Saturday, March 31, 2007

Experience with filing tax return in US

I had a yet again new experience in US. I filed my Income Tax return today. In India, I never used to bother about such 'overheads' as I always used to rely on my father to handle such matters. But here, when I have to even handle things like cooking and cleaning and grocery on my own, this was not a surprise that I had to take care of this on my own.

Here there are two types of tax. One is state tax and one is federal tax. The federal tax has an online form which can be filled in easily and can be printed and posted to the IRS office in Austin, Texas. But the state tax has no such facility as online form. So we needed some guidance on that one. On a friend's recommendation we decided to go to a consulting place which gives guidance on tax matters for free. Yes, it was absolutely free! So, even in today's world, there is something called free service and free advice.

Now this place is about 2.6 miles from our place and the timing was 9 to 12 on Saturday morning. We decided to test the strength of our legs and decided to walk! We normally walk about 1.5 miles to the school from our place daily so we thought it would not be too much. And to reach early and avoid sitting in queue, we thought we would start early.

So here we were, woken up at about 7.15 on a Saturday morning, cursing the government for the complicated tax filing procedure, wondering why they could not do it online! We started at about 8.15 from our place and kept walking. And then when we were almost half way, my devilish mind started playing tricks on me. I had read that out of two such centers, one center is closed on a last Saturday of the March. And I started having doubts about whether it was this center or the other one! We tried to call the place on the way but no one was answering as it was still not 9. Karthik had made all the plans of beating me up if the place was closed!

We actually crossed down-town of Tucson and it was so surprising because we had a feeling that down town was pretty far. But when we were walking, it didn't feel that way. We finally reached there and to my relief, the center was open.

So this center is a place where 'not so wealthy' people of Tucson come for tax related guidance. And they have volunteers who work for free to help people out. I was really impressed by this kind of facility. It was totally a non-profit institute. Not only non-profit, but they actually didn't charge any thing. Neither did they expect any tips etc. I was taken to an old man who had retired from service and he was volunteering there. He was a very nice gentleman. As expected he hardly could use computer but he was trying his best! And at every step, he used to explain to me what those fields meant. And he said, next year when you come to this center, you will fill the form yourself and I will sit besides you and watch !

It took him long to complete all the forms but he did it very meticulously. And we were done before 10.30 or so. I had not expected it to be so smooth but it turned out to be a nice new experience. So now I am a tax-paying alien resident in this country! With this, I have three tax returns on my name. Two in India and one here!!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

World Cup 07 - Time for introspection

"If a game starts taking lives, there is something sickeningly wrong with it". This statement by Sambit Bal, Cricinfo team pretty much sums up the events at this world cup so far. The most unfortunate event probably in the history of the game took place in the small and peaceful island of West Indies. Pakistani coach Bob Woolmer brutally murdered after a crashing exit of Pakistani team from the World Cup. Strangled to death. Most cold blooded murder one can think of.

This game has once again shown its ugly face. This game is like some black magic woman who is irresistible in guise but dangerous when it shows its real face. Probably we will never know the truth. Everyone is talking his own version of the story. Media is leaving no stone unturned to spice up the whole drama. Some version of the story says he was murdered because he was going to reveal some links with bookies. Some say it was a revenge for the defeat by some fanatic. Common sense suggests that whoever killed him, must have been someone he knew. Which leaves the needle of suspicion turned towards the players or the team management persons.

My fear is that the truth will never come out. The ICC is powerful and rich enough to damp the whole incident. At least till the world cup is over. They do not want any bad publicity. It is time for minting money. Human life is no more valuable for them. Many more Bobs can be sacrificed if need be. It's brutal world out there which tries to find profits even in the satchel of death.

India and Pakistan are known for their fanatic cricket followers. In one of the recent interviews, South African bowler Alan Donald said Indian and Pakistani cricket fans are fanatic. This is our impression. We are crazy for a game, so crazy that we can take lives. If that theory turns out to be correct.

The links between Cricket and Bookies-Underworld are not new. Asian bookies have had aegis of Underworld. And the theory that he was murdered because he was going to expose some of the cricketers and members of Pakistani team looks more reasonable to me. The typical Asian mafia are all too powerful and have riches and reaches as long as we can imagine.

Cricket is such an inseparable part of Indian life style. Before the world cup it looked as if the future of the whole country depended on Indian Cricket team. Big hoardings, television commercials, news sites like CNN-IBN, news papers and each and every communication medium had glorified the event as if those eleven players were fighting some war for their country. Some of the advertisements actually looked funny. And if you look at them now, they will look ludicrous and outrageous.

