What’s the WiFi Password?

June 23rd, 2120

About half the crowd was present; the other half had dialed into the funeral service via Skype. When the priest spoke, we could see the crowd’s reactions—mostly teary-eyed emojis and the occasional heart-eyed face—floating across the projector in front of us.

“Alice was beloved by all in our town. She would #ShowUp for you whenever you needed her. She was Followed by many and Liked by even more.”

The crowd solemnly nodded.

The priest dabbed his eyes. A few leaves fluttered in the trees.

“And now, let us use our devices to scan the QR Code on Alice’s gravestone. It has been programmed to direct you to her Gravebook page.”

There was a momentary shuffle as everyone pulled out a device. (A few people used the spare moment to catch up on their WhatsApp messages, too.)

“Let us bow our heads in a moment of silence as we come together as a community to click the “Like” and “Follow” buttons on Alice’s Gravebook. Please do take a few minutes to post on her page as well.”

I tapped out my condolences, adding in a few downcast emojis for good measure. Gravebook was, admittedly, one of my favorite social media platforms. As declared in its mission statement, Gravebook gave people “the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” To share memories, opinions, and life events.

And cat videos. Lots of cat videos.

Gravebook

After Following Alice’s Grave, a number of other “Suggested Graves” popped up on the bottom of the screen.

With a jolt of guilt, I realized I had forgotten Uncle Al and the family goldfish (Goldie). I quickly Followed them, hoping that no one had noticed my social faux pas.

Because they were unable to post on their own, the dead relied on Legacy Contacts to maintain their pages. Legacy Contacts were typically close family members or friends who were entrusted to post photos, monitor page traffic, and respond to friend requests for their loved ones.

Using sophisticated algorithms, Gravebook could also use the digital footprints of the deceased to generate posts on their behalf. In fact, Alice had already made her first post: “Can’t believe July is around the corner! [Sun Emoji].”

Several others—including Goldie—had liked the post.

Goldie had also posted a comment: [Blub].

After most had finished scrolling through Alice’s Gravebook, the priest began to speak again. “To commemorate this day, we shall all take a selfie—or what I like to call a gravie.”

He pulled out a selfie stick (adorned with black ribbons and a single red rose for the occasion) and clipped his device to the end.

We huddled around Alice’s gravestone.

A sea of backlit faces stared back at us.

“Bad lighting,” we chorused.

“Bad lighting, indeed” the priest echoed.

(We shuffled to the other side of the headstone.)

After the gravie was posted, shared, and liked, the priest motioned for us to return to our seats. He opened the “Heaven, Inc.” app on his device, indicating for us to do the same.

“And now, her spirit shall be released to the Cloud,” he said.

As I swiped to the app, I realized my grandparents had forgotten to take out their devices. Hands folded in their laps, they were staring up at the sky.

Strange, how they thought Heaven, Inc. existed there. I rolled my eyes. In the sky, of all places. Geez. I nudged them, pointing to my device so they could follow along.

Heaven, Inc. was a cloud-based database of souls. And it was customary to upload the soul at the end of a funeral to ensure proper preservation of the spirit.

The screen showed a picture of Alice set against a bright blue background. Together, we watched the progress bar slowly fill as her memories, thoughts, and photos entered the Cloud.

A few advertisements for flowers and coffins floated across the screen (I hadn’t yet invested in the ad-free version), but I swiftly swiped them aside.

When the bar reached 100%, a succession of angels flew across the screen. Upload complete.

By the end of the service, the sun had dipped below the horizon. Walking home, I could see the last rays of the day’s light glittering over the rolling hills.

It was beautiful. Picturesque.

Instinct made me reach for my device, but something stopped me. A slight tug, a vague sense that some moments were not meant to be Posted and Liked. Or even pictured in the first place.

The feeling had come to me on various occasions in the past as well. Though it always felt strange, I honored it nonetheless. So I let my hands settle into my pockets, the fingers of my right hand resting against the cool, black surface of my device.

