Saturday, March 27, 2010

I need help

Recently, a dear friend’s father was admitted in the hospital. Thankfully, he’s out of the ICU now. Sharing any further details would be inappropriate, so let’s just send healing energy his way.

As a part of her update on Facebook, she wrote couplets from the Quran. Beautiful words about faith and healing directed towards her ailing father. Her scribble made me realize how limited my knowledge is when it comes to my religious texts. My mother is unwell, and needless to say, I pray for her speedy recovery every day. But I pray in English - the way I was taught in my convent school when I was a child – head bent and hands folded, intertwined together. I understand wishes and good feelings don’t seek religious identity. But today it matters to me as I continue my search. 

As a Hindu, aside from the festivals and customs (most of which are presented in a way demeaning to women -- thanks to opportunists who have skewed the religion to suit their fascist attitude), I don’t know much about my religion. I mean, I have read the Gita and several books on the history of the religion. I know why Diwali is celebrated or why Holi is my New Year, but I am talking about the Vedas. The true preaching of Hinduism. The core essence of the religion. Its beauty and caveats.

As a woman of today, maybe I need a better reason to pray to Lord Rama, who was the epitome of failure – as a husband. At least from where I stand. He was the ideal son and an ideal ruler, but an insult to marriage and fatherhood. Because of him, women have had to prove their worth to their husbands and their families. Why didn’t Rama have to prove he was chaste? I seek answers, but who do I turn to for them? Shouldn’t there be a place for a disbeliever as much as a believer?

Unlike the Muslims, Jews, or Christians; Hindus don’t have Sunday school so to speak. I wonder if it is considered “uncool” to teach your kids about Hinduism. I don’t know. Honestly, aside from pundits, how many other people know the religion inside out? And frankly, I am not sure all pundits represent Hinduism properly. Many Indian women, from the older generation, have memorized Hanuman Chalisa and Gayatri Mantra. But can they break it down word-for-word and explain the meaning and significance of each utterance? I don’t think so. If they could, would they be blindly following traditions that denounce women?

So how do I find out more? I don’t believe in pundits because I don’t think I need a money-sucking mediator. Who do I turn to if I want to know about one of the oldest religions in the world? We don’t have educated representatives in Hinduism like rabbis, imams, or priests.  Someone who would sit down and level the field with me over biryani and wine. Books help only so much.

I play mantras in the mornings because they have a calming effect. But until “Koi Mil Gaya” was released, I didn’t realize there was a scientific reason why “Aum” was the core of any meditation. You would think these basics would be discussed in a society that obsesses about everything else. I like having a temple in my house because I like the feeling of someone watching over and holding me responsible for my actions. It instills humility. But I am curious about what the texts have to say about keeping a temple at home.

In my world, there are two people I can think of who truly understand Hinduism based on their research and reading habits: my father (who’s also read other religious books and debates with me) and a mausa in Detroit (my mother-in-law’s sister’s husband). But other than them, most other people, I know, follow Hinduism like a hand-me-down obligation. They don’t quite understand the significance of the rituals. They are shackled by fear-based beliefs. No God would ever say, “If you don’t pray to me every Monday, bad things will happen.” That’s a doctrine only humans would instate.

To me, religion is a part of my identity. It’s not above humanity. Never. But it definitely keeps me grounded. At least gives me a perspective and a sense of definition. But how much of my religion do I know?  

Here is my question: Are most Hindus ignorant and blindly believe what’s told to them, like the small number of Muslim fundamentalists? Both these groups exhibit lack of understanding of their own religion. I don’t know if it’s out of choice or if it is involuntary. It could be argued that the Muslim fundamentalist end up hurting others and giving their entire community a bad name. But aren’t the Hindus who follow their religion without questioning do something similar – kill their inner voice? Isn’t that a sin too? Can we ignore the emotional suicide? I am not trying to make a point here; I just seek answers.  


More until next time, 


Copyright © 03. 27.2010


“Religion is not something separate and apart from ordinary life. It is life -- life of every kind viewed from the standpoint of meaning and purpose: life lived in the fuller awareness of its human quality and spiritual significance” – Powell Davies


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Bring it on because I am ready!

