Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Airport Hassles

Travel junkie that I am, I long to take off for parts known and unknown. The lure and magic of distant destinations draw me irresistibly, and weeks before my actual date of travel, I start dreaming about my trip, totally succumbing to the anticipation and excitement building within me. Needless to say, the romantic within me comes alive before I travel somewhere, be it to a far off location or a place a short road trip away from home. When it comes to a long vacation to a far off place, the excitement builds up fast into a crescendo and I feel I am going to burst with the feeling of it all. Then the actual day of travel arrives and we leave for the airport to catch our flight, and boy, what an anti-climax the whole experience turns out to be!

Post 9/11, travel regulations and airport security screenings have become so excruciatingly strict and tight that they can deflate the excitement of even the diehard romantic in nanoseconds. It all starts with the park and fly routine. Finding a parking spot for your car at the airport becomes next to impossible and you keep driving around and around to the point where it makes you wonder if the entire population of the city is flying out that day. Finally, you do snag a spot at the farthest end of the terminal, and when you go in from the zero degree cold outside for your security check inside, you find your body temperature has automatically risen because of your blood boiling at all the obstacles you are made to go through by the security personnel.

Jackets and coats are taken off, shoes are removed and so are belts, pockets are emptied - cell phones, keys, coins and all, laptops, iPods, iPads, cameras and handycams are out, cleansers, gels, and shampoos have already been shoved into the checked in baggage, and just when you think you've done everything right and are going to sail through, the security officer spies the make up bottles and tubes in your handbag and takes you out of the line for a more thorough physical examination of your handbag. He just wants to make sure that those mini bottles don't have potentially lethal chemicals in them that can light a fire on the aircraft. Then there was the time that I was travelling to England for a wedding and was carrying some gold jewellery in a cylindrical bangle box with gold chains stuffed inside in order to minimize the number of jewellery boxes I was carrying, and it apparently looked like a rudimentary bomb on the x-ray screen that I was taken aside for a thorough check. It all ended up with the women security officers oohing and aahing over my jewellery pieces, which only goes to show that women are women everywhere, whatever their position might be!

On one of our vacation trips to mark a birthday in the family, the kid bought a few souvenirs for his friends that included a couple of snowglobes. After we had checked in our bags and were going through the final security check near the boarding gate, we were told that the snowglobes couldn't be taken in the hand baggage and had to be checked in. I suggested we just dump the globes in the trash, but the kid was adamant that his friends needed them, so the husband had to go all the way back to check them in, while the kid and I were standing like lost souls, eyeing the serpentine line waiting to go through security, and see if the husband had made it back to the end of the line after all. After an extra 30-minute wait, he did eventually join us and we made it home without any further hassles. At times like those, all the draconian rules of airline travel make me rethink the wisdom of leaving home in the first place. And that lasts for some time, until the travel bug bites me again and the excitement starts building up all over again. I never seem to learn, anyways!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Tough Years

I look back on my teenage years and recall having sailed through it without any of the major angsts that today's teenagers face. Life in those days was less competitive, and parents were not at their children's throats or breathing down their necks, egging them on to study day in and day out, and achieve anything that was beyond their capabilities. Parents had a more genial take on what their children did or achieved, or at least mine did. Children too never talked back or rebelled when their parents stepped in to to steer a misguided child back on to track. It's a whole different ball game altogether these days.

It's a highly competitive world now where children have to be on top of the game in everything. As it is, the teenage years are difficult ones with hormonal changes and all that, and add to that the pressures of having to do well at school, get admission into a good university, find a decent part time job, and fend for oneself outside the parental home, many teenagers today buckle under the stress and need a helping hand. Drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, dating woes, addiction to social media and online gaming, etc., etc., compound their misery, and many teenagers get derailed, much to the consternation of the parents. Teenagers need all the understanding and support that could possibly be extended to them, because these are the rough years of their young lives, and once they are able to get a handle on things, they will eventually settle down and see the light of day.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Walter Isaacson's "Steve Jobs"

I have just completed reading the authorized biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, and how fitting to have read it on my iPad! The book was certainly a compelling read and virtually "unputdownable" because of its celebrated and mercurial subject. Steve Jobs has long been one of my heroes, and this book served to bring home the fact that not only was he a creative and business genius all rolled into one, but that he was also very human in his flaws and failings. I discovered that my idol had had feet of clay after all, metaphorically speaking, but it endeared him to me all the more because of the way he made his mark in this world and the universe at large, despite all his flaws as a human being. Isaacson has rendered a powerful account of Jobs' humble origins as an adopted child growing up in a middle class family in the Bay Area and his meteoric rise to becoming a tech titan in Silicon Valley, a quintessential American story of a working class kid being shot into the echelons of wealth and fame and orbiting the stratosphere by virtue of his eye for design, quest for perfection and uncanny business sense.

The appeal of the book (other than that it comes from an author who's adept at writing biographies) is because of all the never-before-known information about the man who had kept his personal life a closely guarded secret his entire life, right up to his cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment. Isaacson has done a credible job of validating his information from multiple sources, thus providing us a varied, comprehensive perspective of Steve Jobs' personal life and career. The disclaimer that Jobs' gave full control of the book to the author seems quite incredible, given the fact that the subject of the biography was a control freak who needed to have a hand in every single detail of the products he created. The photographs included in the book have been well-chosen, drawn from every phase of Jobs' life, from his babyhood to the pinnacle of his career - another aspect that helps bring the subject closer to the reader.

