the wonderful world of veena.

31 May 2012

a bundle of nerves, anxiety, and excitement, all rolled into one.

In approximately 48 hours, my brother and I will be off on our journey to India. This will mark the first time we will be traveling there together - and traveling anywhere together for such a length of time - and it will also be the first time I have so much uncertainty surrounding how and where my time will be spent whilst I am there.

As a result, my emotions are all in turmoil. I am so excited about getting back to Bangalore, seeing all of my adopted families, and wandering the city center aimlessly. Eating at my roadside dhabas. Sipping on some Old Monk in Guzzlers or Pecos while the rain falls outside. Greeting my tailors, my bartenders, my bouncers, my shopkeepers, my Superintendent at the Boys' Home. Strolling through Lalbagh or Cubbon Park. Drinking chai for rs.3. Stuffing my face at all my favourite eateries. Finally having the opportunity to ride the Metro!

There are so many wonderful things to look forward to, and I cannot wait to touch down in my cloudy, drunken city. But until then, there are so many things that need to get done, and so many uncertainties, that I cannot help but be a jumble of knots at the same time.

I know my project with Room to Read is going to be amazing, and I know that once I actually get to Nepal, my nerves will cease to be a problem. But until that actually happens, I cannot help but create all the scenarios in my head wondering what might happen and thinking of all the things that could go wrong. For starters, I still don't have my IRB approval, and leaving the country while that is still up in the air is a bit nerve-racking. I am sending in my latest application for review today, and hopefully they will not need further changes, but it still makes me a bit nervous.

Beyond Nepal, I do not yet have a Capstone finalized. I have a very good potential lead, but between unpacking from Little Rock, running various errands, and trying to get myself ready to re-pack for India, I have not had a ton of time to sit down and work on my proposal for approval. In the meantime, I still have further emails to send to other organizations, just in case this project does not work out. Because of that, I have yet to confirm my whereabouts post-October 12. This makes me a bit anxious. Not nervous so much, because I know something will work out, just as soon as I have the time to devote to making it happen. I just need to get to that place.

I also know that returning to Bangalore is going to be a lot of overstimulation on my emotions next week. It's going to be happy, joyous, exhilarating, and also a little heart-breaking and somber, and there's no telling until I get there how I will react to all of it.

The next 10 months are going to bring so many adventures and journeys, and I am hoping they will also help me answer some questions. How long do I want to be in India? Where do I want to eventually settle? What exactly do I want to do? Where do I want to do it? Is it time to make those big decisions in my life, or do I still have time to just take some time for myself and travel? See a bit more of the world? Or is it time to finally grow up? Any clarity on any of those questions would be most helpful, moving forward.

In order for me to actually get there, however, I probably should finish my errands and get started on packing my stuff. Next stop: Namma Bengaluru!

25 May 2012

so long, small pebble.

Today I said so long to Little Rock. After all these months of gearing up to be gone for next year, I was actually quite sad to leave. Having never spent more than a weekend in Little Rock prior to moving there last July, I had no idea how much I would enjoy living there and how much it would come to be an adopted home for a short while.

I have to say, it was nice to be back in Arkansas for a little while. That was not something you would have heard me say a few years ago, but I think the years away made me appreciate the state more. It was nice to be back in the land of the Razorbacks and to be able to tailgate and attend a game at War Memorial Stadium.

I loved being in town for all the buildup to Catherine and Drew's wedding; having missed so many weddings and showers and babies these last few years, it was really nice being able to attend all of those things this year, since they were practically in my backyard. And it was great getting to spend so much time with the Hughes family - I do love finding adopted families everywhere I go.

While I certainly had my ups and downs over the two semesters, I'm so glad I decided to apply for my program. Having the opportunity to listen to and meet President Clinton, Secretary of State Clinton, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Attorney General Erik Holder, Room to Read Co-Founder and CEO Erin Ganju, Women Thrive Worldwide Co-Founder and CEO Ritu Sharma, Governor Christine Todd Whitman, and fellow Rhodent and Clinton School Class 2 alum Julie Gehrki, all within the span of 9 months, is pretty awesome, if you ask me. And having the opportunity to learn from some incredible professors and some awesome classmates has been an invaluable experience.

