Thursday, April 29, 2010

An interesting month

So, I am back in the concrete jungle called New York City. After just three weeks of country-living, I can't believe the blaring of horns startled me. On the first day after my return, that is. 

Anyway, I had a fabulous trip. Memorable experiences. Met interesting people. Interacted with generosity. Compared and traced history. Learnt lessons in trust. Indulged in gourmet food. Drank pure wine. And came back with lots of good writing material. More on that as and when the pieces are published.

April is National Poetry month. I feel humbled as four of my poems got published and a few others accepted during this time. Two of these were written in Portugal and Ireland respectively - at my residencies. 

As I embrace the reality of city life,  grab a cup of tea or coffee and delve into the world of words, won't you? And remember, Oscar Wilde said, "All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling."

"Writer in Another Town" -

"A Bittersweet Summer" & "Finding Perspective" -

"Living in Denial" -

More until next time, 



Copyright © 04. 29.2010

Monday, April 19, 2010

Stranded but alive

Hi all,

Thank you for all the love. I have received such generous notes from people enquiring about my welfare; I feel truly blessed. Just wanted to inform everyone that I am alive and kicking. And no, I am not buried under any volcanic ash. Apparently, that's what some of the news channels in Asia have been talking about. 

Some of you know that our original plan was to celebrate my husband's birthday in Ireland. I was supposed to have finished my residency by last evening, and he was going to join me right after in picturesque Eyeries. Our hotels, flights, car rentals, trains etc. were all confirmed for a week of fun traveling. I even had the name of the bakery written down - the place from where I was going to order his birthday cake. My fellow residents had recommended restaurants. But much to our disappointment, as some of you know, the Srivastava-Vikram plans got disrupted.

Of course it's been upsetting and on many levels. As a friend pointed out, I have had the interesting fortune of being in a similar situation not too long ago. But you know what, life doesn't happen the way we want it. And we need to take the good with the bad. I can't say much because I have sorta been commissioned by a couple of magazines to write an essay and a poem about my experience. But I will share one thing with you. 

At the residency, I met this woman about twenty five years older than me. She was in a very happy marriage when she lost her husband to a tragic accident on Christmas eve. He was barely 33. She had two little boys at the time of his death. You could tell from her vulnerability, she still loved him even after two decades of his death. This lady said something that I will never forget: "What is a date? It's a concept. You can celebrate his birthday next week or next month. The wonderful thing is that you are both alive." She and another fellow resident, a famous Hollywood celebrity (an Emmy award winner), further suggested that once we are both back in NYC, I should organize a surprise birthday dinner for my husband.

It's unfortunate how one person's loss becomes another person's gain - in terms of learning. I did learn an important lesson that night: It's all about perspective. I have never been a pessimist, and I strongly believe that everything happens for a reason. My husband believes I can take something positive out of any situation. But this writer taught me something valuable - to appreciate what I have instead of obsess about what I don't. And I have hope and loved ones (family and friends) in my life. 

So what if I am stranded in Ireland? Despite the wrath of the volcanic ash, so far, I have a roof over my head, thanks to the magnanimity of a new but dear friend. Given what others have been subjected to, I want to count my blessings. If anything, I am humbled by the shower of generosity from everyone. Strangers have done what only friends and family would and more. 

I just saw on the news that a fresh round of eruptions has buried hopes of travelers, again. I am booked on a Sunday morning flight to New York and until last night, I was feeling pretty good about it. But as of now, I don't know. No one can tell what'll happen between today and then. But the human in me has faith that the skies will clear. Good follows bad. It's a cycle. And that I will be home sooner than later. But until then, the writer in me has an obligation to fulfill. I have these few days in my hand and a situation out of my control. I'd rather write than mope.

I will ping you next week with an update. Until then, stay safe!

More until next time, 



Copyright © 04. 20.2010

“For everything you have missed, you have gained something else, and for everything you gain, you lose something else.” – Raplh Waldo Emerson

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Indians and Americans could learn a thing or two

Have you heard the sound of silence? Do you remember the last time you ate lunch on a weekday day pretending you were on vacation? Have your thoughts ever been as still as the lilies growing in an old pond? Have you ever been able to detach your brain from your body, I am not talking about meditation classes, and just let go?

