Thursday, December 18, 2008

Promises of a Jane Fonda body on a common man’s budget? Oh those sneaky...

We are less than two weeks shy of the New Year. Most people, with a reasonable emotional quotient, take out some time from their lives to reflect upon the past year. I call this period the “epiphany phase”. What went wrong or what worked for them? Are there ways they could alleviate the stress in their forthcoming year? Etc. etc. etc. This bedlam stage for a common man is a marketer’s dream come true moment.

The other day, a good friend of mine and I were chatting about our respective holiday plans when she casually enquired if I had worked on any New Year resolutions. I was like “What? Are you kidding me?” An obsessive-compulsive planner like me thrives on the opportunity to make a commitment for 365 days. Every 31st December, by midnight, I make a promise to myself, which I never reveal to anyone until the goal is achieved. Even then, a chosen few hear about my infamous New Year resolutions and their success and failure rate. As the year progresses, I diligently mentally check off “All achieved” and highlight “Here’s what’s pending,” and mourn over “Damn it! Need to carry it over to next year,” list. Of course, for the triumphant execution of my goals, I seek certain worldly assistance in terms of goods and services. For instance, if one of my goals was to work on my writing skills, the service I would seek would be a writing class or a workshop.

Up until last morning, I thought I was all alone in my fanaticism until I got a note from a friend. He has made a list of 101 things that he wants to achieve in 1001 days. The list involves a variety of to-do-list—right from exploring out vegetarianism for a defined period of time to trying out Indian cuisine to participating in a race to properly managing his money. I was intrigued. A lot of his resolutions resonated with mine (I am still not telling what my goals are for the New Year), and we have never talked about what each of us wants to achieve in 2009. Hmmm. This can’t be just a coincidence.

I personally believe that we humans share a common platform for core issues. Be it money, health, career, personal life etc., the foundation of existence is defined by a few items. Sure, it might take different shapes depending on individual needs and wants. For example, this is the time of the year when people lose amour-propre. Thanks to all the holiday parties and living-in-the-moment spirit, some gain obvious amounts of weight which triggers the feeling of guilt about abusing their system with unwarranted amounts of solids and liquid, so they make goals to improve/enhance something about their lives. Voila! This is where the successful marketer creeps in like Santa Claus and helps bridge the gap between the human desire/guilt/goal/New Year resolution—(give it whatever name you like) and the product/service that would ensure the execution of the wish. For instance, most health clubs in New York City have phenomenal sales in the month of January. Before you know it, people get suckered into the deal with dreamy eyes and a culpable conscience.

Another example: A lot of people I know have career-oriented goals for the New Year. So, do you remember seeing the “Oh so alluring” deals on laptops at the beginning of every year? Who do you think they cater to? How about the $0 down payment on a new home theatre system?

We humans are predictable to quite some extent and companies are getting better at targeted marketing. I have been receiving invites to free One-day writing workshops in the month of January. Gee, I wonder how that happened.

The marketers know enough people have some form of self enhancement as a goal and so prey onto the nucleus of human weaknesses. They know most would probably fall right into their trap as what the marketers are doing, is providing that connective tissue between the “desiree” and the “desired”. Maybe marketers do get a carte blanche around this time of the year. I wish I could say, “Watch out,” but I am one of those professionals myself trying to make a living in this tough world. C'est la vie

More until next time.

Copyright © 12.18.2008

“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone elses opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” – Oscar wilde

Thursday, December 11, 2008

This Holiday Season

This holiday season, I see
solitude roam the streets
of New York instead of
awestruck, cackling tourists
sipping steaming cappuccino.

This holiday season, I hear
budgets, complaints, woes,
louder than any prayers
music, or wishes. Is sound
exploring its new destiny?

This holiday season, I sense
Santa and his elves will be
making fewer stops. The
wishes made and cookies
baked are incomprehensible.

This holiday season, stores
have more ghosts than
people. The rustling of the
clothes sound like harsh
trampling of holiday hopes.

This holiday season, I hear
families coming closer, hearts
healing, echo of true feelings
because holidays are about
cherishing what you have
and not what’s missing.

More until next time.

Copyright © 12.11.2008

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Deciphering the rising emotions

I know. The heinous terrorist attacks on Mumbai happened a week ago, and maybe like the indifferent Indian politicians, I should let go. But I can’t. Not until I share what I have been thinking, hearing, and debating. The Indian world is upsurge with emotions: anger, depression, shock, frustration, resentment, and melancholy.

I see fingers being pointed and defensive arguments occupying our daily conversations. Most of the world, not privy to the historic religion-based chaos in South Asia, fails to understand the ongoing sentiments. I am a big believer in the political faux pas brought about by Gandhi (notice how I deliberately didn’t add “ji” to his name. In my eyes, he lost all respect the day I figured out the history of Indian independence), Nehru, and Jinnah. For their own ulterior, selfish motives, they divided the nation. They are dead, and look at what the rest of us are facing.

The next day after the attacks, a very dear Pakistani friend of mine called to check on me—to see if my family and I were alright and if everything was fine between him and I. He knows I am emotional and just wanted to make sure. I told him blatantly that I wish I was an Indian commando saving lives, and I suspect his government (if you heard the interview with one of the terrorist, you would too) but not every Pakistani citizen. He is a friend first. His faith and nation don’t make a difference to me. I am no God’s gift to mankind, and I am definitely not trying to toot my own horn, but I wonder if everyone thought my way—just for that day. I doubt it. Few of my Muslim friends, Indian and Pakistani alike, have faced prejudice after every terrorist attacks. These are moderate, peace-loving (like the rest of us) Muslims, who are adorned with suspicious looks just because of the extremists from their realm of faith. Mumbai Muslims have refused to bury the body of the terrorists in their cemetery. How much more they need to prove?

Having said all of the above, but I also understand that in times of calamity, we humans look for an anchor. Someone to pass on the blame on to. Education, sensibility, reasoning, and rationale break all humane boundaries. Sikhs were targeted after Indira Gandhi’s assassination, Hindus were targeted after Babri Masjid havoc, Arabs and Arab looking men were targeted in the US after 9/11. Were these hate crimes justified? I personally denounce them. The entire community shouldn’t have to pay for the few miscreants.

The other day, someone asked me, “Why does the Indian government denounce Pakistan?” I said, “Why did the American government mispronounce Iraq as Eye-rack and blame it for trouble everywhere?” It is my belief that India doesn’t refer to Pakistani citizens when it holds Pakistan accountable for these crimes; it condemns the Pakistani government’s support of terrorism or harboring of terrorists. It is similar to the American government’s stance on Afghanistan and Iraq. I don’t think the US holds every Afghanistani or Iraqi responsible for mayhem in the world; just the government’s supporting it.

So, where am I going with this blog? I don’t know. I want answers from the Indian politicians. The CM of Maharsthra then, Vilasrao Deshmukh, never once consoled the people of Mumbai, but soon after things calmed down, he was seen entering the Taj along with his actor son, Ritesh Deshmukh and producer/director, Ram Gopal Varma. That’s when I get angry and shocked. I am frustrated with the Indian media’s unprofessional portrayal of India and their insolent coverage. Amazing, TAJ hotel got maximum reporting because the rich and the famous hangout there while CST was conveniently ignored. Poor lives don’t matter as much as the socialites of Mumbai? The Indian commandos who died in the line of duty, I salute them, and I truly believe India is honored by their martyrdom. But I feel melancholic that the few Indian officials, who cared, are now deceased.

It makes me proud that New Yorkers haven’t forgotten or forgiven 9/11 or the lives lost that day. Our desi “It’s okay,” attitude and tendency to forget isn’t acceptable anymore. Resilience is one thing; callousness towards human life is another. Just because you didn’t lose a dear one in the Mumbai attacks, doesn’t give you the right to accept and move on. Every single day of our lives, we should remember what happened to Mumbai and to the brave hearts that died saving it. This would honor the lives lost and perhaps make us stronger and less vulnerable as a nation.

Without killing, it’s time we Indian citizens took matters in our own hands and showed some solidarity. We should focus on the bigger picture—the safety and security of our future because clearly our incompetent government won’t do anything about it. You’d think the parliament bombing in 2001 and 2002 would have taught them something. But has it?

More until next time.

Copyright © 12.04.2008

"The mind is everything. What you think you become.” Buddha

Thursday, November 27, 2008

What the Mumbai attacks taught me this Thanksgiving

Today is Thanksgiving, one of the most popular American holidays where people spend time with the family and cook an elaborate meal. Every family has its own ritual. Aside from gormandizing on the delectable Thanksgiving spread prepared by my husband’s aunt in Maryland, I follow another ritual for this holiday. Every year, I take out moments out of my chaotically busy schedule to create, at least a mental list, of things I am thankful for. My list usually represents a flavorful mix of serious (the publishing of my first book of poems, Pabulum; my wonderful family and friends; the birth of our beautiful niece, Noyonika; the new, Democratic President –elect in the White House etc.) and comic (Sarah Palin’s existence: Saturday Night Live wouldn’t be as much fun without her; Priyanka Chopra’s devotion to Bollywood despite her esoteric choice in movies and series of flops etc.) points.

I am a creature of habit. Until last afternoon, I had my Oscar list ready that read, “I am thankful for ……” but the heinous attacks in Mumbai, India changed everything.

