Friday, December 08, 2006

End of Chapter One

It's the last week of my first semester studying in the US. I am visiting my cousin in Connecticut for the vacation. The semester was fun, I am not sure how much I learned about Human Computer Interaction Design, but living in another country is an education by itself and I think I've grown, working with people and making friends here. Not to forget that I've also taught. Once, teaching Linux commands, I got to the finger command, when the exerise was to use the command to find information about their neighbor. Unwittingly, I said "finger your neighbour", only to realise its other connotation when I heard giggles. Being a foreign Teaching assistant can lead to many of these situations, like somebody replying "It sucked" when asked about a previous assignment, and I having little clue how to respond to it.
Thanks to the teaching experience, and the numerous presentations in my own classes, I 've improved, so it seems, at speaking in public. On the first day, during orientation, we were asked about our greatest fears, and I said speaking in public. The professors are rather observant, and I had a couple of them tell me later I wasn't bad, friends have also told me that I've been improving. Needless to say, I like all the attention, and that's why I like this place the most, the people are nice and friendly. Surprisingly, I haven't felt very homesick, thanks to the people I've worked with and the Indian junta when I return home here. The timely hellos from friends back home in India, and weekly calls home ensured I felt good. It's interesting how I've improved at public speaking over the years. At school at an elocution competition: "Books are the ships on the ocean of life ... Books are the ships on the ocean of life ... Umm..", taking a sheet of paper out, "Books are a great source of knowledge", closing the sheet to realise I wasn't any good from the second line either, "Thank you". I then progressed, to finishing a speech without breaking off mid way, closing my eyes or looking away to ensure I wasn't intimidated by the crowd, the former working well at a competition for reciting Sanskrit slokas. I then progressed to the "superfast express", where I have my eyes open and looking at the crowd, but the speed of my voice expressed my desire to get out soon. Now, I am able to notice my speed and correct it to ensure I speak clearly. At school, my jitters would begin a week in advance. At IIIT, it would be a day in advance of the presentation, and here the jitters would begin just at the start of the presentation, my heart would begin to pound faster, but I would finish it making sure I made my point.
The projects were fun working as I was in great teams. The frequent parties organised by people from the class, once a Winter white party, where everybody's dressed in white, and eats and drinks only white things, once a christmas party, once a get-together at a friend's place or once a potluck party, ensured that the people in class knew each other well. Though, there still were some confusions about who was who, when one day everybody was asking me how I was doing and offering me candy, apparently I had fainted the day before. It was somebody else in class, but somebody thought my name was his, and everybody was talking about me. Oh well, Indian names can be confusing I guess. I am called Bala here. I have a feeling shorter calling names ensure better socialization. At IIIT, I would be adamant about being called Balakrishna, but haven't felt very close with people until they called me Balak or something similiar.
I was also involved as a photojournalist for the student newspaper, I got 7 photos published, averaging one a week, as I had planned to do. It was fun, and I'll be doing it again next semester. It was a quick semester, and it was fun. Hopefully, next semester would be even more fun.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Films I'm Watching

About two weeks back, I got to watch a brilliant film, Alexander Sokurov's "The Russian Ark". It's brilliant on many levels, though the way it was made stands out: The director shot the whole film in a single shot of about 90 minutes. The film is about Russian history and culture, and showcases the Hermitage Museum in Russia to the world. In the different rooms of the museum, the director staged instances from 300 years of Russian History, and the steady camera operator moved from one room to another, where actors performed their parts. In the film, an invisible time traveler guides us through each of the rooms, accompanied by a French diplomat who had toured Russia at one time in the past.

To think that the film was pulled off in spite of these: the film had to be shot in one take as mentioned and since the museum could permit them only that single day when it would be shot there was little time for multiple tries, the steady camera operator was German, and a translator had to mediate between the director and him, 3000 actors performed their parts in the film, all original artifacts from the museum were used in the film and their safety had to be ensured, a minor acting error on the part of any of the actors or the steady camera operator would have ruined the film. Unbelievable.

