Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ground Zero: Whose “ground” is it?

Last morning, a few of my friends and I got into a debate. So much so, that we flooded a friend’s wall on Facebook with our opinions. Sorry, S:-).

What did we discuss? The newest, unnecessarily politicized issue of whether to build a mosque and Islamic community center near Ground Zero. If you don’t already know the controversy, here is the deal in a nutshell: Sarah Palin opposes the building of mosque while Barack Obama supports it. Hillary Clinton has refused to take a stance. And I think Newt Gingrich’s words are what ruin peace in this world. But end of the day, it’s all about politics. Sarah Palin's extreme views--did we expect any better from her? She is getting more popular with the conservatives. But is Obama so "okay" with the center because he really believes in it or so he can win the Muslim votes in the next election? I hate dirty politics and political moves, so I can’t help but wonder if any of them really care about the root of the controversy.

I have said it innumerable times, and I will say it again. It is wrong and inhuman to label a religion bad. It’s a shame that humans continue to stereotype and act upon their toxic thoughts. What’s much worse is that we allow ourselves to fall prey to what the political leaders have to say!

Not all Muslims are extremists. How dare we make such a heinous assumption! Every religion has its share of "bad seeds" or radicals.

A church in Florida has decided to burn copies of the “Quran” on the anniversary of 9/11. That’s disgraceful and ridiculous! My friend Sahar told me that in certain parts of the US, people have voiced their disapproval over building of mosques in their neighborhoods. If that’s not blasphemous what is? America was built on religious freedom. Individuals should be allowed to practice their own religion, and no one should be able to take that away. That's First Amendment 101 for you!

But Ground Zero is different. It's the site that changed our world. I don’t think it should be up to the federal government or any religious group to decide what gets built there. Did any of them go through what New Yorkers did on 9/11? If they did, they would know that in this city we don't ostracize people based on their faith. Even today, Muslim women in NYC wear their headscarves but do not get "looks." Middle-eastern street food and vendors are as welcomed as hot dog-sellers. If I remember correctly, post 9/11, NYC saw fewer hate crimes compared to the rest of America. You should have seen the turn out at the Pakistani Sufi Festival in July 2010. An image of solidarity very few cities in this world can represent.

Has anyone tried to understand the sentiments of New Yorkers who voted against the much talked about Center? They lost their dear ones there! When hurt, people think from their heart, not brains. There is no logic, just pure emotions. It's not about right or wrong then. It's the wounds that do the talking, not hatred necessarily. I bet, with the best of intentions, if the Klu Klux Clan wanted to build a Center in deep pockets of Harlem, or if the Germans wanted to do the same in Israel, they would face similar responses.

At this time, emotions are soaring both amongst Muslims and non-Muslims. Politicians and media personnel are taking sides and expecting the same of others.

As my friend Hena pointed out, people today are too busy being politically correct. I couldn’t agree more. The desperation amongst adults, to be “liked” by all, is so nauseating. C'mon people, you aren't in high school!

I have friends (well-educated folks in extremely well-paying jobs), fourth generation Americans, who have said to me at one point, “Dude, my mom wouldn’t have been okay if I married a Muslim. I don’t think I would have wanted to marry one either.” When I argue for moderate Muslims, I am told, “Sweta, not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims.” Interestingly, the same people, to sound accepting, suave, and unbiased, post these links on social media networks supporting the building of the Islamic Center. At parties, they condemn narrow-mindedness. Seriously? If that’s not hypocrisy what is?

Some things in life aren’t just black or white. I hope my Muslim friends understand that just because politicians and people say that they are cool with an Islamic Center being built doesn't mean that they aren't closeted-bigots. Similarly, just because certain New Yorkers oppose the building of a mosque at Ground Zero doesn’t mean they hate Muslims. Or consider them as terrorists! Not everyone thinks like Sarah Palin or Newt Gingrich.

For instance, I don’t want a mosque built at Ground Zero. For the same reason, I don’t want any religious building there. Not a temple, a synagogue, or a church. People died on 9/11. Humans with real families and flesh and blood. What the hell does that have to do with any religion?