Call me selfish, but in moments of panic, we all think first of our dear ones. I am thankful to God that my friends and family are safe. I am thankful that I cherish life—both others and mine. I have a heart that is human unlike these coward terrorists who callously kill innocent people and are nonchalant about their own death. And, for what? I am thankful that my parents gave me the right values, so I am not blinded by skin color or religion, but can you imagine the hate wave such situations create? To quote my friend S, “They r making it difficult for moderate Muslims to live with any respect!” I am thankful I don’t use culture and traditions as an explanation for every mistake I make. I am thankful I am aptly educated so no one can convince me that killing others is the path to nirvana. I am thankful that I have a mind that seeks answers. But mostly, I am thankful that Mumbai is a resilient city. India will emerge stronger even after these attacks. There is nothing stopping us!

But I am fuming because the Indian army is still planning its next move. What? 20-hours of non-stop violence hasn’t given the government enough time and reason to plan strategy! The terrorists have broken into homes in Colaba and taken people hostage.

One of my best friend’s cousin was caught in the firing at Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus and lost her kid for sometime. She and her family are fine and at home now, but her trauma is indescribable. One of our relatives, like most others in South Bombay, heard the gun firings and mistook them for firecrackers. I understand we are a country of over 1 billion people, but that doesn’t make our lives are any less precious! I want to see Indian government officials at the scenario assuring people--the way ex-New York mayor, Giuliani took charge on 9/11. I want answers like the rest of Indians. How did these miscreants enter luxury hotels with all that ammunition? What happened to the security?

In a heated debate, I was told that the Americans like to exaggerate situations, and so everything is blown out of proportion when some calamity strikes the US. I say, maybe so, but seeing the SWAT team, FBI, cops, and marines makes me feel safe. I need to know that my life matters. Who is making Mumbaites feel safe now? Definitely not the politicians watching the drama from the comfort of their own homes.

This Thanksgiving, I urge you all to cherish your near and dear ones. We live in a volatile, unpredictable world.

More until next time.


Copyright © 11.27.2008

Gratitude is the memory of the heart. ~Jean Baptiste Massieu

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Over summer of 2008, my brother along with my sister-in-law and two adorable nieces visited us in New York. Of course I am biased, and like any aunt, think my nieces are the cutest things on Earth. That said, I have to say that their visit was philosophically memorable on many levels.

One day, my parents, brother and his family, and I went to Dylan’s candy bar. For those of you who don’t know, Dylan’s is a candy paradise in New York City. It’s like the Disneyland of candies. Anyways, we got inside the store and sure enough, my nieces went on a sugar high by smelling the sweetness in the air. My brother suggested to the two girls that I would allot a number and they could pick only those many numbers of candies. I was expecting a little whining, but the two of them agreed readily. After fervently exploring the store, they came and told me what they wanted—mind you, with the exact number of items, per person, we had decided upon. I was amazed. The experience is permanently etched in my memory.

Later that afternoon, my husband joined us at the candy store. Of course, he indulges them more than I do (I have a disciplinary matron inside of me, who doesn’t let the kids get away with anything and everything, which he lacks). Anyway, he asked the two of them what they wanted. Our younger niece, with the purest heart, untainted soul, and incredibly eloquent vocabulary, said,“Thank you phupha (phupha means uncle in Hindi). We are done for this time. Next time when you bring us, I’ll pick up more.” She was not even six at the time. My husband and I were both flabbergasted. Since when did kids start saying “No” to candy?

That evening, my husband said something extremely pertinent. “It’s unbelievable how content the two girls are.” He was right. I jogged down memory lane. There were times when I offered them chocolate chip cookies (every kid’s guilty pleasure), and they declined if they were full. The younger one’s savoir-vivre is incredible! Her, “No, thank you,” is affirmative yet polite. In a world bombarded with junk, these girls knew when they wanted to say no. My heart swelled with pride. The credit does go to my brother and sister-in-law for giving their daughters the best, but I want to give equal acknowledgement to the little girls for their contented hearts.

Between their visit and today, six months have passed. A lot has changed in that time frame--from America electing its first African American president to ghosts roaming the corridors of Wall Street to the market tanking in Asia and Europe, to marriages breaking over financial discord to people relocating to Neverland, finding a job, and feeding their families. The core of the problem has been human dissatisfaction with what they have—be it the mortgage giants, Wall Street icons, or people like you and I.

With people losing their jobs and families having to scale back on their lifestyle, relationships have a new dynamic and meaning today—especially the ones built only on materialism. I have heard of women whining and asking their husbands when they could move back to their Park Avenue mansions from their average “like-everyone-else’s home.” Really? My six and a half-year old niece has more compassion. She understands good and bad times. When your own spouse lacks the empathy in bad times, whom do you turn to? You await coup de grâce. Reading about adults acting like imbeciles and making superfluous demands makes me all the more appreciative of my nieces’ gratification.

In these tough times, along with the right sense of humor, what gets you through the day is contentment. When my husband asked me the other day, “What do you want to do for the anniversary?” I said, “If we have a job until then, we’ll go to a nice restaurant for a meal; if we get laid off, we’ll order in.” Just knowing in your heart that aside from your basics, joie de vivre shouldn’t be measured based on materialism, gives you a good perspective on bad times.

More until next time.

Copyright © 11.20.2008

"I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best." - Oscar Wilde

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Does media “shape” our lives?

There is nothing more humbling for a writer than reviewing their own inscription and saying, “I stand corrected today.” Okay, before the post gets anymore esoteric, let the confessions begin.

When I was doing my masters at Columbia University, in one of the classes, we discussed the role of media in our day-to-day lives. One of the debates was whether media and fast food chains had conspired together to add to the growing obesity epidemic. The common belief was that enticing people with scrumptious food, was the sinister teams’ collaborative, insidious effort and essentially immoral.

At that time, as a marketer, I thought the accusation was blasphemous. We, as humans, need to take responsibility for our own actions. Media does its job of spreading the word; we need to take the messages with a pinch of salt and do ours. Just because the Burger King Ad make fries look like food of the Gods and the zesty salad from Taco Bell shows lettuce crisper than a cotton sari, doesn’t mean you have to go out and get some. How about the resolve to refrain from it? Also, in the larger scheme of things, both media and the fast food chain are trying to make a buck. Aren’t we all, so why this brouhaha about morality?

I attributed the problem of portliness to change in lifestyle: frankly, kids these days are couch potatoes with an insatiable desire for junk; with both parents working, there isn’t always time to cook a fresh meal (fast food is still quick and inexpensive); and, there is the culpability factor, where working parents try to compensate for their absence by fulfilling their kids’ demands--however inane they might be. All the sanctimonious souls, who blame the media for being the wrongful influencer, need to toughen up and act like adults.

Two and a half years later, with the outcome of the US elections, I stand corrected. I think differently about the role of media in our lives. We saw history being made and don’t tell me media didn’t have a hand in it. The 44th President-elect, Barack Obama, the nation’s heartthrob literally, was the first African American to get elected as the President of the United States of America.

As a marketer, I feel, Obama did a magnificent job of reaching out to his target audience. His positioning and messaging were impeccable. Like the Apple brand (by the way, I am a proud member of the Apple cult), Obama found out what people wanted and where they were. He then strategically used the media as his messenger. Obama’s campaign promised change. Even though change means different things to different people, change is what significant number of Americans and the world wanted. One of the political gurus on Anderson Cooper’s Show said, “Obama married the Internet.” He hit the nail on the head. Every time I went online, be it Facebook or email or a news website, there he was, promising change.

My nine-year old precocious niece in Singapore, who has one of the most beautiful minds, was ecstatic with Obama’s triumph. Apparently, even prior to November 4th, US elections were what she and her friends discussed. She knows Obama’s children’s names and age. Well, she also knows why Elvis meant the world to Hawaiians, but we’ll let that be for now (remember, astuteness is her middle name). I was shocked! Seriously? Politics? But, what happened to playing with Barbie or nurse-doctor? Anyway, when I told her that Obama was a Columbia alumni, I sensed pride in her tone. I said, “Why are you pro-Obama?” Her response, “I don’t know. I just like him.”

Sure she likes him. The biased media portrayed Obama as a messiah of change, and boom, he had a global fan following. Even my parents and friends in India can’t stop raving about Obama’s warm smile and personality even though his foreign policies might actually hurt them. Obama strategically used the right media to reach the right audience for the right purposes. Media did influence people’s decision-making capabilities. Was that moral? If I am not wrong, didn’t Washington Post get heat for its biased reporting?

If I revere Obama’s marketing capabilities and the role of media in his success, how can I reject how powerful media is in encouraging that walk to the fast food store when you are hungry or bored? Children and adults alike are impressionable. The degrees may vary. How much moral liability should media take, is a whole other question.

What do you think? Do you believe in Graham Greene’s, “Media is just a word that has come to mean bad journalism?” or “Advertising is the greatest art form of the twentieth century,” Marshall Mcluhan.

More until next time.

Copyright © 11.13.2008

“There are only two forces that can carry light to all the corners of the globe... the sun in the heavens and the Associated Press down here”--Mark Twain

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Vote for Change!

Let me start by saying that I was ecstatic to find a seat on the subway this morning. It meant people were out voting. At the last elections, only 38% of Americans voted. You might think the numbers are appalling low, but that’s the average turnaround. However, today people are expected to show up in record numbers to vote. People want change, and they see hope for that change. Whatever be the outcome, I believe, life as we know it will change forever after 2008 presidential elections.

