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This is a plug for my brother’s fledgling rap group, comprised of him and a few of his friends. In this video, they take on high school issues, and seem to be having a lot of fun while doing it. For high school students, they’re pretty good!
I happened to be on Youtube a while back, and saw that there was a section devoted to commencement speeches, where Randy Pausch’s video was featured. I can’t believe it has been almost a year since he passed. I can’t believe that he passed.
I watched his last lecture soon after I had graduated from college. My brother had insisted that I see it, and he is usually not one for sweeping oratory. Randy Pausch did not look like he was dying, though all those present, and all those watching knew that he was. Not once did he pity himself, or bemoan his situation, even as his death grew steadily within him. His speech was peppered with grace, humor, and a perspective that one would not expect from cancer patients, let alone people who have ever been so much as slighted by fate.
He spoke eloquently of achieving his own childhood dreams, and helping others to achieve theirs. It’s one of those topics that, context notwithstanding, is beautiful and inspirational. Yet it takes on a whole new level of poignancy when one takes into account Pausch’s backstory, the “elephant in the room” as he referred to it (terminal pancreatic cancer). On a slight sidenote, and perhaps this is a gross generalization, but in the few weeks that I have worked in clinical cancer research, I have found such inspiration in the patients I have been lucky enough to hear about or perhaps even talk to. Their perspective, in many cases, is so pure and so positive. Perhaps it’s the specter of death that causes us to review our views on life, and find something positive to keep us (and those we love) going.
I remember coming into the hospital one day, having walked a few blocks in the pouring rain. I ended up being locked out of my office, and decided to wait in the waiting room. There was one other woman there, who was a patient. She smiled at me and asked me how I was doing. I responded, “Fine…but I wish the weather was better!”
“No no,” she said, “I love this weather.”
“Well,” she started, “it’s almost as if the city is being cleansed fully.” She smiled. “There is a smell in the city, that no amount of cleaning we do can take away. Yet when the rain comes down and washes the streets, it smells so fresh and clean afterward. That’s why I love it.”
I can’t look at storms with the same, negative view again.
Randy Pausch inspired me similarly. As many of you know, whether because you know me, or because you have read my posts, I really want to become a doctor. What you probably also know is that it has been a ridiculously uphill battle. In his speech, he spoke of brick walls. Brick walls, he said, were there to test how badly you really wanted something. Your propensity for breaking down the brick wall was correlated to the strength of your dream. I have made some progress with my own brick wall, but there is still more work to be done. I’ll see how it plays out.
There are a few other things that stuck that I have been able to relate to my own life. For one thing, he strongly advises his audience to never lose that child-like wonder. It’s absolutely true. If you do, you just get caught up in the tide, and in the humdrum passing of the days, where everything is just shades of gray. I think, oftentimes, it is the curse of adulthood, once we step outside of our colleges into the real world. Life threatens to be the same old story, everyday. It’s important, though, to find excitement in even the smallest, most seemingly mundane things. Even on my commute, I find myself staring out the window, trying to pick up on this and that that flies by as we head to Penn (or head home), or just let my mind run a little wild, contemplating this and that. Everything has the potential to be amazing, it’s just a question of how we approach it. If I find myself getting swept away, I just have to remember Randy Pausch, and how he was able to see everything in a new, awe-inspiring way
Helping others and doing the right thing seem to be things that we should be adhering to, but it’s surprising how many people drop the ball. Karma is something I strongly believe in, though that’s not the only reason one should do the right thing. It’s a question of the act itself, not the rewards it may potentially bring.
Ultimately the one thing that really touched me from his last lecture is the premise of putting others before yourself. He demonstrated that visibly by leading the entire audience in singing happy birthday to his wife. Yet even in day to day things, we can put the needs of others above our own. Humans are social beings, to deny our connection to other people, and to subvert that connection for our own gain does go against what it means to be human. Sure, we do have to look out for ourselves on occasion (otherwise we ultimately perish, literally or figuratively) but in serving others, we become better people.
