Parts Known : Part 0

I moved. Again. This is the fourth apartment I’ve moved to in the last 6 months, across two states. I’m not a nomad, or a serial traveler. Every time I moved, it was out of necessity, though it was by choice. It has been a trying six month period — graduating, starting what’s my first full time job, taking what was my first ‘travel’ break, getting my heart broken, making my parents visit a new country, and moving, lots of it. I’m in Seattle, with rains going about with their pitter patter on my new, clean windows (which isn’t quite the unusual setting for Seattle, I’ve learnt), in my new, clean apartment, I got thinking I should do something new.

Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

I recently started watching Anthony Bourdain’s Netflix series, Parts Unknown (yes yes that’s where the name of the post was obviously ripped off from) and have been fascinated by it. I thought to myself, unless something miraculous happens, I will likely never get to live a life of a story telling traveler like Tony does in the series. But I do explore the outdoors a fair amount. I don’t fly to Columbia to enjoy a stew, but I have taken a train from Chicago to San Francisco. I thought I have a fair share of pictures that I don’t really share anywhere, and ample time to make up stories that those pictures can corroborate. I also felt I should do something with serious discipline.

Through this post, and the series of posts that are to follow, I try to tell the stories of the parts of the world I have seen, parts of the world several others have been to, parts of the world thousands of people visit every year, parts of the world where people live and go to work in, parts of the world I have enough pictures of, parts of the world that don’t cost an arm and a leg for someone to visit over a long weekend, parts that are all too familiar but at the same time hold a lot of curiosity, parts that are not quite unknown.

By the time this is published, I will have written enough content to publish a few posts at the least. That’s the promise I make myself. A promise that will make me disciplined because, the stuff I write (as mediocre as it is compared to many, many wonderful things I have the fortune to read every day), I consider too precious to be left to die unshared. That’s the reward I get for being disciplined and writing enough, sharing the same. So read on, for a glimpse into what I’ve been seeing so far, what I’ll probably see in the coming years, and some gorgeous pictures that are all captured with the help of two devices in my possession — my phone, and my first camera.


I wrote this with Krish Ashok's rendition of Scarborough Fair in the background. Listening to that was what made me write, so I'd encourage you to do the same while reading the post. It was a damp morning in the beautiful American Southwest; reflecting the mood of the day as well. It was the kind of dampness that lasts for a couple of hours after a small shower, the kind that prompts you to shake that low hanging branch playfully when you're walking alongside someone.

I had to leave in a couple of hours. It wasn't sudden, it was an eventuality. After all, I didn't belong there.

But I'd made up my mind before the big move that home is where the heart is, and my heart was here in this small university town, removed from light pollution and the sound of the freeway. I was in a house inside which you can hear the neighborhood creek if all was quiet. It was straight out of a tourism brochure or, perhaps, a postcard.

It was Fall, the season of colors. Just as the season begins with vibrant colors and ends with wilting branches and fallen leaves, my weekend had begun with a tonne of hope and was coming to an end, like a book that promises that there isn't going to be a sequel but doesn't quite give you the closure.

It was a Monday. It didn't matter but it didn't help either. I was going to hate this day, and the ones that followed. It was too early in the morning to cry, and I'd used up all my tears the previous night. I didn't quite understand what to do. Like an Olympic diver, no matter how many times she'd practiced it before, she had to do it one more time and this time, it was different. How do I say goodbye? What was I going to take away? How do I capture this moment until the next time? What if there never was a next time?

She was making breakfast, and the house smelled like cinnamon. It wasn't grandiose, it was cereal. But it was breakfast that smelled like summer. To this day, I'm not sure if it was the cinnamon, or if it was her. But when you are out in the meadow, you don't ask questions, you just take it all in. That's what I took away.

The weekend was long past. I was scouring the neighborhood Walmart to find that cereal. I needed to take it home with me, before that day becomes a memory.