Illustrated by Mahathi Gottumukkala

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Types of Craigslist Rentals

About a year ago, I was desperately searching for a room in Washington, DC. I was about to start my new job in less than three weeks—and still had not found a place to live.

A new wave of summer interns and college graduates meant the rental market was flooded. Rooms would enter and leave online listings in a matter of days or even hours.

Searching  for a place was difficult. So I decided to try a new strategy—putting up a Craigslist ad for myself and letting the rooms come to me:

“I’m a 22-year-old female looking to rent a room for a year. Starting a job as a grant writer and planning to move sometime around the end of July.”

Within minutes, my inbox was bursting with offers:

THE CLOSET

Super-duper cute room available for only $600/month! Aside from a twin-size bed, the room has a strip of 3 in x 6 ft floor (hardwood!!). Ikea hasn’t yet designed furniture thin enough to fit in this strip, but they’re working on a New Age Narrow© collection that will be released soon!

You’ll be sharing the bathroom with six other people. Please do not disturb the dozens of shampoos, conditioners, soaps, and hairsprays perched on every surface in the bathroom. We also like to have our boyfriends over, so there can be up to 12 (sometimes 13) other people here on the weekends.

Overall, we’re a clean and easygoing bunch and would love to have you on board!

The Closet

TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE

Live out your Disney Princess Dream in the heart of Washington, DC. This four-story townhouse is fully furnished and could be yours for only $800/month!

Master bedroom with private bath. Recently renovated modern kitchen comes with granite countertops, stainless-steel appliances, and state-of-the-art dishwasher. Living room includes flat-screen TV and plush carpeting. Enjoy panoramic views of the city day and night.

I’m currently out of town but would be happy to mail you the key. Please send me your Photo ID and Social Security Number.

I can be reached at ScAmMeR1993@yahoo.com

Princess

THE CREEP

I am a single gentleman looking for a female companion.
Please send me a full-length photo of yourself.

Creep

THE EXTRAS

Hi there! We’re a group of three gal pals looking to add another homie to our group. We have Family Dinners on Friday nights and go out for Mani-Pedis on the last Wednesday of every month.

We’re hosting a dinner on Friday, May 24th for those who are interested in the place. Throughout the evening, we’ll be evaluating your conversation style, jokes, and general aura.

After the dinner, select guests will be invited to a second round of one-on-one interviews. The final round will include a trip to Trader Joe’s, where you’ll be asked to select the ideal items for preparing a Gal-Pal Dinner.

Overall, we’re a super chill and easygoing group, and we think you’d fit right in!

Dress is semi-formal. Hope to see ya there!!

Gal Pals

MOVE IN TODAY!

ROOM FOR RENT: ONLY $1!!! Airport pickup provided.
Send us your credit card information so we can verify your identity, and you could move in…TODAY!

One dollar

THE TERMINALLY-ILL

Hello. I have  a beautiful house in the Columbia Heights neighborhood that is available for $800/month. I am looking for someone responsible to take care of the place and call it home. I am not sure if I should be sharing this with you, but my mother has a terrible ear infection. I am currently in North Carolina, taking care of her at the hospital.

No matter how much Jell-O the doctors give her, she just isn’t getting better. I would love to come meet you in Washington, DC but cannot leave my mother alone in this fragile state of health.

If you are interested in the place, you can wire me a security deposit of $1000 and I will mail you the key.

I would greatly appreciate getting the deposit as soon as possible. Money is tight these days, and your support could help me buy some much-needed medication for my mother. God Bless.

SIck

***

One year later, I am happy to report that I am not living in any of the above rooms. (Many of which, as you can tell, were scams and probably did not physically exist.)

I did end up finding the perfect place though. I’m not letting go of it anytime soon–but check Craigslist in a year or so, and you may just be lucky enough to stumble upon it, too.

