Thursday, May 28, 2009

Who am I?

When my brother and I were growing up, my mother always said, “With age, your roots call out to you.” Of course, as a teenager, I shrugged her postulation, but today, I concede. She was right. Over the years, I feel the Indian in me has become thirsty and wants to find out about my ancestry. I mean, I know what I was told, but there has to be more. For instance, a little while ago, I found out that Birbal, one of the gems in Mughal emperor Akbar’s court, was a Kayastha— the same core pedigree as mine. I couldn’t care less about the Hindu caste system or religious faith, but I was excited beyond human comprehension about this possible linkage. Birbal’s wit and intelligence is something that I have always been in awe of. I wanted to explore the idea of a possible link between Birbal and my family, if any. But, with no grandparents alive, who do I turn to for anecdotes or the truth behind the family tree?

A couple of weeks ago, I met a young writer, Sadia Shepard at a reading – an intimate group of attendees with a handful of impressive authors. It was one of those evenings that’s embossed permanently on my soul. As Sadia read through pages of her first book, The Girl from Foreign, I instantly knew I wanted to buy her work. Her eloquence had the audience spellbound. Like others present, I too felt a connection but to her quest and desire to seek answers about her heritage. Not to give away the core essence of the book, Sadia grew up with three parents and three religions—a Jewish Indian (by birth)/ Pakistani Muslim (by marriage) maternal grandmother, Nana, a Pakistani Muslim mother, and a white, Christian father. Post her grandmother's death, to honor her last wishes, Sadia, a Fullbright scholar, spent years in Bombay researching and documenting her Nana’s Bene Israeli heritage. I was impressed by her gesture and feelings towards her grandparent. In some ways, The Girl from Foreign, which I finished in less than two days and totally recommend, made me feel both guilty and jealous.

Guilty: My generation in India mostly grew up in nuclear families with just parents and siblings. Remember the slogan depicting a family of four—“Hum do hamaare do?” There were occasional visits from the grandparents, aunts, and uncles, but it wasn’t like everyone lived under one roof. Despite the changing societal structure, the culture taught you to respect your elders. Respect is one thing but can anyone teach you to feel attached to another human being? Respect and love isn’t one and the same thing. Even though I enjoyed having relatives over and am still close to my cousins, I don’t think I am emotionally dependent on any of them. In her last few years, my father’s mother, dadi , lived with my parents, but I saw her only when I came home for holidays. Even then, I loved her presence and the smell of tradition, but I think it was more respect and less adulation. I didn’t feel any nostalgia when she wasn’t around and even if I did, it was for a few moments. Life went on.

Sometimes I wonder if my emotions have a pragmatic equation because I grew up in hostels. I live by “It is what it is.” But then I spoke with other friends, who grew up at home, and it seems a significant number of people from my generation lack that devotion and fire that Sadia felt towards her grandmother.

Jealous: My husband’s attachment to his paternal grandparents, Baba and Dadi, is somewhat similar to Sadia Shephard’s to her Nana. My husband spent his formative years with his paternal grandparents. They taught him to walk, ride the bicycle, and solve math problems. I distinctly remember the first time we went back to India on vacation; we visited my husband’s Baba and Dadi before we flew to Bombay to meet his own parents. I was shocked yet enamored by his actions because I didn’t grow up with that passion like him or Sadia, for the extended family. Actually, both of them aren’t the norm but a pleasant minority.

When my grandparents were alive, I enjoyed their presence but didn’t do justice to their stories. As a writer, I feel guilty for not jotting down my grandparents’ anecdotes; as a human being, I am jealous of anyone, who shares that special bond with their grandparents. See, I don't have the dedication to make my grandparents’ wishes a cause for my life.

More until next time.

Copyright © 05.28.2009

"Cynic: a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing" - Oscar Wilde

Thursday, May 21, 2009


The other day, a friend of mine attended a pre-school admissions workshop, in NYC, for her toddler. Her description of the other mothers (very - Stepford wives) and their inquisitiveness about anyone, who didn’t look like them (They asked my friend which planet she was from), reminded me of a book I recently read--“Schooled” by Anisha Lakhani.

I won’t call Schooled the “World’s Best Book,” but it was inexplicably addictive. The content fell in the following category: Oh- that- makes- me-so- mad-that- I could- just-smack-someone. The book is a younger and opulent version of one of my all time favorite writer, E.R. Braithwaite’s “To Sir with Love”. Schooled, unlike To Sir With Love which is set in mid-60s Britain, is focused on a private school on the Upper East Side in New York City and its covetous kids (and worldly teachers). I cringe every time I think about seventh graders (characters in the book) carrying Chanel bags to school and bemoaning any brand which wasn’t in that league. But, can you truly believe a child is culpable of social ineptness if the parents bringing them up don’t tell them otherwise? Children are a reflection of their own parents. Then again, some parents don’t know better because they haven’t had the exposure themselves. Money and culture don’t always go hand in hand, you know.

