One for my manager

For my birthday this year, my ex-manager gifted me a tiny, cute bottle of DKNY. I absolutely loved the fragrance and my manager after that. Not that I didn’t like her earlier. I always thought she was reliable, strong and considerate. I’ve always had immense respect for her as someone who made it to the top through merit and dedication. But, God, she talks a lot. A lot more than me. A lot like a child. Yes, a child she is. As hilarious and unpredictable as a brat. But on receiving her gift with a hug and a kiss, I knew for a fact that she was also highly adorable. And this in turn put me in a dilemma.

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Her birthday was the day after mine. I had no clue what I could give her, that would be as good as her gift and yet as special. “Make her a painting like the one you made for Semper.” Crisenta is very useful at times and this was one such occasion. I decided to go ahead with that idea because no gift that I would buy could be as personal as something that I would paint. After all, I do spend hours together for each painting of mine.
That evening, I couldn’t go out for dinner with friends after work. Buses and autos were submerged under water across the city. Since I had conveniently left my bike at home, I had to depend on public transport to get home. But Bangalore didn’t let me down. I still got an auto to drop me home. By the time I reached home, it was 9:00 and yet I couldn’t stop on my way to buy a frame. Thanks to the rain and Bangalore traffic. After reaching home, I rushed to fetch my bike keys and went out in the rain again to buy the frame. Luckily, there was a frame shop in my area that likes to sell at exorbitant prices. However, I didn’t mind that since the quality seemed good and it was meant to be a gift.
After gorging on all the birthday delicacies prepared by my mom, I sat down with my paints and the frame. And guess what? I was still being a kid. “What comic character best describes Florence?” , I thought. And I knew the answer. Google, my trusted aide, displayed a wide variety of search results for me to choose from. I picked one and went ahead with it. By 3 a.m. I was all done. Just then I realised how apt it was to call Florence, Cat-woman. I mean, the woman is actually hot, bold, doesn’t-give-a-damn, just like the fictional character. I was happy with the way it turned out.

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At office the next day, Florence loved it. She told me Cat-woman was actually her favourite fictional character. I was only reminded of Jack Sparrow – I swear I didn’t plan it that way. But, yes I did warn Crisenta against feeling jealous since this one had turned out better. But like Murphy’s law puts it, she did go green.

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The first sell.

Three weeks after my first glass art, I had three different painted Nutella jars to display in my showcase. On a Monday morning,  right after my third painting, my colleagues and I were discussing our weekend stories. I told them that I had just taken to a new hobby and showed them the images of my babies on my phone. One of my colleagues, the sweetest, incorrigibly childlike,  yet the most kick-ass of them all, the lovely Ms.Crisenta saw the images and liked what I had painted. I honestly do not know what devil got into her head, but the next thing she said was, ” Why don’t you paint something for my fiance’s birthday? He already knows what I’d be gifting him. This would be a nice surprise.” I just didn’t know what to say to that. But considering all niceties of social life, I simply said, “Okay……”, my voice dragging with bewilderment in the eyes and that half baked smile on my lips. “I’ll pay you. Just tell me the price.”, she said. No, that didn’t help. I knew Crisenta and her fiance well enough to gift them a painting. I didn’t want to be paid for it. I told her that. But she insisted that it must be her gift to him. And my other colleagues also insisted that I must not say no. So, I took it up. I told her I shall tell her the price once am done, since she wanted me to paint on a frame.

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A day before her fiancé’s birthday, I bought a frame from Sapna Book house for 200 bucks on my way home from office. I had still not decided what I wanted to paint. All I knew was that it ought to have some sort of relevance to them. By the time I reached home, all I had in mind was Superman. Do not ask me why. My juvenile brain could not come up with anything better. There, I said it.

