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.