Recently, at one of the Bollywood award ceremonies, Bomin Irani won a significant award for his role in 3 Idiots. In his acceptance speech, he said that he got into Bollywood at the age of forty-four. And so if he could challenge himself at that age, anyone could follow his or her dream. I was beyond impressed.

A couple of months ago, I had hinted that I was going to make a change in my life. And I promised to share the news when the time was right. Well, here it is: for the first time in my life, I have decided to do something for myself – not the daughter or daughter-in-law or the wife or any of those socially measurable qualifiers in me. Something that I, as an individual, have wanted to do from the time I was a child. Something that brings me joy. I am finally following my lifelong dream of being a full writer. It’s been two months since I made this decision, and I can promise you, I have never been happier. Not that I am not one of those pessimistic, whiny types in any case. But this is different. I feel inexplicably content on the inside.

Many years ago, my sister-in-law (husband’s sister) had said: “Bhabhi, if I am happy, I can make people around me happy.” At the time, I couldn’t relate to her words; today I see the wisdom in them.

The last couple of months have been interesting. It seems, change is more unsettling for the people in and around your life than it is for you. I have been making mental notes of people’s reactions and actions - some hurtful and others comical. And few really sweet. This is what my oldest, 11-year old niece had to say about one of my stories that recently appeared in an anthology: “iv already finished reading the book. i have finished every story and i think they are really nice but all of themm are not as good as YOURS!” 

I believe people fall under three categories. A handful of family and friends who support you regardless of anything (I have a few of those, and I truly feel blessed); people who are genuinely curious about the change in your life and ask questions (I totally get them and appreciate their presence); and, the moronic group that is an epitome of insecurity.

This post is an ode to the third category, populated with people from different age groups, that has a diminished or minimal sense of almost anything. Maybe because they don’t have much going for themselves. Or they are unhappy in their personal lives. Or they survive by being malicious pests.

I wanted to share a few of those imbecilic rants. My husband, one of my dear cousins from my husband’s side, few close friends, and I have discussed, cussed, and laughed at them over and over again.

I have had people ask me what I do with my day, now that I have quit my full time job. I am tempted to say, “Dumb-ass, writing is my full time job,” but I haven’t reached that point of verbal boomerang. Not yet. 

Some have said, “Now you have time to cook because you don’t have a full time job. No wonder you bake cookies at home.” The lazy butts out there, I have been cooking three meals a day for eleven years now. I didn’t wake up one fine morning, drowned in guilt, with the thought that I should celebrate festivals, go to the temple, or have people over. I am consistent with what I do and cooking, taking care of my house, and entertaining folks aren’t a passing phase in my life. Just because you enter the kitchen once a month and feel the need to justify your apathy towards your house, don’t bite my head off!

“What a waste of a masters degree. All the money spent on an Ivy-league education.” Well, clearly I didn’t borrow money from any of you. They are my loans, and I am paying them off. Happy? Unless you can take care of my debts, zip it.

When I travel to writer’s residencies, a prestigious feat for anyone who wants to understand what they are, I am asked how I can abandon (Yeah, that dramatic) my husband for those weeks. Interesting how traveling on work is a sexist thing too. My husband makes business trips all the time. As he should because that’s the nature of his job. He doesn't expect, but, when I travel, I cook and clean for those weeks ahead of time, so he doesn’t have to come back and figure things out for himself. 

The best one yet: “You are so lucky, your husband is so accepting. Poor guy. Double income to single income.” Never mind the fact that I worked, earned, and saved for the decision that I made. Also, isn’t that what spouses do – support each other? Nothing in the world is one-sided. But most importantly, I don’t see how it’s anyone’s business.

I get career tips from people who have never earned a dime of their own. Flurries of relationship management tips are thrown my way from selfish brats: “Don’t work late nights. Come home together with your husband.” All of a sudden, I am supposed to be nothing more than a woman whose identity is to cook, clean, and serve her husband. Every relationship is different, and you will never be privy to mine, so don’t pawn off advice. Neither of us needs it.