After finishing up dinner, I took the laptop and Googled images of Superman. Semper, Cris’ fiance made these super delicious sandwiches for her to have during the evening tea break. He’d generously apply peanut butter and Nutella together between the slices of bread that were toasted in oil. Every bite was indulgence. Every bite was a sin. Of course I know that very well because it was I and a few other girls who would do the honour of finishing those sandwiches. Actually it was mostly me.

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It was 11 in the night when I finished drawing Superman. I was yet to draw it onto the frame when I realised I couldn’t just draw Semper all alone. Cris had to be in it. The only girl I have seen wear a bandana to office, I knew how I wanted Cris in the painting. But then, given my ‘minimal skills’ and being hard pressed for time, I decided to not pay too much attention to Cris.

Thanks to my shaky hands, I could only be done with the painting by 2:30 a.m. The painting came out decently. Next day when Cris saw the gift for her beloved, she found it adorable. Look down for the painting.

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How should we talk about mental health?

ideas.ted.com

Mental health suffers from a major image problem. One in every four people experiences mental health issues — yet more than 40 percent of countries worldwide have no mental health policy. Across the board it seems like we have no idea how to talk about it respectfully and responsibly.

Stigma and discrimination are the two biggest obstacles to a productive public dialogue about mental health; indeed, the problem seems to be largely one of communication. So we asked seven mental health experts: How should we talk about mental health? How can informed and sensitive people do it right – and how can the media do it responsibly?

End the stigma

Easier said than done, of course. Says journalist Andrew Solomon: “People still think that it’s shameful if they have a mental illness. They think it shows personal weakness. They think it shows a failing. If it’s their children who…

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My first.

Some people drink, some smoke, some do weed. I took to art. It gives me a certain high when I engage myself in any sort of art for that matter. Glass art is one such obsession. The paints and colour, the translucence, the resultant messiness, the mesmerizing beauty of any liquor bottle – it’s all gotten me hooked to the extent of developing a glass art ritual every weekend.
Like every good thing in my life, my romantic encounters with glass art began with a disaster. Two months back, when I had first decided to try my hand at glass paintings, I chose Google for a tutor. One of the popular websites suggested using a hair dryer to dry the paints quickly. The alternative was a microwave oven. The website even gave specific temperature settings for drying the paint.

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So, here I was on a rainy Saturday evening, listening to Pandit Ravi Shankar to warm me up for my upcoming artistic endeavour, with a cheap glass tumbler, that I took the trouble to purchase for 95 bucks at Sapna Book House, at my table. I shivered as I squeezed the paint out of the tube only to realize that a 5-year old had sturdier hands than mine. But giving up is never an option, is it? So I went ahead and sabotaged the glass tumbler with my paints. I had no hair dryer. Thanks to mom’s wisdom on how hair dryers are bad for your hair. So I took the little fellow to the kitchen and kept him inside my oven. I timed the oven for two minutes, a lot lesser than the time that was mentioned on the website.
Ten minutes later, when I went into the kitchen, I couldn’t help but notice the foul smell. I looked into the oven only to find my precious work of art all shattered. Oh! But that’s not all. The glass plate and the plastic wheels on the rotor were gone too. (Yes! I know I was being stupid. It is after all glass!)
A few scoldings later, it was time to begin afresh. Except this time, it was an empty Nutella jar that I picked. I painted the most common and mindless image I had in my head and filled it with colour. But this time, I decided against using technology. And there she was – cute and pretty, my first glass art.

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Citizenfour, Glenn Greenwald and why privacy matters

ideas.ted.com

When filmmaker Laura Poitras started receiving encrypted e-mails in 2013 from an anonymous whistleblower identifying himself as “Citizen four,” she did what any brave filmmaker would do: she picked up her camera and went to investigate.

Poitras charts what happened next in Citizenfour, a documentary that premiered Friday at the New York Film Festival. Watch the trailer:

Citizenfour provides a gripping look at events including her first meeting in Hong Kong with “Citizen four,” aka Edward Snowden (TED Talk: Here’s how we take back the Internet). Learn more about the film.