I think, most of all, I'm going to miss the people. My fantastic roommate, my classmates, my professors, my adopted families, my bartenders at Town Pump, and all the new friends found along the way. Thank you to all of you for making this an unbelievable year and for making it so difficult to leave.

And because I hate saying goodbye, I'll say farewell for now. See you next year.

22 May 2012

book update: leaving microsoft to change the world / my first foray into digital books.

As my first foray into reading books on my iPad, I chose to begin with Leaving Microsoft to Change the World, the story of Room to Read founder John Wood's journey from working for Microsoft to starting the organization that today works in 10 countries in Asia and Africa promoting literacy and girls' education.

The book itself was a super-fast read, allowing the reader to journey with Wood on his discovery that his heart lay not in the software world but rather in creating opportunities for children - particularly girls - in developing countries to attend school. There were so many things Wood wrote about that spoke exactly to why I feel so passionate about the work Room to Read and so many other amazing organizations are doing, and it allowed me a personal look into the man who has made this possible. From a ragtag group of employees working for free to what it is today, Room to Read has come a long way, and Wood is quick to credit those around him for their hard work and dedication to making the organization a success.

It was especially great to finish the book on my way to San Francisco, where on Friday I got to visit the Room to Read offices and meet the ladies with whom I've been in contact for the last 5 months. Each day I get more and more excited about the opportunity to work with one of Room to Read's programs.

One of the recurring themes throughout the book that stayed with me was reminiscent of Yoda's famous line, "Do or do not. There is no try." This is a line that I've carried with me for most of my life, often having to remind myself when I'm stewing over a decision that sometimes its best to just dive in head first. Too often over-thinking something prevents it from happening. Wood mentions that had he spent too much time thinking about what he was doing - leaving a cushy job with Microsoft to venture into the unknown world of nonprofits and education - he probably would never have done it; instead, he decided it was what he wanted to do, and he did it. It's a great reminder for those of us, like me, who can sometimes get too caught up in the details to remember the joy of the leap.

Shifting gears for just a second, I'd like to discuss reading a book digitally as opposed to physically. The pros: it makes it seem like the book goes really fast, since the print is super big; the Nook app syncs between my computer, phone, and iPad, and bookmarking the pages means that I can access it from any of my devices and pick up where I stopped; I can download as many books as I want, which is much lighter than toting around a ton of books while traveling; the backlight means that I don't have to tote around a book light, something I've always found to be a bit obtrusive. The cons: being an electronic device, there are only certain times you're allowed to use it on flights; you have to be connected to wi-fi to be able to download the books [that could also just be an issue I'm having with my hand-me-down iPad]; using the highlighting option is just not the same as being able to underline a passage I really like; I find that having books on all my devices leads me to try to read too many books at once, which is something I usually try to avoid [not because I can't multitask, but because I feel bad giving my attention to more than one book at a time]; I really just love physical books.

That last con is really the main reason I've resisted reading books digitally for such a long time. I just love the feel of a physical book. I love the way books smell. I love the satisfaction of turning pages and being able to see my progress. I love finishing a book I enjoyed and being able to pass it along to someone whom I think might also enjoy it.

And therein lies the rub. While e-books are a great option while traveling, particularly to cut down on weight, I will continue to be loyal to the act of purchasing and reading actual books whenever possible.

What are your thoughts on e-books? Have you tried it? Are you a convert? Or do you refuse?

17 May 2012

bucket list progress.

These last few weeks have been good for checking items off my bucket list. The ones in bold below have all recently been completed...

