Sunday, June 27, 2010

Want a detox?

A lot of you know that I was in California until yesterday.  A couple of days in the Bay Area with the family (and a heartwarming reading at San Jose Public Library) followed by an intensive writing workshop in San Francisco. I am still exhausted.

The workshop, Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation (VONA) hosted at University of San Francisco, will always remain special to me for very many reasons – some I’ll share with you; few others, my memory will always savor.

Here is how it started: I won a part scholarship to the VONA workshop. Naturally, I was excited and nervous about a new city, new opportunity. Who hasn’t dreamt of living in San Francisco for a week as a local resident and not a visitor? Soak in the city beyond the regular tourist haunts. Walk through the Golden Gate Bridge Park in the evening. Which artist doesn’t want to hang out at restaurants and bars where the creative energy is at its peak? See murals in the Mission area, grab a glass of wine in Haight, or recognize poetic symbols in their entrée served at eclectic restaurants. I can go on and on.

The instructors: it was an honor being in the company of experts: Suheir Hammad, Tayari Jones, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Mat Johnson, David Mura, and Elmaz Abinader.What mentors! God, each one of them could teach a class on humility. They were so encouraging and nurturing. It seemed our success meant as much to them as it did to us. I still remember what a few of them told me after my reading. And it takes a very big heart to shower such kindness.

I had the honor of being in Lorna Dee Cervantes’s class. Lorna is considered a legend in the world of poetry. What she told me in my one-on-one meeting with her still brings tears to my eyes. And I don’t cry easily. All I can say is that I feel blessed. And I hope her words come true.

My classmates: Sometimes it takes a lifetime to know someone; and other times, it takes a few hours to develop a bond. We ate together, dreamt together, partied together, and cried together. Even a private person like me was able to somewhat break that wall and share. As a fellow writer (from the fiction category) said, “Damn you, poets. You make us all emotional.” And then she teared-up and gave us a hug.:-)

Though we came from diverse backgrounds and carried our own baggage, we were all joined at the hip. We trusted each other with our darkest secrets and deepest fears when we least expected. Poetry can be autobiographical, confessional, therapeutic, which means you dig up issues and stories your pragmatic brain conveniently buries under the cement of societal pressures. We spoke of things that even our subconscious was unsure about uttering. Fearlessly helped one another with writing and reviewing. There were no selfish bones in the equation. Learned about each other’s cultures, past, and present. We danced to Shakira and hip-hop like there was no tomorrow. Tried a new cuisine every night. And worked until the cows came home. I mean, we all slogged!

I feel like my life underwent a change in just seven days. In the past, I have scoffed at people who have said such things. Such convictions sounded a bit cultish to me. But believe me, VONA was life altering for a lot of us. In many ways, self-revelatory (This is the part I keep to myself. Sorry).

After checking in at the airport, when I called up my husband, he joked about the tranquility in my voice and called me “a Californian.” He was right. I haven’t felt this calm in ages. And maybe, just maybe, there is something in the air of San Francisco that wants you to cleanse and heal.

More until next time,

Copyright © 06.27.2010

"There may not be a Heaven, but there is a San Francisco" ~ Ashleigh Brilliant

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Do people enjoy the taste of BS?

I recently watched one of the latest Bollywood releases: Rajneeti. A good movie with fabulous actors and even better acting. But Ranbir Kapoor’s (The leading male protagonist in the movie) role in the movie left me wondering about moral values. Do you have to be scheming and calculating to get ahead in life? And is it always the ones you least expect that end up weaving webs of conceit? Are people’s appetites satiated only with platter of lies? Does truth always dig itself and its owner a grave of disaster?

Here is the thing: Words hold a sacred place in my life. I don’t see shades of grey through the kaleidoscope of life. My vision is restricted to black and white. But then again, I am not an imbecile. There are times when I think my honest opinion might not be appropriate in a particular situation (Telling a host their food sucks or suggesting to someone that their wardrobe reminds me of Raakhi Saawant’s etc.) That’s when I choose the path of silence - I prefer to seal my lips, momentarily.

I always thought my habit of relying on truth was a big strength in my personality. No one ever had to figure out if I meant what I said. No false promises, no heartbreaks, no fake relationships, no pretenses. When I said, “I miss you” or “Come over” or “I care” or “I will be there,” people knew I uttered them with sincerity.

But looking at the world around me, I am beginning to question the notion of truth. I think, most human beings are shallow and insecure about something or the other. The emotional strategists and scheming folks find those voids and fill them up with their superficiality. The older we get, the more susceptible we are to falling prey to bags of lies because the feeling of self-worth begins to lessen. And irrespective of age, everyone likes feeling important and loved.

An obese child likes to hear that he or she is the most beautiful kid on the block. Lovers desire only praises however fake they might be. Bosses are thrilled if you are the “yes-man.” Even parents suffering from empty nest syndrome like to believe that the child, who gets melodramatic around them (“Come live with me” or “You are my world, and I can’t live without you”), is the one who cares more. Subconsciously, all these people might know these statements aren’t fully honest. But they fall for it because that’s what the ear in their hearts and egos desire.

A very dear friend, who suffers from a severe case of honestitis as well, said something interesting. “Manipulation and deceit brings overall happiness and tranquil in a house.”

