Sunday, September 26, 2010

Wanted in India

I love India and the simple complexities and complex simplicities she offers at her airports. Each experience has a novel hidden inside it. Like most people who have voyaged through Indian customs/immigration, I have a few stories stashed under my sleeves.

A couple of years ago, my bag was misplaced on my way to Bombay (Mumbai), India. I tried *lodging* a complaint with the airports authority, but an old uncleji used his, “I am older than you,” line from Bollywood movies from the 70s and made me wait for eternity while he screamed his lungs at frail bodies.

I was stressed, as my trip was ten days long and split between my parents and in-laws, which meant two different cities. Lo and behold, I didn’t receive my bags until after I had visited my parents and returned to my in-laws place to return to NYC. Did I mention that was the bag with the food-related goodies?

When my suitcase finally arrived, I got a call from the airport with rather discreet instructions. While my mom-in-law waited outside, I ventured inside the secret world of customs. My bag looked like a cadaver in a morgue. I heard rodents squeaking or maybe it was nauseating words pouring out of mouths.

Let’s not talk about the guy who asked if I would marry him, so he could get a green card. Or the not-so-gentlemanly gentleman who was convinced I hadn’t been married for as long as I was. I wanted to laugh loudly and cry softly. Finally, after haggling over my bag and incessant probing revolving around matrimonial quests and green card acquisitions, for forty-five minutes, I was given the okay to waltz through the green channel. Seriously, all that for a bag full of chocolates, mixes, sauces, and pastes??

Funny story: This one time, a custom’s officer at Delhi airport tried messing with my brother, who has the world’s most awesome sense of humor. This guy wouldn’t let my brother carry the officially permitted quota of whiskey. He wanted the fancy alcohol left behind, so he could trash it. We all know what “trash” in this case means. My brother, with a serious face, told the customs officer that he would pour out the whiskey in the drain himself, as he didn’t want to break any rules. The officer insisted he leave the bottle behind, but my brother was persistent. Eventually, the public official got flabbergasted and let him go.

But this time around, at immigrations in Bombay, I had a heart-wrenching experience. My immigration form, with “writer” under the occupation field, caught the fancy of the officer behind the counter. He started chatting me up. He wanted to know what kind of writing I pursued and if I had any books out. I was unsure of the amount of sharing, so I took the extra conservative route. He stayed quiet for a few seconds and then confirmed the name of my latest book release. I was bewildered. Where was he getting this information? He looked at my passport and said, “Madam, will you only write for USA or something for India also?” In a defensive (almost guilty) tone I said, “Next year I have a fiction novel coming out in India. Yes, yes, book in India.” He shook his head like a pendulum. The woman standing at the counter next to me wasn’t shy to eavesdrop into our banter. Instead of answering questions asked by another officer holding her passport, she chose to pump up my ego. With my American passport and Indian heart in hand, I smiled at the unanticipated interaction.

The excruciatingly long flight offered me the opportunity to reflect on what had transpired. Is it true that the Indian line of questioning can make you feel wanted? (Whether it’s in a good or a bad way, is a matter of perspective or the situation you are in.) Is that why people are in each other’s business because they really care or am I traversing through the path of biased understanding because I want to believe that?

More until next time,


Copyright © 09.26.2010

“There's nothing like an airport for bringing you down to earth” ~ Richard Gordon

Monday, September 13, 2010

Pakistan floods: why are the donations so low?

Pakistan was hit with a tragedy in late July of this year. The floods have left millions homeless and caused massive devastation. International aid agencies are hoping to prevent an outbreak of water borne diseases. [1]U.N. and U.S. officials declared the Pakistan flooding to be worse than the 2004 Asian tsunami, the 2005 Pakistan earthquake and the Haiti earthquake combined. Yet, the donations made to Pakistan are disappointing lower compared to any of the recent disasters in history.

I first noticed the unusually slow reaction to Pakistan floods on Facebook newsfeed. Remember how our online world responded to the earthquake in Haiti? Or even the 2008 Mumbai bombings? I have friends, who volunteered to work in Haiti and lived under harsh conditions. But I detected that just a handful of people on Facebook talked about the disaster in Pakistan or urged others to donate.

Intrigued by the online behavior I started to ask around. I wanted to know if people had sent money to Pakistan. Or if they even intended to. It’s been a few weeks, and I haven’t even heard ten positive answers.

So, why the poor donation? I can understand why Indians, not Indian-Americans, didn’t want to send any money to Pakistan. There is a bitter history between the two countries and a complete lack of trust. Even Pakistan initially refused to accept any financial aid from the Indian government. Most Indians I spoke with (both in India and the US) feared that Pakistan would use their money to proliferate terrorism in India. They empathized with the poor in Pakistan but lacked faith in the country’s government.

But it’s not just Indians, is it? The international community over all has responded differently this time. Every now and then you see articles focused on humanitarianism, but how many minds has that changed?