Part of me wants to think Randy Pausch was, in a sense, enlightened all along. He seemed to conduct his life with a strong awareness of what he expected of life, and what life expected of him. Part of me thinks that his fight with cancer hastened the enlightenment process. Perhaps it was a little of both. He was certainly an extraordinary man, who led an extraordinary life, yet maintained a sense of humility that most people in his position fail to have.
It’s unfortunate that those who are truly an inspiration to humanity inevitably end up being taken away from us too soon. It is fortunate, however, that we have the means to immortalize those people and the wisdom that they preach. Indeed, the video of the last lecture has 10 million or so views. I’ve personally watched it twice, and I cried both times. It wasn’t really so much the inevitability of his death, but the manner in which he handled it that so moved me. He smiled, joked, laughed, and reminisced, even treating his impending death light-heartedly. Cancer wasn’t an end, it was a beginning.
It is partly because of Randy Pausch that I still dare to dream, even if the dream seems walled off by brick walls. Like he said, brick walls are there to test the strength of our resolve, and our devotion to the dream. Nothing is ever impossible, as he demonstrates by admitting that he was not accepted to Carnegie Mellon for graduate school. However, he was persistent, and eventually ended up going. As the 1st anniversary of his death approaches, I hope that new people, as well as people who have already seen the video, become inspired by the wisdom he so willingly gave.
Here is the video, for those who haven’t seen it, and those who want to see it again: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ji5_MqicxSo
I first heard about Project Remix last year–or at least the collection of nascent ideas that would eventually become Remix–from one of the creators, who is also a good friend of mine. I was immediately sold on the idea, which was to create a site that provided resources and information to Desi (South-Asian) youth. A site created by the Indian youth for the Indian youth.
The official site launched recently, though it had already started generating buzz among our peers when it had made its first foray into the collective consciousness. Currently there are sections for cuts, cultural media, and articles. The cuts feature mixes used by various student groups and collegiate dance teams (bhangra, raas, Indian fusion, etc.) from across the country. Cultural media highlights video performances from various collegiate groups. The articles on Project Remix have been broken down into smaller categories and initiatives, devoted to everything from the arts to sports (currently I’m contributing to Team Innovate’s Neurobio series so be sure to check that out!). Examples of articles currently up on the website include my neurobio piece (an overview of neuroscience), a two-part series on biofuels, a review of Slumdog Millionaire, and a piece recounting a trip to Chennai to volunteer.
Project Remix is seeking new, fresh voices that can contribute to the site in any capacity. If you are a writer or blogger who is interested in appearing on the website, you can email projectremixny at gmail dot com. For any other questions, you can also send an email to the aforementioned address. The website is http://www.projectremix.org.
In addition, you can follow Project Remix on Twitter @ProjectRemix for updates.
Women doctors have made amazing strides in the field, where only half a century earlier, it was almost exclusively dominated by men. Yet while the doors have opened to women doctors in most aspects, there is one notable exception: motherhood.
My favorite story of women breaking into this, male-dominated field is the one of Agnodice, who disguised herself as a man so that she could study medicine in ancient Greece. Many girls want to grow up to be both well-regarded doctors and wonderful mothers, but it seems that for the most part, they can’t have their cake and eat it too. Men can enter whatever field they want with little consequence, women must make sacrifices. I acknowledge that this seems to be changing, but the pace is still painfully slow.
To paraphrase a professor of mine, the world is still cruel to women. They are encouraged to pursue their career and focus on it with razor sharp focus, while their biological clocks tick away, independent of any aspirations they may develop down the road to start a family. Once the residency and fellowship parade is over (as the case were for aspiring doctors), and a woman is ready to start a family, it may already be too late. I’m all for women being driven and seizing life by the horns, but sometimes the cost is pretty great.