Eleven Questions

Thank you to Padre from Padre’s Ramblings for nominating me for the Sunshine Blogger Award! As promised, here are my answers to the eleven nominee questions:

Sunshine Blogger Award

Why did you start your blog?
Many reasons. To document my Fulbright experience, both for my own memories and with the goal of sharing my thoughts with prospective Fulbright students, friends, family, and interested members of the WordPress community.

I also wanted to create a platform that would serve as a sort of in-between writing space—a place that wasn’t as informal as my journal or as formal as a college paper. Having a space to write semi-edited prose on a semi-regular basis is great. It’s motivating, doesn’t demand perfection, and welcomes experimentation.

Has it achieved what you hoped?
Yes! Before launching my blog, I set one condition: I could write about anything so long as my blog was honest, comprehensive, and diplomatic. I didn’t want my posts to create the illusion that life was perfect. Neither did I want to fixate on the challenges of teaching/living in India, forgetting to acknowledge all the wonderful, sometimes unexpected, joys of my experience.

I definitely struck this balance throughout my posts. Blogging also inspired me to try my hand at satire, book reviews, and flash fiction—genres that I never imagined writing in before.

Blogs are notorious for being difficult to keep up. (I know because I’ve started and discontinued at least two.)

What role does faith play in your life?
A difficult question. I do believe that there are forces in the universe that we may never understand. I am Jain, and I appreciate how my religion (along with other religions) can play a powerful and important role in creating stability, discipline, hope, honesty, community, and much more. However, I can’t say that I believe in God.

Would you rather be an important person or a respected one?
Important. Better to do things that count rather than to only be liked. But I’d have a difficult time believing that I was important if nobody respected me. Hate to admit it but I am the kind of person who needs the approval of at least a few people to believe that what I’m doing is worthwhile.

What things are the most important in a friendship?
Honest conversations, laughter, forgiveness. Growth.

What is your favorite film?
Nothing comes to mind. I don’t think I watch enough movies to have a favorite.

And what is your favorite book?
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. 

If you had to give up the book or the movie, which would it be?
The movie! Why is this even a question?

What recipe brings back childhood memories?
Rajma and rice, mixed together in a single white bowl. Rajma is a popular North Indian dish made out of red kidney beans in a thick gravy.

What would be willing to risk for one you love?
Umm…anything? I don’t think there’s any other way to answer this question.

Here are my nominees for the Sunshine Blogger award:
Call a Rose a Rose
Only100 Words
Jane Dougherty Writes
Still Loved…Still Missed…
Ashley O’Melia
The Midnight Ember
V Ramasamy: A Globetrotter
The Dark Netizen
Fatima Fakier Fiction Writing
A Writer’s Path
Educated Unemployed Indian

Here are the questions:

  1. Why did you start your blog?
  2. How has your blog/writing style evolved over time?
  3. Describe some of the things that are on (or in) your desk right now. Anything special?
  4. What are three things in your fridge right now?
  5. Describe a fond memory from your childhood.
  6. Describe your hometown.
  7. What’s your favorite way to spend the weekend?
  8. Who are your role models?
  9. What are your pet peeves?
  10. What advice would you give o your younger self?
  11. If you could write the name for a new Crayola crayon, what would it be?

And here are the rules for nominees:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you and link back to their blog.
  2. Answer the questions.
  3. Nominate 11 other bloggers for the award and ask them 11 new questions.
  4. Notify nominees by commenting on one of their blog posts.
  5. List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger award logo on your post or site.

Hiding

Hiding

“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?”

I hung the painting between a sketch of a snow-filled alley and a watercolor print. “Trust me, no one looks in the obvious places.”

Sidney glanced nervously over her shoulder. Then she stepped back, quickly lifting up her camera to take a photo. “Just in case,” she said. She snapped the shutter closed. “Let’s hurry. Ella’s train will be here any minute.”

Inspired by Sonya’s #3LineTales at Only100Words. Interested in writing your own three lines? Here’s the original prompt. Happy three-lining!

