Thursday, April 30, 2009

Burberry on a writer's salary

Every time I go to a creative meet or mingle with fellow ink-scribbling-Mac-loving-day- dreaming humans, I feel, the raw, passionate, frugal artist in me come out alive and slay the worldly corporate creature. If someone measured my aura post those interactions, I promise you, they’d be intrigued by the halo around my heart :-) I enter a state of timeless trance, and everything around becomes a rhythmic yet insignificant blur. For instance, last week when I got home from one such event, my husband asked, “How was the event?” I said, “samosa and wine have never tasted better.” Just so you know, I love samosa and wine individually but not together. But is that sensation enough to make a life-altering decision?

Off late, numerous people have asked me if I wanted to quit my job and become a full-time writer. Here is my response: “I want to but can’t.” Before I say anything further, let me digress and clarify a simple difference between “want” and “can.” Want is a desire that stems from your heart while can & cannot is reality that you see with your eyes. It’s rare for the ‘want’ and the ‘can’ family to dance in unison.

Let’s get real here. Not every writer has the same destiny as Jhumpa Lahiri or the resources of Virginia Wolfe. I am not being a wuss and looking for excuses, but the fact is that becoming a full-time writer today would also mean compromising on things that I really like. It would also mean taking gratuitous risks. It was one thing if I was nineteen and still figuring out my life. I wouldn’t have known any different. Who knows; deprivation might have sounded romantic. But I am not just beginning my life. I am old enough to have distinct tastes (good or bad) and set expectations from life. I love the smell of rustic, quaint bookstores, and Literati Company but in the same breath, I cherish the coffee shops and wine bars near such stores. I am not profligate, but I’d be lying if I said that I don’t care about trying out new restaurants, going on vacations, or purchasing chic items. I mean, designer handbags are my weakness (Who am I kidding? Let’s call it “vice.”). Burberry is my eternal soul mate. But then, I work hard and earn the money for my indulgences.

Here is the question: Even before I consider my case on the scale of want and can, let’s pause and think about the “fairness factor.” Without a fixed income, will I be able to afford the “fine” things” in life? Sure, my soul might feel nourished if I spend eternity in the company of words, but what about my wallet that’s used to a (maybe not fat but dependable) paycheck? As I mentioned earlier, with time and age, we all get set in our own styles. Scaling back is a Herculean task if imposed intentionally. I still might be able to compromise on a few things, but would it be fair to deliberately deprive my family because I decide to go on a whim of self-gratification? To me, it feels a little unjust. And what makes my relationship with words more sanctimonious than my husband’s passions? I have always been outspoken about gender equality, so how is it fair that I get to pursue my dream (without a conscience) with no to negligible return on investment and my husband slaves over reality?

More until next time.

Copyright © 04.30.2009

"When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life; now that I am old I know that it is." - Oscar Wilde

Thursday, April 23, 2009

What would life be without *it*?

A very near and dear one once said to me, “I couldn’t marry someone who wasn’t ambitious. If the person is complacent themselves, how would they understand my ambition and what will they teach the generation after?” With time, I seem to see the reality in the confession.

The other day, a friend called me a true prototype of my Zodiac sign—ambitious. I couldn’t agree more; I am a classic Capricorn and not embarrassed to admit it. My mother’s generation fought and sacrificed so women from my generation could have the freedom we have today, and I refuse to let their efforts go a waste by wearing an excuse of “societal-expectations.” See, one of my close college friend’s mothers is a qualified architect, but her in-laws didn’t allow her to practice architecture because that would mean long hours with strangers (read as “males”). Hmmm. So every woman from her generation, who decided to have a career, was libidinous while the stay-at-home women, with an army of servants and countless free hours on their hands, worshipped their husbands? The silliness didn’t end there; she was “allowed” to teach in a school because that would translate to minimal interaction with the opposite sex yet offer her flexible timing so she could bring home money and put up a spread on the table at meal timings. Her ambition was defined for her, but that was then—a generation ago.