I don’t think I have ever completely learnt to relax in the European sense of the way. I am in southwest Portugal for a writer’s residency. And this past week has been a learning experience on so many levels.

The residency, a UNESCO landmark, is so secluded that everything around here feels like a metaphor. It’s sprawling and lush green. There are hills, not mountains. And I love hills, hate the mountains. You have horses, pigs, cows and the regular dog and cats as part of the entourage. The dog is a linguist. She understands my instructions in Hindi. The directors told me that a Norwegian student spoke with the dog in his language, and she seemed to respond.

The place that hosts us residents is an old, Spanish/Portuguese house from one of those Antonio Banderas movies. Each room comes with its own equipped kitchen, including but not limited to sandwich bags and a wine bottle opener, and a little patio with table and chair. And of course, an attached bathroom.

There is no Internet access in the bedrooms. When I first found out, I was devastated. See, I am part of two cultures that birth and nurture technologies. I live in a country that is constantly connected. Almost all my friends, acquaintances, and network, back in the States, are glued to their PDAs 24/7. I didn’t appreciate the Wi-Fi free Zen bedroom. Dude, planning to check my emails is not a concept I am used to. My iPhone is my savior for everything. And here I met people with no Facebook accounts. These are extremely successful artists and equally good human beings. And they have managed to live a happy personal and professional life without social media. I blurted “wow” a few times and then shut up. Anyway, with my New York attitude, friendly but borderline “You can’t be serious,” I settled into the place.

Attitudes are so flimsy. They change when it suits them. As I ate my lunch on the first day staring at the expanse of green and then my dinner watching the sunset, I began to appreciate no connectivity in my room. Staying connected can be rather draining for the brain. Not to forget, it’s a hurdle in the path of creativity. Here, I check my emails when I am on a break. The outside world isn’t a distraction. This way, my mind and soul get the time to absorb my surroundings and allows it to creep into my subconscious. I am getting a lot of work done, and the Portuguese landscape is dominant in my current project. Also, the common area is where we artists hang out. Residencies are not just about doing your own work; it’s also about learning from and interacting with others. Last night, I learnt a few Angolan dance moves.

From day one, I was bowled over by the hospitality of the residency directors and the unrestrained warmth of my fellow residents, majority of whom got here before I did. I arrived on Easter and of course in a Catholic country like Portugal, grocery stores were closed. So, very generously, my residency directors turned their kitchen into Seven Eleven for me.

The same day, a group of us went sight seeing. One of the directors was our tour guide. I was surprised but liked the casualness of the day where people weren’t overtly politically correct, the way they are in the US, all the time. People understood the sincerity of the conversationalists.

The next day, the director drove me to the grocery store. The locals were gracious and courteous. Like a stereotypical “rude” tourist, I, unintentionally, said “thank you” and “no problem” in Spanish instead of Portuguese. Hall of shame. Anyway, I did a little meat dance for the produce lady: “Want cluck-cluck or oink-oink. No moo.” Funny how arts seeks no language. She understood what I meant. Shoppers in the store helped me pick out wines within my budget.

I have become friends with avid walkers. We go for long walks to the old mill and the train tracks that lead you to a river and a debilitating house. I will post some pictures once I am back in the US.

I like the balanced informality of the European culture. People here aren’t all that “space-conscious.” In India,  you grow up with warm and fuzzy but in-your-face love. In America, it's the other extreme. On one of our walks, I happened to mention in passing that I really like Portuguese coffee. But that I won’t get to drink it until Friday - that is when I go grocery shopping again. There is a coffee shop inside the store that sells delicious pastries, savories, and coffee. My Portuguese fellow resident promptly offered to make me some of the local specialty today.

We had our first potluck dinner on Tuesday evening. It went on way past midnight. The evening attended by ten people brought seven: nationalities, cuisines, and experiences to the dining table. Wine and conversation overflowed. There is something to be said about spending time with artists of different nationalities versus artists from different cities within the same country.

But this amazing experience reminded me how as an Indian living in America (both workaholic countries), I don’t know how to live without an agenda on hand. Maybe India and America are doing well because people are driven. But at what cost, you can’t help but wonder.

In New York, people eat lunch at their desks. Over summer, even if they go out to catch some sun, it’s for a maximum of 30 minutes. In India, returning home from work after 9 p.m. is the norm. At the residencies in the US, I noticed that lunchtime was about catching up on emails or the news, not for sunbathing or staring into space. The walk, or a run, or social hour are always welcomed but accommodated in the busy schedule. They don’t drive the day.