  • Climb Pinnacle Mountain [still haven't managed this one. there are a few days yet to get this one in]
  • Picture of the Day / more pictures in general [I've sort of been doing this, but between my phone, my small camera, and my big camera, they're all over the place]
  • Cardinals Exhibit at the Library [I'm not so bothered about this, but if there's time, I'd like to see it]
  • Arkansas baseball game in Fayetteville [ran out of weekends, unfortunately]
  • Distillery tour [done!]
  • Thunder Thieves gig in Morrilton
  • Museum of Discovery
  • Central High School Museum
  • Picnic by the river [hasn't happened, but I have spent some time down by the river recently, so for the time being, we're going to count that]
  • Butler Center [one day soon]
  • Travelers game

thunder thieves gig. finally the stars aligned, and I was able to make it to Morrilton for one of Mitchell's shows. it coincided with the Toad Suck Daze festival in Conway, so one Friday, Katie, Dylan, and I hit the road to ride some rides and eat some corn dogs before finding our way over to Jose's Supper Club for some rock and roll. it was quite the evening, and Katie and I are back in Mitchell's good graces. thank goodness.

museum of discovery. um, awesome place. Dylan and I went there on Tuesday afternoon to have a look around, and we managed to keep ourselves amused for nearly 2 hours. there are lots of cool exhibits where you can play with magnets and test your balance and try to land a rocket and lie on a bed of nails and on and on and on. there's even a recreation of the tornado that hit in 1999. and the best part of the whole thing? we got in for free! there was no one at the admissions desk when we walked in, so the entire experience cost us nothing more than a few hours out of our day. can't beat that.

central high school. full disclosure: I didn't actually get to go through the museum. a group of us had lunch with some of the Principal's Cabinet students in the Central High library, after which they gave us tours around the school. it was a really cool afternoon, and I will eventually return to the museum, but it might have to wait until next year.

travelers game. went last night, sat in the beer garden, ate and drank and watched baseball for a grand total of roughly $15, give or take. not a bad way to spend a Wednesday evening, if you ask me.

So other than climbing Pinnacle [I still have two potential mornings for that next week!], I've hit all of the big ones that were on my list. There are still a few restaurants I need to try, and since I have no food in my fridge, hopefully that will happen next week once I am back in town.

If anyone has any last-minute suggestions for things I need to do or places I need to go before I leave the Rock next Thursday, be sure to pass them along. Time is running out!

14 May 2012

back in the saddle? here's hoping.

For those of you who have been reading this blog with any regularity over the last 9 months or so, you may have noticed [or maybe not. I don't know how perceptive you are] that it's been a while since I wrote anything about running. Approximately two months, actually.

Well, that's because I haven't been running. Not since my glorious 10k back in March. The reasons / excuses, as always, are many: I'm lazy; I had the world's worst cold-and-fever-thing for a solid week after the race; there was a ton of Practicum stuff to be completed before spring break / during spring break / after spring break; school has been hectic; I've been in and out of town; I'm lazy...the list goes on.

I kept telling myself I needed to start running again, but it was difficult with the crazy schedule of the last month and a half. No two weeks were the same, and there were often days I was out of the house from 8am until 9pm or later, after which I had no energy to then go for a run. So I let myself get out of the habit, convincing myself that it would all be ok, that I would start again. tomorrow. Except tomorrow never came.

Until today. I finally got off my lazy bum and took myself for a 20-minute jog around the park near my house. And while the last three minutes or so were difficult, overall I thought I did well, even managing to maintain the pace I was running two months ago. I finally realized that I had let myself go for long enough, and that if I plan on trekking in the mountains of Nepal in a few months, I'm going to need to get myself back into shape. And now that school is finished, I finally get to set my own schedule for the next few weeks, meaning that I can run whenever I feel like rather than having to plan it around classes and work and meetings and public programs and on and on and on.

There's no telling how long I'm going to keep up with this once I'm back in India [girls don't often just go for a run down the road], but there's no point in worrying about that if I don't get myself into a routine here first.

So am I back in the running saddle? It might be too soon to tell, seeing as how it's only been one day. But here's hoping.