Unmoored

SOS

Eyes sunken in, hair matted with salt, skin taut against our bones–Ella and I must have looked a sight. It seemed like ages ago that we were lounging on the beach, painting our nails and comparing summer reading lists.

I had put Life of Pi on mine but, given the present circumstances, I figured I could probably cross that one off.

Inspired by Sonya’s #3LineTales at Only100Words. Interested in writing your own three lines? Here’s the original prompt. Happy three-lining!

Yes, You Can End a Sentence with a Preposition

Part memoir, part linguistic escapade, Kory Stamper’s Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries (2017) is a must-read for anyone who is interested in exploring the stories behind the quirks of the English language.

A lexicographer at Merriam-Webster, Stamper takes readers behind-the-scenes of the editorial process and the history of the dictionary industry. Her style is particularly engaging because she dives deep into the intricacies of the English language, yet expertly keeps her writing light and relatable.

Word by Word

Throughout each chapter, Stamper’s sprachgefühl, or “feeling for language,” is our trusty companion, bounding along with us as she debates the merits of words ranging from “its” to “irregardless.”

She affectionately refers to her sprachgefühl as a both a playful imp and a slippery eel–an inner voice that nudges her in different directions yet remains somewhat out of reach.

Still, she trusts it. It’s the reason she decided to work at Merriam-Webster, and it’s what compels her to always be on the lookout for new words or, more often, new usage patterns of old words. Think “Google” shifting from being a noun to being both a noun and a verb. Or how “like” (which used to mean “body”) gave rise to “likely” and “likewise” and is now a marker of hesitation or, like, a common filler word.

Word by Word is unlike any other book I’ve read on language. It gives readers a behind-the-scenes look at how simple words, like “surfboard” can take an entire working day to define and even simpler words (like “take” or “to”) can take weeks to define.

Merriam-Webster

Editors at Merriam-Webster don’t have office phones. (Too noisy.) So they communicate through email and handwritten notes.

 Throughout the book, Stamper also sprinkles witty includes anecdotes about her life as a Merriam-Webster employee. She jokes without restraint about the bland coffee, disorganized filing system, and the contrast between the bubbly sales department and the severely introverted lexicographers.

What I found most fascinating about Word by Word was Stamper’s discussion of how lexicographers at Merriam-Webster scavenge for usage patterns. Tracking word usage–or “reading and marking”–involves underlining words and the context that surrounds them so that you can determine how the words are used and what they mean.

This involves not only pouring over periodicals like Car and Driver, TIme, and Christianity Today, but also snagging language from all corners of life–including cereal boxes, road signs, shampoo bottles, and concert programs–to read and mark for word usage.

Sometimes the lexicographers at Merriam-Webster simply mark words that strike them as relevant; other times, they are tasked with marking every third or fifth word to ensure that no words are glazed over.

“We think of English as a fortress to be defended, but a better analogy is to think of English as a child. We love and nurture it into being, and once it gains gross motor skills, it starts going exactly where we don’t want it to go….We can tell it to clean itself up and act more like Latin; we can throw tantrums and start learning French instead. But we will never really be the boss of it. And that’s why it flourishes.”

–Kory Stamper, Word by Word

This process illustrates that English, like any language, is always in flux. And, often times, the grammatical rules we enforce are arbitrary. They have no foundation in logic but, Stamper writes, were simply “of-the-moment preferences of people who have had the opportunity to get their opinions published and whose opinions end up being reinforced and repeated down the ages as Truth.”

Ever been told that you can’t end a sentence with a preposition? That rule was arbitrarily established by England’s first Poet Laureate, John Dryden.

John Dryden

John Dryden. Seems kind of pompous, doesn’t he?

Dryden worshipped Latin grammar. He would often write a sentence in English, rewrite it in Latin, and then rewrite it again in English. The result was an English sentence that had Latin grammar. And, in Latin, prepositions cannot be placed at the end of a sentence.

The rule has been reinforced over centuries and now, to some, is Unbreakable Law. But as Stamper points out, using the terminal preposition is perfectly acceptable in English and was being used by writers more than five hundred years before Dryden was even born.

