Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Nomadism, Changes, the Future and Related Ramblings

No, my dear blog readers, I still haven't abandoned you. It's been ages since I've posted. My inseparable companion Mme Procrastination is to blame. There's a lot that's been happening and so I should have had a lot to blog about. But then that's where the overwhelming influence of Mme P. brings about postponements.
Anyways, I'll try to at least complete this post and hopefully this make me resume postings again.
If you've read my "About Me" section, you know that I'm a nomad and have moved all my life. The next move is around the corner-- I move to the City of Boiled Beans at the end of March.

The Basics
My father had a transferable job, and so we moved ever 3-4 years, especially during my early childhood. I was born in Kolkata (as was my brother), and we moved to Bhubaneswar when I was 4-4.5years old. We lived there for 3.5 years and then moved back to Kolkata. The next move was to Delhi-- 5 years and 2 months-- to date that remains my longest continuous stay at one place. When we moved back to Kolkata in 1990, I was 16. I finished my school there, and my BSc as well. I was determined to leave the city, and I moved to Pune in 1994 when I got through a coveted combined entrance exam. Thence to Bangalore for my PhD in summer 1996. My supervisor moved to Delhi, and I quit and moved to Tübingen to restart my PhD in Nov 1998. Our lab moved to Heidelberg in Oct 2001, and this time I moved with the lab and completed my thesis there. I moved to Vienna in March 2003.

Changes-- Pune & Panch-Premikayen
As a kid, it was both distressing and exciting to move. Distressing to leave old friends and contacts, familiar surroundings, but exciting to embark on new adventures. I used to be a shy kid, and so making friends wasn't that easy... so I guess there was a large bit of apprehension. However, there certainly was the excitement and hope of starting out all over again, of doing better, being a better person, getting a clean slate. I did try to change myself every time I moved, and these changes became more pronounced from Pune onwards. Pune was the first time I was staying away from my parents-- in fact far away. I was independent, and had to take care of my affairs in toto.... except of course the living expenses that my father would send every month. But I was also 20. Pune changed me. Most of my classmates were a bunch of fun-loving people, and they dragged me into it. My roommate and classmate, BJ, probably had the biggest hand in bringing about this change. He was the complete opposite of me-- extroverted, friendly, popular, and very goodlooking. Then there were my female friends-- my so-called panch premikayen (five lovers)-- Fish, Chicken, Mutton, Prawn (HRJ) and Kalakand. It started with Fish. There was and exam and she was mugging up stuff (moving here lips soundlessly) and someone commented that she was like a fish in an aquarium... the name stuck. I used to get along quite well with her and was consequently was teased about her. Now the best way to get rid of teasing is to join them-- I gave them more fuel- "See it's simple: Bongs love fish". Latha was a loud girl-- hyper-extroverted. Her best friend was Uma and I got along very well with both of them. Latha protested that I only loved Fish. I said "Well, as Bong, I do love fish, but I like chicken and mutton better". She selected the former for herself and the latter for Uma. HRJ, had to be given a name too. She'd once brought prawn-achar for a few of us, and so that was a good name for her. Then Kanchan, a good friend of HRJ and mine, but from a different course, also wanted to be in my "harem" but she being a vegetarian and sweet-lover, called herself Kalakand. Anyways, for a guy who was shy and was uncomfortable talking to girls (despite being gay), this was progress. By the time we finished and left Pune, I was quite a popular guy within the group, and I am very much in touch with quite a few of these people.
IISc did change me as well, though not all that much. I developed good friendships, became more confident, and of course, as I have blogged before, accepted that I'm gay.

Massive Changes-- the European Influence
Life in India was quite protected, despite all those pretences of my independence. There were hostels where one lived, there were messes where one ate, medical facilities within the institute if one fell ill, dhobis and "press"-wallas in the campus, plus there were friends, professors, relatives, friends of parents, whom one could consult at the drop of a hat. Finances and tastes were meagre, and so most of the time was spent in the campus at work or with friends. There might have been an occasional trip to the restaurant, to a movie, or to a happening area.

Europe was this whole new thing. And it completely changed me. I had a close friend from my Pune days, Jagan, in Tübingen, at the same institute... in fact it was in consultation with him that I had moved there, and I stayed with him for the first few months. He had his own tensions, problems etc, and staying with someone in a small room in a shared accomodation is never easy. Our relations became kinda hot & cold. Even with all the help Jagan extended, I was still on my own. In the UK or in the US (or perhaps even in Australia), the Indian community is so huge, that a newly arrived desi has no trouble entering the ghetto and remaining there. This was certainly not so here. There was of course Sunanda, but we didn't get along with her initially (she is one of my closest friends now-- she's in Berkeley, but we have telephone conversations for hours several times a month). Later Rajeeb, Tressa, and others arrived in Tübingen, but then they themselves had to find their feet on the ground. And of course there was the gay thing, that I had to explore.