And now when team india has failed to even enter the second round, facing disgraceful defeat, we see fanaticism taking over the Indian cricket fans. Effigies are burnt, houses of cricketers are broken, emails full of dark humour about Indian cricket team are being circulate, funny SMSes deriding cricketers are in demand. What does this show? Gross immaturity! Why should it be so important in our lives? When India is playing, the whole country descends into motionless frenzy. Everyone is either at home, stuck in front of the tv set or huddled in a shop or a restaurant to cheer for the team. I simply do not understand how can we allow a game to take over daily routine of our life? How can it be so important? Why can't we give it a break? If we do that, automatically the Godly status of the cricketers will be stripped. They will be brought back to the mortal lives as players.

It is time to change our attitude towards the game. It is time for Indian cricket team to realize that they can not do whatever they want. They are answerable to the common man who spends hours watching them play. They are as responsible to the country as they are to their sponsors who feed millions of dollars to them. If they pay them dollars, it is we the commons men who have taken them to that level. If they forget us, we should remind them of that fact.

[Image Source: Cricket section of]

Monday, March 26, 2007

Learning to Fly - Pink Floyd

I couldn't resist myself from posting this magical song here. Pink floyd at their one of the best.

Into the distance, a ribbon of black
Stretched to the point of no turning back
A flight of fancy on a windswept field
Standing alone my senses reeled
A fatal attraction holding me fast, how
Can I escape this irresistible grasp?

Cant keep my eyes from the circling skies
Tongue-tied and twisted just an earth-bound misfit, i

Ice is forming on the tips of my wings
Unheeded warnings, I thought I thought of everything
No navigator to guide my way home
Unladened, empty and turned to stone

A soul in tension thats learning to fly
Condition grounded but determined to try
Cant keep my eyes from the circling skies
Tongue-tied and twisted just an earth-bound misfit, i

Friction lock - set.
Mixture - rich
Propellers - fully forward
Flaps - set - 10 degrees
Engine gauges and suction - check

Mixture set to maximum percent - recheck
Flight instruments...
Altimeters - check both
(garbled word) - on
Navigation lights - on
Strobes - on
(to tower): confirm 3-8-echo ready for departure
(tower): hello again, this is now 129.4
(to tower): 129.4. its to go.
(tower): you may commence your takeoff, winds over 10 knots.
(to tower): 3-8-echo
Easy on the brakes. take it easy. its gonna roll this time.
Just hand the power gradually, and it...

Above the planet on a wing and a prayer,
My grubby halo, a vapour trail in the empty air,
Across the clouds I see my shadow fly
Out of the corner of my watering eye
A dream unthreatened by the morning light
Could blow this soul right through the roof of the night

Theres no sensation to compare with this
Suspended animation, a state of bliss
Cant keep my eyes from the circling skies
Tongue-tied and twisted just an earth-bound misfit, i

Saturday, March 10, 2007

A Fine Balance - A novel by Rohinton Mistry

This novel is the most tragic reading I have ever had. Normally I prefer not to read tragic novels or watch tragic movies. Although they depict reality, my line of argument against them has always been that we read fiction or watch movie to escape the reality. To find a quiet nook under the shed of unreal world and feel the joy of detachment from reality. But breaking my notion about sad fiction work for this book and reading it full was worth every minute I spent on it. The book is written with immensely powerful words and the author narrates the story or rather weaves the story in a splendid fashion.

The story circles around four ordinary people whose lives have been interwoven in an extra ordinary way. It is set in the backdrop of one of the blackest era of Indian History after partition – the era of Emergency in early nineteen seventies. The story flows smoothly, unfolding mundane events in the lives of these people and then goes on to unraveling the darkest tragedies possible which happen in these people’s lives. With a single factor which interconnects them – the role of Government during the Emergency time.

The author takes you on a sad ride, giving you deep insight into the events surrounding the four characters. Takes you to the innermost crux of their personalities. And gradually ends the rollercoaster ride in what can be called a zenith of tragedy.

The story reveals the dark patches in the Indian history. Issues like caste based atrocities; unjustifiable obligations enforced upon women in the society; abominable corruption in every place which eats the society like cancer; irresponsible, unreasonable and loathsome personalities of politicians; crimes committed in the name of disciplining the public during Emergency era; the human-trade; hooliganism prevailing everywhere; killings in the name of religion; political revenge and so on. The list is long. And remembering every incidence which was an indirect evidence of one such of the list makes me more uncomfortable.

Without being explicit, the author successfully conveys his disapproval of the acts committed by the government during that time. With biting sarcasm he flays those who were responsible for the calamity and catastrophic conditions which prevailed at that time. Some of the one liners are really touching. In my personal view, he holds a place as high as Oscar Wilde, though the learned critics would disapprove of any such comparison.

