be lighting a lamp for somebody, putting on tea for another.

When he said When you do one thing it becomes easier to do another – it really is because of this dopamine hit that Huberman describes. Because once you get your first hit, you then want to get the next one, which makes you proceed to another task because that’s what dopamine does – it makes you crave for more. A lot like social media validation makes you want to share more posts.

I’m glad I took to it, and I’ve kept doing it since it feels good. Because there are days when it’s a physical labor to get out of bed, but folding my blanket does make me feel more ready to start the day. I can’t tell if it’s more physical or mental, it’s probably both. Obviously the bed also looks nice when it’s tidied up, and I say that without shitting on my previous self that thought a messy bed looks just as fine ๐Ÿ˜›

So rewiring really is a choice, from the little I’ve understood. I’m sure there might be science behind how choices work as well, but let me wrap my mind around this dopamine thing first.

Thinking about turning into a morning person would never work for me, I’d have to start with behavior/action there as well to rewire. Okay, this has gone too far, that’s enough Huberman talk for the day.

#16 Postcard – The not-so-retired life of Madam S

A Nevilsville curveball was something the old woman could live with, but it would only be a matter of time before the past caught up with her.

It’s a summer afternoon in Texas. A dull wind blows through empty streets as AC generators whir mad at work. Sun-lit balconies stay deserted while TV sets play Sunday cable within, only lazy church bells ring attendance by the hour.

Madam S is busy trotting about her backyard with a shovel, she had to fixate the patch between the oaks every week or the damned pug would dig his way into the ground. (Soil got loose this time of the year). Otis watched from the patio, drooling.

The hammock Maddy and Madam S put up last evening swung in the breeze. It’s still sweltering, they had to wait till at least 8 when sun went down to enjoy it. If Maddy visited today she had to remember to give him Bob’s contact. A Nevilsville curveball was something the old woman could live with, but it would only be a matter of time before the past caught up with her. And good people are hard to come by.

It was a foggy winter evening when Madam S landed in Texas. The trees in her backyard garden had turned skeletons after shedding. Hell, skeletons lined the way from airport to her new cottage – an ironical welcome to her retirement life.

At her age Madam S didn’t have appetite for the foolery that people indulged in the name of socializing, definitely not of the Welcome to Nevilsville Night sort the neighborhood folks threw her. So much for a reclusive retirement, wasn’t this town supposed to be boring? The two of them would resort to silence in the company of others, and Maddy instantly became her favorite.

Later in the evening when air cooled down, Madam S and Maddy sipped tea in porcelain cups from her cupboard, the soaked marble cake leaving a brown trail after each dip.

“Do you want some to take home? I baked one fresh last night.”

“You should let me hang that in the patio, chandeliers weren’t meant to lie around dirty garage floors…”

“Eat cake kid, I’m old enough to know what they were meant for.”
“I’m hoping to get rid of it, soon.” She added as an afterthought.

It would seem that life was filled with irony. After his father’s death last year, Maddy had been spending more time in her backyard. His mom didn’t want him around, the fourteen year old had too much energy for her to handle. But the kid was a sweetheart.

The chandelier lay there alongside Madam S’ garden sickle, drills and her tool set. That reminded her –

Madam S jotted BOB on a piece of paper followed by ten digits, and handed it to Maddy.

“Call this guy if Molly locks you up in the attic again, he lives by the highway. I can’t always hop to your house when you get into trouble.”

“You worry too much. Mom’s glad I’m away, not been herself since father died.”
“On second thought, can I have another bite of that cake?”

Madam S headed to the kitchen table, Otis tailing after her. She did feel for Molly – life is hard. Couldn’t have been easier with an abusive husband in a town with naked trees for company 9 months of the year.
Well that had been taken care of. Partially.

Madam S turned around at the back door to see Maddy leap onto the hammock, hoisted right above where his father lay, between the oaks. She smiled. Bob was a good man.

#9 Postcard – On Writing

Stephen King says, If God gives you something you can do, why in God’s name wouldn’t you do it? Wouldn’t you do it until your fingers bleed or until your eyes fall out of your head?