I ate Cinnamon toast crunch for breakfast for the next month. Or perhaps longer, I don't remember. But what I remember is that it never smelled like summer, nor did it taste the same. But it was all I had to cling on to that day.

Cinnamon. Until next time.



I'd really like it if you read this after watching the movie. There are some spoilers, I think. These are essentially what I felt after watching the movie, most of which have worn out as it's been a day. The men of my stories cry, just like I do. They cry when they miss people, when they see someone they love after long. They cry because that's what relationships do to you, make you go weak in the legs; make you hyperventilate. The men of my stories dream of a time when they were together, when they were happy with whom they think was the love of their lives. Men of my stories have a woman, they walk with the confidence that a woman likes them back. Men of my stories know, and live with, and for a Kumudhavalli.

I am not here to talk about the phenomenon that is Rajinikanth. I am neither an expert in analysing how he can act, nor do I claim to be someone who understands what's realism in cinema. I am here to talk about Kumudhavalli.

We don't know who she is, how she grew up, or why as someone who could have had a better life (in the man's words) than the protagonist of this movie came to be in a Malaysian farm. But I am glad she did, and he sure as hell is glad she did. I have seen many of Rajini's films and what I usually find is him being revered and him making the women fall for him. There are elements of the same in this movie as well, but they turn out to be mere glimpses.

It's the woman who makes the love story this time. She is loved, she is missed, she is longed for. When she cries we cry, and you fear for her life as much as her man does, perhaps even more; because you know they've spent several years apart. And no two people in love deserve to be apart, certainly not for so many years.

They say she's dead. You come to terms with it. You think she is going to be part of some backstory where you're not going to remember her face. Like a distant memory of holding hands and walking with someone for the first time. Something about which you're unsure because you don't really know if you're recounting the moment, or the times you've recounted the memory. You're okay with it. You only know her as someone who used to live.

They say she's alive. The man takes off in search of her. The fear decades of Tamil cinema has planted in you starts to creep in. You spend the rest of the movie waiting for her to die. Why is killing a woman the only way to show how vulnerable her man is? You know when he's the most vulnerable? When she's around. When they haven't met forever, then they do.

When they meet, they start where they left off. This is as real as it gets, because you know it is true, we've been there.

More often than not, when you remove all the elements of a Rajini film, there is very little left. But this movie has this story arc where he explains how she's shaped his life, and how she is important, and why it is important that we should get to know her. He tells us, and we get to know her, and boy are we glad we do. When they meet, you smile because you want to share the joy with them. You want to experience the happiness of meeting someone you love, someone who loves you. And when they cry, you cry with them because you have felt their separation too.

I think that's what stands out in this movie for me. Not his style, not the statements he made, not the bullets he fired, but Kumudhavalli, and her love.


Making a case for Teaching Assistants

After two decades in school, probably the most significant of my frustrations is knowledge gap. There are things I failed to pick up here and there due to several reasons ranging from having skipped a class to having skipped the class where the pre-requisites were discussed. More often than not this goes unnoticed because the stuff never comes up again; rather it never comes up in a test. On the contrary, when it does come up in the future, either in the form of a question in a quiz, or during a discussion among friends, it almost always quickly gets resolved when someone explains it.

A variant of the above scenario has been playing out throughout my life with the role of someone played by my peers — I look at my parents as my peers as well because the setting is informal (not simply because we’re working towards the same goal: my success). There are plenty of studies that suggest learning from peers is one of the most efficient forms of learning, and that people learn better from someone who doesn’t have authority over them. This is widely attributed to the success of Massively Open Online Course platforms like Coursera, and edX.

Having taken advantage of teaching assistants, and also having experienced being one, led me to wonder why this model is not popular back home in India. With that in mind, I am going to try and make a case for introducing the TA/Office hours model in my alma mater. [I write this with CEG in mind, but I see no reason why other institutions cannot also adopt this model. In fact, I believe this is a reasonable model that would work everywhere.]