11 May 2012

saying goodbye.

Last week, I said goodbye to one of my classmates who has already left for his IPSP. Tonight, I said goodbye to five more. There is already one to whom I did not get to say goodbye, and I realized there are a few more whom I will not get to see again before they leave.

And it's weird. It's suddenly hit me that I won't see any of my classmates again [save Maggie and Mitchell, hopefully] until next spring. That's weird, considering we're all still in the same program. We're going to be having many of the same experiences, just in different parts of the world.

I'm not second-guessing my decision to move back to India. At this stage in my life, I do believe that it is where I want to and should be. My time there is not yet complete, and I want / need to see where this journey is going to take me. I am fortunate to have a great foundation in Bangalore from which to start and to be enrolled in a program that allows me the flexibility to spread my wings and see how far I can fly.

So no, I'm not second-guessing my decision. But I am sad at having to say goodbye to the people with whom I have spent so many hours over the last 9 months. The 36 of us have been through a lot together - some of it really good, some of it really bad - and we have survived this year in large part because of each other. To know that we will be so scattered next year makes me sad, but it also makes me thankful that I've had this year to get to know some really awesome people.

So classmates, wherever this summer and this next year takes you, I hope you know how much I appreciate and respect each and every one of you. Good luck in your adventures, have a blast, stay safe, and remember to look both ways before crossing the street [in other parts of the world, they drive on the other side of the road].

Besides, it's not really goodbye. It's more like see you later.

08 May 2012

the pressure to blog / blogging as a catharsis.

I have had this blog now for nearly a year and a half, and in that time I have written approximately 200 posts. That comes down to one post roughly every three days.

There have been some months where I've actually had different things about which to write, and then there have been other months where I feel as though I write the same things over and over, particularly about how busy school is or how much longer it is until I'm back in Bangalore [26 days, in case anyone is counting!]. At times I feel the pressure to write something for the sake of writing something because it's been four days and all the blogs I read have been updated so mine should be, too. And I know that's irrational. But I feel a responsibility. If there are people out there willing to take the time to read the things I write, I should take the time to write something thoughtful. Right? So then I spend time agonizing over what I should write about on here. Do people really care about my course load? Or the Razorbacks? Or the books I'm reading? Surely someone does. Yes? Perhaps? Maybe.

And then there's the simple fact that it's cathartic. Sitting down to write something - anything - is such a great release. It gives me a chance to have some time to myself to reflect over what's been going on in my life, what is upcoming, and what maybe needs to be rethought. I've always enjoyed writing; when I was in middle and high school, I filled journals cover-to-cover with such random thoughts that I can do nothing but reread them and laugh at how silly I used to be. But that was my release. Unleashing words onto a page - and now onto a computer screen - is a way for me to break free of whatever might be holding me back. Some people paint, some people watch tv, some people shop. I write.

What I have to keep reminding myself is that I write for myself. I keep thinking I should write what people want to read, but then I remember that I started this blog for me, and that if I try to cater to other people, it'll lose the identity of being mine.

Take my previous post about my top 11 reasons for visiting India, for example. Yes, I think all of those are extremely valid reasons for visiting India, and if someone plans a trip because of that [I highly doubt it, but crazier things have happened], that would be awesome. But that post was mostly a fun opportunity for me to remember all the reasons I'm excited about being back in just a few weeks and an excuse to go through all my pictures and reminisce.

So I guess it comes down to me reminding myself, when that pressure to write a new post starts to build, that I should not write just for the sake of writing, but rather when I actually have something to say. Not only will this continue to be a catharsis for me, but it will also then remain interesting for the crazy people who continue to read the things I write.

So while my posts may become infrequent over the coming months, particularly while I am traveling and without regular access to internet, I'm hoping that they become more interesting, both for myself and for you, whomever and wherever you are.

02 May 2012

veena's 11 reasons to visit india.