The perfect blend of linguistics, history, and wry humor, Stamper’s Word by Word is guaranteed to have you questioning and analyzing their own use of language. And, if you have sprachgefühl, you may just find yourself taking a second look at that cereal box, scribbling down a conversation you overheard on the bus, or maybe even inventing a few words of your own.

Applying for the Fulbright ETA

Hello friends!

Once again, application season is upon us. I’ve been getting some emails about the Fulbright ETA application process, so I thought I’d dedicate a post to answering some of the most frequently asked questions.

The answers to the following questions are based on conversations I had with people from India’s Fulbright committee, fellowship/scholarship advisors, and ETAs from my cohort.

But first, a word about Fulbright.

From my experience, Fulbright Scholars are incredibly normal people. The ETA program has a way of making itself sound very prestigious when, in reality, it’s really just a group of people interested in learning about the world and wondering if they can teach English in another country.

It’s likely that the program is more within your reach than you think it is. Of course, some countries are more competitive than others. So make sure you have genuine reasons for applying to a particular country and that you can eloquently (and succinctly) describe them in your application.

Many random factors outside your control determine your acceptance. For example, If a school is looking for a creative writing teacher and you’re the only applicant with a background in creative writing, it’s likely that you will be accepted.

I was initially waitlisted. Several people declined the grant, and, because I was relatively high on the waitlist, I was accepted.

All in all, it’s important to remember that winning the grant (or not winning it) doesn’t validate or invalidate your accomplishments and potential to succeed.

What does the Fulbright committee look for in an ETA? How can I prepare a strong application?
A strong application really hits all the Fulbright buzz words–mainly things along the lines of “being a cultural ambassador,” “building bridges between communities,” and “cultural exchange.”

You don’t necessarily need to have all of those specific phrases in your application, but your essays should focus on why those themes are important to you and how they relate to your life.

Writing about why you’re drawn to a country and how the experience fits into your career plan is also important. (No worries if you don’t have a career plan. I didn’t have one when I applied, so I just made something up.)

The idea is to write a few sentences showing the committee that you intend for this experience to be part of a larger, overarching goal. They won’t chase you down if you don’t follow through with it.

What else can I do to increase my chances of being accepted?
Write concisely and avoid cliches. Also, don’t be afraid of rewriting your essays and double-triple checking every sentence. I did major rewrites of my drafts several times. Also, it always helps to have someone from your university’s writing center review your essays.

The application asks me to write about an extracurricular activity that I’m going to lead outside school. What should I write about?
Anything. Literally anything. It doesn’t have to be super creative, fancy, or unique–just something that aligns with your interests and the needs/culture of the community you’re going to serve. The committee doesn’t expect you to follow-up with the activity you propose.

I didn’t major in English. Can I still be an ETA?
Yes! There were many people in my cohort who had backgrounds in science, engineering, and the social sciences. Only a handful of us had majored in English/Communications.

I don’t want to be a teacher or work in education. Can I still be an ETA?
Yes! The committee is not solely interested in accepting people who want to pursue careers in education. Being an ETA gives you skills and experiences that can be useful in virtually any career. Only a few people from my cohort of 24 were interested in education.

Does the committee discriminate against applicants of Indian origin?
No. Your ethnicity is not a factor in your application. The committee members I spoke to said they don’t have a preference for Indians/non-Indians.

What they don’t like is if you are of Indian origin and it seems like:
a) You’re applying to go to India to see your family, or;
b) You want to “reconnect with your roots”

In my application, I explicitly stated that I’ve been to India several times before and that I’d like to use this fellowship as an opportunity to explore a different part of India.

Do you have suggestions for other, similar fellowships I can apply for?
If you want to volunteer in India, I suggest applying for the American India Foundation William J. Clinton Fellowship. The application is typically available in October. You can read more about the experience on the AIF Clinton blog.