And then, there is me and those like me, who are from immigrant families who insist upon marriage and having at least the first child before age 30. If I am lucky, I will enter medical school at 24, take four years, and enter whatever specialty I can. Depending on what specialty that is, the years devoted to residencies and fellowships may be as low as 3 or as high as 6-7. People can say “Rebel! Blaze your own trail, do what you need to do to get what you want.” Yet in cultures where filial piety is prized and expected, it is far harder to go against the grain, even when your own wishes may be at stake. How does one reconcile cultural and societal obligations with the rigors of medical school/further training?
From what I can gather (and please correct me if I’m wrong) but several residencies tend to not look kindly on women who are pregnant or who have very young children. Each specialty requires a certain number of years of training. It makes sense, of course, that the more high-stakes residencies (for example neurosurgery) would probably require more time to train physicians in that field. Obviously I’d want my neurosurgeon (heaven forbid that I need one) to have had rigorous training. Yet there are 194 certified women neurosurgeons, out of something like 3000 neurosurgeons in total in the U.S. The difference between those numbers is alarming. It’s enough to discourage most women from even entertaining the idea of going down that road, but I’m not like most women. Many women seem to end up vying for the more “family-friendly” positions like family physician or pediatrician, or at least ones that finish up training quickly.
I am not one of those people, I’m aiming for one of the neuro residencies (neurosurgery if I can help it).* I love the complicated nature of the field, and yes, I love the potentially maddening level of stress that’s involved. It’s a field I greatly respect and I want to be a part of, but could potentially be turned away because I want to devote the same kind of attention to my family.
I went to a seminar being conducted at SUNY Downstate, giving advice for medical students as to when they should get married and start families. Literally, the window of opportunity was a few months at best for both, where the birth of a child could potentially set students back a year. Clearly under these restrictions, days-long, traditional Indian weddings are out the window. If I were to get pregnant year 3 or 4, that could be potentially problematic, whereas the first two years were a bit better (but by no means ideal). Heaven forbid you wanted to take care of your child until they were at least more communicative or mobile, and when their fear of strangers was under control (Piagetian child psychology sets this at around 2 years of age). Then perhaps the babysitter could be introduced, if you don’t mind having a babysitter or nanny (I do mind). Children are for many people, a vital part of their lives, and they have the right to get as much time early on with their parents as they can. Yet as far as I can tell, the policy seems to be to leave everything to after you start practicing. That’s great for some people, but others are (still) bound by age-old traditions and (sometimes antiquated though biologically sound) cultural expectations regarding marriage and childbirth.
Hopefully, the domination by men that still seems to be inherent will continue to be addressed, and will encourage more women to live their lives a bit more easily while pursuing their dreams. If any women doctors come across this, I’d love to hear your perspective, given that mine is pretty limited.
*This is all contingent on my getting into medical school. I’m not going to crow about medicine without putting in that little point in there, I’m not in medical school yet. Hopefully I will be soon, gotta take it one step at a time. Even contemplating residencies is a long way off, but it can’t hurt to start contemplating a little now!
Sometimes I watch Keith Olbermann and I wonder, would someone (not necessarily Keith) who is so liberal ever date someone like, say, an Ann Coulter (ok not quite raving lunatic conservative but nonetheless staunch conservative) type? In trying to find a guy, I’ve always said I don’t want a social conservative. I’m a liberal in all senses of the word, and I personally don’t think I would get along with a social or political conservative. Ok, let me elaborate. I don’t think I would get along with a social conservative especially if they are adamant about their views. Yet I wonder how many couples there are where both people were at odds, politically or otherwise, and have lasted for a long period of time. I’m sure there are many that exist, but I would think they would be in the minority.
So what about you?
Because it is brilliant.
It is basically The Ramayana from Sita’s perspective. Her story is juxtaposed with that of the cartoonist, who herself is enduring a bad breakup from her husband. I know there are some raised eyebrows from the Hindu community, namely the portrayal of the story and missing out the elements of the story that make Rama’s actions “make sense” i.e. time period, expectations of women, etc. However, the point of the Ramayana (and any other story/epic) is to inspire, and perhaps even provide comfort as the case seems to be here.
