Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

14 Nov 2010, 3:01 a.m.

The "Cordial" Part Of "You Are Cordially Invited"

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2010 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

Today my uncle, aunt, and cousin drove around Bangalore with me to hand-deliver invitations to my sister's upcoming wedding. The usual ritual: we arrive and take off our shoes and come inside and sit down, we make small talk, I present the invitation to the oldest available person (I think) along with some sanctified dry rice and some gifts (sari + standardized fabric pieces for making pants, blouse, or shirt), and -- if the recipient is a woman -- kumkum powder for her to apply to her forehead. If the recipient is especially old, I kneel before him/her and s/he blesses me. More small talk. The host offers something to eat, then coffee or tea, then Bournvita/Horlicks/Boost/milk, and we negotiate down to water, or claim inability to ingest even an atom. A little more small talk, then a woman gives my aunt & me some turmeric and kumkum to apply to our foreheads, gives us some ritual gift (usually a chewable leaf, some fruit or a coconut, and a tiny denomination of money), and we the visitors get up, put our shoes on, and leave.

Avoiding substantial food intake at every visit requires finesse and outright lies, both of which my aunt spins easily. "We JUST ate lunch!" "Oh, I can't have sweets at all, the doctor says." "She's still unwell from the airplane trip from America and can only eat soups." Of course all the hosts know you might be lying, and thus one ends up turning down already-poured glasses of juice and multi-food snack platters. Such an arms race. You know those job ads that say applicants must be able to lift 50 pounds unassisted? Per day, wedding invitation delivery personnel should be able to eat 50 meals unassisted.

I have memorized the Kannada phrase "dhaivittu nun ukka-ge mudhave bunnee," or "please come to my sister's wedding." I have nearly said "please come to my wedding" and "please come to my sister's wedding now" (I usually heard "bunnee" with "eega" attached, when I was a kid, because my parents were saying "come here right now!").

My uncle, aunt, and cousin are great -- loving but not smothering, and patient with my questions without making me feel dumb. I learned today that kumkum powder is just turmeric with added colouring, and that "sanjay," pronounced almost the same as the similarly spelt guy's name "Sanjay," means "evening." The latter came up when my aunt, speaking Kannada, mentioned to someone that I'd arrived on an evening train, and I thought, "why is she talking about my cousin Sanjay? He wasn't with me..."

Today we passed by a shop called Cake of the Day, which I internally sang to the tune of Moxy Früvous's "Kick in the Ass." Also I made use of hand sanitizer, a phrase that I sing like "Smooth Operator" or "Smoke on the Water."

Also seen today: a cafe's sign inveigled us to "enhance your glam quotient," and an AirTel ad stapled to a tree said "IMPATIENCE IS THE NEW LIFE."

Allergies suck. However, my nose-blowing amused a child at one home, because my nose-blowing sounds all trumpety, and I waved my arm in front of my face like an elephant's trunk. If tech management doesn't work out, I may have a career in children's parties. Later I (think I) impressed a sixteen-year-old boy by singing along to the Green Day he was playing on his Nokia N97. He looked very earnestly at me as he then played his Linkin Park and Eminem. (In case you were wondering, Linkin Park sounds even less distinctive on a cell phone's speakers.) But he doesn't like Coldplay! He's clear on that! He, my cousin and I played music for each other on our cell phones as, in the next room, the adults watched the hit singing competition show Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Singing Superstar. ("Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni Sa" is the Indian equivalent of "Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do.")

"My sister didn't start off liking Green Day," he said.

"Oh, she'd get along well with my husband," I said. "He doesn't really like Green Day either. I think he sort of makes fun of me for liking it."


[pause] "Because he's pretentious. [then several sentences of backpedaling, rock/pop distinctions] I respect his opinion! though it is wrong."

Sort of failed at role modeling there. I played him the They Might Be Giants "New York City" in a giant cultural imperialism move.

On another trip, I duly impressed a sysadmin/network engineer with Leonard's credentials; he half-joked that now he must come to the wedding to meet him. We also joked about how verbose Java is. "I don't mind the length of Java code, it's the breadth," he said, stretching his arms apart, as though scrolling through a 200-character-wide line of Java were like catching an improbable trout. I returned: "You know that IDE they have to use? Eclipse? They call it that because Java code is so huge it blocks out the sun."

So, Leonard, when you arrive for Nandini's wedding, you may have to answer questions about your work for Canonical and defend your musical honor. Honour, if you localize. Localise. Hmm, I guess all my international travel blogging is documenting my internationalisation; I'm transliterating my encodings, discovering jarring UI paradigm differences. "You would think that internationalization and localization would be opposed goals, but no, they're aligned."


14 Nov 2010, 10:55 a.m.

Listening to T.I. + reading your internal filkings = thinking "There should be an Indian restaurant called 'Swagat Like Us.'"

Mel Chua
16 Nov 2010, 8:33 a.m.

I miss you, Sumana.

18 Nov 2010, 22:57 p.m.

You have inspired me. I am going to take steps to enhance my glam quotient IMMEDIATELY.