I live in New York, so most people I know have either already voted for Obama or will by the end of the day today. My coworkers have literally built an “Obama Temple” at work. I know many friends, coworkers, and family members will shed tears of ecstasy tonight if Obama wins. A couple of (closeted) Republicans I know get snide remarks. I don’t think people dislike McCain; they look down upon his choice for vice-presidential candidate—the only and only, Sarah Palin. The more I read and find out about her, the more I fight the urge to hurl. Polls show that she is hurting McCain. Why am I not surprised! Not to forget, McCain is a republican and so is George Bush. Go figure! My friend’s wife said, “I am not crazy about either Obama or McCain. I have had enough of republicans. I want change.” So, it’s not just about the candidate, but it’s about the political parties too.

When one of my coworkers asked me who I would vote for, here is what I said, “A candidate with Obama’s charisma, McCain’s experience, Hillary’s background and Sarah Palin’s looks.” Jokes aside, if I could, I would vote for a candidate not based on his or her popularity but on the issues they stand for and the principles they believe in. I would vote for hope and change and life. Most importantly, the candidate and I would need to belong to the same belief system. Hero-worshipping a sportsperson or an actor is one thing; being blindly mesmerized by a presidential candidate opens up unwarranted cans of worms.

So, yes, I am ready for change: Change in economy, change in how America is perceived by the rest of the world, change in the way human lives are valued, and change in how I feel every morning. I, like several others, am tired of feeling anxious all the time. I want to wake up one morning and not have to worry. At this point, I desperately need a change.

More until next time.

Copyright © 11.04.2008

“Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.”-- John Quincy Adams

Thursday, October 30, 2008

What’s with the pleasantries?

In summer of 2007, one of my aunt and uncle visited us in New York. Over breakfast on a Saturday morning, as I gave my husband my share of samosa and thanked him for it, my uncle questioned the needless gratitude. He pointed out something pertinent. “You over use thanks.” He wasn’t far from the truth. If I was the one giving away my share, what was I being thankful for? It’s not that my husband expected a “thanks” from me. Did I just say it without thinking because politeness is pointlessly engrained in me (and most of us desis)? End of the day, we are all creatures of habit.

The philosopher in me took my uncle’s comment to another level of introspection and interrogation. I started analyzing our desi “verbal exchanges” under a microscope.

So, I was in India two weeks ago. Okay, I truly believe that Asian hospitality and services are probably the best in the world. In an airplane, the food, the service, the crew is truly there to serve you. Even in economy class, you are treated like borderline royalty. But, there is that problem of unrequited social graciousness—passengers don’t always listen to the flight crew’s directives.

Here is what happened: In a three-seater in front of me, a family of four was seated; a man refused to wear his seat belt; despite repeated reminders, majority on the people in the plane switched on their cell phones just as the plane landed in New Delhi from Mumbai and the list goes on. It’s not like the flight attendants didn’t verbalize the instructions. So, why did these passengers completely disregard them? One of them first apologized and then literally begged a passenger to remove her luggage from the overhead cabin due to her baggage size. The passenger replied in the negative and suggested the stewardess move it herself. I remember thinking, “You do this in New York, and FBI agents will greet you in an unpleasant way.” Anyway, the stewardess lugged the heavy baggage awkwardly out of the overhead locker and hauled it in front of the passenger’s seat and ended her statement with a “sorry.”

I believe that the flight attendants in some way are like marines—simmering with poise and eloquence. Not obeying their orders isn’t an option. They could take you down for endangering the safety of the crew or fellow passengers. I don’t think I felt that confident energy on the flight. As a result, in their deranged and unique ways, all of these passengers jeopardized the wellbeing of people onboard. Needless to say, my sense of safety, on a scale of 1 to 10, was about zero at this point.

Here is the problem from my perspective: right from the time the flight attendants made the announcements to the time they asked people to remain seated until the flight reached the tarmac, there was no authority in their voice. They were beseeching people. C’mon, hospitality is one thing but desperate urging is a different issue. The flight crew shouldn’t be apologetic about doing their jobs.

My uncle was right; us desis are too quick to let words like sorry, thanks, and please flow out of our mouths -- even when not required. This can be misconstrued as a weakness. Nothing wrong with being gracious, but to my uncle’s point, it should be time and action appropriate. Politeness can overkill. On a deeper level, do we mean any of these pleasantries as we use them or is it just another item on our list of socially approved behavior or maybe a mode to avoid confrontation?

More until next time.

Copyright © 10.30.2008

“How clever you are, my dear! You never mean a single word you say.” --Oscar wilde

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Taking the good with the bad…

Sorry about missing last week’s blog post. I was in India and had minimum access to the internet. Thank you for all the emails enquiring about the skipped post. This trip in particular was an enriching experience.

Right before I left for India, my brother visited us from Singapore. Over Dussehra meal, we got nostalgic and talked about India. He said something pertinent. “The foreigners take the good with the bad when they visit India; it’s desis who throw tantrums.” I couldn’t agree with him more. My American friends, who have traveled to India, expressed their unease with the slums in Mumbai and the free-roaming monkeys in New Delhi, but in the same breath, praised the country for its food, energy, culture, warmth, and people.

I have seen several desis being all courteous towards Caucasian stewardesses in the airplane, but the minute they land in India, they think it’s their birthright to be rude. How about folks who try to impress people with their gum chewing abilities? These Neanderthals don’t think twice before littering up the Indian airports with the gum wrapper, but in the west, they carefully place their hands inside of trash bins to organize the garbage. It bothers me when people, who make India trips once every five years, whine about the country. I am sorry, but they haven’t taken the time to feel and enjoy the essence of India. What they judge India is by the weak infrastructure. I agree we reek of third world, but in some ways, aren’t we all responsible for it?

My husband and I once had the misfortune of sitting next to this “wannabe American” boy on the plane--a graduate student at one of the schools in Rochester, New York. He was from the streets of Bareily, India. In his two year stay in Rochester, the small town idiot acquired an American accent and forgot Hindi completely. He was surprised that my husband and I were interested in Bollywood or spoke any Hindi. He then said something, which made me want to beat him to a pulp. “When I land in Delhi, my sister, bro-in-law, and I will go to a club. My parents can go home. Who wants to just sit at home with them?”

I wonder what kind of deprived lives such people led when they lived in India. Do they believe that they sound debonair and modern by ridiculing their own country? In today’s day and age, people run back to their roots in search of distinctiveness. These bunch of desis are so quick to relinquish their identity.

I am not saying India is perfect. I, for one, disagree with a lot of our traditions and the systems in place, but that doesn’t give me the right to loathe India. I know corruption rules the country and the economic divide is appalling; however, no country or culture is perfect. It’s impossible to believe that there is nothing good about one of the oldest civilizations in the world. Where else in the world would a random stranger walk up to you, hug you, and say “God bless you, beta. You are so nice.” I am sure it could happen in the west, but then the urge to run for your life would supersede any other emotions. Only in India will people welcome you into their homes at 12a.m. and offer to serve a meal. In India, not for a single moment does loneliness visit you; with all the comforts and modernism in the west, even in a crowd, you are accompanied by solitude.

I believe it’s not India that needs to change; it’s the Indian attitude that needs readjustment. A lot of Indians are too quick to badmouth their own country because it doesn’t match the comforts of the west. Is that a legitimate rationale?

Maybe I have matured with age or my recent trip is the true muse for this post or maybe the Diwali preparations have me sing India’s tunes. Whatever be the reason, I have come to realize that I love India for what it is—take the good with the bad.

More until next time.

Copyright © 10.23.2008

"When I die India will be found engraved on my heart"--Queen Mary

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Whose side are you on?

So, a couple of weeks ago, a bunch of us drove up to the Finger Lakes for the weekend. One of my best friends goes to Cornell, so my husband and I stayed with him in Ithaca. Our trip coincided with the fateful evening of the first presidential debate of 2008, on September 26th.

When we reached my friend’s place at 1a.m., he looked wired—full of fretful energy. If he was a teenager, I would have assumed that he had inhaled paint fumes; since he is an adult, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. My dear friend had consumed politics a little too personally. He seemed agitated that evening because Barack Obama was declared the winner of the debate. Just so you know, my friend is more passionately anti-Obama than he is pro-John McCain. He’s on a mission to open people’s eyes about “Obama’s lies and deceit.” My cheekiness didn’t help things either. I kept saying, “I can see Russia from my house,” in an Indian-Prairie accent. It hurt more than when the vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin said it.

Anyway, the weekend, aside from wine tasting and gormandizing on food, involved discussions over the current election scenario in the US and the perfect choice for the presidential candidate. Amazingly, all the participants (my friend, my husband, my friend’s French roommate, and I) in the room were ineligible to vote. It goes to show how much these elections matter to each one of us regardless of our status in the country.

Sure, in the moment of passion, I was expressive in my satirical humor towards Sarah Palin. Why wouldn’t I be? Her ridiculous attempts to prove her familiarity and credentials with foreign policies were almost blasphemous. In India, I can see dogs and cows from my house. That doesn’t make me an expert veterinarian or a zookeeper. Not to forget, her classic interview with Katie Couric. Palin couldn’t answer Couric’s one basic question (repeated thrice with exasperation) about quoting specific examples of when McCain pushed for regulation in his political career of 26 years. Her response was, “I'll try to find you some and I'll bring them to you.” Did Palin believe that she was a polite, diligent employee in a suburban store and Katie was a customer asking for gourmet ham? What kind of response was that? I guess her overall choice for words, “Doggone it,” and “betchya,” aren’t too classy either.