  • There are qualified students, several of whom are interested in helping their peers learn.
  • CEG is one of the handful of colleges in the state of Tamil Nadu which follows a credit based schedule (i.e.) there is enough time to accommodate office hours in between classes.
  • It is time we addressed the fact that classroom instruction is in itself not sufficient. I believe office hours are an excellent way of dealing with students who are otherwise not motivated enough to ask questions in class.
  • Office hours with peers are particularly important because sometimes an alternate perspective really clears things up.
  • We can finally move out of a test based curriculum to a problem set based curriculum. Reform has to start somewhere.
  • Expanding on the previous point, tests make it ridiculously easy to plan 11th hour work. Problem sets would keep students engaged through the semester in chunks, and also make them spend more time with the material.
  • I got my first job (a part time job) when I was 22. I think being a TA would be a really good way for someone to get into the workforce, and perhaps learn to manage money.
  • Ultimately, we can address the problem of poor instructors. If institutions can’t avoid hiring poor instructors, at least presenting ways to circumvent the problem would benefit students.

It might seem hypocritical for me to have coasted through the 4 years and suggest measures to provide more work, but looking back I feel I would have immensely benefited from this model. I know for sure that sooner or later this model will be adopted. I say this because we’ve been aping the west (in this case for better) but not soon enough. I think it would be a really interesting experiment to try — may be trying it first with an intro to programming class and take it from there. If there ever is a win-win model, this is certainly a good candidate, in my opinion.


It's a Sunday. There's nothing remarkable about it because it is a Sunday far away from home. How far away you ask? About a decade away from the Sundays I remember. I don't want to use the clichéd "Those were the days.." here, but those indeed were the days. I remember reading somewhere that the strongest memories are those that were made using all five senses. Sundays were typical back then, and when someone says Sunday, those are the days I remember. Sunday meant waking up at 8 as the headlines were being read out.

Sunday meant going back to sleep after the 8 am bed coffee.

Sunday meant waking up 2 hours later to the smell of keerai, chowchow or whatever kozhambu of the day.

Sunday meant the smell and sound of potatoes being being fried because said keerai and chowchow were not considered edible by 25% of my four member family.

Sunday meant wondering how the kid sister could eat spinach.

Sunday meant exiting the shower and being fed hot paruppu sadham and fried potatoes while Sun TV was still on; either showing James Vasanthan hosting some family show, or a movie that did not have less run time than the ads that it was interspersed with.

Sunday meant appa battling against the ants in the house with erumbu powder in an old shower to shower dabba.

Sunday meant coffee again at 3:30 or whenever TV ran out of interesting things resulting in us waking up the parents.

Sunday meant homework after two nights of procrastination.

Sunday meant calling friends on the landline to remind each other to avoid missing stuff for school.

Sunday meant going back with excitement because Monday meant new lessons and no 'reading' of old lessons in class.

Sunday meant sitting on the hot blanket after appa ironed uniform for the next day.

Sunday meant searching for the school belt.

Sunday meant remembering that I forgot to cover the text book  ask appa to cover the text book which was only covered a couple of weeks back.

Sundays do not have that familiar aura anymore. Nor do they stand out from the rest of the week. Sunday has become yet another day of waking up to spending another day with the laptop and phone. Those Sundays will be the Sundays I remember.


Thanksgiving post from an Indian (hehe). I started blogging and around one year after I embraced my internet self, I joined Twitter as well. I spent a good chunk of 2010-12 reading several blogs, a lot of which were written by Indians working/studying in the US, or those who did a short stint in the US and came back home. I fantasized about the life of an Indian in the US by vicariously living through these blog posts and yearned for the days when I would get to let nostalgia flow in my own blog posts as well. I was naive. I realize that sometimes wishes can come true too, and that it might not always be a good thing :D

After procrastinating through the week, and pushing every homework and project to the weekend and filing it under "hashtag can be taken care of during the weekendz", I wanted to do something during the week to make myself feel good. So I picked the easiest of them all, decided to write a post.