More importantly, the true meaning of ambition doesn’t lie in the ordinary definition of 9-5. Ambition is a flavorful word with several dimensions to it. Here is one aspect of the Merriam-Webster meaning for ambition“It applies to the desire for personal advancement.” This personal advancement comes from the aspiration to defy mediocrity. It’s that unique quality that makes every human special. A very good friend of mine, who lives in San Diego, could put most women to shame with the kind of stuff she does with her life and family. The list is endless, so I’ll stop, but I did suggest that she start a “What Not to Wear” show targeted towards mothers with appalling taste in style, so they wouldn’t dress their kids like dweebs. That aside, due to her phenomenal desire to defy the ordinary, her four-year old wanted to be taken to a "messy" beach, so that she and her sister could pick up the trash and help clean it up! Did I mention that her seven-year old willingly eats healthy food and rarely even smells junk food? My friend knows her ambition (It’s not a 9-5 corporate ruckus) and is darn good at it. Hmm. Now when I think of it, she too is a Capricorn.:-)

People assume the longer hours you spend at work or the more you travel on business, the more driven you are. And they say it like it’s a crime. Well, for starters, wrong! Some women have to keep longer hours because that’s what their job entails. Then there are women, who work because of financial constraints. I have super-successful corporate friends, who love their families as much as stay-at-home women, but because you can’t have the cake and eat it too, you do what’s required. You can’t say I can do what a man does and then leave things midway because you want to come home and cook or sing a lullaby. The way Mother Nature created us women, you want to be able to put a fresh meal on the table and read a story to your little one, but it can’t all be done. It’s tough and draining, but the inability to do these little things shouldn’t earn the woman insipid comments like, “An ambitious woman can never keep a house happy.” By the same token, just because a woman is always available for her family, doesn’t make her super-competent and compassionate. It’s quality vs. quality. What if she’s too lazy to juggle a work life balance or lacks the drive or confidence or interest to go out in the real world. Again, just because a woman is a stay-at-home person, doesn’t mean she lacks the drive. My friend in San Diego is a classic example. To each his own, but don’t condemn “ambition” like it’s a leper you don’t want to see on the streets.

I want to end my rants with: If your ambition is to cruise through life doing nothing but staying happy the way you are, kudos to you. Do just that because that’s your ambition, and there is nothing wrong with it. Its life without a drive that is tragically sad.

More until next time.

Copyright © 04.23.2009

“Ambition is the germ from which all growth of nobleness proceeds” - Oscar Wilde

Thursday, April 16, 2009

My ears feel abused

Anyone, who has taken the subway in NYC, has probably encountered creepy preachers. Maybe not several times but at least once. They go on an exhausting verbal rant about their set of religious beliefs and faith and life. How their God is the only savior for the mortal degenerates like us. I am so tempted to say “Stuff it stupid,” but the wuss in me avoids the confrontation. I know someone who offered these noise-creators aka weird subway riders a couple of dollars to just shut up. How awesome is that!

This morning in the subway, an annoying, sanctimonious, fanatical, bigot squashed the tranquil of the subway car with her venomous tongue and decrepit words. The self-appointed morality police insulted everyone but Jesus. She said, “Obama can’t help us; only the Lord can.” I couldn’t help but snicker at her malarkey and audacity—so did quite a few of the fellow commuters. But soon I felt humor replaced with fury when she started to deride the gay community. Her word choice was reprehensible -- like a gratuitous insult. For starters, she referred to them as, “Those homosexuals ruining.” I looked at my husband and said, “Why the hell can’t she mind her own business?”

I remember this one time, (In my defense, I’d had an emotionally scathing week); I told one of them off. Well, this woman was waving her hand in my face and asking me to pray to Jesus. Her volume was directly proportional to her portly body. I grew up in a secular country, so I am nothing if not religiously tolerant, but at 7:30p.m. on a Thursday, after a bad week & volunteering my seat to the pregnant, the old, and the kids, I am intolerant towards verbal baloney. I have zero patience for self-righteous fools! I yelled back, “I am Hindu. You are wasting your time on me as I don’t believe in Jesus.”I let the words flow profusely from my mouth into her imbecile ears. She stood still, and I sat shocked.

Honestly, I couldn’t care less what she was preaching about; I just wanted my moment of quiet. So, why am I blogging about crazies in the subway? I don’t know. Maybe because it’s Thursday today, and I feel my patience abandon me.