The film was shot in the third take, the first two times the shooting having failed after about 10 minutes. Watching the film made me very hopeful, that you could pull off just about anything. The costumes on each of the actors were gorgeous, the acting splendid. Watching the film, I have become more interested in Eastern European cinema, my favourite director is Kryzstof Kieslowski, I love his "Blind Chance". This week I could get hold of a DVD box set of his films from our Library, I just finished "Camera Buff" and "A short story about Love", both have simple stories but such intimate portrayal filled with drama. The latter film inspired a Hindi film called "Ek Choti si love story" that became a scandal.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The amateur photojournalist

I have here the photographs of my first two published photographs, to try to recreate my feeling when I first saw them in the newspaper.

The first one: The main page!

The second one: Okay, I can do this!

I just finished my third photojournalism assignment, shooting at the Latino Culture Center's "Day of the Dead", a celebration to honor the dead. You can see the published photo here . It was the first time I was shooting people in the intimate: the first assignment I was shooting at the bus stop hidden from the people, the second assignment was about shooting a book, "Hoosier Heart".

I was apprehensive, as I was going to be shooting indoors at night, and I needed to get the exposure right besides getting closer to the people. I think cameras can help people overcome their shyness, as you have to get closer to the subjects you need to shoot, when they're people. Well, of course you could do it like you were observing a laboratory cockroach, detached, but that wouldn't get you the best photographs.

I think for me the exercise is proving worthy, I get free photography advice, I get paid for my published photographs, and I get to experience new situations and meet new people. Of course, my method is still coarse, I don't yet involve people in conversations, and that should be the next improvement.

Who Am I ?

Look Who's playing the fool.

Indiana Jones tries his hand at Beer Pong, thanks to his partner who can drink all the beer.

Pictures from a Halloween party. It was a surprise that I was doing it, because it's not what people would expect of me, or so I guess. If you also found it surprising, wait till you hear this: the day before, I was dancing. Dancing in a bar. Well, I wasn't drunk but I was dancing to music being played by a band called Polka Boys. Maybe it wasn't so much Dance as it was a shake of the legs. I was accompanying my friends, and it seemed odd that I was in a bar, with nothing to do as I don't drink, folding my hands and staring at the band. Eventually as each one of my friends swayed and began dancing to the music, I had to yield to the pressure. I had to find something to do after all.

You can see, characteristic of the people of my personality type, I am trying to defend myself. I don't consider dancing as bad or anything, but I never thought I'd be able to do it. I guess each of us holds a certain image of ourselves that is very difficult to even imagine being changed.

Change is inevitable, though, as they say. Being in a new situation like being in a different country presents an opportunity for change. You are no longer tied to your image, except by your own self, since there're a new set of people and a new set of circumstances. Nobody knows who you are like, so you could fake an entirely new personality, if you have enough courage.

I am still the person most people have known me as though!

Halloween Fun

Pumpkin Carving: mine! mine!

Jack 'O Lantern: Pretty neat, no ?

The rest!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A new activity

Today's issue of the Indiana Daily Student, IUB's student newspaper has my name on the front page. I've not been involved in any shady dealings, nor have I won a coveted prize. My first photo working as a photojournalist for the Indiana Daily Student, got published today. Little did I think that my photo would be worthy of being published that when my editor told me it was going to figure on P1, I was very excited, and when I found it to be the picture of the main story, at the top center of the main page, I was very very excited.

It was a picture for a story on a particular campus bus that students were complaining about. My job was to get a picture that showed students having to wait a long time, only to face a bus that was full (Buses have a capacity here, not like in India, where there practically is no limit on the number of people who can get into the bus). I stood at the bus stop waiting for that bus, a Canon EOS XT digital camera with a heavy lens hanging down my neck. I shot photos of people waiting and of the bus, standing at the bus stop. I also traveled in the bus to see if I can get a picture of people waiting, with the bus' front glass in the foreground, but handling the heavy camera on the moving bus proved troublesome, and didn't permit me to do much there. The photo that got published was one I took when a bus pulled in and people at the stop had to wait for people inside the bus to move back, creating space for these people to get in, and their body language suggested they were hoping they could get a place. You can see the picture here The editor told me she chose the photo because of the look on the face of one of the students waiting.