Why just question the west or India; how much money has the Middle East donated to the evacuees? I read an article about many Pakistani-Americans being wary of sending money to their homeland.

The media has reiterated that the evacuees practice Sufism, not Wahabism (an austere form of Islam that Osama Bin laden and Taliban follow). But according to an article in the New York Times, polls conducted by CNN showed that 78 percent of Americans hold mostly “unfavorable” views of Pakistan. The same article talks about a similar poll conducted by Gallop in 2010 with 47 percent of respondents saying “they were mostly negative on Pakistan,” while 24 percent said “they held "very" negative views of that country.

Why is there such little empathy for Pakistan? After all, there are innocent human lives at stake. More will die if nothing is done. Does Pakistan really have the wrong image in the eyes of the world? Or is it donor fatigue? Is it the recession? Is it the type of disaster? I don’t have answers, but I am definitely curious.

Sending love from good old Bombay, India. The music on the local, desi radio reminds me that some of you had requested a recording of my interview (on Blog Talk Radio). If you'd like, click here to listen.

More until next time,


Copyright © 09.17.2010

“What is the appropriate behavior for a man or a woman in the midst of this world, where each person is clinging to his piece of debris? What's the proper salutation between people as they pass each other in this flood?” ~ Gautam Buddha


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Learn about colors with poetry

Dear all,

Thirteen months ago, I signed my first, meaningful book contract with Modern History Press. Today the final product is ready. The hint of autumn in the air brings my new chapbook of poems,

“Kaleidoscope: An Asian Journey of Colors.”

The book is available for purchase in: US, UK and everywhere else in the world!

About the book: The book delves into the implication and philosophy of colors from a Hindu woman's point of view, from birth until death. The color she adorns herself with almost depicts the story of her life. Expressed through different poetic and verbal forms, each color in the book has its own tone and is specific to different age groups.

Reviews so far:

“In this innovative series, Sweta Srivastava Vikram re-appropriates color. Cultures and mythologies collide along the way, and the result is a chapbook that feels like a quest. In the end, the colors are a map to identity. The child’s pink tonsils or the bride’s red sari are not symbols, but rather mile markers. Like Vikram’s poems, they lead toward understanding.” – Erica Wright, Senior Poetry Editor, Guernica

“Vikram’s wordsmithing is outstanding. I have read much poetry and have never seen such creativeness as that of this author. She allows her words to flow with rhythm and deepness. The wisdom that comes through her is beyond any I’ve seen.” – Irene Watson, Reader Views. To read the full review, click here.

“This chapbook is the dazzling display of a poet who teases us with fresh imagery and delicate linguistic craftsmanship.” – Orchid Tierney, Editor, REM Magazine, New Zealand. To read the full review, click here.

Thank you all for your support, encouragement, love, and warm-fuzzy notes!

More until next time,


Copyright © 09. 09. 2010

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

My first: a story that must be told

In August of 2009, I signed my first, meaningful book contract. It was for my chapbook of poems, “Kaleidoscope: An Asian Journey of Colors,” with Modern History Press.

I was a newbie in the publishing world then sending out query letters to publishing houses. Quite a few of them got back to me and several didn’t. A significant number of editors expressed interest in my project but with a few hiccups. Poetry is difficult to sell, as there are fewer people reading it compared to fiction or nonfiction. Plus, I don’t really use the race-card in writing, so it was difficult to “categorize” me.

But I didn’t give up. I had faith in both my work and kismet connection (No, not the terrible Hindi movie). I knew when my book did get an offer, it would be from the right publishing house. A company that would accept my work & me as a writer for what I bring to the table, not my ethnicity or religion or other politically suave-markers.

I am into yoga, reiki, and meditation or as my brother and hubby tease me, “All crazy stuff.” Good energy and gut feeling influence the path I walk on and the decisions that I make. I cannot ignore that voice. Whether it’s buying a house, accepting a job, eating at a restaurant, talking to a doctor, or interacting with a publisher, I have to have that conviction at the pit of my stomach or else I walk away.

I am almost incapable of business-type, one-time gratification. The loyalist in me believes in building relationships. Opportunities come and go; people stay. I am also a realist apart from being an artist. I know that with my attitude, I will never have a lot of money. But that’s okay with me. I am my Dad’s daughter after all. Though I feel sorry for my husband; his desire of retiring before forty and going fishing/golfing while I earn the big bucks will remain a distant dream.:-)

I digress but what’s new, right?:-) I was talking about Kaleidoscope and how it found its home. Anyways, I heard back from Victor Volkman, publisher of Modern History press, in less than twenty-four hours of me sending the query letter. He’d liked my samples and wanted to see the entire manuscript. I sent him all the material towards late afternoon, met up a friend for drinks after work, and went back home. When I reached home, I saw it—there was an email from Victor. He wanted to sign me on. In fact, he’d already sent me a contract to look over. Victor, I don’t know if you remember, but I sent you an email asking what your note meant. :-)

When my husband returned from work later that evening, I showed him Victor’s email. He jumped with ecstasy. I just held him and cried. And I am not a crier by any standards. We called up our near and dear ones and wrote to a few friends. Everybody either screamed or shed tears of joy. After all, poetry and fairytales are never uttered in the same sentence.