My friend thought I condemned Sarah Palin because I am different from her. My inability to relate to her “hard life,” middle-class vocabulary, and mannerisms made be skeptical of her. He felt I didn’t understand what Palin represented—a self-made woman who was the first from her family to go to college and work two jobs while I got to travel to Europe as a child and study at an Ivy-League.

He couldn’t be far from the truth. No one knows hardships better than an Indian woman. We are torn between two extreme cultures, demanding roles, societal obligations, and our split personalities (one for the older generation, one for our friends, one for our coworkers, and one for the generation younger than us). We constantly struggle to let all these personalities coexist in one body and that too with a smile. So just because Palin chose the life she did, I don’t think I need to “understand” where she comes from. She made her choices; our choices are made for us.

I am not appreciative of Palin because she seems unfit for the position. She lacks the experience and the diplomacy required for the job. Sure she looks hot, but we aren’t talking about vice-presidential candidate for Playboy here! Do we want another person like President George Bush to learn on the job at our expense? While these politicians decide our fates with their experiments, we, the public (pawns), spend sleepless nights fearing our jobs and mortgage payments. People who live in New York can relate to my plight as it’s a truth we deal with on the subway, at work, at home, and on the streets.

Why just deride Palin? Vice-presidential candidate Joe Biden has been unkind to Asian Indians with his racial slip. No amount of apology can convince me that he is not a bigot. Call me arrogant, but Asian Indians are one of the most influential minority communities in the US, and I am proud of it. We work hard to go to an Ivy-League or travel to Europe for that matter. Who cares if Biden won the vice-presidential debates! The democrats lost a few Asian Indian votes because of Biden's insensitive sense of humor.

The November elections in the US have become a global point of anxiety and concern. I am not a political fanatic. I base my opinions on candidates depending on their viewpoints on the issues that matter to me. I have to say, Obama’s unconfident stutter and McCain’s excessive use of “My friends,” at the second presidential debate made me nervous.

Honestly, if I had my way, Bill Clinton would still be the president of the United States. Since that won’t happen, I got to pick from the available line up. I have been invited to several informal fund-raisers, and I have attended none of them --maybe because I don’t support any of the candidates totally. I wonder if I am relieved because I can’t officially vote. From my perspective, the choices available are a compromise. That said, I am curious, who are you rooting for?

More until next time.

Copyright © 10.09.2008

"When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become President; I'm beginning to believe it." ~Clarence Darrow

Thursday, October 2, 2008

What does success mean to you?

So, it’s been a little over a month since my first book of poems, Pabulum, got published. Anyway, like any event in life, my journey with Pabulum has been a fascinating one— along with bumps and blocks, it’s been an enriching experience on multifarious levels. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. No. Not even for a cup of coffee with George Clooney:-)

I am definitely exhilarated about the release of the Indian edition over the next few weeks. Not to forget, the book party my husband has organized for this coming weekend. After all, I am a newbie (as Dr. Cox from my favorite sitcom, Scrubs, would say) in the publishing world. Every little action has a high energy reaction from me.

So, several people have asked, “How is your book doing?” A fair question. I am no saint; of course I love it when a copy sells and people tell me they enjoy my work. I was ecstatic last week to read my first review online. It was the most “real moment” in my entire voyage. Having said that, it’s funny how emotions evolve in a moment and the perspective on “success” changes.

A week ago, my older niece, Diya, who is nine and a half years old, gave me the most heartwarming accolade. She said, “Bua, (which means “aunt” in Hindi) I read Pabulum three times in just five days. It’s awesome. When will you publish your second book? Please, please this year. Then you will become famous!” Incredible, right? Not just that. She wants to take my book to her school to show it to her friends. I mean, a nine year could simply choose to read Enid Blyton and Nancy Drew, or emulate Hannah Montana, but my niece chose to read my book. Not just once but thrice. Cloud nine has a whole new meaning in my dictionary. Funnily, it’s not like she understood all of the poems either but that didn’t deter her.

A friend’s little daughter made a bookmark with beads and painted my name on it--as a congratulations gift. That bookmark will always remain one of my most prized possessions. I am nervous using it as I dread wrecking it.

What else? My dad was the first one to officially “buy” my book and launch the celebrations. My mom treated my cousins to dinner to commemorate my small success. My mother-in-law cracks up every time she reads the poem on “Bollywood.” She likes to think I wrote that particular poem for her—given her hilarious obsession with Bollywood. My sister-in-law (brother’s wife) wants to organize a book reading in Singapore when we visit them next year; my other sister-in-law (husband’s sister) was more thrilled about getting my book in the mail than she was about receiving the clothes we sent for her newborn baby.

My brother and brother-in-law have made fun of the name of my book, over and over again, which means a lot to me—it’s their way of showing they care. What can I say; we are a riot of a mad, loving family.

My husband changed his iPod touch’s screensaver from some manly-testosterone-exhibiting- sporty image to my book’s cover. He was the first one to get my book autographed. He did the whole “formally standing in line” with a pen thing.

Most friends and extended family have been an incredible pillar of support and encouragement-- some were the inspiration behind Pabulum; while others ensured that I never forgot my aspirations. Whether it’s the “congratulations parties,” “a toast to your book,” “I am totally buying your book,” or “I’ll try and adjust the babysitter’s schedule to join for the celebrations,” all the gestures hold a special place in my heart. A friend, knowing my love for poetry and Broadway, gifted us tickets to “Romantic Poetry,” an Off-Broadway Show for tonight.

All these folks know that I am no Jane Austen or Virginia Wolf. Writing might be my passion, but I have a day job (the one that pays the bills), so there is only so much time and energy I can dedicate to my word passion. Several of them have heard me say what I didn’t like about Pabulum or how I wish I could change things about it or how I see a world of a difference between my first book and manuscript for the second (I have an offer from a publishing house for the second book). Yet, without a question, people have celebrated or bought my creation. It’s not the monetary aspect attached to the purchase; it’s the feelings and time they vested to dive into my colorful world. In a world of information overdose, people took out the time to indulge Pabulum. They had faith in my dreams when I was hesitant. So, thank you.

The writer in me knows I have miles to go, but the philosopher in me knows that the expedition will be barren without all the people in my life. This milestone in my life has revealed the truth behind relationships and the ways in which success can be measured. I realize that I assess my accomplishment and gratification with human sentiments more than sales numbers.

More until next time.

Copyright © 10.02.2008

“He lives the poetry that he cannot write. The others write the poetry that they dare not realise.” Oscar Wilde

Thursday, September 25, 2008

What can passion do for you

Last night, I watched the new Hindi movie, “Rock On” starring Arjun Rampal and Farhan Akhtar. It is human tendency and media’s obstinate nature to hype up movies, but for once, I wasn’t disappointed. The movie lived up to its buildup and glamour. Maybe I am more biased about the success of this simple yet obvious film as it touched on all the aspects of life that excite me – dreams, friendships, relationships, hope, and the importance of passion.

Rock On
is a story about four artists, who happen to be the best of friends and share a common love, music. The four start “Magic”—this indomitable and the invincible band. The guys perform, breathe, sing, celebrate, and fight life as a magical group. The music is contemporary and in tune with the times. Some might call it an acquired taste. I was extremely impressed with their make up and attire. When in college, they all dressed like the hippie, rock band musicians with their chic T-shirts, cutting-edge hairstyles, and funky jewelry; as working professionals, you could see an altered, individualistic wardrobe—a reflection of their economic, mental, and social status. What’s further interesting is what broke up this group in college and brings them back together after ten years, is their common passion.

So, why am I blogging about Rock On? Not just because I am an ardent fan of Bollywood. It’s rare that a movie convinces me on a philosophical level without an emotional upsurge. Sure, Karan Johar’s films remind me of my good old college days; Yash Chopra keeps the notion of naÔve romance alive; Madhur Bhandarkar has me convinced that the world is a lonely, scary, dysfunctional place, but it was Rock On that taught me a very important lesson—the need for passion. Not in a romantic or sociopathic way; just as a lifeline for personal sanity.

With age and time, our commitments and attitude change—some willingly and others because of societal expectations, especially for South Asians. I mean, we are a milestone driven community. Society defines standards of appropriate time for education, marriage, and children. Somewhere in the journey of striving to not displease others, we go with the flow and lose our sense of self, and in turn, our passion. Question is, are you happy doing that?

I can hear the sighs echo as I write, but think of the times you felt a genuine smile encapsulate your visage. Jog down your memory lane and dig up emotions that make you happy. I bet you, following your passion would take a significant place. Most people relate passion with their past. “When I was in college, I was on the dance team.” “I learnt years of classical Indian music. I have won awards too.” “I won athletic competitions when I was younger.” “Painting used to be relaxant.” So, why stop everything now? Clearly, you haven’t forgotten about the things that bring you bliss. Reminiscence is a temporary solution.

One of my friend’s dad (he in his sixties) is in a band. He has his own software consulting firm by the day, but in the evening, he and his cronies really hit it. The wives are their permanent groupies. They play at functions. My friend’s mom believes that her husband radiates mirthfulness when he’s around music.