It was a seemingly simple assignment, but getting a good picture takes effort, and depends on a moment happening. My editor advised me to take as many pictures as I could, optimally, finishing two memory cards of 512MB each. That can mean some hard work, but I guess it was very rewarding to see my photograph in the newspaper. Photojournalism is interesting to me because photojournalists get to experience new situations and new challenges with each new assignment, and that can be exciting. While I am elated about my first photograph, I know that publishing more photos will definitely need effort, and hopefully I can pull it off.

Monday, October 16, 2006

How's Life ?

I am now the owner of an Apple Laptop. A shiny, used 15 inch Apple Powerbook G4. I bought the laptop and a used apple iCam webcamera for USD 1040. A second hand laptop for a grand, you might ask, and before you look upon me with the same feeling you had when you read about my 800 USD loss on Air India, let me clarify that it also came with an apple care warranty plan for one more year. Besides, second hand powerbooks were selling for about USD 1200 on eBay, and that made it a good proposition. The lure of the apple, you might also say, these machines are so good looking that you want to possess one. Well, at least I fell for them.

It's been two weeks now, and life hasn't changed drastically after I got my laptop, but I get to watch some movies, borrowing DVDs from the main library, I am more accessible than I was before, and I don't have to stop at the Library on Mondays and Wednesdays after my class that ends at 9, to finish any work for the next day. And, I can't get lost, not that I do, but with IU's wireless network over every corner of the campus, google maps is always at hand. The wireless access allows people to work at just about any place, and I think it's a pretty sight, people lying down on the grass, working on their laptop or rea ding a book, with streams of water, and trees around. The leaves are changing colour, and the trees are part yellow, part orange and part green, making it all the more beautiful. The weather's changing though, the temperatures are falling, and soon there'll be nobody on the grass. Last week saw the night temperatures fall below zero.

This weekend I was occupied with correcting papers for the class I am a teaching assistant for and a take home mid-term exam for one of my own courses. Last weekend was interesting.

On Saturday evening, I had dinner with my Bloomington family, the Engels. An organisation called Bloomington Worldwide friendship ties up international students with local families to promote cultural exchange, and they matched me with the Engel family. The dinner was nice and consisted of Macaroni with cheese, a dish made with corn, boiled vegetables, Cranberry jelly, sweet tea and ice cream with peach pie for dessert. We had nice conversations about family life, food, climate and culture in our respective places. The Engels were very generous and I returned home with a dozen farm eggs and more helpings from the dishes we had for dinner. Ever since I landed here, I was concerned if I might be narrow minded and not make many friends here, thanks to BWF and all the group projects at school, I am becoming less worried about that.
On the afternoons of Saturday and Sunday, I went to see the Lotus Music Festival, that brings musicians from all over the world to Bloomington. On Saturday, it was Lotus in the park, and musicians performed and taught in music workshops at a local park. On Sunday, it was the World Spirit concert, and there were performances by people from Tibet, Canada, Brazil and India. The Indian group performed Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi, Carnatic and Hindustani music, and a much applauded piece consisting of a fusion of the Tabla and an Afghanistani instrument.

The weather looks dampening, but activities in Bloomington abound as usual. The Asian association has plans for Deepawali, and maybe there'll be some excitement during the festival.

Lotus Festival in the Park

The Indian performances at the World Spirit Concert

Friday, September 22, 2006

Weekend Whining

Amartya Sen was at IU yesterday, and he talked about Identity and India. It was the first time I was breathing the same air a Nobel Laureate was breathing. That must do something to me, I guess. He read from a prepared lecture, and inspite of that, it was an entertaining one. When the brightness of the lights in the auditorium was increased, he joked, "I can see now that I am spreading enlightenment". During the QA session, when somebody asked him, if there were any books other than his own he would recommend somebody for getting an understanding of India, he said he didn't see his books in that light, and said he was surprised that his The Argumentative Indian was a bestseller, he then joked that the best complement he ever received for that book was last week, when his publisher Penguin, mailed him telling him that 15,000 pirated copies of that book were seized in Delhi. There were other witty comments spread through his talk.