It has been a good week, in fact it has been a good day that sort of shadowed everything that happened from Monday through Thursday. My small family of four is happy (yes four :) ). I am happy.

Oscar acceptance speech level stuff to follow..

I wanted to take part in the thanksgivingthingummy and thank the people who stood by me. I don't want to go on a long post because my attention (and most others') has been severely limited due to Twitter becoming my primary language of communication, followed by complete silence, and occasional eyeball rolling at the stranger standing next to me in the bus when the driver decides to stop the bus to take a sip of water and absolutely relishing it.. I digress.

I will talk about three short anecdotes One each for my parents, kid sister, and my champion, who all stood by me when the tides got rough, even as they had tonnes of their own problems to deal with.

It has been three months since I left home to chase the American dream. Three months and there has not been a single day when I didn't want to catch the first flight out back home. I like the place, in fact I love what I get to do here. Yet, "home, is where the heart is" has an altogether different meaning according to me. There have been days when I have been at my absolute worst, caught in a faraway land wondering what I am doing with my life distancing myself from everyone I love. I would feel like curling up and crying and that would make me want to call home and speak to my parents, but that's exactly when I shouldn't call them lest they feel sad. They already miss me a lot and this isn't how they'd want to see me. So I'll call a bit later, talk to them, listen to them say "we'll take care of everything, you study." It is hard to say that when you've supported someone for so long, through so many things, even after being disappointed several times. Every time I spend all the money I win at a quiz paying for dinner, I feel like I am throwing all my life's savings even though it is filling my stomach. Imagine literally throwing all your life's savings, and more, so that your son could realize his dreams. Being a parent is the most thankless job, and looking back I've never said thank you.  And I want to clear my record this very instant, thank you amma & appa.

How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.

I had a rough week, I was rejected from several jobs. Right from a high end software developer position to a copy room assistant position - funny how both rejection emails started with "After careful scrutiny of your application..". I have been venting it out to my kid sister, though in retrospect getting rejected from a copy room assistant position does sound funny. She's been constantly saying all these rejections come in because there is something else bigger that's waiting. Didn't realize she placed enormous trust and love on someone whom she mainly used as an exercise object for her milk teeth. Thank you, kuttima.

I will probably be yelled at for embarrassing you/writing about you like this, but I think I should thank you too. Grad school is hard. Dealing with grad school problems is hard. Dealing with new roommates is hard. Now double that and you get two people's problems. You've been dealing with my problems as well, which seem like trivialities when looked at from where I stand right now. You dealt with it. It takes a great deal of everything to be one's best friend, and a great deal more, to be something more than a best friend. Thank you, champ.

champ :)

Today, I sit here wondering if I have done anything in return to these wonderful people who make up my small bubble. And I think to myself, if anything, I have done something they've wanted me to do, they've been pushing me to do, they've been praying I would do, they've been begging me to do, I found myself an internship. Hey, anybody can do that, I am someone too and I am probably bragging, so what :)

I also have to say thanks to my not so small family, my wonderful bunch of friends, without talking to whom I would have probably gone mad by now. You know who you are. People should wait to read stories about you, someday.

This is my thanksgiving, thanking the most wonderful four people, the like of which I'll probably never find again if I lose, and I never intend to. How is yours coming along? :)


It was a perfectly ordinary day. Just one of those days that go by unnoticed, like the hundreds of people you pass by everyday without paying any attention, without realizing they have a life just like you, and to them you're another random passerby. There isn't a lot I remember about the day. It is probably two, may be two and half years since then. It wasn't raining. It wasn't particularly sunny, nor was it cold. It is never too cold where I come from. There wasn't anything interesting to take away from the classes that day. I don't remember what I had for lunch. I don't even remember what I was wearing. I don't remember most conversations I had that day. In fact, I don't remember anything but a single montage.