Another thing that irks me is voicemails during work hours. People wanting to hold telephonic chats when I am making breakfast or packing lunch or rushing out or in the middle of a project. And the surprise in the tone when they don’t find me at home. Are you crazy? Again, read slowly because I empathize that you are challenged-learners: Writing is my full time job. For eight hours in a day, at least, I am not around. The way I wasn’t available earlier. Nothing has changed. I still leave home rather early in the morning, and no cell phones are permitted at my writing space. Even on the days I work from home, I am still working. Just because you don’t know what to do with your day, don’t lash out at me!

Over the past couple of months, I have conceded that I can’t change people. I am not even trying because everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, however asinine. And if anything, I like opinions because they nudge me out of my comfort zone. What bothers me is the conceited intrusiveness. If my spirit intimidates you, then it’s your problem.

My husband once said: “At least you have a dream. How many of us can even say that? Just follow it and think about yourself for once.” I am appreciative of the people who support my aspirations of defying the ordinary. I understand that this is my decision, and I am responsible for the outcome. Good or bad. 

For those of you meddling, make your peace with it because it won’t take me long to cut you right out. I am over the feeling-offended and angry stage. I am no longer a child, and I might not keep quiet this time. Don't mistake my niceness for my weakness. You know who you are, but I won't really care who you are!

More until next time,


Copyright © 03. 18.2010


“Opinion has caused more trouble on this little earth than plagues or earthquakes” - Voltaire


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Taking a moment to say hello!

Hello from bucolic living at its best! I am away this week at one of the oldest writer’s residencies in America. It’s in the middle of nowhere. I mean that literally.

The residency is atop a hill, and it is surrounded by copious amounts of snow. The closest civilization is reachable only by car. There are no grocery stores, yoga studios, gas stations, or humans near where I am. But we do have bears and moose as neighbors. And the frisky wind which teases the curtains at night.

Initially, I was convinced life in rural, secluded America would be an episode from one of the Srivastava-Vikram family favorite TV shows, “Criminal Minds.” Apparently I sounded (maybe still do) like a cynical New Yorker with my “safety” questions. Don’t judge me; people here don’t lock their doors or cars.

The first day, when I walked out of my studio in the evening, I realized the common area was pitch dark. And suddenly it struck me that I was by myself in this massive cottage. And did I mention there is no cell phone reception here? I freaked out! Contemplated going back to the city. Just then, two of the other residents (also from NYC) walked into the cottage. I guess the stress lines on my face were obvious. They distracted me by talking about the spectacular sunset – a must see.

So, I grabbed my coat and walked out. I sat on the corner of a snow-covered barbeque table and saw the most gorgeous view. A humbling feeling. Right then, something happened. Something dramatic. As the rays of the setting sun melted some of the snow, I had a conversation with myself. My thoughts breathed freely in the woods. And none of it was intentional.

Given the demands of a city life, my every hour, like most city-dwellers’, is dedicated to some active verb or the other. Every minute is accounted for.

Peter De Vries once said, “I write when I'm inspired, and I see to it that I'm inspired at nine o'clock every morning”. Professionally, I am a multi-genre writer, so I make sure I devote enough time to poetry, creative nonfiction essays, and fiction stories. My brain is used to the juggling. Literally, at the specific allotted time of the day, poetry gets written. Or personal essay topics flow into the specific compartment of the brain.

Life in a big city is about processes. And every creative type I have met there tells me they have a routine. There is no other way of meeting deadlines and accomplishing everything.

Anyway, after the sunset on the first day, I got back to my studio and wrote for almost six hours. It was pure and untainted work. A short fiction story. The next day, I tried writing another story, but my hands ended up inscribing poetry. I wondered about it. And the day after, the same thing. happened. I decided to go for a walk even if that meant walking on a cold, frozen, uninhabited road to remind my brain that it was “short story time.”

I walked up to the gallery, a few blocks away, where Edna St. Vincent Millay, the first woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, wrote at one time! It was an honor to experience the energy at a historical landmark site.

The director, a lovely man, and I got talking. I confessed to him that I wasn’t able to write anything but poetry. Fiction pieces felt phony. And I didn’t quite feel the emotional upsurge to write a personal essay. He told me that I wasn’t the first person to experience the poetic-pull. One of the residents in the past, a visual artist, ended up writing poetry instead of creating visual art pieces.

