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