Recently, both she and I were privy to an interesting situation. An acquaintance said to her husband that her in-laws meant more to her than her own parents. Hold on. Take a breath. Anyone who says that they love someone else’s parents more than their own are either lying or evading their past. You can respect both the sets equally, care for them on similar levels, and feel the same sense of responsibility but not love them the same way. And I am not just saying this because I know how this acquaintance truly feels about her husband’s family. Just think logically. How can you feel the same emotions for each party when one set brought you up and spent twenty (sometimes thirty years) with you? They are two unique relationships.

Similarly, men and women, who coldly denounce where they come from (life pre-marriage), baffle me. I wonder what they grew up with. It’s such a reflection on that person’s childhood and personality. Anyway, in front our very own eyes, my friend and I saw this acquaintance’s husband sink blissfully into a sofa of bliss and denial. He chose to believe what his spouse told him because it was convenient. A man’s ego is always ready to be petted, and this woman knew just the right spots. Net result: she got her way, scored brownie points in the eyes of the society, and the male ego proliferated in his castle of ignorance and smugness.

It seems liars don’t sit on societal pyre. But here is my point: you can fib to the entire world, but what about your own self? How do manipulative people sleep every night knowing that they aren’t truly anyone’s friend? Doesn’t their conscience ever nudge them? Or am I too naïve to believe that truth should be the foundation of relationships?


More until next time, 


Copyright © 06. 17. 2010


“The worst lies are the lies we tell ourselves. We live in denial of what we do, even what we think. We do this because we're afraid. We fear we will not find love, and when we find it we fear we'll lose it. We fear that if we do not have love we will be unhappy.” Richard Bach 

Friday, June 4, 2010

A humble thank you to my third parent

Last week, a friend of mine said to me, “Times might have changed, but everything said and done, how many Indian men, from our generation, do you know who didn’t follow the traditional career path of medicine and engineering?” I looked at her and said, “Plenty.” Baffled by my response, she said, “I don’t know a single person.”

As South Asians, we are taught (often times coerced) to pick careers that offer financial stability and dependability. And those career paths are medicine, engineering, and the fad of the 90s—MBA. So, whether one likes it or not, you scar your supple, teenage brains with the stress and aggression of competitive exams. Parents put their life’s savings into coaching classes, for their children, for medicine, engineering or other professions that promise success. Believe me, I too have been there. I drew flowers and cartoons on entrance exam papers and doodled poetry. And I loathed each one of those “All India-let’s-look-good-for-your-family-contests.”

I have been trying to reflect on how and when I decided that medicine, engineering, MBA, or the civil services weren’t for me. At a young age, I might have lacked the confidence to articulate my career choice. But how was I even aware that I had other options in times when people studying anything aside from sciences were coined as “weak students”?

I think I might have found the answer. I spent my formative years in a boarding school, Oak Grove (OG), in Mussorie, India. Boarding schools have a notorious image: They are wonderful for an all round personality development, but they might not necessarily prepare you, mentally, for IITs and AIIMS or other entrance exams. And maybe there is some truth to it.

In 1980s and 90s, when most schools in India had one annual sports day and couple of cultural functions in a year, (all the energy was focused on students churning out 99.1% in their board exams), my school had a different vision. Oak Grove, like Jane Austen, was pretty ahead of its times. Extra curricular activities, like schools in the United States, were given equal importance. So, whether you liked it or not, you did treks, knew how to swim, survive with strangers, play at least three different field sports, two track events, partake in two or three cultural activities, and excel at debates even before you hit your teenage years. And all of this through the cold and wet weather.

Don’t get me wrong; we had a tremendous amount of academic pressure, but each one of us was allowed to blossom individually. And life was never compartmentalized by Indian expectations of grades. While some students went on to choose the traditional calling, a few of us chose to depend on the right side of our brain.

Last evening, when I saw my senior Puneet Monga’s album on Facebook, one picture, in particular, got me thinking. It was the image of my boarding school’s publication, ACORN. In my twelfth grade, from the girl’s school side, I was the chief-editor of my school magazine and from the boy’s school Sameer Mohindru was the man behind the words. Over a decade later, is it a surprise that Sameer is a journalist and I am a writer? Did OG subconsciously encourage us to think beyond the always chosen road?

Not just that, a significant number of people from my alma mater—men included—work in the creative field across different segments as fashion designers, visual artists, journalists, architects, filmmakers, jewelry designers, among others. And I am so proud of each one of them. They have turned their passion into profession. And that is the strength of OG. It showed us paths based on our strengths. On one hand we have graduates from esteemed institutes like IIMs, IITs, Symbiosis, NDA etc.; on the other, we have folks working for TV production houses and in other artistic fields.

I owe a big part of who I am today to my days spent at OG even though I loathed the depressing weather. Is it a coincidence that I signed another book contract on the same day as OG turned 122 years old, on June 1, 2010? I think not.

Unlike Mark Twain, who said, “I never let schooling interfere with my education,” I am glad I let my school interfere with my education.


More until next time, 


Copyright © 06. 04.2010


 “If there were no schools to take the children away from home part of the time, the insane asylums would be filled with mothers.” — Edgar W. H