I am sick of the religion-card. It makes people blind, emotional, and defensive. Religion can give you a sense of identity but should not be the only tool you use to define yourself. No religion is above humanity. And no religion is perfect!

In fact, I want religion and state to be separate. Maybe we should build businesses at Ground Zero or some sort of urban development, so this city can make up for some of its monetary losses. Help those who lost a loved one--a primary bread winner, perhaps. And I want a small shrine built in memory of those dead.

It should be up to us New Yorkers and their officials to decide what happens with Ground Zero. I am sorry but Obama and Palin didn’t live in my city when we were struck by terrorists. Our resilience brought normalcy back into our lives. Yes, we did it by ourselves! So, why should they get to choose how New Yorkers deal with their loss?

I will continue with my rants in a live interview, which starts in a little bit (do send love, even if electronically) and will post the clip next week. Until then, be good, try not to judge, and learn to accept.

More until next time,


Copyright © 08.19.2010

“Look back, to slavery, to suffrage, to integration and one thing is clear. Fashions in bigotry come and go. The right thing lasts” ~ Anna Quindlen

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Are you living with bitchier and dumber?

Look around the room. I mean that figuratively. You will definitely find one person who is dumb and bitchy in your friend circle or family or in your universe of acquaintances. If nowhere else, at least in the world of politics.

The kind of person, who irrespective of their age, gender, or race stirs up trouble. The reason? My guess is as good as yours: either to gain attention or just for the heck of it because their watch has way too many unaccounted for minutes. If BAU folks from the show Criminal Minds were to describe this character, they would say, “This person might come across as classy, but is truly insecure and jealous of his or her own surroundings. Money can’t buy class. The only way such people can exist is by dramatizing smallest of scenarios and purposefully belittling others. They are ignorant and presumptuous. They have minimal to no confidence in their personality. They shadow others’ opinions and rarely have their own individual ideas. You have seen them in your rooms, parks, or television sets.” I hope Hotch (The BAU team’s boss on the show) is pleased to read this description and offers me a job.J

Basically, these are the people whose butts enter spaces where they don’t belong. I recently read on that a nondenominational church in Gainesville, Florida has planned to host, “International Burn a Quran Day” on the ninth anniversary of September 11th terrorist attacks on the United States. They believe Islam is the religion of the “devil.”

No one can or should ever forget what happened on 9/11. Innocent lives were lost. It’s changed the world we live in, and I just don’t mean in NYC or the US. The December 2001 attack on the Indian parliament was called India’s 9/11 and the parliament, Ground Zero. And reports show that it was again Muslim terrorists that carried out the attacks in India too.

But does that give this church the right to do what they are thinking of doing? Can one inhumane act be responded with another of the same kind? Why hold the entire religion and Muslim community responsible for those fundamentalists? Not every Muslim promotes such heinous crimes. Such suppositions and people fall under the category of “bitchier and dumber” just like those bunch of people in your personal lives who we discussed earlier in the post.

Nations and continents have their own social and economical issues to deal with (poverty, illiteracy, hunger, crime etc.), but sometimes they choose to spend their energy and resources on wrong venues. Hatred can only birth hatred. I am no saint, and I am still very upset about 9/11. But I believe it’s wrong to assume that every Muslim in this world is an extremist looking to kill a non-Muslim. If you have decided to turn your brains into a vestigial organ, at least have a heart! Maybe your heart will show you the true troubles.

Based on the issues consuming India and Africa, a poet from Zimbabwe, Mbizo Chirasha and I have created a poetry collection (published by Cyberwit 2010), “Whispering Woes of Ganges & Zambezi.” While Mbizo uses free verse, I delve into Haikus to highlight our points. The book came about because of our frustration with the system and basically politicians minding everybody else’s but their own business!

It’s available for purchase in India and the US (Folks in the tri-state area, I have a few copies for purchase in case you want to save on your shipping costs).

So, support an end to “bitchier and dumber” and get your copy today! And until your copy arrives, pl. read my first American interview related to "Because All Is Not Lost."

More until next time,


Copyright © 08.12.2010

“You may fool all the people some of the time, you can even fool some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time.” Abraham Lincoln

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Is the Big Apple a poisoned fruit?