[warning: super long post to follow. I got a bit carried away]

Obviously I have more than 11 reasons to visit India. We all know this. But I'm going with 11 because of a recent article on matador network that gave that many reasons. And while all of theirs are certainly valid - in fact, I look forward to doing many of those things in just one short month - I thought I would add my own reasons for visiting India.

1. the people. you've heard of Southern hospitality. well, Indian hospitality is like Southern hospitality on crack. within minutes of meeting an Indian, you have become part of their family. you are invited for dinner, for weddings and christenings, for family celebrations of all shapes and colours. and no family personifies this quite like the Devaraj family. from the time I met them nearly 7 years ago, they've held me in their grasp. their ability to love, to inspire, to support, and to entertain can never adequately be described. I can't wait to slum around their houses so very soon.

[this isn't even all of them. oh, how I love them]
and I must also give a special shout-out to my other adopted family, the Josephs. they are very similar to the Devarajs, except on a much smaller - and quieter - scale.

and did I mention how well you get fed once you've been adopted? because it's awesome.

2. the special hideaways. everyone knows Goa is the place to go. it's got the beaches, it's got the clubs, it's got all the foreigners. well, the real secret is that,  while Goa is pretty cool and all [south Goa, that is], Gokarna is really where it's at. only one of the four beaches is accessible by road, there's no trance music, and people pretty much leave you to your own devices. if you're feeling especially adventurous, you can trek around the cliff to get to even more secluded beaches. and if you make friends with Ganesh Bhai, he'll hook you up with some Old Monk.

[this is one of my favourites from my trip with Rob, Ellie, and Ani. photo credit must go to the fabulous Anita Joseph]

[on the trek from Om to Half Moon]
3. the food. my mouth waters at the endless opportunities. chili pork at Pecos. gobi manchurian anywhere. mutton fry at Kentacky. meals at Nandhini. sev puri from a roadside stand. pork at Wild Spice. chicken ghee roast and seer fry at Coast to Coast. chicken shawarma at Empire. sheekh kebab at Fanoo's. something-or-other wrapped in bacon at Plan B. and this is only in Bangalore. it doesn't include the fish meals in Manipal. or the tiger prawns in Goa. or the spicy pork in Coorg. or all the Punjabi goodness in north India. or all the homemade goodness when you make friends with the people mentioned in #1. oh, the food.

[lunch at Nandhini the weekend before I left. yum]
4. arguing with auto drivers. this is one of my favourite past-times in India, and something I think every visitor to the country should experience. it's just so much fun to yell at them when they try to overcharge you or take you the wrong way. it's so satisfying when they realize that even though you sound like a foreigner, you actually know where you're going and how to get there. it's almost like a rite of passage.

5. kicking men out of ladies' seats on buses. another favourite past-time. the men like to look out the window or pretend they're asleep when women get on the bus so they won't have to get up, but I march right up to them and cause a scene until they move. it's super fun. what's even more fun is when my interns build up the confidence to do it also. there's nothing quite like seeing the looks on the men's faces when they're getting yelled at by a white girl on the bus.

6. seeing the country by train. India has such beautiful scenery, and the best way to see as much of it as possible is to travel by train from place to place. it's such an experience. you make friends with random people on the train and get fed by them, you get to eat what I think is some of the best food in the country, and you get to see breathtaking sights, all while saving money, because it's also the cheapest way to travel. win-win-win, all the way around.

[somewhere on the way from Bangalore to Goa]

[also on the way from Bangalore to Goa]

[on the way from Bangalore to Ernakulam]
7. the sights. obviously. in the nearly 5 years I lived in India, I was lucky enough to get to see a lot of the famous - and a few not-so-famous - places. but there are still more to go. yet-to-be-seen - the Golden Temple, the Ganges, the Himalayas, Ajanta and Ellora, the temples of Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry and Auroville, Udaipur's lake palace...the list goes on. But here are a few that I have seen:

[Victoria Memorial in Kolkata]

[the Hawa Mahal. remind me to tell you the story of Dimple and the windows another day]