Technology can fail you in very significant moments, it happened to me twice this week. At Sen's lecture, I wanted to get his picture, but my camera would display "low battery" when I could get a good view of him, and when I did get it to work, he wasn't visible. All I could manage are the photos shown here. On september 21 I wanted to call my mother for her birthday, and knowing that she would leave for college, I rushed home with a calling card and using my friend's phone called home. All I could hear was my father saying hello, when the call ended and a message said all the card's charge was consumed. To think that I had spent 5 dollars on it. The next morning I had my mother call me, so I could wish her. Pathetic.

I've been eating outside these days, as I have little time between group meetings and classes to go home and eat. A chicken sandwich combined with ice cream or a coke has been my staple diet last week. Not bad on the palate, but not too good for my wallet. I got my first cheque for my work as an assistant instructor, two days back. I still need to buy a laptop. I was expecting Apple to release a laptop with the newest Intel chip, but looks like they're going to take their time. I get to access the internet only when at college, and so it's been some time since I had my hellos returned from the other side of the planet.

It's getting cold. I am shivering as I write this, but I need to get used to the current temperature, as I hear that in the winter when it will snow, even with all the layers of clothing, it'll still be as cold as it is now.
It's 9.40 now, I better be heading home for Dinner. Lest you should worry about my wellbeing, I only used whining in the title to sound well with weekend. I am well.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

A month in the US

Last night, we drove to Indianapolis to watch a 10 pm show of Bommarillu at the IMAX theatre in Washington Street, that makes it my first movie in the US. Listening to a lot of praise for that movie, I went in expecting a movie that well, deserved all that praise. The movie, was not bad, and especially for a director working within the parameters of the love story with disagreeing parents, it was a fine job. But, we have Prakash Raj realising his faults as a father for the 40th time, Dharmavarapu playing the not anymore funny college lecturer, a heroine who wears long flowing skirts everyday and can walk only in hops and jumps and a hero who keeps jumping into the air every 30 minutes. Cliches abound, like in most Telugu films. The film was enjoyable though for some of its moments, but it's not a film that will be remembered once its run is over. In spite of all it attempts to say about a father-son relationship, there isn't anything profound.

Life's getting to usual, with classes and assignments. My only complaint is that my weekends are occupied with group assignments. The classes have been fun. On the first day of our HCI class, the professor tore open a packet of ketchup from McDonald's and squeezed all the ketchup onto a sheet of paper, then he did the same again, then again, four packets in all, before he threw the sheet with all the sauce into the wastebasket. He then distributed chewing gum, band-aid and Tetley tea. By his own admission, his classes are "sometimes weird". In that class, we were marvelling at the good design of some products and criticising the bad design of others. As is evident, the professor really liked the design of the ketchup packet that would open only if you intended to open it. Each one of his classes begins with listening to a music composition, and trying to understand its design.

In another class on informatics, the professor talking about the notion of semantics, gives us the example of a metaphor that takes different meanings in different contexts. He chooses "banging on the hips", from a poem. He tells us how a catholic upbringing would give one the meaning of a dance where you bang on the sides and then about the other meaning of sexual intercourse, while actually making gestures to indicate the two. The examples are always full of life and he always talks self-deprecatingly about his family and his former job studying the effects of shampoo on hair.

I am getting to meet more people, and I am slowly reaching that stage when I will be beginning a conversation without being asked to repeat my first line. At the place I am staying, there're a lot of Indians, and it's beginning to feel like home when I get back. I am not sure, what kind of a person two years here will turn me into, I hope I will like the end-product.

Friday, September 01, 2006

At Home in Bloomington

Park Doral Apartments

Apartment 2610

My Room, I got the bed and the chair in a furniture giveaway.

A senior gave me the table for free, the Lamp cost me $12, the photo prints were free from yahoo pictures, other decorations, window blinds and a tube light cost me another 40$ in all. That means a furnished room under $50, not a bad thing at all.