I look at women from my mother’s generation. Things were different then, so most of them didn’t work. By the time they reached their middle age, they were affected by globalization and now they suffer from empty nest syndrome. The ones with passion have embraced reality on a positive note; the ones whose life has only been about doting their spouses and children, constantly whine about seclusion. Well, you can impart cheerfulness only if you are blithe from within.

Last night, after we finished watching Rock On, I said to my husband, “I believe human life is such a waste if there is zero passion involved. There has to be that one thing that stirs up the emotions and kicks up your zeal even at wee hours of the morning.”

Life is insipid and barren with just a monotonous schedule. I understand that we live in a demanding world, but I believe it’s imperative to take out that time to follow your passion. Even if it’s for a few hours a week, devote time to that one thing that brings out the true smile from within. People say, “I don’t have the time. I have too many things going on” Well, you have to create it then. Marriage, kids, and family are an inspiration; don’t use them as an excuse for your self-created rut. I have friends with kids, who have full time jobs yet pursue their passion. I believe, they are successful in every aspect because their inner self is happy. That's what passion does for them.

More until next time.

Copyright © 09.25.2008

“The only difference between a caprice and a lifelong passion is that the caprice lasts a little longer.” – Oscar Wilde

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Life imitates Bollywood

An honest confession: I have been feeling a little uninspired this week. Maybe my right side of the brain has been working overtime and is in need of a break? I mean, I do not have a case of writer's block, lack of imagination or exhaustion from my world of words; just languor in expressing my thoughts. Sure, it's been a verbally demanding week—both at work and with my other writing commitments, but this isn’t the first time where I have had to juggle my day job (the one that pays the bills) and my true passion (you all know what it is). As the French would say, words are my raison d'être (the reason I exist--well, almost).

To confirm I wasn’t losing it, I spoke with few friends of mine who are in the creative field—to get a sense of how each person works and if they have gone through that “not-in-the-mood” phase. The conversations revealed three categories:

First category: There are few who discipline themselves to write or paint everyday—a friend, whom I absolutely admire, wakes up at 5a.m. everyday to paint. Mind you, this is despite a full-time job, kids, and a successful career. Not to forget, she is an epitome of hospitality.

Second category: These people truly need to be in the mood to create their work. Most of my writer/painter friends fall under this category. They delve into their work and then don’t look at it for six months.

Third category: People in this group are never devoid of ideas or inspiration but are unable to devote time as much as they would like to for disparate reasons. Another friend, who is an avant-garde and noteworthy artist, falls under this category. I met up with her for coffee earlier this week for tête-à-tête, and we sighed about the challenges of fitting it all.

So, anyway, I have been trying to nail down “that” core reason for my apathy. It’s been haunting me! Maybe it's the tanking market accompanied by the fear of near and dear ones losing their jobs; or, perhaps, it’s the current election scenario in the country. I wonder if there is a reason that only my subconscious mind understands but doesn’t reveal.

The other night, on my way back home from my poetry workshop, I revisited my activities from this past week. Sure enough, I had an epiphany. I realized why my behavior has been so “not-like-me” this week. The culprit for my tedium is, Chamku, the worst Hindi movie of 2008 (yet).

Chamku, (What an alluring name. Of course I am being sarcastic!) starring Bobby Deol and Priyanka Chopra, is a movie where the main protagonist, Deol, looks perpetually bored. He is the King of Ennui in the movie. Through glee, love, and trauma, Deol has a disinterested look. Given the appalling and confusing story as well as direction, can you blame him? He was exuding the truth, if anything. If you have watched Chamku, you know there is not one good thing about this film based on nonsense. Of course, my husband disagrees, since he thought Priyanka was worth the mental exhaustion.

What I am trying to say is that who knew bête noire Bobby Deol’s apathy would rub on me? But then again, when it comes to Bollywood, I am quite impressionable:-) . I don’t know about life imitating art; what I do know, is my thoughts emulated (even if subconsciously) Bobby Deol’s attitude. Scary, right?

More until next time.

Copyright © 09.18.2008

“Film as dream, film as music. No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls.” - Ingmar Bergman

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Is necessity the mother of all inventions?

In one of my writing classes, to encourage the fruitful fusion of the right brain with the left side, the instructor suggested that we go crazy with our imagination. She asked us students to invent an equipment/machine (in our fantasies) and write a few lines about this "dream come true" piece. Okay, so this machine could perform any function that you wanted. The caveat: it could perform only one core task.

Anyway, when the time came for us to go around the class and share our imaginations, I was dumbfounded by some of the choices. The classroom was redolent of New York attitude. Each one of us, even in our fantasies, chose to invent utilitarian objects, in turn, making life easier for ourselves. Like automatic dog poop picker, mugger alarm, subway sound-deafener, tourist-repellant etc. I was one of those who chose to invent a machine that would give a 30-second buzz to men adorned with jewelry--like zinging them and throwing them across the room. I mean a thin chain across a man’s neck or a wedding band is one thing; but some men can take it too far with piercing and metal indulgence. Well men, here is a newsflash: call it sexist, but most women get nauseated when you flash your bracelets, earrings, and other strange piercing and blind us with metallic reflection.

I digress. Anyway, about fifty percent of the class shared a common desire. How strange is that, right? They wanted to create a remote that would mute kids around them—kinda like the Adam Sandler movie, “Click.” None of these people came across as children loathers. They didn’t mind the presence of kids in their world; they just preferred not to hear them.

Let's talk about the "mute- the-child-" remote that most of my classmates decided to invent. The few of us, pretending to be socially appropriate, expressed our surprise at the choice. I mean, how could they say such a thing? Aren’t children lovely etc. etc. etc.? The truth is, every adult, at one point or the other in his or her lives, has desired for a gadget of the sort. I have friends, who love their children, but would trade in their vintage jewelry for moments of silence. Still, I pondered over the candidness with which my classmates opened up their heart.

The same evening on the subway ride home, in my continued state of bedlam, I was rudely introduced to the adage and the reality in "necessity is the mother of all inventions." A lady with two kids (maybe 8-year old girl and 6-year old boy) hopped onto the subway. Okay, my Indian customs and attitude coerce me into offering a seat to the elderly, pregnant, and people with children but at 10:30p.m., on a weeknight especially, I wish I could care less. I mean, by then, I am out of compassion and full of cynicism, hunger, and exhaustion. You know what gets me the most-- people embarking on the sympathy bandwagon and cashing on the situation--like this lady. With a pitiable face, she stood right next to a few us --”Poor me. I don’t have a seat.” Before I could replace my irritation with empathy and offer the woman my seat, someone else decided to earn “good karma” points and did the good deed.

Uh-oh! Biggest blunder.

The baby boy (old enough to have a coherent conversation) decided to pollute the subway car full of ornery commuters with his shrieking and yelling. He wasn't in pain; he was being a pain by throwing unnecessary tantrum for attention. Everyone sitting around the family had the same look and thoughts too, "Get off the train. It's too late in the night for this drama.” The mother looked aggravated with her child and a bit mortified too. Twenty random strangers giving you the “I hate you” look cannot be pleasant for anyone.

Anyway, at one point, I thought something would happen to this kid if he didn’t stop screaming and drowning in his tears. After 30 minutes of howling, this brutish boy decided changing strategy for attention. He started singing, "If you are happy and you know it, clap your hands". He expected the rest of the commuters to join his choir and scream our lungs out. I think his mother agreed with him. Ironically, happiness arrogantly exuded the train when the wailing kid decided to embrace it. The song was like spreading salt over a wound.

It dawned onto me what my classmates had been venting about all evening. When my stop finally came, I mentally apologized to them. I could finally vividly see the genius as well as agony behind their fantasy.The train ride taught me that necessity is the mother of all invention. I guess, Bose came out with those soundproof headphones after genuine market research. Maybe my classmates were a part of their focus group. Who knows?

More until next time.

Copyright © 09.11.2008

“You can learn many things from children. How much patience you have, for instance.” ~Franklin P. Jones

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Is it “aphrodisiac” or African American Disiac?

I was watching reruns of “Two & Half Men” the other day where the adorable kid, Jake brings up the interesting and delicate issue of “political correctness” aka the title of this blog.

Okay, I grew up in a culture where you told it like you saw it. There was no sugar coating or time spent on cogitating about the right words. The notion of “It would hurt someone’s feelings,” was unheard.

One of my best friends, who has green eyes and light-colored skin (I am not referring to Aishwarya Rai, in case you Bollywood starved readers, like me, are wondering:- ), was told by her father that she looked like “white shit.” The words of wisdom weren't shared in a derogatory tone; it was more like “as a matter of fact.”

One extreme: In South Asian culture, commenting, assessing, and analyzing another person’s physical traits are never condemned, especially if you are a woman of marriageable age. Hell, the matrimonial columns flaunt rigid physical requirements (caste and community specific at times). Most people want women who are tall, slim, and fair to guarantee good looking future progeny. This unwarranted list of physical traits is bragged about nonchalantly.

The other end of the spectrum: As a debutante in the American Society, I was introduced to the world of “political appropriateness” in an unanticipated way. I am like Chatty Cathy, so in one of my conversations with a random store owner, I casually referred to “Native Indians” as “Red Indians.” His face turned white--like he had seen a ghost in broad daylight. I was bewildered by his response. Later that evening, I was told about the genius of “American opinionated rightness.” I should have said “Native Indians” to the store owner; Red Indians refers to their skin color.