Without going into the nitty-gritty of evaluating the author, I would recommend this book to those who like thought provoking serious reading. Take a dive into the dark, gloomy and grief world that Rohinton Mistry recreates from the pages of history into a fiction novel.

Friday, March 09, 2007


I fear dreams. Not the dreams that I get at night. Though some of the dreams I get can certainly be called mild forms of nightmares. And I am quite used to it now. But here I am talking about the dreams one sees during the day. The dreams about our lives. Dreams of achieving something. Dreams of possessing ‘your precious’, the thing that you have always longed for, so dearly that the desire to have it starts to become a part of your life. Such dreams are dangerous. Not that they are not lovely. They always feel sweet and beautiful. When these dreams break, they leave behind a disgruntled and psychologically weakened soul.

You see pattern all around you. This behavior of fate is also like a pattern now. You dream. You work hard to achieve it. You inch forward in the direction of achieving it. It feels like it is just at the reach of your hand. You try to grab it and it disappears. Disillusioned, you are left behind.

How similar this looks to the phenomenon of bubbles. Forming in the water, growing and suddenly breaking into minute beads of water. Dreams breaking have much more lasting impact. The entire process passes through four phases. Formation, Growth, Break and Pain. Cycle repeating itself. Coming back full circle again.

As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, I take Life as a Drama on the stage of earth. God - Director of the Drama has scripted it so well and full of suspense, thrills and emotions that it actually looks more like a reel version than the real one. He entices us into dreaming. He nourishes this dream and makes us believe that it can turn into reality. And gullible us! We also start believing that. And then comes the ironical twist in the tale. The most beloved dream is hammered by a cruel blow of fate which you can’t dodge and is shattered into pieces. Leaving the dreamer distraught. Wondering what went wrong.

Wise people have always been saying, 'Never be afraid of dreaming big'. But few tell us how to react to situation when the dreams are shattered. Bertrand Russell is a wonderful raconteur. He makes us believe every word he says. He discusses handling such tormenting situations in his work 'Conquest of Happiness'. But much remains at the liberty and interpretation of the reader. And strength and determination of him.

How do I react to it? I take it as another game being played by destiny with me. I get angry, I fret, I whine and I complain to God. But then it gets over in some time. I realize that it is not that we should not complain because we are helpless. I think that we should not complain because we are here to fight against all odds. To emerge as winners. So, like a wounded tiger, I stand tall. Ready to battle against all hindrances. Take all the challenges at their face value. And show them the mettle and spirit of a fighter.

[Image Source:]

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


Coincidences have a good affection with my life. They keep popping up from nowhere. I was standing at the street, waiting for the walk-sign to turn green and I thought how would a person who can not see cross the road if there is no voice instructions? I know at some crossroads, these aides are provided and the walk-sign has voice support for the blind people. But I was thinking it should be provided at every crossroad. Nevertheless I respect this country a lot for the provision they give to the physically challenged. Parking lots, crossroads, elevators, and every other place which requires special attention to the disabled, this country has provided for it.

My purpose of this post is not to praise US government or US society for what they do. I will come to the point where I started.

Coincidentally, the moment I crossed the road and walked a few steps, I saw a small girl, aged hardly more than 10 yrs, walking with a stick along side a woman. Yes, she could not see. She was a blind kid. And yet, what moved me was the courage that was visible on her face. She was not holding that lady's hand. She was on her own, with her soul companion for the life - her stick. The lady was training her how to feel the road with the stick, how to identify the poles on the pavement, how to know where to turn and so on. And she was there, patiently listening, following instructions, asking questions innocently, without any trace of grief in her voice and with a lot of determination and strength.

This is what I call courage. Most of us get shivers at the thought of spending even a few hours in the darkness. And here, this girl who has not even seen the world properly at her age, will have to spend her whole life in the suffocating darkness. But still she has accepted the fact and now she is ready to fight the battle. Battle with the destiny that has been forced upon her.

Why did God decide to take away the most precious thing known to humans from her? The vision? Did He think that the world is so ugly that the little soul does not deserve to see it? Does it not have any other beautiful things which this little child needs to see? Is it not cruel and extremely unfair to this child?

All the complaints aside, what we all need to learn from this is that we always crib and complain about our own problems. Open your eyes and look around. People with a million times more misery than yours are living in this world. And living with pride, living with courage. They do not give up. They fight. This is what all the people, including me, need to learn. Face the challenges. Conquer them. Live life like a warrior.