There is something in the air here. I wonder if its Edna’s energy. There is a poetry trail here -- Millay poetry trail. Is that the muse? I don’t know, but I am learning to appreciate time. Time which isn’t a slave to urban dictatorship. Time which allows creativity to flow like the Ganges.

I have always been a city person, and I don’t see that changing. But I can see why people come up to such remote places. It’s not just about avoiding distractions. It’s about listening to yourself. Getting reacquainted with what you want. It takes a little getting used to, but it’s worth it in the end.

In these few days, my creative instincts want to live like a true, bohemian artist: Wear green pants with pink sweater and soak in the surroundings. I indulge them. I nap when I want. I write and read when creative juices knock at my door. The city girl inside of me might be perturbed, but the artist feels at peace.


More until next time, 



Copyright © 03. 08.2010

“Writing is making sense of life. You work your whole life and perhaps you've made sense of one small area.”  Nadine Gordimer quotes



Thursday, March 4, 2010

Dude, take a break!

Let me start this post with a disclaimer: I am a huge fan of Karan Johar and his films. They, almost, always have a unique viewpoint and are class apart. But lately, in my opinion, he’s making movies that fall outside the realm of his expertise. He might try and position them as “love stories,” but nah! Somehow his experimental films don’t work as well.

The Bollywood buff in me and the film addict in my husband recently watched Karan Johar’s newly released film, “My Name is Khan (MNIK).” The movie, in my world, has sparked a few debates. Johar, as always, has done a marvelous job capturing beautiful locales and making everyone look pretty. The cinematography is phenomenal.

Kajol has gained a few pounds, in comparison to Fanaa, and is a tad bit extra vivacious, for my taste, in the first half of the film, but she does remember to act in the second half. Other than that, she was quite pleasant. Her mane of hair and smile are still gorgeous! Shahrukh Khan, for a change, didn’t overact, which was refreshing. Maybe others feel differently, but I actually thought he put effort into the movie.

Their son, Sam, deserves an entire paragraph. In the movie, Sam was shown as this gentle, magnanimous and nice looking chap but kinda unwise. I mean, on one hand this kid didn’t freak out about his mother marrying an autistic guy, which was remarkably mature; but on the other, he was dumb enough to challenge four boys, bigger than him, until they beat him into a pulp. See, I am all about standing up for the truth and fighting for your rights, but there is something called tact. There is something called sensibility. And there is something called strategy. But this boy was brazen. He died because he was foolish. Since the movie has not-so-subtle messages behind it, I pray no teenager, who ever watches this movie, thinks what Sam did was cool.

Here is what baffles me: What is Karan Johar’s ultimate objective about making movies? I am sure a big part of is to watch the cash registers ring at the box office? But are his movies pure fantasies? If that’s the case, I suggest he get help because he has issues. To me, it seems, Karan Johar is trying to convey social messages via his movies—at least the last couple of releases. And if that’s true, he needs to be more responsible.

In “Kurbaan,” Karan Johar painted a dark picture of the Muslim community. In case you haven’t watched that movie, don’t even bother. It’s an upsetting film that represents every stereotype that one could imagine about Muslims, Islam, and violence. Just because he calls it a love story, one can’t overlook the other gory details and the suggestive tone of the film. And then he makes a movie like “MNIK,” where he uses a religious, devout, Muslim fellow, suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome, to tell the world that not all people belonging to his religious faith are terrorists. Is it really so simple to take on a journey most people would fear?

Bigots will be bigots. And people like us, who don’t confirm religion before making friends, could care less if the person sitting next to them was a Hindu, Muslim, or of any other faith. But what about the sub-set of impressionable folks? You think MNIK can control the damage done by Kurbaan? One can tell Johar is a talented filmmaker who believes in his films. I can’t help but wonder if MNIK was Karan Johar’s way of apologizing for “Kurbaan.” His own manifested guilt. If Johar thinks he can change or convince people with his movies, why make an insinuating film like “Kurbaan” and then pray for penitence with “MNIK?”


More until next time, 


Copyright © 03. 04.2010


“I make films I believe in. Today my strength is emotional drama. I know I lack courage to do a variety of films but I am getting better.” – Karan Johar