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 grĂ¢ce. 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