Check out Nina Paley’s blog as well. She bills herself as “America’s Best-Loved, Unknown Cartoonist.” I get the feeling she’s not going to be unknown for much longer.
In Sita, the cartoonist finds someone not unlike herself, faced with the sudden separation from her husband, whom she loves without boundaries. The story is wonderfully narrated by three, Indonesian shadow puppets, and the animation of Sita’s story and the cartoonist Nina Paley’s story are animated differently, both styles adding another dimension to each story. I think I liked the songs the most–all rendered by Annette Henshaw, a singer who sang the songs during the twenties–it was as though the songs were made for the film.
It aired on PBS New York (WNET) last night, however the full, streaming movie is available here:
(Still doing recession-related guest posts through 3/9/09, just throwing this in there to add a little variety).
Most of you reading this blog know me, and know what I look like. For those of you who don’t, let me describe myself as best as I can:
I have light tan skin, dark brown eyes, a long nose (though not sharp), a small mouth, and layered black hair (that doesn’t know whether it wants to be straight or wavy) up to the middle of my back. I’m 5’1″ (for all intents and purposes), with a small frame, small hands, short legs, and small feet. Would you really be able to fairly compare me to a 5’10″, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, pouty-lipped, long-limbed girl?
Yet people make these comparisons all the time. Beauty can’t be standardized to the same standard that has taken hold everywhere (tall, thin, light-eyed, long lashes, long-limbed, perfect skin, perfect skin tone, etc.). Among Indians, I see many people around my age wearing lighter-colored contact lenses, because they think they look better, for whatever reason. I had that phase myself for a while during high school, where I wanted lighter eyes (though I never bought contacts). Really though, what’s so wrong with having dark brown eyes?
Beauty is a definition that is fluid. It changes among different ethnic groups, and through different time periods. What may have beautiful for my ancestors (think old-time Nair people) perhaps isn’t the same for me. I don’t like when guys have mustaches, yet most men in Kerala over the age of 35 seem to have a mustache because of some vague standard of “manliness.” Thick, long, straight hair was the ideal for Malayalee women (and still is to some degree) and I get the speech about how I need to grow my hair longer, especially for my hypothetical wedding. My hair is layered and (sometimes) wavy (though usually unruly), two things that don’t seem to go well with some people in my family. Larger people have traditionally been viewed as beautiful across all cultures, and even today is a standard still held by many from my grandparents’ generation, if not more recent generations as well. “Eat more,” they insist, “you are too thin!” Weight was reflective of the amount of food you had access to, which equated to wealth. Yet today many cultures have been shifting towards a thin idea, whether it’s because of the health benefits of being thinner, or the media that glorifies stick thin models (less so nowadays than perhaps a decade ago).
In the past, certain features were “beautiful” because they conveyed some aspect of “fitness” (that is, a person’s ability to survive despite averse conditions). Each region had its own set of challenges, where possessing certain attributes lent a person certain benefits in that environment. However, the fact that many of these obstacles have been controlled in modern society, beauty has changed to reflect that. It seems that since all societies are moving towards the same standard of living, so too are all societies moving towards the same standard of beauty.
Yet beauty should remain something unique and personal, a standard we only set for ourselves. Beauty is not something that should be standardized across all people, for in doing that, we lose some degree of diversity that makes us special, and add so much unnecessary pressure for people to conform. It’s about being healthy, being hygenic, and looking presentable. Anything beyond that is really optional, whatever it is that makes you look and feel good, as only you can define it.
Plus beauty isn’t just about looks, it’s about personality, and other factors that cannot be changed so easily. Beauty is a whole package. No matter how tall you are, how thin you are, how much makeup you slather on, how clear your skin is, if you lack in those other areas, well those are much harder to remedy. Beauty, it turns out, is actually more than skin-deep. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
This is a follow-up to my last Shaadi.com post.
So I should probably start out by saying that I created an account. I will admit it. I have an account on Shaadi.com.
Ok, cue the laughter…all right that’s enough.
Oh, and no you can’t see it.
