Thursday, March 26, 2009

If I dream, why do you scream?

As a child, I had one unswerving dream; I wanted my name on the cover of a book. I didn’t know what it would take, but I knew I wanted to be a published author. In my dreams, I have sat through award ceremonies and rehearsed my acceptance speech. Though pragmatism and life’s journeys steered me away from professional writing, fate brought me back to it in a rather interesting way. A few of you know that I rent writing space to give my creativity and relationship with words, true fruition. With God’s grace and my family & friends’ support (there goes the speech):-), my second book, “Inner Voices,” a part of the short stories collection published by Mirage Books, came out this week. It’s an incredible feeling because the book happened at a time when I was least expecting it.

Years ago, Madhuri Dixit made her return to Bollywood with the movie Devdas -- a movie that won her a Filmfare Award. In her acceptance speech, she said “This is for all those people who thought I should pack my bags and bid adieu to Bollywood.” Her words stuck with me for all these years. At that time, I was appalled at her superciliousness; today, I clearly understand her word choice. The film industry and critics judged her and wrote her off. Her return to Bollywood was a slap across anyone who thought that Madhuri was JUST suitable to be defined by relationships--a US-settled doctor’s wife and a mom of two. People had dared to dream for her.

Growing up, I saw my dad partake in multiple activities, aside from his day-to-day job. All the lazy folks, with a prosaic mind, said, “You always keep running uselessly.” My response to them is that he wasn’t running around; he was pursuing his dreams, which of course, an average mind and soul couldn’t comprehend. That is why they are just run of the mill while my dad dreamt and aspired beyond ordinary. This is not a daughter’s bias speaking; it’s the voice of a human being trying to make sense of this average, presumptuous world.

So where am I going with these three separate, yet not mutually exclusive, scenarios? Like my dad, Madhuri Dixit, and me, several of you reading this, probably have been in situations where people have felt the unsuppressed desire to counsel your life’s choices. I, for one, have been advised to think, feel, and dream a “certain way.” “It’s time to take it easy. Why are you running? You are always joining something or the other. What is this new workshop?” My schedule doesn’t tire me; I feel effete with the verbal baloney.

Most people are happy with the humdrum of daily life. Nothing wrong with that, but at the same time, it’s not fair to judge someone’s prodigious dreams. Maybe the sanctimonious preachers are people, who haven’t done much with their lives, so they feel threatened by anyone who dares to dream beyond their banal existence. Don’t these people get that cherishing the path of mediocrity and chastising extraordinary is a reflection of their own languor?

More until next time.

Copyright © 03.26.2009

“The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame." - Oscar Wilde

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Solution: Get the brother and sister married!

In college, I had a very close friend whose mom was Jewish. Looking at her, no one could have ever guessed her ethnic background. Her accent, demeanor, persona were all so desi, for lack of a better term. I was always amazed at how “Indian” she looked in a sari or salwar kameez and how effortlessly she cooked two of my favorite dishes, chicken biryani (Chicken pilaf with rice) and rajma/chawal (Beans and rice). Her North Indian cooking had a lot of Punjabi influence. Did I mention that my friend’s dad is Punjabi? Anyways, they both made for such an incredibly exquisite and warm-hearted couple, who fell in love and got married with the blessings of the family, in an era when the bride and the groom saw each other’s faces after the wedding. Sure, they were very high on our “Cool-parents meter.”:-)

The imbecile teenager in all of us couldn’t help but marvel at how “phenomenal” this couple was; the feminist in me, even today, wonders about their journey. What did my friend’s dad have to do, aside from acknowledge his changed marital status, like most other Indian men? My friend’s mom gave up her country, family, culture, food, and language for the man she loved. She wrote off her identity and never looked back, or did she? Her kids don’t speak a word of Hebrew or observe any Jewish holidays or cook Matzo Ball soup. I can’t imagine that’s very gratifying. You be the judge.

Her story reminds (abrasively nudges) me of the whole “It’s-about-the-boys-family” culture. An Indian girl is expected to embrace a new family and abandon her past after her marriage. Her priorities should be her in-laws and husband. Interestingly, this pressure comes both from the girl’s parents as well as the in-laws. The girls’ side is always apologetic in a non-traditional way. I am appalled at the mindset where people think the girl should mold her essence to feed into the male chauvinistic ego. Why can’t the families coexist by bringing in the flavor of the girl’s side as well as the boy’s family? No one family is faultless or dreadful. Why should the woman have to make all the compromises? Oh please, don’t give me the baloney about “God intended it to be this way,” or “It’s our culture.” The latter is the most atrocious and intellectually-deprived excuse for narcissism.

By expecting a woman to relinquish her past, are you suggesting that the way she’s been doing things her entire life is wrong? Well, think again! It’s but natural that every woman does things the way her mom did. That’s what she saw growing up. As Oscar Wilde said, “All women become like their mothers.” If people want a younger/similar version of themselves, for a daughter-in-law, well, here is a suggestion: Get your son married to his sister. Problem solved!