In On Writing, Stephen King talks about how he arranged saxophone lessons for his son when the seven-year old fell in love with the instrument. He soon knew that it was time to stop, and that the sax was not for him. He knew not because his son stopped practicing, but because his son practiced only during the classes set for him.

He says it’s better to move on to an area where deposits of talent may be richer and the fun quotient higher.

This follows an observation about gifted writers, good writers and bad; more importantly he acknowledges the existence of bad writers. It is satisfying to read things you have thought yourself. One can only wonder, however, which category one belongs to ๐Ÿ˜€

At this point, I was glad that managers of the world have not read the book, or they would know how to quickly verify it when candidates tell them My profession is my biggest passion. Okay, let’s not bring day jobs here. Moving on.

He says, If God gives you something you can do, why in God’s name wouldn’t you do it? Wouldn’t you do it until your fingers bleed or until your eyes fall out of your head?
Why did Harper Lee who wrote To Kill a Mockingbird stop at one book? Her own answer is – “I have said what I wanted to say, and I will not say it again”. Arundhati Roy says “Fiction takes time”.

I haven’t read enough to write about writers’ rules. But I guess people do what works for them, in general. Some find rules that worked for others, some set their own. The most interesting always being gems created by breaking the rules.
But like other fields, it’s important for mere mortals (which is most of us) to know rules of the game before we break them.

#7 Postcard – The librarian

Saturdays are good because you can leave the library an hour earlier than usual. Saturdays are also Bring your kids to work day. If Miss Dena from admin office brought Bella Anne to the library, Mโ€™s two girls would be upset to leave by 5.

Saturdays are good because you can leave the library an hour earlier than usual. Saturdays are also Bring your kids to work day. If Miss Dena from admin office brought Bella Anne to the library, Mโ€™s two girls would be upset to leave by 5. After saying their goodbyes, the children would run in circles in the outside lawns until Miss Dena raised her voice, and M would have to put on her stern face.

The downtown library crowd was more engaging than the South East branch where M was posted the first six months. There, the crowds were mostly parents dropping by after work to pick up books for their kids, always asking for recommendations (the South East branch stayed open till 8).

In downtown, the weekday crowd spanned university students, retirees and stay-at-home parents with their toddlers. They were also more patient in the queues to drop the books, actively participated in workshops, and took their time to learn the automated check-out and check-in machines – even Carla who was 84, one of their oldest patrons, and still visited regularly during the pandemic. It was partly why she enjoyed working in a library, a similar crowd at a Walmart line would no doubt form a disgruntled bunch.

So many of those self-help counters had stood empty for over a year now. The staff still regularly stacked the New Releases shelves, updated audio books on the website, and had recently refurnished the top floor lounge, although occupancy was down to less than 20%.

Saturdays were more idle because there would be no inventory arrivals, no new Interlibrary Requests to process. M sat at the reception with Bullock, the young assistant who had recently moved from the west coast, and talk about the California housing crisis (It was home, but I already love Texas). The kids would spend time in their section on the third floor without bother (except that time almost two years ago when they first tried to open the Emergency door, sending alarms and the security running, and her heart almost rose to her throat as she rushed to the elevator). Most summer Saturdays they would be occupied in workshops – origami-making, marble painting and crafts – attended by the staff’s young children, pre-teens from town and a handful of sportive adults.
Hardly anyone had attended them in South East location, but who thought it was a good idea to open a branch near a factory site?


In the evening once the girls were downstairs, Bullock would let them grab office stationery from her desk – marker pens, custom HB pencils and colored paper. M would then take them to Flying Fish across the Museum of Art, leaving their bags in the car. The girls always got fish and chips with extra dip and a soda drink, she would have the catfish sandwich with iced tea. Sometimes they’d order a plate of calamari rings. (Only once, when the kids were off on summer camp, she had tried their margarita with the then-assistant).