More until next time.

Copyright © 04.16.2009

“Whenever a man does a thoroughly stupid thing, it is always from the noblest motives.” – Oscar Wilde

Thursday, April 9, 2009

What will my generation pass over?

The Jewish holiday of Passover began yesterday at sundown. Most of my Jewish friends and colleagues either worked from home or left office early to get home on time for Seder. Our conversation in the past couple of weeks has involved at least five mentions of “Passover.” In fact, this year, a few of my friends organized Seder (with loads of traditional Jewish food) at their place and invited even their extended families. Majority of my Catholic friends have given up that one thing they like for Lent--like complaining, gossiping, eating meat, and drinking alcohol etc. I have to admit that I am quite impressed.

In the same breadth, Holi, one of the biggest Hindu festivals was in the month of March, and a lot of Hindus from my generation didn’t even make simple “halwaa” at home. Few used the most banal, “It’s in the middle of the week,” or “All this rich food is not good for you,” excuse for getting out of observing the holiday. I don’t get it. The same folks drink themselves silly on a weeknight at a bar or clog their arteries with French fries and Buffalo wings, but when it comes to their own festivals, they look for justification. To each their own but be consistent with what you say. Not believing in the holidays is one thing but using the “calorimeter” or “inconvenience factor” are just lame. The cheesecake that you chow down once a week or the wine/beer you drink five nights a week are probably a lot worse than a piece of besan laddoo you audaciously chastise.

People could argue that India has gazillion festivals and every state celebrates its holidays, so it’s hard to keep track. Maybe so. But Holi and Diwali are major Indian festivals, and I see them die every year with my generation. Also, Judaism has several holidays too. How come the young Jewish folks don’t find it arduous to remember?

I grew up in a festive house and celebratory hostels. My mother, an awesome cook, made every Indian holiday special for us, so I can’t imagine ordering in food/ going out to dinner or NOT planning a celebration for the aforementioned festivals. But that’s just my thing. I might be a health freak on other days, but Holi, Diwali, Dussehra, and Rakhi mean that there will be kheer and Puri at home, if not more. My own friends and acquaintances have expressed their surprise over my elaborate holiday indulgence. I guess living away from India just makes me clingier to my traditions. For me, it’s a way of thanking the universe for ending another year on a reasonable note. Back home, whether you wanted it or not, you would know that it’s a big holiday—with the blaring music and the energy. But in NYC, unless there is merriment going on at home, a festival would be just another ordinary weekday.

With age, a significant number of my Christian and Jewish friends (the non-anal types) have expressed their desire to get more involved with their religion. As and when they decide to have a family, they would like their kids to have a sense of religion and pedigree. My Christian friends have social circles at church. But I see my Hindu friends and relatives drift away from their faith. Amongst younger Hindus, it’s cool to be an atheist. “I go to the temple to eat dosa,” is a very acceptable notion.

Having said all that, I think I am beginning to understand why some of the Hindus from my generation aren’t as willingly involved as their peers from other religions. In Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, depending on your personality, upbringing, and belief system, you have different kinds of levels of faith you could belong to. Unlike Hinduism, it’s not a macro approach. So, a pork-eating Jew could be a part of the Reformist Synagogue while a Sabbath-keeping-Kosher-following Jew could go to an Orthodox Synagogue. They both follow Judaism but in their own personalized style. Tailored places of worship make sense to me.

I, for one, am anything but an atheist. I love going to “some” temples—the ones where I don’t have to deal with the “I-know-it-all-corrupt-pundits.” I personally don’t need a mediator, and I don’t care about a human telling me how to “think” and “feel” about God. The concept of making friends at Hindu temples isn’t prevalent because you have people from extreme mindsets pray under the same roof. For instance, if I have to sit and pray next to a person who is intolerant towards a Muslim, I won’t. If I have to listen to a fool urging me to fast four days in a week or else bad karma won’t leave my side, I mentally check myself out. I imagine a lot of my peers feel the same way. I believe there should be separate physical temples depending on your belief system—the way it is in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

For instance, I’d like to go to a mandir that doesn’t promote Hindu fundamentalists; doesn’t tell me that I am inferior as a woman; doesn’t rely on fear tactics to get donation out of me. If such a place existed, I would probably go more often instead of making the temple a convenient brunch stop every once in a while. Unless something drastic is done, I can see the Hindus from my generation won’t have much to pass over.