Many incredible facts about Steve Jobs, the man, jump out at the readers, one of them being his nonchalant attitude that no rules whatsoever applied to him. His having driven around a Mercedes without licence plates and always having parked in the handicapped spot in the Apple parking lot is just one example of his I-am-above-all-rules attitude. His lack of empathy, his unkind treatment of waitresses, the brutality with which he fired people if he felt they were not A players, his constant berating and yelling at the Apple engineers, his outright refusal to give out stock options to friends who'd been with him from those garage days in his parents' home, his reality distortion field, his compulsive dieting and extreme veganism almost bordering on an eating disorder, his refusal to have surgery after his cancer diagnosis, his criticism of anything and everything that did not please him - these and many more reveal a supreme arrogance in the man who was bent on changing the course of the universe. One just wishes he could have done that more graciously and compassionately, and been a good, kind human being in addition to having been an innovator, creative genius, and entrepreneur nonpareil.

Great read and highly recommended!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

America's Education Crisis

While channel-surfing yesterday (which I always do on lazy Saturday evenings for want of nothing better to do), I happened to watch an engaging program about America's education crisis by Fareed Zakaria on CNN. I think Fareed is one of those very few admirable CNN hosts with a lot of substance and merit, and I have great respect for the cerebral manner in which he analyzes issues and gets to the root of the problem, so to speak. The hour-long focus was on how America has lost its grip in the field of education, and how countries like China, India, South Korea, Finland and Singapore are giving America a run for its money, and have easily taken global dominance in education in recent years. While I was happy that the country of my birth was rated high for its education and is clearly emerging a global leader and trendsetter in education and jobs, I was equally alarmed that America is now grasping for oxygen to stay alive, mainly because higher education for my son in America has been on the cards for some time. Well, to be honest, with Fareed's analysis, we're now taking pause and beginning to reconsider if that would be a viable and rewarding option in the long term.

Growing up, for many Indian students, America was the chosen land, where one could have their professional dreams come true. An Ivy league education, climbing the rungs of the professional ladder with a green card and eventual citizenship, and living the ultimate American dream used to be on the average Indian student's dream horizon, but not so any more. Many Indian professionals in America have chosen to return to India, because that's where the jobs are, thanks to American outsourcing. And with America falling behind so dismally in education, that craze and rush for admission into American universities seem to be dwindling as well. Throw in the economic mess that America is in right now, and the US of A is no longer one's dream haven these days.

With its dearth of home talent due to an inefficient educational system, America needs to quickly ramp up and catch up with the other nations that are superseding it, as per the US Education Secretary, Arne Duncan. And with tech titan Bill Gates throwing in his weight into perking things up and reviving America's education, one hopes that America will do all the right things to stay on in the game. In the mean time, India and China are forging on full steam ahead. For immigrant parents like yours truly, the question remains if we are doing the right thing in having our children continue in the flailing American system, or pursuing their higher education in those once-hallowed halls of learning in the US.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

On Being A Semi-invalid

How strange that when you feel really young and vivacious and so full of life at heart, your body tells you a different story! I have often heard people remark that once you hit 40, everything starts going South (read 'downhill') body wise, and I'm beginning to find out that it's true after all! When I wish friends on their birthdays, I always put health on the top of my wish list for them (it's always "health, wealth, and happiness", and yes, in that order!), and now I wish I could have the same for myself. It so happens that either by accident or by neglect, I seem to have injured both my shoulders and have been undertaking a faithful pilgrimage to the physiotherapist's for the past 5 weeks. Need I say then how that justifies the title of this post?!?

A semi-invalid, that's how I truly feel these days. It really sucks when ordinary tasks that I normally do without second thought, like slinging my bag over my shoulder, now require focus, gritting of the teeth, and measured movements so as not to aggravate my injury any further. Pulling my pillow to a comfortable position, scratching my back, dressing myself, brushing my hair, reaching out sideways for something (the phone on the night stand, for example), stretching out when I'm tired, writing on the board and erasing it, pretty much any action that requires motion of the arms is now making me think twice. I am beginning to have a great understanding of and empathy for those who go through painful rehabilitation and grueling physiotherapy sessions in order to regain control of their movements, and eventually, their lives.

I am eternally thankful to my physiotherapist who works magic with her fingers in alleviating my pain, and is slowly taking me on the road to a better place where I can manage the pain and keep it under control, if not get rid of it altogether. The same goes for the husband who has been thoughtful enough to take on the cleaning chores at home, and kind enough to massage my arms for relief, and the kid who is mature enough not to make thoughtless demands about what he has to eat, and goes so far as to carry my bags and be helpful whenever he can. I hope this situation is just a temporary blip, and that I get back to being my usual vivacious, pain-free self as soon as possible. Am counting my blessings, so to speak, that at least I'm only a semi-invalid for now, and nothing more! PHEW!!!