I remember thinking, “How hypocritical! You chase people away from their land and make them relinquish their being, but this poor immigrant has to watch it.” I regurgitated what I was taught in school. South Asians find a sense of comfort in allocating color-related names to people. We never say blasé colors like “white, black, brown” etc. We have clear definitions in each color category.

A short tale: This friend of mine and I have the most unreserved conversations. He addresses me as the “Indian girl with an incomprehensible Indian accent.” He then shakes his head like a pendulum--reminiscent of how people in certain southern and western parts of India talk and continues to make fun of samosa. Well, I address him as “the fat, white boy from the Midwest on a staple diet of potatoes, who could never own even 1/1000th of my Indian brains or charisma.” Sometimes, I sing “Go white boy! Go white boy!” We both love our rapport. There is no malice whatsoever in our banter though I can smell activists a mile away trying to drown us in the world of “Gee that sounds abhorrent. How dare you!”

The layers of diplomatic American vocabulary inducted by sanctimonious, pseudo intellectuals, and guilt-ridden individuals are nebulous. Who truly gets them or even follows them without errors?

I am constantly under the pressure of what is an okay expression to use—the avant-garde word for house wife is “home maker”; “secretary” is now “personal assistant.” Should I say “African American” or “Black”? What if the person doesn't have an African heritage, like Barack Obama. Then what? My journalist associate confirmed that Associate Press recognizes the references to “Black” and “White.” Hmm. This clarification came from a “White,” sorry “Caucasian” woman, who for the most part is disliked by others around her.

I am not in favor of the South Asian apathy towards words but the American over protectiveness exasperates me at the same time. It’s de trop. Fear and scare tactics shouldn’t be the reason for human compliance.

The shackles of bigotry or human inappropriateness won't break unless people change their attitudes and become more accepting from within. Dousing everything with “politically language” doesn't solve the core of the problem.

More until next time.

Copyright © 09.04.2008

“How clever you are, my dear! You never mean a single word you say”— Oscar Wilde

Thursday, August 28, 2008

My relationship with the city I love to love and hate to hate….

An article in yesterday’s New York Times on newcomers adjusting to New York, eventually, took me by surprise. It was as if the author had peeped inside my mind, body, and soul and presented the conundrum of it all to the world with eloquent words.

My ode to NYC: People, who know me, are au fait with my “New York” attachment. I swear by the city. I have to say, it took me minimal time to adjust to NYC. In so many ways, it always reminded me of Mumbai. Be it the commute, cynicism, rudeness, brusqueness, valiant spirit, resilient attitude, the exasperation to the 24/7 energy. Plus, New York like Mumbai, but unlike most other cities in the US, allows you to retain your quintessential core. I have always been able to celebrate my proud Indian heritage in this city without having to put on an accent or a garb I didn’t want. The journey of getting comfortable in my own skin in my formative years was easy because I was in a compliant city like NYC.

I have pursued dreams which would have remained a fantasy had it not been for New York. I believe, the relationships that you form in this city go a long way as they aren’t made out of convenience or scarcity. You are exposed to a pool of like-minded people from disparate ethnicities and not just people from the same regional/traditional background.

I can feel my heart undergoing metamorphosis: There was a time when I couldn’t find anything wrong with what NYC had to offer. I took every downbeat word directed towards the city extremely personally. Today, I can feel the magnetism of NYC wearing off. I feel a little burnt out from the city. The rush and the commute are beginning to get to me. Living life on an agenda is beginning to lose its appeal. I wonder what has led to my partial transformed view on New York. It just couldn’t be time or the fact that I am busier now more than ever.

An associate suggested organizing a soiree at her place to get us few writers together and commemorate our achievements. What a noble and fun idea, right? Sadly, with the problem of over scheduling in New York, we couldn’t pick one date universally suitable to all. More often than I can count, people (including myself) check their Blackberrys’ to schedule even a coffee get together with friends, forget acquaintances. Sometimes you finalize on a date three to four weeks from the time you send out an invite. It’s not because people do not want to meet; au contraire. It’s the paucity of time, another issue hovering over New Yorkers. I mean, my very close friend and I couldn’t pick a suitable evening for an aerobic routine in Central Park this summer. Lo & behold, summer is almost over now.

I was sharing my story with a few friends at a dinner party the other night. They recommended we relocate to Upstate New York—far from the maddening crowd. Their condominium Upstate has every amenity that interests both my husband and I—indoor heated pool, gym, walking trail, tennis court, squash court, barbeque pits, amicable dwellers etc. etc. They suggested that with the train station across from their complex, I could continue to pursue my challenging NYC lifestyle without actually living there. The arrangement would be best of both worlds!

My husband has always enjoyed the concept of the suburban quality of life: a large house with a humongous study, picturesque backyard, and tranquil environment. In a heartbeat, he’ll move out of the city.

The question I ask myself: Am I detached enough from NYC to attach myself to the suburbia or am I just going through one of those love-hate phases of my relationships with the city? In the past nine years, haste, sarcasm, aloofness, over scheduling, and over commitment have become such a big part of me (like the rest of the New Yorkers), I wonder how and if I will adjust to normalcy.

More until next time.

Copyright © 08.28.2008

“I wonder what it is in the New York air that enables me to sit up till all hours of the night in an atmosphere which in London would make a horse dizzy, but here merely clears the brain.” James Agate

Thursday, August 21, 2008

I Believe in Miracles!

This week, I was thinking of focusing “my belief in miracles,” on two core points—the earlier than expected release of my book, Pabulum, and the last minute tickets to the “Unforgettable” concert. A friend’s inability to attend the “sold out event” translated into my husband and me going for the Show. What can I tell you about the event? It was pleasurable at times, but there were enough occasions where my insides coiled, and I threw up internally.

The journey of miracle took a detour: I got a sweet note with a query inside the shell of request doused with surprise. “Why haven't you written on the Olympics yet? Nothing”:-(

I have been meaning to share my views on the Olympics but could never pick out that one aspect that I wanted to write about. To me, the Olympics are more than just competitive games; it’s like this miraculous psychographic research where each victory and loss yields rich, robust data.

A few weeks ago, we were at a dinner party at a friend’s. Anyway, one thing led to another and before we knew it, some fervent discussions transpired between our comrade about India's lack of participation in the Olympics, China's noteworthy feat, and America's obsession with #1.

Here are my twocents: Like the rest of the world, I too am in awe of Michael Phelps. He truly is a miracle in the swimming pool. I enjoyed watching him glide through like a finless dolphin, BUT it bothers me how the American media discounts every other athlete's contribution. Agreed, Phelps has set new records, etc. etc. etc.; however, is it fair to limit the glory to just the gold medalist? Isn't that an appalling example to set for the young, naïve minds? Either be the best or don't be. Newsflash: not everyone can be the THE BEST; it’s the #2 & #3 that gives #1 its golden meaning, if you will. Anyone who aspires and strives should at least be given some acknowledgment. A team is triumphant with combined effort and not due to one person's endeavor.

On a separate note, it's miraculous to me how China has managed to efface the struggles of a developing country. What outstanding presence and performance--an all-rounder if you will. The Chinese parents are driven in a non-academic way. They send their kids to gymnastic camps from the age of three, and it shows! Not just the people but also the city of Beijing looks resurrected. The Chinese government and the populace care about being the best overall and that is a miracle for a developing country.

I am aghast at the South Asian apathy to sports. Why don't our Indian dreams envision a non-academic world for just once? We are a nation obsessed with beauty and brains. We are on the world-level plinth of universal beauty pageants; every one knows of our scholarly capabilities, but what about sports? Please, don't use “cricket” as an excuse for sports all the time. Granted its fun, but why can't we broaden our horizon for once? To me, like portly baseball players, stout cricket players are an eye sore. Even at the Olympics, we miraculously won a few medals here and there, but it bothers me how callous we are towards it.

We are a nation of “intellectual extravaganza”. If we put our mind and heart to something, lo & behold, there is no one stopping Indians. Is it the issue of lack of government support or the Indian mentality of equating success with the overall percentage in the “board exams”?

Sometimes over the weekend, my friends and I go to Brooklyn Bridge or Central Park in the mornings. It is a magnificent time to work out and probably the only time of the day I am willing to soak in the never-ending madness of Manhattan. Anyway, on more than one occasion, I have pointed out to my friends that there is never a South Asian to be seen at any of these outdoor places. You see White, Black, Latino, and East Asian kids playing baseball, trotting, or relaxing in the strollers but never South Asians.

Why are we, as a race, so blasé in physical activity? The seed of significance of athleticism seems to be lacking. True miracle would be if Indians acknowledged the existence of non-stereotypical professions and the government/society embraced it openly by creating the right opportunities. Only then can we compete truly on a global level.

More until next time.

Copyright © 08.21.2008

“I often take exercise. Why only yesterday I had breakfast in bed.”—Oscar Wilde

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Dispelling the myth of modernism….

Growing up, when this surge of modernism started engulfing India, I remember one thing distinctly--women rushing to salons (the infamous beauty parlors that lurked around every “paan shop”) and morphing into plucked chicken. “Bob cut” and “modern” were the buzz words and considered synonymous with being au fait with the latest. Tragically, few could carry the coy yet boyish looks. The majority created an insurgency wanting you to gouge your eyes out.