I've been cooking. It did taste good!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Indiana University Bloomington

Tall green trees, buildings well laid amidst a lot of vegetation, Nice huge lamp-posts, and walkways that make walking or cycling such a delight, the Indiana University Bloomington campus sure is a beautiful one.

That's me.

C h i c a g o !

My cousin's place at peaceful Wheaton

Towards Downtown Chicago

My Cousin Manoj

The Michigan Lake Beach, The Hancock tower behind me.

America's Tallest: The Sears tower

Millennium Park

Millennium park

A huge steel installation at Millennium Park

Each Tower is Tall

Beautiful Downtown.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

America, I am here. To stay ?

I am at Chicago, at my cousin's place. He's a nice man and I am having a good time here. Landing here at O'Hare International airport, though I had the burden of postponing the connecting flight to Indianapolis, which I eventually missed, on my mind, I was happy that I was making my transition into the Western world, having had continental chicken and sauted vegetables for lunch, fruit flavoured yoghurts made in Germany for all meals, reading J.M.Coetzee's Youth (I've mostly read Indian authors before), landing midway at Frankfurt airport and flying across the Atlantic for the first time. A plane ride sure does boost your esteem, you do feel important. I was happy about my first International one, until I realised I had indeed been taken for a ride. I was robbed.

Even as my father would keep advising me to learn from others' experiences, I seem to have a knack for learning things first hand. Adding to the list of new things learned by myself would be, how to claim for lost travelers cheques, what to do if you find your cash stolen from your baggage and how to lodge a complaint with Air India. And these lessons are costly. I will recover my travelers cheques for 1000 USD, but little hope on the 800 dollars cash. And then, there's the feeling that your first international flight was rather jinxed. Surprisingly, the first time I discovered the loss, I didn't react any vehemently. Possibly because, I was expecting it after having heard stories about thefts on Air India's baggage transfer. And maybe, because I was also tired.

As it began to sink in the next day, I was haunted by feelings of what if, why had I put the cash in my baggage, why didnt I spend some time learning how to program that number lock on my bag and other such things. More than anything, it's the feeling of being helpless that troubles me, all I was doing was asking politely if anything could be done, how I wish I could demand action. Anyway, my father was handling that part.

I told myself that it was less than a two-month stipend, to remain calm. While on the value of money, I was at Barnes and Noble bookstore yesterday to while away time, and I was thinking how costly the books were at over 12$ when you could get the same book for Rs.250 in India. But, A simple meal eaten out for one costs around half that price, around 5$.(For the record, my cousin's taken me to Potbelly's Sandwich works and Noodle bar, both times the food tasted wonderful.) So that way, maybe you don't have to think too much about buying a book, equivalent to around two meals. In India, the same 250 is equivalent to around 5 meals for one, so it is actually a larger amount there, as I see it now. That's what is striking to me about the US, if you are earning in dollars, most things are affordable. Cars, laptops and other things are available for not more than two months salary unlike in India where they are perceived as long term investment. But, being the Indian I am my first urge would still be to multiply the dollar figure with 50, to decide whether or not to make a purchase. Maybe, only until I start earning in dollars.

Some of you reading this are maybe already conjecturing, that this fellow's sure to stay back in the US. It's too early anyway.

There are certain warning signs though that might mean I'd return. For one, I feel intimidated here. The Americans are all hefty and well-built, and so confident, and if I have to make an impression here and keep up my self-esteem, I'd have to improve physically and emotionally. And the positive thing is that of what I've seen, the Americans are friendly people. I will put my best foot forward. For the second, I heard my first news story about sniper shooting yesterday, and to think of it, it was in North Indiana. Bloomington's in South Indiana. I guess I'll have to license a gun.

I'll be heading to Bloomington, that very beautiful campus town, rated among the most liveable places in America by some magazine, this weekend. I know I'll enjoy the US!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

A rainy day's pour-out

It's raining outside, I am stranded in the lab, after a stressful day, and since I don't want to get back to work on my project, I have decided to write. It's been past a month since I posted last. Every day will definitely have things to talk about, and a month is a lot of time.