The grill had a wall dedicated to polaroids of first-visits, there was a picture of the three of them pinned up there from their first day at the place. That was also the day the emergency alarm went off, there was no Dena or Bullock present, it had been a lonely rollercoaster Saturday with the kids. Nonetheless, having them spend weekend at the library was a huge convenience.

M listened as the two of them munched and talked about how many books Stephanie read that day (Paula did not like to read), or how they had dozed off during the recycling workshop. Some days they bumped into Mrs. Sanders on her way back from the university.

As they drove home, the girls argued about whether they should move to California themselves (everyone is pretty there like Miss Bullock, that must be real boring, it went on). M looked at the weekend or what remained of it at her disposal. Tomorrow she had to run the laundry, sew the pinafore sleeve Paula had torn earlier in the week, and get the long pending car-wash. But tonight sheโ€™d finish the dishes while water filled in her tub, proceed to light those bath candles thatโ€™d been lying in her bottom drawer for over half a year, and then she could attend to the new release of Murakami, waiting in her tote bag.

From the Origami workshop at Arlington Public library

#6 Postcard – Young attempts at fiction, poor imagination

After I was done with the story I genuinely contemplated burning it, then realized if burning was an option there were worse things that I needed to take care of first.

When I was 12, I started writing a long short story in my diary. It was never intended for anyone else to see, and after I was done with it I genuinely contemplated burning it, then realized if burning was an option there were worse things that I needed to take care of first.

I made the story up as I went, it consumed the diary and continued in a new one before I gave up.

I didn’t give up because the writing was bad. I knew that after some 4 pages when I struggled to find alternatives to said/reckoned.

I probably gave up because I couldn’t keep track of who’s who or what had happened previously. There were boring conversations that annoyed me, but I was aware it stemmed from my poor writing and creativity ๐Ÿ˜€

Soon after, I started on another story. The central character was a 14-15 year old science geek (he’d know way too much if he was older and I didn’t know much to write about), he was a rebel who did not accept the names of celestial bodies, and called them what he wanted to.
In hindsight, I think a science geek might not have been so unreasonable, but a science geek didn’t write the story and hence.

This time I limited people count to 2.

He would open with I’m watching the sun tonight and the quirk would be revealed by his friend’s Oh you mean the moon, of course. (I just cringed again after 15 years :D) The kid was a lazy, unimaginative noob like me and switched the names shamelessly.

The plot didn’t advance much, so I embarked on an exercise where I’d derive inspiration from movie trailers and spin the outline story (no naggy dialogue). I started with 2 movies – one starred Kavya Madhavan and I don’t remember the other.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is at age 12 I was convinced I was terrible at fiction, and of the limits to my imagination ๐Ÿ˜€

#5 Postcard – Work, school, weekends

I couldn’t wait to get out of grad school. Now I can’t wait for the long weekend.

In grad school, by the third and last semester, I couldn’t wait to get out of college.

My final semester was fall 2020 (August to December) so the frustration was all the more justified since it followed 5 months of staying home, and we were looking at another 4 months of online classes.

Friends that I spoke to couldn’t wait to leave (“get out”), what with the assignments, job market and the added stress of catching a virus while chasing deadlines. In fact, we all agreed students from my batch who graduated in summer probably lucked out.

I was also done with the lack of free weekends. Really, college is this long extending week that only ends after the final submission. It does help that the schedule is posted at the start of sem so you can plan out your life and, on a cheerful note, take an occasional break. Nobody did though, we just had days of limbo where we got nothing done.

Puneeth said, But once we start working we’ll just go back to waiting for the weekend, I don’t want that either.

I knew he was right, that’s how I remembered workdays as well. That, and the complete lack of energy to ponder or finish a running thought, because you leave early for office and are exhausted by the time you’re back home.

Which is why I love working from home, among other reasons that have been discussed at great length on LinkedIn. Yet by Wednesday I’m waiting for Friday again. It is comforting to know it’s 00:53 on Thursday as I write this.

I’d love to go back to the company from college, but I’d still choose my work over a life without off-days.

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