Just because something is in vogue, it doesn't mean you got to embrace it--esp. not as an adult. That's what teenage is for – a time period when it’s chic to experiment with the most awkward of looks. It's like me in “skinny jeans”. Seriously, for this fashion faux pas, I will have to pay people--for the pain I would inflict on their eyes:-)

Where was I going with this rattle about modernism? Oh yeah, Vidya Balan, the upcoming (down going would be her own doing) Bollywood actress. This talented, traditional Indian beauty, who looked pulchritudinous in “Parineeta,” looks ghastly with the modern look of short hair and archaic western garb. If you ask me, she has made a complete fool of herself by being a part of the herd.

I was watching “Kismat Konnection” the other day and couldn't believe her gauche looks in the movie. It was like déjà vu. Didn’t she look abominable in the other movie, “Hey Baby”? Someone needs to tell her that the sixties called and want their hippy hair and démodé clothes back. Unless she aspires to be a “femme fatale” for aliens in Area 51, tone it down.

I am amazed at how irresolute and insecure people are of themselves--eagerly waiting to morph into someone they aren't, even if they come across as an imbecile. Modernism is about keeping in tune with the times--intellectually and philosophically without forgetting your traditions or sense of self; it’s not about throwing on a mini skirt, chopping off your hair, and smoking a cigarette just because the entire world is doing so. Modernism introduces you to your “own calling.”

You’d think age bestows you with confidence and self-pride, but I guess, emulators and self-doubting people aren't cognizant of those emotions. Now, are they?

More until next time.

Copyright © 08.14.2008

“It is only the modern that ever becomes old-fashioned.” - Oscar Wilde

Thursday, August 7, 2008

I am a lover of……

A friend of mine, a literature aficionado herself, has been suggesting that I write something about the books that I have read off late. Okay, let me back track. A few of my friends (from my boarding school days) and I share an intriguing interest in reading. We shred every book or movie with cynicism, bandy words, douse it with our personal opinions, embellish it with exuberant words, and carve up our views with ornamental yet coherent details. This process brings to light a side of me that I never knew even existed. Thanks guys. Your interesting perspective – either entirely different or cosmically alike to my own opinion, always paves the path for an exhilarating experience.

Anyway, this week seems like the perfect time for today’s post. My heart craves to write an ode to art, literature, music, philosophy etc. etc. I mean, these elements swathe me with bliss and just complete me. When in their company, I have this implausible sense of belonging. In fact, both my husband and I enjoy their enamoring world. I might be a little over the top (blame it on the artist in me), but he is a logical lover of the arts, music, literature himself. To quote one of my favorite writers, Oscar Wilde, "No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did, he would cease to be an artist."

The past few weeks, to my pleasure, revolved immensely around personal enrichment; one of the many reasons I love New York. The Salvador Dali exhibit at MoMA (I am a big fan of his surreal work. It’s all about perception and interpretation); an art exhibit by a budding Indian artist at a cozy gallery in Manhattan; the opening night of my friend’s art exhibit ( NYC dwellers, I urge you to check this exhibit; a trip to the poet, W.H. Auden’s neighborhood; my own involvement with words and the literary community—when the time is right, I will announce the details of the last one right on this blog.

Without further ado, I’d like to dedicate this post to my comrade, J, ( and to the last few books that we have read, examined, comprehended, and conferred about —“Unaccustomed Earth”, “One Hundred Years of Solitude”, and “A Thousand Splendid Suns”.

Let me cut to the chase: I cherished the last one—“A Thousand Splendid Suns”. The book touched me like no other. In so many ways, the book took me through a journey of humility. I felt fortunate for the privileged life I lead or the basic things I take for granted. I cherished the effortless yet evocative language.

The second book: I am an ardent fan of Gabriel Gárcia Márquez’s work. I swoon with delight every time someone mentions his book, “Love in the Time of Cholera”. His command over language is astonishing. I vividly remember the first line from the book: “the smell of bitter almonds reminded him of the fate of his unrequited love”. To me, the opening line conveyed everything I wanted to know about the book. Having said that, I was appalled to read “One Hundred Years of Solitude”. I yearned for the taste of Márquez’s work but in vain. I couldn’t even bring myself to finish it.

The third book: As far as “Unaccustomed Earth” goes, I have one request for Jhumpa Lahiri—discard the cape of gloom and humdrum and use fresh themes and sentiments. I thought “Interpreter of Maladies: Stories” was melancholic but very adequately written. I applauded the detailing of the characters and the issues faced by this niche community of Indian immigrants. But, my words of praise stop right there. I read “The Namesake” and then “Unaccustomed Earth” and it felt déjà vu. Like many of my friends, I cannot take stories revolving around challenges of assimilation or the dark, miserable, forlorn, timid yet feisty protagonist anymore. Lahiri may have a way with emotions, but is unilateral in expressing them. I believe in Oscar Wilde’s words, “If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.”

What I found in common between all the three writers was their ability to flesh out feelings with a bit disquieting but eloquent choice of words. Is the experience of being an immigrant that influential that somewhere all three of them seems to have a common exacerbated problem -- the feeling of “lost”? Well, I end my tirade here, but I’d be interested in what others think of these books.

More until next time.

Copyright © 08.07.2008

“There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written.” - Oscar Wilde

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Stop smothering and pestering me!

For us Indians, food plays a very big role in our lives. If I may, it’s our favorite technique of communication. In my mom’s generation especially, where emotions were unexpressed verbally yet inferred perfectly, fare did the immaculate job of interpretation. You never saw couples covet each other publicly; the man’s gormandizing illustrated his love for his woman. This method of expressing feelings -- using victuals as a medium, wasn’t limited to couples or nuclear families. I have the fondest memories of my childhood with my mom, few aunts and uncles cooking a delectable spread and us cousins, brazenly consuming copious amounts of it. There were times, when children were encouraged to binge. The persona of a chubby kid was the delight of the family. The premature finishing of food conveyed our appreciation. Now when I think of it, it feels retarded. The food used to be scrumptious but the embodiment of fat cells in the pear-shaped Indian body was not appealing.

Today, times have changed. Thanks to globalization and the robust media, my generation is more aware now than ever about “healthy choices” and “verbal grandeur”. Food isn’t the inevitable choice of showing that you care. It could be because lots of folks either don’t have the time or the inclination to cook, or maybe, my outspoken generation has found out other avenues to convey our emotions. I love to cook, and I ensure my cooking encourages longevity for my loved ones. I mean, contributing to obesity and concocting grub immersed in oil are not considered signs of endearment anymore.

Having said that, the one food-related Indian tradition still being carried out, like the regal Olympic torch, is the knack of harassing people to eat. “Why put in the fridge? It will go a waste”. “Didn’t you like what I made?” “Are you watching your weight?” “You are too thin”.

This whole act of coercing people into eating is rather exasperating. At one of the parties a few weeks ago, in this seething heat, I was pestered to devour something that I normally would treat myself to if it was snowing outside. I politely declined a few times. Of course, right after that the trail of gratuitous weight-related comments started as if I was a contestant at a Miss India Pageant—about how I was already “faultlessly thin—not too skinny and not too fat” (definitely a reality check issue but let me not digress here) and why I didn’t need to watch what I ate. Ironically enough, all these words of wisdom were showered by people of abominable girth—the Earth shook as they walked. It was almost like they would feel less guilty about indulging in the heart-stopping-artery-clogging-fat-laden-sodium-enhanced-junk food if the company around them became a part of the insensible eating cult.

I serenade food. In fact, I love planning my next meal while finishing the current one. However, food means different things to different people, so stop pestering me and making me an object of speculation just because I haven’t let fat cells travel to my eyes and covered my perspective with ignorance.

More until next time.

Copyright © 07.30.2008

“Food is the most primitive form of comfort.” - Sheilah Graham

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Oh that “sinking” feeling….

The crumbling economy, the projected recession, these turbulent times, the tanking housing market, the woes of the mortgage giants, the frightening job losses etc. etc-- all these are words and phrases that encapsulate the status quo of the US market. These words of disdain hover over the residents of this country like a doomsday cloud--as nebulous as it is definite. You never know which one of these will hit you, and when. I, for one, loathe this constant feeling of cynicism and trepidation.

Informally, I have been talking to friends, across various ethnicities, gauging how each is managing today and preparing for tomorrow. A lot of people I know are handling these tumultuous times very proactively. As in, they are being austere, conscientious and conscious about spending money before the wrath of deprivation capriciously cuddles them with “loss”. It’s only sane to have that extra cushion if any of those forbidden words and phrases touch your lives.

A friend mentioned that she and her husband have reconsidered grocery shopping. Instead of purchasing renowned brands of food, they now buy store brand products. The savings per week run over a hundred dollars. Astonishing, right? I know people who have cancelled vacation plans as they felt reckless indulging in extravaganza and debauchery in these uncertain times. A colleague of mine said that she and her husband spend only in cash. This discipline has alleviated their nightmares and enhanced their savings. Once they run out of the budgeted cash for the week, no more spending. Plastic (better known as “credit card”) can be like a tempestuous devil. It easily creates the illusion of unlimited funds. Another friend suggested, to her coterie, meeting at each other’s homes for meals instead of splurging on luxurious meals at restaurants.

Not having grown up with or in harsh times, today’s market is a rude awakening for my generation—in some ways, a reality check. It’s almost like a slap that echoes “snap out of immoderation.”

Most of us know at least two people who have been adversely affected by today’s scenario. As I saw dear ones inflicted upon by the unpredictable severity, I pledged--to be proactive and responsible. Who knows where and when the next victim might be hunted down?