At my current residency, my fellow residents took a few days to settle in and explore the place. See what the winds and their mood told them. But the robotic Indian and American in me functions differently. I continue to have fun, but work is my priority. My mission. And I make no bones about admitting that.

The other day, I was talking to one of my directors about the work I have completed so far. I might have some good news on that so fingers crossed. Anyway, my director was thrilled to hear about my piece. She said that I was very hard working. But after being exposed to the European lifestyle for the past week and knowing life is too short, I wonder if the Indian and American way of living life is really a compliment or a curse. We are so focused on our tomorrow that today slips by us.


More until next time, 



Copyright © 04. 08.2010


“The ultimate value of life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation rather than upon mere survival.” ~ Aristotle

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Technology: A boon or curse?

Globalization affects people in different ways. Because of it, humans have moved away in search of better opportunities. But technology ensures that emotional distances don’t get created with increasing physical distances. Although for someone who doesn’t want to stay in touch, geographic dislocation would only be an excuse for aloofness. However, we won’t talk about “those” people in this post.

I was in an Indian grocery store the other day. While shopping I realized that one of the dishes that I wanted to cook for my husband, before leaving for my upcoming writing residencies (More on that next week), needed some special ingredients. So, I called up my mom in India and asked her about it. It was a sweet moment. My mother felt a part of my day-to-day life even though she was sitting in a different continent and watching some soap opera. 

But things were different not too long ago. I remember when my parents lived in North Africa in the 80s and 90s. Telephones were a luxury in those days. Aerogramme was the dinosaur of communication, so people conveyed important news via telexes, especially in the eighties. We found out about my brother’s board exams results and my boarding school admissions via telex messages. The downside to telexes: Privacy was a myth. I think, everyone in my dad’s office knew about my brother’s overall percentage, in his class tenth exams, even before he did.

I distinctly remember, somewhere in the late eighties, my father got an awful message that read his brother-in-law had passed away. In the west, even a crisp message of the sort would be interpreted as my father’s brother-in-law had died. The concept of “my” family and my “spouse’s” family is very distinct in this part of the world.

The wonderful thing about the Indian culture is that we embrace the in-laws side as our own. So, for my father, “brother-in-law” could have been my mother’s sister’s husband or my dad’s sister’s husband. I was a child then; I can’t recollect how we eventually found out that it was my phupha (dad’s sister’s husband) who had met with the most ironical death. But dealing with bad news while not knowing whom you are mourning for, was excruciating for my parents.

Things have changed drastically over the last decade. Technology has altered the dimension of time and distance. I recently acquired a pair of purple shoes that my ten-year old niece wanted to see. Of course, my brother and husband made a lot of fun of the cool footwear. But then I think of the two of them as fashion-delinquents.:-) Anyway, watching my niece expressing her approval, on Skype, was beyond ordinary. 

Last year, when my husband was in Bombay, I got to see both the set of parents at my in-laws house – on Skype. The best gift stored in my memory: Seeing all four of them together - laughing, chatting, and teasing.

It’s obvious that I am appreciative of what technology has to offer. But what are the side effects of it? Is technology harming us in anyway? Nothing in the world can bring us only gain, right? Though technology seems to be a boon for your personal relationships, does it adversely affect our professional lives?

Look at the world around you. Can you escape being connected? Actually, is that choice made for you or do you make it your self? Even on vacations or at social gatherings, people check their emails and browse the Internet. It’s easy being sanctimonious and judging the technology-addicts, but can we? The companies allow you flexibilities. Why? Because you are contactable at any given point. Those are unsaid but understood expectations.

People don’t talk to each other as often over the phone. I understand that paucity of time is an issue, but can machines ever replace human contact? Emails, texts, social networking, and IMs keep you connected and strangely disconnected in the same breath. And I am old-fashioned that way. I don’t use ATMS because I’d much rather interact with a human – a teller. Don’t laugh; when my first book came out, the same tellers bought it.:-)

The bigger question is how do we strike that healthy balance between using technology without abusing it?

More until next time, 


Copyright © 04. 01.2010

“Technology makes it possible for people to gain control over everything, except over technology” – John Tudor