Some of my friends are at home, some at faraway places, a few giving me company. I am still struggling on my project, wondering what I have gained in the process. It's been four months since I last went to the Hyderabad Film Club, an even larger amount of time since I went home and stayed a whole day, I've always had to return to worry about my project, some time since I had the luxury of a long conversation and some time since I have heartily laughed.

Maybe it's not as bad as I made it sound, I have things to look forward to, I will be going to Indiana university in August and I know deliverance from my project is nearing. Even as I write this, I feel like a stupid that I am thinking so much about the project. I hate to identify with it. To me work can never be life, unless you are an artist (of course!, I hope to be one). I don't know how the transition came about, when I was at school I always wanted to be a scientist of some kind, I now want to do something in the arts. I now brood more, if that qualifies me for it. My interest in people has also grown.

Whatever the fallout, I must be thankful to my project for opening my eyes, I learnt an important lesson: Never lead yourself on a path that's not made for you. I have decided never to work on something that I have no interest in, and have even lesser aptitude for. I have fretted, fumed and brooded on why I had to struggle while some had it easy, and in the process also gained a voice. So, it's not that bad after all.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Can't believe.

We've been bid farewell at the IIIT. Can't believe it's getting over.

I must admit that I've not had a great sense of belonging initially. It took me three years to get acquainted with people and begin to feel at home with them and at the IIIT. The final year's been a most wonderful time, I had things to worry about but I also had friends who made me feel special.

Four years just flew by, wish I had all those wonderful times in the final year all through. But, it takes time to strike a chord with people, and inspite of taking the people you are close to for granted, there'll be a lot of things you still won't know about them. I am looking forward to leaving the IIIT as I go in search of new adventures, but I wish I had more time with my friends.

Can't believe I am 21.

I still have the feeling that I finished school very recently and I still feel a need for care and attention.

I am yet to learn to be myself at social gatherings, I just can't help but be stiff and inconvenient, and that means I am always robbing photographs of their charm.

When we went on excursions in school to Rajasthan and Delhi in my last two years, I always felt out of the group. When we checked into the hotels, people would choose their room-mates, and I was the one who was always left out. I stayed with people who weren't the ones I met everyday and called friends. While travelling on trains, in buses I had difficulty joining people in whatever they were doing, playing cards or humming songs.

Every time, I was expecting them to ask me to join them, expecting them to invite me to be in their rooms. Even as I've grown to 21 years, I seem to have the wisdom but I haven't really changed. We went on a batch trip recently, and I saw a repeat of those very events: I felt withdrawn, and unable to talk without hesitation, and was expecting people to ask me to join them. Again, I couldn't really spend as much time as I would have liked with my friends on the trip.

It's time I learnt to stop expecting somebody to help me help myself, and learnt to take the initiative.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Hello there!

It's been a long time since I wrote, pity that my last post actually talked about my writing more often.

I've been occupied with applying to universities and trying to satisfy my final year project guide. In between, I had to deal with the placements.

A sense of achievement can do wonders to your psyche. A sense of worthlessness can prove to be very depressing, as I found out in the placement process. Well, when I don't get into a company it means that I don't fit into that company, and not that I am incompetent is what I'd like to believe (who would want to blame himself, after all!) and what is common wisdom, but when you discover you don't fit into neither Adobe, nor Google, nor Sarnoff, nor Microsoft, nor Yahoo, you can't help but find fault with yourself. (My, they are big names!)

Finally and thankfully (Since that gave me an excuse to be out of the placement process!), I ended up at Infosys SETLabs after they had rejected me initially and advised me to widen my horizons. Well, that took away the little sense of achievement it would have given me had I been accepted without the initial rejection. I wasn't elated at all. (Maybe, also because of the fact that I was prejuduced both by the salaries of the companies that I didn't fit into and the fact that it was Infosys, which well I didn't hold in very high esteem (You might as well notice the past tense.)).

I currently am into programs in human computer interaction at the Indiana University and the University of Nottingham. I guess my next destination will be clear in a couple of months time when I will hear from the other universities.