A candid question: What are you doing to accommodate these volatile times? Be sure to remember that no one is invincible.

More until next time.

Copyright © 07.24.2008

"America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between." -- Oscar Wilde

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Is the world getting Bollywoodized?

It's not hidden from anyone that I don't always agree with the stereotypical essence of our Indian culture. What can I say; I was born to be a rebel.:-) Jokes aside, more than enough aspects of the Indian culture make me darn proud. This post is an ode to one of those “things” about my culture that I revere and would not trade for anything in this world—Bollywood.

The journey of Indianization: I remember the time when my husband and I were new immigrants in NYC, striving to assimilate; we were enamored by one tale—On August 15th, The Empire State building’s lights reflect the color of the Indian flag. Our hearts were swollen with pride, but somewhere I felt that it wasn't a part of mass acceptance; it was more a politically appropriate gesture.

Incident#2: Few summers ago, Gap Inc. launched the “kurtis”. They didn’t call them exactly that but you could see New York women clad in the vibrant Indian shirt. The cynic in me thought, “Nice going but how many people know it's an Indian thing?”

Yet another one: Though I feel immensely proud and happy when my non-American friends rave about chicken tikka, mango lassi, samosa, lamb vindaloo etc.; sadly, I feel, the surging popularity of Indian fare is limited to the larger cities in the US. Also, growing up in India, talking about pizza or Mc Donald’s was considered a cool thing--like you had that western streak in you. Somewhere, I solemnly wonder if Americans (not all) are into ethnic foods to exhibit how au fait they are with other cultures. Isn’t “acceptance” the in words these days?

Bollywood epiphany: When I was studying at Columbia, before one of our major group presentations in front of representatives from this huge corporation, bunch of my friends & I began to fret. In the US, people say if you are jumpy about speaking in public, picture your audience naked. To me, that was the most asinine, bizarre saying ever. Good lord!

The remedy: While reviewing our presentation, I taught my friends the choreographed steps from one of Madhuri Dixit’s biggest hits –“choli ke peeche”. Three of us dancing to “what's underneath my blouse,” was hilarious but reassuring too. We rocked our presentation and managed to keep our dinner down—you see, we didn’t need to picture our audience naked; Bollywood colored our lives. Since that incident took place, I wondered why we don't see more Indianness in day-to-day American life.

The “aha” moment: People who know me well know that I am a sucker for the arts--music, poetry, dance etc. Just any form of art. I believe, “art is life.” If it paid my bills, I would pursue it full time. My personal saga aside, the other day, my hubby & I were watching So You Think You Can Dance.” It’s an interesting dance competition Show on FOX. Okay, so one of the couple’s danced to a song from “Om Shanti Om” (A Bollywood movie) clad in the most apt Indian outfit. These performers were stupendous.

Aside from the couple’s ability to reproduce the Indian graciousness via the dance movements, what astounded me was:

a) Bollywood was a criterion on this national Show being viewed by the American masses.
b) The spectators and the judges swooned fervently to the desi music, attire, and dance routine. The couple received standing ovation from the audience.

When I saw America (irrespective of class or color) gyrate to and open-heartedly welcome a Bollywood performance, I felt that we, as Indians, had finally arrived.

More until next time.

Copyright © 07.17.2008

“Dancers are the athletes of God.” ~Albert Einstein

Thursday, July 3, 2008

I love camping, NOT!

It’s the time of the year for convivial BBQ parties, thumping music, serene lakes, tranquil mountains, dazzling beaches, delectable marshmallows, heart-clogging hot dogs, inventive sleeping bags, enormous tents etc. Well, you get the whole picture—recipes for delight. I am talking about the summer phenomenon that engulfs America between Memorial Day & Labor Day. What makes the sultry summer season a whole lot exciting and controversial, is the world of camping—well at least for some people.

A lot of my friends and family are besotted with the old world exquisiteness of camping—using communal bathrooms or sometimes the woods, mauling by bugs, roasting food in the open fire, sleeping on mother earth, strumming the guitar under the effulgent skies, singing campfire songs, surviving the tempestuous winds etc. Apparently, it’s all a part of the camping package swathed in fun. A cousin of mine actually shared that over the years, she and her family have upgraded their camping equipment and the other shenanigans accompanying them. Apparently, there are temperature controlled sleeping bags available now. Who knew?

I have to say, though all this information on the latest contraptions in the camping world piqued my interest; it did nothing to my feelings towards camping. I have gone camping a few times and loathed it every single time. I cherished the company but not the concept of being marred by bugs and showering in scabrous, grisly places. Here is my point: Man has worked hard to fight the ice age and what have you. We are proud of evolution. So, why would anyone, in their sane mind, revert back to rugged living conditions—out of choice?

My mind is not quiescent when a part of the extreme bucolic life. I despise sleeping in the open. Romantics would define sleeping under starry skies as awesome; pragmatics, like me, would call it imbecilic. The way I feel about “chilli chicken” is how mosquitoes feel about my blood. If I weighed like one of the Olsen sisters, I can totally imagine mosquitoes picking me up, sucking my blood dry, and then disposing my blood-deprived body into the deep woods for feasting purposes. Thank God for my mom’s cooking, I am a well-fed desi whose weight the American bugs can’t handle.

Then there is the problem of raucous neighbors on camping ground. I despise outlanders befriending me at unknown places or extending vehement courtesies for a round of beer. Dude, I have enough friends; I do not want to mingle with strangers in the dark! What if they are serial killers in the making?

I do not understand the novelty in sharing sleeping spaces or drinking water from a rustic stream when there are beds and bottled water available. I grew up in a boarding school spread over 280 acres -- “communal” was the word of the day, every single day. You can understand why I do not fancy multiple germ laden bodies in a non-contained space. Also, being a boarder in the wilderness, I was bestowed upon with more than enough feisty challenges. So, I don’t particularly feel the need to “discover” myself or soak in the campestral seclusion. Been there, done that.

More until next time.

Copyright © 07.03.2008

"Camping is nature's way of promoting the motel business." - Dave Barry.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

You make him do so much work!

“How can you leave him alone at home and have a girl’s night out? He actually helps? You are very fortunate! You ask him do work around the house? Poor thing. He does the dishes? That’s sacrilegious! Why does he have to make tea when we are here? He wakes up at night to change the baby’s diaper? He has started helping such a lot; you are very lucky. Do you thank him enough?"

I have to say, while writing those aforementioned words, my heart was cringing and hands were scratching to smack the creators of such insipid allegations. Basically, what you read above is a gist of all the offensive, irksome, insulting, insensitive, sexist dialogues most women have to bear with when men in their lives help them around the house. Interestingly enough, this display of dismay and horror is done more by women and less by men. I guess, most men are apathetic towards “who’s doing what;” most women struggle to keep an emotional filter between their brain and their mouth. They are too quick to pass judgment based on their trite postulations, archaic mindset, and esoteric thoughts.

Initially, I thought these allegations and stereotypical attitudes are more reflective of our Asian society. I was wrong; it’s prevalent in the western world as well. A snippet of a conversation between my very close friend and her grandma shows how thoughtlessly un-evolved women can be towards their own gender.

My friend: Hi grandma! How are you?
Friend’s grandma: I am good. Where are you? I hear noise.
My friend: I am in midtown; just met up with a few friends for drinks after work.
Friend’s grandma: You are out with your friends, so where is your husband?
My friend: He’s at home. Watching TV or relaxing, I guess.
Friend’s grandma: How can you leave your man alone at home? What will he eat? How will he manage? If you continue doing this, he will leave you for another woman!

I am confused:

  1. Why do women rave about equality when it comes to their own good but assume a sexist role when it comes to other women?
  2. An acquaintance once said to me, “Its okay for him to wash the bathroom but not to do the dishes. He is elder to me and is the man of the house.” I didn’t know that house hold chores have gender roles attached to them. It’s acceptable for a man to buy grocery but to not make tea or chop vegetables?
  3. Its okay for a man to socialize after work but the woman should rush home to accomplish her wifely duties?
  4. When the man and woman come tired after a long day’s work, it’s adequate for the woman to solely serve the family and for the man to get served? Oh, the illusion that slavery is dead!
  5. The lady of the house is expected to be a multi-tasker -- juggle work, home, family, friends etc. while the man has the luxury to bask in pampering?

According to the most recent figures from from the University of Wisconsin’s National Survey of Families and Households, average wife does 31 hours of housework a week while the average husband does 14 — a ratio of slightly more than two to one. This ratio is applicable to couples where both the man and the woman work.

I am appalled as this whole issue is bigger than sexism, criticism, equality, favoritism, or multi-tasking; it’s about humanity or lack of it. Men get sympathy and accolades for their minutest efforts; women have to deal with the nonchalant, “It’s your duty to manage all or how can you make him do such a lot of work?” The unfair societal expectations from a woman are synonymous with undue compromise.

I believe there are no fixed recipes of what’s right and what’s wrong. Why comment when you don’t know the entire story? What works for one couple, doesn’t necessarily work for the other. In today’s times, with both the man and the woman working such stressful jobs how is it fair that the man has the flexibility to choose his amount and kind of contribution but a woman has to do it all?

More until next time.


Copyright © 06.26.2008

“I see when men love women. They give them but a little of their lives. But women when they love give everything.” - Oscar Wilde