You may be wondering, “After all that whining in your last post, why did you cave in and create an account on Shaadi.com?”
First, a refresher for my non-Indian readers:
Malayalees refers to people from the South Indian state of Kerala. Nairs refers to a caste among Malayalee Hindus, probably most similar to the general “kshatriya” caste.
Well it’s not like I’m wading knee-deep in Nair guys who fit my parents’ stringent criteria (as well as my own). I don’t have the time to go to many of these Malayalee events and conventions anymore (yes so that means I probably won’t be making it out to the KHNA convention in LA this year…sigh). Sure, Nair guys make up probably the largest chunk of the Hindu Malayalees in the United States, but among all Indians in the United States, we are a rarity. I think if I just left it to chance, I’d probably only end up finding someone who fits the bill by the age of…50? 60?
If I learned anything from my Human Bonding class in college, it is this: the largest pool of potential partners you will ever encounter is in college, after that, social networking/dating sites or other dating/meet-and-greet events are your next best bet (depressing, yes, but true). Well…that and people tend to be attracted to people who look most like themselves, but that’s another story altogether.
So I guess to answer the question in my last post…Shaadi.com may be a legitimate possibility.
However, I think Shaadi.com and a lot of other Indian dating/matrimonial sites seem to cater more to those in India than Indians that have either moved abroad or were born abroad. The vast majority of people who have profiles on Shaadi.com are from India. While, yes, I’m Indian, ultimately I’m a product of the United States. Yes, I took Carnatic music classes and classical dance classes, yes I like Indian culture, and yes I ultimately want to end up with an Indian guy. Yet I was born in the United States, and my outlook has been colored by my experiences growing up in the United States. Perhaps that’s why, for many Indians born abroad, Shaadi.com and similar sites seem ludicrous. I’m not even sure there are any websites geared towards NRI’s (non-resident Indians) or people of Indian origin that has the same popularity (or for that matter, as smooth an operating system) as Shaadi.com.
It would be even better to have a site for Malayalee NRIs/people of Indian origin, but that might be asking too much. If I had an ounce of computer programming ability, I would have started a site myself. Unfortunately, I’m as computer-challenged as they come. Anyone want to help me out?
So I’m hoping something comes out of my first foray into the (big and scary) world of online dating/matrimonial sites. It’s a crap shoot, but at least I’m keeping my options open.
Some of you may be reading this and asking, “What the hell is a chaddi anyway?” Chaddi in Hindi means underwear. This should probably pique your interest.
I heard about this a few days ago and think it’s absolutely brilliant. It’s kind of useless for me to rehash the whole story in my own words when someone else has done it very well already, so here is the the link to that.
Hindu fringe elements like the Shri Ram Sena give Hinduism a bad name. The rule of thumb for Hindus is to treat every woman with the same respect as though they were your mother or sister. Times are changing and women are more empowered in India and elsewhere. To try to violently bring them back into some ultraconservative way of living, where women are forever subservient to the demands of men, is foolish and horrific. Women will not be embarrassed anymore. We will live and love freely.
So please support the Pink Chaddi campaign. Visit their website and join their Facebook group. Mail pink undies to the Shri Ram Sena. I’d go so far as to say mail large, billowing, pink, granny-panties, just for kicks, but really it’s your call. Regardless of what kind of undies, they have to be pink, otherwise where’s the fun?
There are days when I wake up and I think, wouldn’t it be nice to not be single, find a guy, fall in love, marry, and settle down (or as will probably happen in the arranged marriage scenario…marry, fall in love, and settle down)?
Yet most days, I wake up and think that a world where I didn’t have to deal with the Y chromosome in that way isn’t an entirely bad alternative either. Unfortunately that’s not an option.
Every year, Valentine’s Day isn’t so much a dagger to my heart as it is a splinter in my side. Valentine’s Day…bah humbug. Here’s how I see it (at least from my albeit biased perspective).