No words. We were just walking. Next to each other. No, not hand in hand. I never got to do that. I hadn't realized how much I have walked around inside the campus. I can't describe how much but if you asked my 5 year old self I would be complaining a lot because it was too much walking.

There is always something to talk about, nothing in particular, nothing about anything significant. Just something, exchange of words which just reassure you that there's a conversation going on here and you're a part of it.

We walked. A lot. May be we were walking in circles, through the same places, over and over again. We smiled, a lot. You know when you cross the road with your parent and they instinctively hold out their hand for you to grab? It was something like that. I still remember everything about those few minutes, perhaps longer, only that I can't pin point what it is. Why do words fail to capture certain things? It is like the familiar smell of lunch being cooked on a Sunday. It is everything you grew up with, every weekend, yet you cannot describe.  You can only close your eyes and let the memory wash through you. It makes me happy, like I own something that nobody else can. That evening was one such. I have had many wonderful days, so many wonderful conversations, and many more. But I revisit this memory over and over again and I feel like I should treasure this lest it escapes through the pores of my brain.

What is it about that perfectly ordinary day? I would love to go back and try to recreate the memory, only that it won't be the same. It will never be the same. Its like holding water on my palm, I can see the memory fading. I want to scream, ask myself to hold on. I see us at a distance. Walking, heads touching each other, fingers touching one another, our cells celebrating togetherness through a gazillion mini high-fives, just being happy to be around each other.

What is it about that perfectly ordinary day? I see a lot of light. Some colors. It wasn't a particularly beautiful evening, but everything seems so perfect about the evening. I remember the place. I remember feeling complete, like a wonderful feast after starving all day. I like this memory. It could very well be my favorite memory.

What is it about that perfectly ordinary day? It is just that. It was perfect and ordinary. It was just one of those days.


In the Harry Potter universe, there is a clever mechanism inside the wizard bank, Gringotts, called the Thief's Downfall. Everyone who enters the bank to withdraw gold from a vault has to pass through it. It is present in the form of a waterfall, and it breaks all enchantments and concealment charms. Once you pass the Thief's Downfall, you will go to the other side in your truest form possible. For me, moving away from home felt like that.

Despite the acquaintances you make through internet and taking the road most traveled, you're on your own when it comes to a new place. You don't have a best friend, you don't see familiar faces when you go to the supermarket, you have to ask for directions, you don't look like the people around you, nobody recognizes you as the guy from that quiz. Robbed of all superficiality, knowledge of familiar territory, and the warmth of home, perhaps the airport's security check was life providing me with it's own version of Thief's Downfall. 

I have never been away from home (as I reiterate for the millionth time), and this move was probably the first time I went out of my comfort zone. It was a huge reality check for me; in terms of what home meant to me, what the people in my life meant to me, how many people I cared about, how many people cared about me. 

To be honest, I don't like making new friends. I am very resistant to change. I like the people I always have been with and I firmly believe it is silly to start from scratch all over again. The last 8 months of my undergrad was spent in idleness, where I could text anyone at any time of the day and would get replies. There was no lengthy conversation or discussions about anything because we were meeting almost everyday. I was meeting my school friends every weekend. I took it for granted, I liked that life. Now, everyone is busy. I feel robbed. 

This is me learning a very important lesson, something that I might never have learnt if I hadn't moved away from home. The lesson isn't about people leaving me or people finding other people, it is about the importance of forging new connections wherever I am. The difference between knowing someone and being friends with someone.

On an unrelated note, classroom felt the same way. There is no professor who hates me because I asked some cocky question in semester 3. Here I am new, another Indian student in the sea of incoming Indian students. Again, no preconceived opinions, no baggage that pulls me down. It is fun to start fresh, to make a new name for myself starting from scratch.

I believe moving away from home has made me transition to the other side in my truest form possible. Walking across unfamiliar streets, meeting strangers, acting the tourist, everyday is a new adventure.