Towards beginning of this week, I went to a party for writers on a recovered boat. It was an experience I will cherish and carry to my grave. The weather, the people, the temperature, and the music were all perfect. It’s true; you can live all your life in New York and yet discover a breathtaking place every week.

But as a bunch of us got talking, a friend’s friend, who is also a visual artist aside from being a writer and works in this gorgeous community where 30 artists share a communal kitchen and dining space -- like an artist residency but within NYC, said something that caught my attention. She was talking about how she and her boyfriend had invited their artist friends, from the community, over for dinner a few nights ago. But here is the key, they managed to cook a meal for nine people under $35!!! Remarkable, isn’t it?

Maybe it’s an Indian thing where we don’t mention money and dinner invitation in the same breath. Hospitality, sometimes, breaks our backs, but we don’t (or choose not to) whine about it. Also, for most non-vegetarian Indians, your meat and fish would cost way more than $35 for a meal for less than nine people since we are used to serving multiple entrees. And I am not even talking about wine or other alcoholic beverages.

Separate story: Couple of evenings ago, I met a friend for tea, and she was frustrated that a lot of people from her social network were moving out of New York. Why? Because most of them think that though the city has tons of opportunities, it is also not sustainable. It’s difficult to buy your own place. And when you do, it’s a matchbox (People from Bombay can relate to this). And if one of the partners in the relationship decides to not work or turn an entrepreneur or follow an artistic career or stay at home to take care of the kids, it’s difficult to maintain the existing lifestyle. Your basic cost of living is so high.

Putting the conversation from both the evenings together brought up a crude reality that most artists and single-income families in New York City often have to deal with. Not all, and I am not generalizing. Kudos to those who don’t have to.

For people who have always lived with a single income, their lifestyle is different. In some ways, they are more set. They are used to expenses dependent on one paycheck. My post is based on interviews with fellow writers, artists, or anyone else who had a traditional, dependable paycheck coming in every two weeks for the longest time of their career. All of a sudden, your lifestyle is crippled.

I understand that lifestyle is a matter of perspective. No one-way of living is better than the other. But habit is a bad thing. The older we get, the more set we are in our needs and wants. While a backpacking vacation across Europe sounded promising (The hope of meeting SRK on Eurail) when you were twenty-two; at thirty, you want a reasonably good hotel room with an attached bathroom in a good neighborhood.

NYC offers very many temptations that spoil habits. Given the paucity of space, people prefer dining out instead of entertaining at home. You can walk out of your apartment building, and the aroma from restaurants or sight of other distractions lure the wallet. My husband and I don’t live in a Donald Trump neighborhood, yet our building has a fancy Latin restaurant, which makes the most amazing sangria. For people, who are used to trying new cuisines & restaurants, hanging out with friends at wine bars, watching Broadway shows, or doing extensive vacations regularly, all of a sudden, the lack of a paycheck hits you. The reasons for which people choose to move to the Big Apple eventually start gnawing at their throats like poisoned apple.

I have friends, in well-paying corporate jobs, who would want to work part-time but can’t. To be able to afford to pay the nanny and the child’s 25K in pre-school, along with other ridiculous fixed cost, requires two salaries.

Is it a surprise that a lot of people eventually want to move out of the city? If another place offers you the opportunity to lead a life of quality on your terms, eventually the move is bound to happen. After all, priorities change with age. People my age would prefer an extra bedroom as opposed to living on a floor above a dance club. I am not joking; a friend of ours did at one time in Chelsea and every time we visited her, we vibrated involuntarily along with the furniture in her room.

When people ask me how is the transition from being the head of marketing (again, dependable remuneration) to a full-time writer (no guarantees of fixed income), I always tell them that I saved for this one year, so I could travel to residencies and attend workshops. If I lived in any other city in the US, I would have never thought twice about it. But given where I live, beyond this year, I have no idea what the writer in me is destined to do. Writing is here to stay. But whether or not I’ll be back in corporate America will depend on what NYC does with me.

More until next time,


Copyright © 08.05.2010

“Each man reads his own meaning into New York” ~ Meyer Berger