I wasn’t really raised to look forward to Valentine’s Day. I guess that’s the price of living in a family that is geared towards arranged marriage. So I never found the holiday particularly exciting for a long time. Valentine’s Day, for the longest time, was something I celebrated in elementary school, where we would exchange cards because the teacher told us to do so. It was probably when I got to college that I started to take notice of the holiday.
Yet seeing the stores now with all the pink and red, the streamers, the heart-shaped boxes of chocolate, and the sappy cards makes me want to retch a little. Everyone who has a significant other is just dripping with diabetes-inducing, sugary sweetness in every syllable of conversation and every action, especially those in the early stages of a relationship. Even those who have been dating or married for years will take that day, if not that whole week, and inject it with as much romance (perceived or valid) that they can muster. For those who are single, there is always a sense of gloom that descends during Valentine’s Day, and the days leading up to it.
Valentine’s Day, like Christmas, Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and the Fourth of July, is another holiday gone rogue and commercialized. Everyone, in their celebration of the holiday, tries to live up to the idea of Valentine’s Day, not so much the idea of their own, unique romance with their significant other.
That being said, allow me one sappy, possibly cliché moment when I say that everyday should be Valentine’s Day for couples. If two people in a relationship need a holiday to remind them to be loving and romantic…I’m not sure what to say to them.
I will (grudgingly) admit that this could be partly a case of sour grapes. I have been single for every Valentine’s Day for my whole life. However, I will also admit that the holiday itself has gotten so incredibly commercialized to the point of tears. Do we really need to buy special Valentine’s Day, brand-name things to feel some sense of purpose? I don’t think so. Do we absolutely need to buy the other person something expensive or take them out to the best restaurants or romantic spots to celebrate? It would be nice, but I’d be just as happy at home. There seems to be so much pressure on both people in a relationship to do something amazing on Valentine’s Day, it doesn’t need to be that way.
But this year (as in recent years) I won’t be sad during Valentine’s Day. I will be celebrating Singles Awareness Day (S.A.D.). Sure I want a relationship, but being single is much more fun. Really, I swear it’s true. Keep in mind, being single for me means (for the most part) keeping the marriage proposals away, at least for the time being. Can’t exactly dive into a dating scene that is still ambiguous, vague, and sometimes a little taboo by Indian standards.
Being in a relationship, at least in the early stages, means having to be with that person all the time. I don’t mean that you’re forced into spending every waking moment with them, it just ends up that way. Blame a combination of neurotransmitters and hormones that produce good, old-fashioned infatuation. In some (slightly unhealthy) scenarios, relationships can overwhelm your life and supplant other things like studying, other relationships (family and friends), and work in terms of importance.
Yet being single means keeping your options wide open, being unfettered, and being able to keep all your other relationships intact. What this translates to is a) having a license to be flirty (to be used as much or as little as needed), b) having more time to bitch about how it sucks to be single to all your friends while not-so-secretly enjoying your independence. You don’t have to include your significant other in all of your activities, or cloister yourself away with only him or her. You can just do what you need to do, see who you need to see, and not answer to anyone.
Sometimes when someone is in a relationship, they forget how to exist on their own two feet. As a couple, you become a unit. Person A becomes inextricably linked with person B, to the point that sometimes they’re treated as one and the same. Independence is important, and sometimes it’s something that you have to relearn when you are single. You can’t form healthy relationships without some sense of self apart from your significant other. We do crave relationships and forming bonds with other people, but ultimately we have to know how to live and think independently.
Being single, most importantly, also means having time to do soul-searching, to figure out what exactly you want out of a relationship. I think that a lot of people (myself included) shortchange ourselves this little luxury while we, instead, moan about how we’re single. If we don’t really know what we want out of a relationship, can we ever have a successful one?
So yes, I do want to have my Valentine’s Day one day. I want it to be thoughtful and I want it to be romantic, but I don’t want it limited to one frigid day in February. Until I can find someone who can be like that every day of the year, I will fill my days with my other relationships with my family and my friends. I will allow myself to grow and mature as a person. I will be single, and I will be happy.
Happy S.A.D.! :p