More until next time.

Copyright © 04.09.2009

“Religion is the fashionable substitute for belief”
- Oscar Wilde

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The unexplored possibilities

Over the past few days, I have either watched esoteric movies or had conversations with friends about the most occult topics. Replaying those dialogues, themes, and conversations in my mind has led me to think that we, as humans, choose to see only what our mind allows us to. We take the obvious for granted. Denial is the mantra. What we don’t know can’t hurt. But what if our philosophy is wrong? Who really decides what is the obvious? Why do we not question it?

I have created a short questionnaire and pasted it below—of course, with my answers along with them. Look deep inside your soul. Then, try answering these questions honestly and see if you don’t find out more about yourself. The untainted, true you.

Can you really plan destiny? I wish I could, but I don’t think you can. No wonder the five-year plan is ever a success.

Do certain relationships happen for a reason bigger than what our human mind can comprehend? Do these relationships serve a purpose? Sure. I have met certain people in my life, who came out of nowhere for a defined period, but left at a point. Without any argument or animosity, a distance got created, and the parties moved on. I truly believe they were a part of my life for a reason and vice-versa.

Is America moving from capitalism to socialism and eventually communism? If that’s the case, will the US still hold the same charm for people with big ideas and dreams? If it doesn’t, will innovation come to an end? Yes, I believe the US is moving towards socialism. Socialism won’t attract immigrants with brains and no money. If that’s the case, innovation goes kaput.

Does Obama’s triumph in the elections indicate America is over the “color-issue?” Obama’s victory indicates that people wanted a change. The change came in a different shade and that was a lucky coincidence. The sinking economy worked against the Republicans. Frankly, in my generation, it was unhip if you didn’t vote for Obama; Sarah Palin was the reason why McCain lost with the educated, white, older generation.

Come to think of it, are there any non-racists on this planet? There is a bigot inside all of us. Education and political suaveness has taught us how to mask it. In dire straits, the animal is unleashed.

In the same breadth, is reverse stereotype acceptable? No, it’s not. You represent the tone or a message without the consent of the community. Self-deprecatory humor is smart only if you limit it to your own self.

Is there a selfless deed? I personally don’t think so. Giving to charity makes us feel good. Lot of people like to think that doing stuff for their kids is the most selfless deed. Think again. The child didn’t ask to be born in a particular household. You do things for your children to prove your social status/economic abilities and also to sound prodigious in your “parent-circle.” It might be a subconscious effort, but think it through. A toddler doesn’t know Kmart from FAO Schwartz.

Do we really not judge people who fall outside the realm of our belief system? Of course, we all judge people who fall outside the realm of our belief system. It’s not necessarily out of malice, but “I wonder” + “I am amazed at” = judging. The ensuing battle between “working” and “non-working” women is a classic example. I’d be lying if I said that I don’t wonder about people, who are content with JUST relationships define their existence.

Is it possible to live a life with zero expectations? I am no saint, so of course I don’t think one could live a life that had no expectations. How morose and cold would that be? See, unintentionally, I judged.

How fine is the line between caring and interfering? You can’t care and not interfere, but you can interfere without any care.

Do dreams mean anything? I certainly hope so. The past three nights, I have had a recurring dream. Only with different characters. It’s a message I need to decipher.

Are the people in our dreams a mere personification of our thoughts? I am still figuring this one out. At one of the workshops, a few weeks ago, the professor shared that he believed in this theory.

What’s the mystique of the paranormal? Is there life beyond? I believe so. What happens when we die, especially untimely? Would you not swarm around people and things that meant to you in your human life? My spirit would never leave certain wine bars, coffee shops, Burberry stores, and Tangra Masala.

Does the weather determine our mood? In my case, yes, sometimes. It changes my perspective of how I view the obvious.

More until next time.


Copyright © 04.02.2009

“Ordinary riches can be stolen, real riches cannot. In your soul are infinitely precious things that cannot be taken from you.” Oscar Wilde