I had a lovely studio apartment with a huge balcony. Before leaving India, my mother had given me a very hurried crash course in cooking, but honestly, the only thing I could really cook was an egg (boiled, fried, scrambled, omelette). While I was at Jagan's, he showed me how to make fried rice, and I also tried cooking (quite successfully) a chicken dish. One doesn't really need to cook, as one can survive on bread, eggs, hams/salamis, fruits, frozen pizzas and various other frozen stuff, or the delicious Turkish Döner Kebaps. But I'm a scientist-- experimenting is my job-- and I love food and I'd been missing Indian food (there was a decent Indian resaturant in Tübingen), so the most logical thing was to try and experiment. Ralf was a new postdoc who joined soon after I moved to my apartment. His girlfriend was in France and since he didn't know people either, we hung out together. He had a car and he used to give me a ride to the supermarket on weekends, and I used to invite him for dinner to try out my experiments. He wasn't experienced in Indian food, so had no idea what things were supposed to taste like-- a perfect candidate! With bawarchi.com and phone calls to my mother, and repeated experiments I did manage to become a decent cook over the years.

Travel was another thing that I got hooked to, and I've travelled quite a bit. Germany, Austria, the UK, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Greece, Hungary... much more than most Indians I know here. Most of these trips have been on my own, and I prefer it that way.

Getting comfortable with being gay and enough to coming out to friends and parents is something I've already blogged about. Here in Vienna, I am a regular at the gay parade. Many of my friends are gay, and we often go out to gay cafes/bars.

I also think I have become more accepting, more open-minded, less conservative, and have broader horizons. That is of course, in part because of becoming more mature, but also because of my stay in Europe and interacting with completely different cultures, values, outlooks, and meeting really diverse kinds of people.

My personality has changed in other ways as well. I am more confident, more self-assured, independent, know more or less what I want, what I like. I am not afraid of people (well most of the times anyway).
I certainly have better dress-sense than when I first arrived in Europe.

The Itch to Move
Although I like Vienna, know the place quite well, have a lot of friends, lots of favourite places to go to, and enjoy life here, I feel a strong urge to move. In a few weeks, it'll be five years that I've lived here, and five years is a big psychological barrier. I need a change, a new adventure, a new slate. I am a bit bored with the routine. I want to move on.

My current contract is coming to an end as well, and it cannot be renewed in its current form. Leonie, in the neighbouring institute, likes me very much and was extremely keen to have me join her group. But that would've been my last option, though it might have made a bit of sense professionally. I really wanted to move on, I want change.

The City of Boiled Beans
I had applied for a position in Bangalore in November, they interviewed me telephonically three days later, and offered me the position after two weeks. They suggested I join from Jan 1, which was impossible. In any case I needed to visit them and check them out first-- I did that in Jan. I'll be leaving Vienna on the 28th of March and after a day in Dubai, visiting BJ (whom I've mentioned above) and his family there, I proceed to Bengaluru on the 30th.

I am apprehensive how I'll re-adjust, but it'll be an adventure. Bangalore has changed tremendously since I used to live there (1996-1998)-- and in any case, we used live a rather sheltered life in the IISc campus with occasional excursions to the city. I've hated the traffic when I visited recently and that will indeed be a nightmare. But I am looking forward to the city, with its extremely cosmopolitan environment, great weather, the ghats nearby, tons of historical and architectural marvels nearby. Plus lots of promising activities going on (provided one can find the time and means to get there in time)-- my internet searches have yielded a hiking group that sounds fantastic, a theatre with regular performances (albeit several in Kannada), an expats organization, an interesting annual music festivals other than Vasantahabba like this one and so on.
I also have a few friends there, and my cousin and her husband whom I get along very well with. I am also excited about work.

The gay thing is a bit worrying. The problem with many (most?) Indian gay guys is their paranoia. Gay people are understandably complicated, but the juggling between terrified secrecy and being gay in India, doesn't result in a good combination. However, there are groups like Good As You (the website is outdated, because apparently the current people don't know what the password is!!!), and I think there are a higher proportion of well-adjusted (or at least better-adjusted) gay people in the city than most other Indian cities... or so I hope. I went to a Good As You meeting when I visited B'lore in Jan, and met some friendly people and enjoyed the discussions. I've heard that there is at least one gay bar and there are gay parties organized with a reasonable frequency. I'd hate to get back into the closet, but then I'm not completely out even in Vienna, and so I think I'll maintain a similar system of keeping my personal life private at work, being ambiguous to acquaintences and out to good friends... lets see.

I'm also hoping to revive my adoption dreams after I move to the city...

Everybody is suggesting that I live near to work-- that'd mean quite far away towards the eastern end of the city. Vienna has spoiled me. I live walking distance from the centre, and obstinately, I'd like to live not too far away from the happening places in Bangalore too. I'd have zeroed in on the trendy Indira Nagar, but flats there might be too expensive for my budget. The other option is Domlur-- which is apparently very ordinary and non-trendy-- very strange considering that it is between Indira Nagar and even trendier (but too southern for me) Koramangala.

I guess I'd have to go to work very early to avoid the traffic jams, I'm hoping for decent public transport, as I'd prefer to read while travelling two hours instead of being at the wheel. I've been told there are decent buses plying to where I'll be working from almost everywhere in the city, plus the city has introduced luxury buses that are airconditioned and expensive and hence are not so crowded. But I guess I'll have to get a car as well-- and a driver's license as well-- finally.

The City of Boiled Beans, I'm looking forward to spending a few years with you.

2 comments:

Vidya said...

All the Best A.S. Bangalore was and sometimes still is one of my favorite city. Memories of Bangalore that I have are too good to make me be too partial towards the city.

The Visitor said...

I live in Bangalore AS - hope to run into you sometime. :)

Meanwhile I wish you a very happy birthday with many more to come.

The Visitor