Brownian thought space

Cognitive science, mostly, but more a sometimes structured random walk about things.

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Location: Rochester, United States

Chronically curious モ..

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Relative interests

Grandfather from previous post- proudly displaying his pride and joy.
ps: NOT the cupboard, the drawer or the b&w mini-poster of the Bollywood film star.

Family Notes

Even before I've landed in India, my mom gets a call from her aunt in Houston, TX. "Do you remember my friend Mrs. Somethin-or-the-other? She has this daughter...". See where it's headed? Some aunts here do that. Like my mom's other aunt in Pune who invited her over and pressed her with some ginger biscuits. The next day she called
Aunt: Did you like the ginger biscuits? Mom: I guess... Aunt: So, my neighbors have this daughter; she's a whiz at making ginger biscuits. Say, why don't we go meet her?
See where it's headed? My grandfather, here in Bombay, sometimes doesn't quite get it. He used to be an opthalmologist, and is one of the proudest men who ever took the hippocratic oath. Yet somehow he can't quite seem to link a heaving and coughing (with such wrenching ferocity that I sometimes feel he will turn inside-out) with his "occasional" cigarette. As I was comfortably seated in the bathroom for a well-deserved quiet moment with my book and an easing of the bowels, I hear the following conversation that has left me puzzled:
Gramps: Where's M? Mom: He's in the toilet. G: What's he doing there? M: Umm.. he's in the toilet. G: Is he shaving? M: No; he's in the toilet.
At this point, thankfully, he went off for a smoke. But not much later, he quizzes me about American life.
Gramps: You know, I see that in all these American films, people are always going out and eating and drinking wine. So I suppose that's what everyone always does? Me: Yes. And they all carry guns, and New York is regularly invaded by aliens. G: So are you part of the American culture? Me: Yes.. but I haven't seen any aliens yet. G: Oh.
Sometimes I think he doesn't get it. As the bathroom incident might have suggested, Indians tend to be rather uptight about most bodily functions. We do it a lot, as the last census and the Mahim creek indicates. Still, when my dad was telling me about someone I knew when I was little (I'd broken his leg (this boy's, not my dad's) by mistake. He now lives near my parents' place in Pune and is a big tough guy. I need to go make my peace), he mentioned that his (said boy's, not my dad's) older brother was married and "blessed with a son". Really, I only associate "blessed with a son" with this incident about 2007 years ago, somewhere in Judea, but as far as we are concerned, it's a commonplace incident. Lucky thing Judea wasn't in India, eh? Everyone is "blessed with a son" here...

Delhi to Bombay

JFK-Delhi is not too bad considering you get to stop in London and stretch your legs and patiences by going round Heathrow once, through security, and straight back into the plane. The queue here is longer, grumpier, and more rowdy. Owing in part due to the different security rules that are prompting some to argue, some to stare in disbelief and some to throw away t-shirts so they can 'consolidate' all their hand baggage into exactly One. Back on the flight, dinner is served. Now, everyone who knows me knows I'm a rather slow eater. And what with watching classic Bollywood, I'm exceptionally slow. But the airhostess is really nice about this. She tells me,"Oh don't worry, take your time. We aren't going anywhere". I pause in mid-fork and look out of the window, scrolling back to the captain's numbers- so what are we doing at 980 kmph? I go back to my Bollywood film. Delhi airport. I know enough about India to put aside my socialized European male tendencies (which I don't really have, as it turns out) and ask the first official looking man about my connecting flight to Delhi. There's something funny going on. Some guy (Official 1) is taking aside the people bound for Bombay and there's some talk about the triple-1-2. We are to be transferred via the triple-1-2. I don't have a boarding pass, and neither do a few more of the passengers, and all of us are to be subject to this mysterious triple-1-2. Now, some of us have our bags checked all the way through to Bombay and some don't. Triple-1-2 does not like this fact; but Official 2 winks mysteriously and nods sagely and tells me not to worry. Officials 3 and 4 come around, and there's and triple-1-2 is mixed up with some more codes. A typical conversation goes something like this:
O1: "But their PNC3s don't match the ones on the computer" O2: "That's easy. Transfer their PNC3s to the OLC. Pull up the triple-1-2 sheet and set the bytes to zeros and convert the RST code to their first name" O1: "Oh right" [pause] "So why don't you do it?"
And you thought getting off one flight and onto another was easy. Finally, we are down to 14 of us passengers for this mysterious triple-1-2 business, all marked in pencil onto a dot-matrix, accordion-style folding sheet, and taken through a special security gate. The security guard is suspicious, until Official 1 shows assures him that there will be only 12-14 people coming through this special gate. "Twelve or fourteen?" asks the suspicious guard, forcing Official 1 to recount. Suspicious guard counts us carefully through into a hall, where we follow Official 1 to what I understand in retrospect to have been the transfer desk. There are about a hundred people milling around the transfer desk. Most are there because they were tired of hanging around the security lines and the various shops, and the transfer desk is, after all, right next to the tea stall. Official 2 throws away the dot-matrix list, and looks us over brightly. Life starts now. So one by one we give him our tickets and are issued boarding passes. By now we are a group of 4-5 people inside the group of a 100-odd people at the transfer desk, who are realizing that all of us are part of the triple-1-2 scheme. Which turns out to be a flight leaving for Bombay not at 6.15am, as we had booked, but at 00:45 am. Now, in fact. Triple-1-2. Turns out that one of the jumbos had to be sent to Bombay for inspection; and the kindly officials decided that it would be a good idea to pack us poor travelers off to Bombay asap instead of having us sit around all night in the airport! Isn't that touching? Can this happen anywhere else? Of course I'm not sure I was 100% happy traveling on a humongous plane that some feel requires inspection, but still, that was far better than hanging around at the Delhi airport all night.