As one of the first reporters to see Edward Snowden’s files, journalist Glenn Greenwald (TED Talk: Why privacy matters) has broken many stories on the global surveillance being conducted by the NSA and other intelligence agencies. Greenwald’s current book on the topic, No Place to Hide, was released in May. He continues to write about surveillance issues for The Intercept.

Watch…

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What are you revealing online? Much more than you think

ideas.ted.com

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What can be guessed about you from your online behavior? Two computer privacy experts — economist Alessandro Acquisti and computer scientist Jennifer Golbeck — on how little we know about how much others know.

The best indicator of high intelligence on Facebook is apparently liking a page for curly fries. At least, that’s according to computer scientist Jennifer Golbeck (TED Talk: The curly fry conundrum), whose job is to figure out what we reveal about ourselves through what we say — and don’t say — online. Of course, the lines between online and “real” are increasingly blurred, but as Golbeck and privacy economist Alessandro Acquisti (TED Talk: Why privacy matters) both agree, that’s no reason to stop paying attention. TED got the two together to discuss what the web knows about you, and what we can do about the things we’d rather it forgot. An edited version of the conversation follows.

I…

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Apathy

“When is this country ever going to change?” lamented Vidya’s mother. “First they dropped out of schools because schools didn’t have toilets. Now the girls can’t use the fields too.”
“Every street has a temple. Can’t they spend that money on building toilets? Our priorities need to change”, Vidya replied.
Vidya and her mom were talking about the rape of two young girls who went to the fields to relieve themselves. The second rape in less than two years, that had earned national ire.

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“Amma, can we have something to drink? I am very thirsty”, Vidya asked her mom. The two ladies walked out of the travels office to see if any juice shop was around. Madurai heat was sucking the sweat of their bodies like never before.Although they would be home in Bangalore in a couple of hours, they had to find ways to beat the heat atleast until they boarded their bus. They found a woman selling tender coconuts on the pavement at a distance of a few metres from the travels office. They ordered two tender coconuts at twenty five rupees each. Having had their fill of that cool, sweet fluid, they quickly went back inside the travels office, in a desperate effort to escape the sun.
About thirty minutes later, the Bangalore bus arrived. Vidya and her mom got into the bus with their luggage and made themselves comfortable. Vidya took the window seat as usual and closed the curtains. She made sure the AC vents at her end were directed at herself. While her mother had started flipping through Tamil magazines, Vidya tried to catch up on her Anna Karenina. The bus, in the meanwhile, had started moving.
Not less than twenty minutes since the bus had started on its journey,Vidya realized that the tender coconut had done what it was supposed to do. It was almost a litre of fluid after all. But Vidya didn’t care much. In another eight hours she’d be in Bangalore. And the driver shall surely stop the bus at a fuel station on the way. So she let Tolstoy continue to mesmerize her. How an entire chapter dedicated to the simple act of mowing, could make her feel so elated, was incomprehensible to her. To Vidya, the protagonist in Anna Kareninawas not Anna. Not Alexei. Not Levin. Not Kitty. But Tolstoy himself.
However, no love for good story telling can contain the most pressing, fundamental, physical urges.
“When do you think these guys will stop the bus?”,Vidya asked her mother. “Why do you ask?”, her mother looked at her suspiciously. “I badly need to use a toilet”, replied Vidya as her face flushed in embarrassment. “You’ll have to wait. They’ll only stop the bus at Salem, which is atleast four hours from now.”
Vidya felt troubled. She didn’t think she could wait that long. The journey, the AC, all of it seemed to only make things worse for her.