[Jaisalmer fort]

[Thar desert]

[Badri Ghat in Pushkar]

[Taj Mahal. in case you were wondering]

[Krishna's butterball in Mahaballipuram. and no, we didn't actually move it. sad]

[17-meter tall monolith in Shravanabelagola. only takes you 612 steps to get up to it. Indians love their stairs]

[Irpu Waterfall in Coorg]

[tea fields in Munnar, Kerala]

[the reservoir near Dabguli]

[Savan Durga]

[Hanuman Temple in Hampi]
8. volunteering with Peace Child India. yes, this is a shameless plug. but for me, working with Peace Child was one of the best experiences of my life. I got to meet amazing people from all over the world, I got to live in what I think is the best city in India, and I got to work with some of the most inspiring children I've ever met. it's a wonderful experience, and one that changed my life. even if you don't volunteer for Peace Child, look into other organizations that are doing fantastic work in India and see if you can help them. it takes so little to do so much in India that it's a shame not to. ok, shameless plug over.

9. for the experience of crossing a road in a country where traffic rules don't exist. you've never really lived until you've tried it. I would always forget that interns weren't used to the traffic, and I'd be across and halfway down the other side before I realized they were still standing, knees knocking together, trying to decide when to cross. my advice? don't wait for a break in traffic, because there won't be one. crossing in front of motorbikes and autos is easiest, as they can swerve around you. cars are trickier, you have to use your judgment a bit more. never cross in front of buses or lorries, as I'm convinced they speed up to hit you on purpose. welcome to India, where pedestrians most certainly do not have the right-of-way.

10. to hang out with my third-born. yes, she gets her own section. she gave me the kick in the ass I needed 5 years ago when I couldn't decide what I wanted to do with my life. she has the ability to crack me up even as I tear my hair out in frustration. she's got the greatest laugh you'll ever hear. she loves fiercely, and if you're lucky enough to earn her love, she'll never turn her back on you. she's been my rock through the last 3 months of emotional upheaval and turmoil, patiently listening to me cry my eyes out via Skype and offering words of advice, of wisdom, of support, and especially of distraction. she's my third-born. you should really go and meet her.

[from the Christmas Carnival at the Boys' Home, December 2010]

[on one of my many jaunts to Manipal to make sure she was eating properly. Twist brings out the best in people]

[probably my favourite. exclamations of how pretty the other one is]

[fighting over food. as always]

[more crazy times in Manipal. I think in this one we were laughing at / being embarrassed for Nit]

[isn't she stunning?]

[first trip to Gokarna together. swimming in the sea until 4am]

[hanging out on the shores of Malpe]

[at Maia and Iona's christening]
11. Old Monk. ha! saved the best for last.

If these aren't reason enough for you to travel to India, I don't know what is.
And I'll be back in a month! #31daysneverfeltsolong

01 May 2012

dream vacation: ireland.

I am linking up again this week with laura for her Take Me There Tuesday series. This week we're going [virtually] to Ireland!

Ireland has long been one of my dream vacation spots. I think I read a book set in Ireland sometime in middle school and have been obsessed with traveling there ever since. As a teenager I had dreams of running through meadows with a handsome Irish boy who was head over heels in love with me. Alas, that has not yet happened, but there's still time...

For our Social Change group presentation, Mitchell, Maggie, Katie, and I are discussing the events leading up to the Irish War of Independence. As a result of my research, I have happened upon numerous pictures of Ireland, which have only served to reawaken my desire to spend some time there. After seeing these pictures, how could you not want to go there?

[image via]

[image via]

[image via]

[image via]

[image via]
I dream once again of traveling to Ireland, of wandering through fields and meadows and hills, of discovering small, out-of-the-way towns where you can spend a day in the neighbourhood pub, reading and eating and drinking and chatting.

One of these days, it WILL happen. And maybe, just maybe, I'll meet that Irish man-of-my-dreams along the way.

Hey, it could happen.