Friday, December 14, 2007

JFK to Bombay: Note 2

JFK to Bombay. Note 2: Safety Got the seat by the emergency exit. The neighboring seat was a pretty girl, who chose the seat behind, next to a good (ok, better) looking Indian boy, and sent the balding, middle-aged IT engineer up next to me. All this before I even got to my seat. The airhostess (there's some other term nowdays- Aircraft Supervisory Crew or some other such American euphemism which I've now forgotten) came up and explained what me and the IT engineer should do in the case of an emergency. She ended with "any questions?" And that's where I realized; we Indians MUST ask questions, even if none are needed. So IT engineer dutifully raised his hand and asked if.. no, I've quite forgotten. It was some clever, technical point like whether or not we, the Guardians of the Emergency Gate should put on our life jackets before or after the other passengers. We're really big on safety. But we take refreshments seriously as well. So, during the safety demo, one of the airhostesses was busy serving orange juice instead. This annoyed somebody in a white shirt and a tie, who engaged in a particularly interesting shouting match in the galleys. The airhostess was clearly adamant in her right to serve juice when she pleased, so the white-shirt+tie-man stormed off, swearing he would never speak to that particular airhostess again. We care for the safety of children. But, we don't believe in reining them in. So during most of the flight, random children appear and disappear like elves on the lam from the North Pole peak gift-wrapping season; unaccompanied by Mr. Claus or any other adult being. Some kids are lying on the ground, wrapped up in blankets. During takeoff. I'm watching an old Bollywood film on the excellent onboard entertainment system (seriously, the BEST onboard entertainment system! Individual screens and a fantastic selection of films, videos, TV shows, both English and Hindi, and games and what not) and there's this scene where the hero is driving in an open jeep with his 7-year-old daughter sitting on the back of the seat next to him, bouncing along on the bumpy roads. The captain spoke to us. For an interminably long time. He told us how high, how fast, how far we would be flying. They all do that, and I don't know why. I did see someone nodding when our altitude was announced, so clearly some people need that kind of info. The captain then told us about the entertainment system. How we had a great collection of Bollywood songs and music videos. Then he invited the passengers to dance to the provided music, but to take care that they did not block the aisles. Clearly there was a dance floor somewhere that I'd missed. They probably don't have seatbelts.

JFK to Bombay. Note 1.

India trip 2007-2008 After all this time abroad, I see how weird every culture is. At least I'm better suited to comment on India, so here are Notes from India. JFK to Bombay. Note 1: Get started at JFK for the Air India trip. See this foreign guy sniggering and surreptitiously taking pictures with a fancypants digital SLR. Turn and see the longest line in any of the JFK Terminals. Indians have this thing of queueing up, and the almost 100% Indian passengers have already spontaneously formed a line. It's a critical mass effect. Put a sufficient number of Indians near a means of transportation and a line spontaneously forms. The airline official is trying to explain the boarding process- how rows 34 to 51 (do they choose these numbers at random? Or is there a theory?) will board first while the others can please avail of the splendid seating arrayed around the boarding desk. The Indians stubbornly keep the queue intact. Some foreigners worriedly join the queue- it looks so orderly! It must be the right thing to do. Mustn't it? Finally everyone's through the gate. But then, they're queued up somewhere between the gate and the plane while (Indian) officials are shouting stuff back and forth. There's some luggage that's not going through. Or maybe not. No one really knows. We stand there queued up for a couple of days. Then we board.