I have cousins, on my husband’s side, who are married to Kiwis, British, and American citizens. The fusion of traditions, in their homes, is incredible. Each person picks out the best from their culture and imparts that to their kids. Even the kids’ names have a blend of Indian and the other nationality. Now that’s what I am talking about.

More until next time.

Copyright © 03.19.2009

“I decided it is better to scream. Silence is the real crime against humanity.” - Nadezhda Mandelstam, Russian writer, Hope Against Hope

Thursday, March 12, 2009

What Jhumpa Lahiri taught me

Last week was SAWCC’s literary festival. One of the evenings, in particular, was very special to me. Author Jhumpa Lahiri graced aspiring word-dabblers with her literati presence. Both the child and the writer in me were so happy to see and hear the maestro up, close, and personal. The exhilarated audience wanted to know so many things about her writing - style, form, inspirations, influences, scheduling etc.

Lahiri spoke with poise and professional distance. She came across as candid, level-headed and real. Her responses were eloquent and proficient. Granted she is a world famous author, BUT she is also a human being, a wife, a mother, and a friend. These are facets of her life that she isn’t oblivious to. Also, she loves her craft but doesn’t write to please others. She gives it her best shot at that time. She understands that not everyone is going to fall madly in love with her work but that’s okay. The results and destiny of a project aren’t under her control, and she seemed very pragmatic about it. Despite her success with writing, she continues to value feedback from a few chosen people whom she trusts and whose criticism she appreciates.

I heard murmurs amongst the audience that her answers were rehearsed. I guess, some people had expected celebrity tantrums and answers built in imaginary castles? I, for one, thought the sassy brouhaha was ridiculous! Not everyone likes to put their life on a public pedestal. Lahiri shared the professional side of her and that’s what the evening was about. I didn’t see why she needed to rip her heart open and share the minutest detail of her personal life with the audience. That’s frivolous expectation! For every writer in the room, including myself, it was a heavenly evening. Just hearing a success story like Jhumpa Lahiri reiterating what I have been thinking and feeling all along was a gift in itself --aside from the Columbia name in common.

Several of my friends and acquaintances have asked me questions, all pertinent, about my “writing”—my style, form, muse, inspiration, voice, routine, discipline etc. Well, like any right-brain using creative types, my emotions evolve with time, place, topic, and experience and flow into my work to occupy a temporary residence. My approach, language, and passion differ from topic to topic and across genres. The eternal learner in me learns something new every day. And, like Jhumpa Lahiri, I give my work my 100% at the time, and I don’t dwell over a finished piece. Letting go is not a challenge. You know, I truly appreciate constructive criticism and of course, kind words of encouragement but then I have no patience for people who say things to feel superior when in reality, we all know the resentment is a reflection of their own incompetence. That is why I get a few friends, whom I implicitly trust, to review my work. I am cognizant that not everyone will cherish the final product. But that’s okay. I write for myself and not to please an audience. My relationship with words is the most untainted and truest of it all. I humbly put them out there with my hopes and prayers and move onto the next project.

Jhumpa Lahiri is a phenomenon in her own way, and I am a nobody when compared to her, but her responses echoed my mere mortal thoughts. Was that reassuring? Hell, yeah!

More until next time.

Copyright © 03.12.2009

“I am so clever that sometimes I don't understand a single word of what I am saying" - Oscar Wilde

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Phoenix Mumbai

Today I feel helpless, like the soldier boy
with an amputated leg, who wants to fight
but the shackles of reality won't let him. I saw

innocent hopes and dreams being crushed, I
heard civilians cry and media go awry. Stop
this cowardice and fight like a soldier-- if you are

one. When the night poured in, your viciousness
flooded our lives, wiping the vermillion off women's
hair and making the mothers' wombs cry. You

slaughtered in the name of religion. Spattered
blood in the veins and crevasses of a loving,
tolerant city. You stand alone in your malice.

This time it's personal. It's gone too far. You
invaded my city, my life. Sent peace fleeing with
the souls of those dead. Discard the pretentious

garb of bravery. You are a heartless killer to me. Do
what you want. Try all you can. It's me. I'll emerge
stronger than before. Mumbai makes this promise to you.

I wrote this poem right after the heinous attacks on Bombay, which began on November 26th and didn’t end until the 29th of the month. So, why am I sharing this piece after three months of the unfathomable act? I don’t know. Maybe it’s the vicious attack on the Sri Lankan team that’s brought back memories or the fact that a coworker’s boyfriend is actually moving to Pakistan (for a defined period of time) to study the “true” relationship between Indians and Pakistanis and not their bureaucratic leaders fostering animosity. Ironically, he’s convinced that he’ll probably be killed midway through his research. I, for one, hope his intuition is wrong.

More until next time.

Copyright © 03.05.2009