This FAQ post is an attempt to answer some of the most commonly asked questions about the Fulbright-Nehru ETA program. The above answers do not necessarily apply to all countries.

If you have additional questions, email me at sushmita.gelda@gmail.com.

You can also view the answers to these questions my visiting my FAQ page.

 

Between the Colors

The following guest post was written by Mahathi Gottumukkala. Mahathi is a confused, floundering “recent” graduate of the University of Buffalo (it’s been two years since she graduated with an Economics major and English minor). She likes to tell herself she’s just still exploring and adventurous. She loves to read and write and blogs very intermittently at Thoughts and Whimsies.

When I read Nanu’s post on reverse culture shock, it all came rushing back. The strange disorientation. The weightless feeling, as if in a dream. The familiar faces and places that seemed suddenly alien.

As I stepped off the plane in India, a fresh college graduate, I tried to understand that this was really it. That I was home for good.

I wouldn’t be returning to college and currently had no plans to return to the US. There would be no frantic rush to enroll in classes or get my I-20 signed. The future was upon me.

In the sparsely populated city of Buffalo, it was easy to romanticize the “colorful chaos” of India. It had never occurred to me that I wouldn’t fit right back in at home, that it would be difficult to find people I could relate to.

Reality was…a bit different from what I remembered.

It had been nearly two years since I’d come home. As I stepped onto the cold marble floors of my apartment, I began to feel anxious. I’d forgotten how high up I lived. I felt as if I were floating in space. But it was only the seventh floor, and I’d lived in apartments all my life.

I only vaguely registered the warm, joyful poster my mother had made to welcome me home.

Daytime came and I found myself picking out faults at home that I’d never registered before.

Communities were disjointed and insular—separated by class yet often living only a compound wall or window apart from each other.

You could live life in a bubble of privilege and travel in a fancy car while streets upon streets of poor people stared at you. After a while, the humanity and life around you subsides to white noise.

The dusty hot glass and concrete–relieved only by a few struggling, straggling trees–mocked my isolation and my urban servitude. I missed the open spaces, lakes and lawns of Buffalo like crazy.

There were other things. The concepts of privacy and personal space were non-existent.

The jostling queues and the way the person in front of you lets the swinging door hit you on the face. The complete lack of shame in pointed, intrusive inquiries and unsolicited opinions from someone you haven’t spoken with in years.

How did your parents afford to send you to the US? Wouldn’t it be better if they had sent you for your Master’s degree? Do you really think the Return on Investment is worth it?

 These are all questions I’ve received.  

And everyone stares.

This is a country of starers. I never noticed before because I’m usually absent-minded and pre-occupied, but people look at you as if you’re the next installment of Game of Thrones.

They tell you, point-blank, that you’re dark or fat or prone to acne. In fact, the first thing they do when they see you is comment on your physical appearance—whether you’ve lost or gained weight, become fairer or darker, etc., etc.

And, suddenly, you become hyper-aware that every aspect of your person is being judged. You begin to fear that, if you don’t answer their intrusive questions, you might be thought stuck-up.

I felt torn and guilty. I was dismayed by how much I missed the US, especially since I’d always been clear about coming back to India. But the reality of India—a landscape peopled with contradictions and challenges—was difficult to comprehend.

The process of readjustment was gradual and my understanding of the nuances and contours evolved throughout.

There are—of course—good things about India. The flip side of the loss of space is the warmth and a sense of community. You can feel it everywhere you go. People are hospitable and—while they sometimes cross boundaries—they are also quick to make you feel at home.

In the US, there’s something like a cult of individuality. People are too polite. They guard space and privacy so fiercely that it’s difficult to form the same informal and relaxed friendships that I have in India.

I love Indian classical music and dance and our beautiful, majestic history. And the country’s endless contrasts and ceaseless complexity pull me in, compelling me to understand and find answers.

After all, nowhere else could ever really be home.

Interested in guest blogging for Aksharbet?  Visit our Write for Us page and send your submissions to sushmita.gelda@gmail.com.