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“Amma, I don’t think I can wait that long. Will you ask the conductor to stop the bus at a fuel station on the way? They’ll surely have toilets.”
“Even if I ask, they won’t stop the bus. Last time when your grand-dad came home, he had to face the same situation. They didn’t care that he was a 75-year old man. Please try to control for a while.”
“But there is no harm in asking. Please?” , Vidya begged.
Her mother was visibly embarrassed. The two women were travelling alone after all. She had to walk up to the conductor and driver, both of who were men, amidst thirty odd passengers who were also mostly men, and ask them to stop at a place with a toilet. Though the driver obliged, he told her clearly that he will not be able to stop the bus for another two hours. The mother nodded and returned to her seat, thoroughly upset. “You are not going to have anything to drink, the next time we travel by bus”, she told Vidya sternly.
Vidya herself was quite perplexed at how her body was behaving. Even as a child, Vidya never had to face such a situation. Her body had never troubled her with what until today she had considered so petty. Yet, here she was, struggling to remain still. She opened the curtains so she could quickly spot a place she could use and stop the driver.
Almost immediately after her mom spoke to the driver, the bus went past a fuel station. “There’s one. Why isn’t he stopping?”, Vidya whispered urgently to her mom. She got no answer from her mother. Her mother, after all didn’t know what to do. In the next twenty minutes, the bus had crossed three fuel stations and the driver never stopped. Vidya grew restless by the minute. She was using the nastiest of words in the English language to scold the driver in her head.
“That’s it. The next place he stops the bus at, I am getting down to find a place myself”, she told her mother.
Fifteen minutes later, the bus stopped at what looked like a pick-up point. Vidya asked her mom to move. “What will you find here?”, her mother asked, worried.
“I don’t know. But I’ll find out.”

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She got down from the bus and asked the man at, what looked like a hotel, if there was a toilet around that she could use. The response was negative. Meanwhile, the conductor who saw Vidya get down from the bus, assured her that he’d stop the bus again soon. Vidya, by now, didn’t care what the men around her thought of her anymore. She went back in the bus. Her mother still wore that worried, helpless expression on her face. The bus started again. Vidya began to pray that the bus stops soon.
She couldn’t relax her back anymore. She had to lean forward to be able to be able to hold it in. This action made it impossible for her to occupy anymore than the tip of the seat. She held on to the handle at the back of the seat in front of her. Her facial muscles and jaws went tight. Her restlessness, which once increased by the minute, now turned into stillness. Stillness – the only thing that made it possible for her to control herself. But this stillness was painful. What seemed to be a discomfort earlier, now turned slowly into an excruciating pain in her pelvic region, which strangely made her knees quiver. She felt her temperature rising. A mild sort of tightness set into her lower abdomen.

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Two more hours passed. The bus never stopped. Vidya didn’t talk, or laugh, or read, or watch the movie playing in the bus. All her efforts went into enduring that terrible pain in the lower part of her body, while simultaneously postponing her physical need.
It had been more than three hours since she had asked the driver to stop the bus. The entire route had no toilets whatsoever. The few places that did have toilets, neither the driver nor the conductor had the sense or sensitivity to stop the bus for the suffering woman.
Vidya felt utterly humiliated and punished. Like the whole of mankind had perpetrated unspeakable violence against her. She needed to relieve herself. A basic need, of which, everybody in the bus was aware. Yet she was being tortured like this. She was afraid she would lose control. She was afraid she would humiliate herself before strangers even though she was not to blame. Tears filled her eyes.
Finally, the bus stopped at a toll gate and the conductor showed the female passengers the way to the toilet. Vidya, obviously, was the first one to get down.
All those long hours of controlling made her genitals hurt as she relieved herself. How could anybody be so insensitive? A woman may have a hundred reasons to use a toilet. Yet, nobody wants to pay heed to her even after she makes her needs very clear. And this sort of behavior came from older men. The government didn’t make it any easier either. Again, she blamed a group of older men for the lack of toilets along the route. She witnessed, for the first time, the apathy and insensitivity her countrymen had towards her kind.
“Do they even deserve us?’, she thought to herself, as she walked her way back to the bus, relieved physically, but her woman’s pride hurt.