What’s the best way to get your hands dirty with real life? I think it’s by living away from home in your formative years. The exact age doesn’t matter, but it is imperative. Folks, who have always lived at home, tend to have sheltered upbringing and almost never had to compromise. It’s not like they are terrible human beings, but they’ve rarely needed to think for others. There are always exceptions to every rule. But, growing up, most families in my generation had two kids so you pretty much got your way. Eating “Tandoori chicken” instead of “Pao Bhaji” because your sister insisted or playing Golf on the Wii instead of Boxing to make your brother happy doesn’t exactly make you Florence Nightingale. In fact, these so-called gestures are a joke for the word “sharing.”

Being away from the paradise of parental love and support teaches you to adjust, accommodate, survive, multi-task, comprehend, and appreciate the smallest of gestures. Like filling up a bucket of hot water for your injured friend and in the process skipping your own bath day, does qualify for real gestures and relationships. If you have always lived at home, getting your way & being spoilt is inevitable; the degrees may vary depending on the parents’ affluence and tolerance. I mean, you meet and become friends with people, who are clones of your own self—a.k.a. your parents’ friends’ offspring. Now that can’t be healthy. It’s like marrying within the family.

Every parent tries to give their own kin the best that they can afford without realizing that they might actually be doing them disservice. Life isn’t about one person or child’s needs. My boarding school rules didn’t permit us to wear anything aside from our boring uniforms, EVER! Sure, the teenager in me loathed their Nazi rules then, but as an adult, I appreciate their thoughtfulness. The authorities knew all of us didn’t come from the same financial background, so while one child had enough money for a silk shirt and designer jeans, the other child could just afford an ordinary shirt. Those values made my friends and me responsible, sensitive, and aware of the world around us. Like, you can’t discuss your Europe vacation with someone who hasn’t stepped out of Bombay or Meirut. Your financial abilities should make you humble and socially conscious instead of asininely ostentatious.

If these children in Schooled or the gauche moms, who expressed their astonishment to see my non-blond friend, were exposed to the real world (a multi-ethnic Diaspora beyond their limited knowledge of existence), they would probably have made for more evolved human beings.

More until next time.

Copyright © 05.21.2009

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

Thursday, May 14, 2009

When did you feel it?

My generation is held culpable for whining about age all the time. It’s true; age and weather predominate our conversations. Maybe we have matured ahead of time due to our lifestyles and work stress. I think, work-life balance is the cruelest myth ever!

Every single time I say, "I am getting old," the older people yell me at. For someone in their fifties or sixties, thirty is the sweet age of opulence and vigor. I am mortified to admit (and bloody proud too) that both my father and mother-in-law are more about joie de vivre than most of my contemporaries.

Well, in some ways I agree with the adage: "You are only as old as you feel." That might be true mentally but on a physical level, equations change. If you are enervated, feelings and perception don’t matter. You can’t function. The other day, a friend in her mid-twenties, confessed that her brain couldn’t perform the basic tasks with just four hours of sleep, three nights in a row. That was the first sign for her. Even an overdose of caffeine betrayed her.

I was talking to my sister-in-law the other day, and she mentioned that at a dinner party at her place, despite a cornucopia of choices, people actually chose to eat salad. Now I know all these beloved folks. Five years ago, the same crowd would have not only alienated the greens and focused on a pure meat and alcohol diet but also ridiculed anyone who even glanced at the healthy options. Mind you, none of these people are over thirty-something yet felt that age had altered their food preferences.

Friends have shared various instances and experiences when they got a little visit from the "Age-Satan." I got a hint of aging (fine, turning thirty actually) when I metamorphosed from a nocturnal party animal into a morning creature. Aside from passing out from fatigue before midnight, I started finding bars too loud and wearing. Lip reading over deafening music doesn’t excite me any more. They got replaced with mood-suiting Mozart pieces and other forms of both western and Indian classical music. Aperitif at chic lounges ousted $5 cocktails, in hideous glasses, at Irish Pubs; often, spending time with intimate set of friends started winning over clubbing. Staying in on a Friday night--wearing PJs and ordering in and watching reruns of The ‘70s Show is our ultimate idea of Friday evening. It’s a luxury, and my husband and I wish we could do it more! A few years ago, I couldn’t imagine anything lamer than no social commitment on a Friday night.

Today, I’m okay with missing an opening night at a new wine bar or a new artistic event, just so I can watch my three nieces on Skype: Discuss "favorite authors" and celebrities with my oldest niece; art & food & dance with my second one; and watch the youngest clap her hands & devour the microphone.

Despite complete apathy towards ornaments, I am willing to discuss jewelry with my mom and mom-in-law on a Sunday morning instead of trying out a new brunch place and washing down the week’s nuance with a cup of freshly brewed cappuccino. My vacation list consists of exquisite time with my family too as opposed to JUST exotic places with my hubby. Up until a few years ago, we would travel every month. No exaggeration there. Ask our bank account; it’s orphaned:-) A confession: At times, clearing up all social commitments for a weekend and soaking in the free time (Oh, so rare) is the best therapy.

So, when was the first time you started feeling you’d aged?

More until next time.

Copyright © 05.14.2009

"The tragedy of old age is not that one is old, but that one is young" Oscar Wilde