This was around the Hindu festival of Raksha Bandhan where the sister prays for her brother’s long life and ties him a thread (rakhi). And the brother blesses the sister and gives her a gift. I remember telling my brother, “Bhaiya, this contract is the best rakhi gift, ever.” See, his good wishes travelled from Singapore to NYC. At least in my heart it did. Thus began the journey of my first chapbook of poems.

I have heard horror stories where writers had no say in what their book’s cover looked like. It’s like telling a woman she can’t name her newborn. But Victor gave me artistic liberty in terms of images for the cover. He was open to suggestions and feedback. It doesn’t mean we had the same vision all the time. But we respected each other’s strengths. We debated a lot, but we never lost sight of what was important—the book.

My Facebook family has been so supportive with providing feedback on the cover. Few reviewers have written to me that they loved the bowls of color on the front cover. Thank you to all of you for taking out the time for commenting, suggesting, supporting, and encouraging.

The needful is done and thirteen months later, the book is all ready. The release date is set for Thursday, September 9, 2010.

I want to take this moment today to say that throughout this journey, Victor has been as dedicated and committed to the project as I have. I wasn’t just another author or a mere number to him. Of course, he has a business to run, and I have bills to pay. But humanity and professionalism hold a big place in our rapport.

Thank you, Mr. Victor Volkman, for your faith and friendship. I hope to work with you on many more projects.

Dear readers, if you are fascinated by colors, philosophy, simple poetry, this book is for you.

If you’d like to stay updated on my upcoming book releases, bookmark my new blog cum website ( For all other information (including but not limited to book releases), you know where to find me:

More until next time,


Copyright © 09.07.2010

“To write what is worth publishing, to find honest people to publish it, and get sensible people to read it, are the three great difficulties in being an author.” Charles Caleb Colton

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Do desis have a white complex?

A couple of days ago, my husband and I went to the Indian Consulate. Over a decade of living in NYC, and this was my first time there. A few years ago, when we needed to renew our passports, I couldn’t go because I worked for a company with “strict” come-and-leave-at-such-and-such-time policy.

Anyway, I was impressed with the architecture of the building. We can all agree that it’s hard to go wrong with the neighborhood where the Indian Consulate is housed. There is so much character just like Washington DC & New Delhi.

But as soon as we entered the main area, I was dumbfounded. You could have been inside any official building in Mumbai--the typical floors and ceiling fans. As I sat on one of the chairs, smelling nostalgic sweetness of Mumbai on a hot NYC day, I heard a woman scream like a maniac: “Abhi bharo. Mangtaa hai.” (Hindi for fill up my form NOW!!!)

Turns out, this middle-aged Indian lady (let’s call her “angry auntyji”) clad in a kurti, a pair of tights, and dupatta was threatening this polite woman (helping her) behind the window. Thank God for bulletproof glass. I swear, it seemed this angry auntyji, if she had the chance, would have strangled this patient official.

Almost simultaneously, a man started asking for change. No, he wasn’t begging; he literally wanted change for $100. And he wasn’t shy. Once he got one fifty-dollar bill, two twenties and a ten, he screamed again: “Change for twenty? Anybody? Hulloo.”

If you have ever stood outside movie theatres in India (pre-multiplex days) and heard the black marketers sell movie tickets illegally, you know what I am talking about. This guy went on and on in exactly that tone.

Another not-so-gentle man demanded that he wanted to see the “manager” when he was informed that his form was incomplete. Seriously? Dude, stop. You want your passport renewed not return a set of defective headphones at Best Buy. What “manager?” Upon hearing the chaos, when the security guard, an American guy, entered the room, the testosterone-man just shut up.

The officials at the consulate were warm, considerate, and wonderful. But several of these shocking incidents kept occurring. Either someone hadn’t brought a pen with them or else had filled out the form incorrectly or turned the place into a slot machine for dispersing change or allowed their kids to go on a sugar high/run wildly into others. A display of utter disrespect for everyone in that room.

The consulate website has directions for what needs to be done. It’s explained using simple language. Worse come to worse, there is always the option of calling and confirming. Yet most of the folks chose to not do what was required.

Here is my question: The same people must have applied for a US visa at one time. Would they have disregarded the instructions then? I hardly think so. So, do they choose to take unreasonable liberties with people from their own country?

I still remember how things are conducted at the US Consulate in Mumbai. There is a list of items you aren’t allowed to bring inside, and it’s not debatable. Be it your paperwork or your demeanor, you need to be organized. The officials don’t indulge screaming or threatening or any of that nonsensical drama. You’ll be thrown out in two seconds. And that’s how it should be. Consulate is a place of work not a venue for exhibiting irresponsible manners.

Today I am reminded of a professor at Columbia University who’d once said, “Sweta, reverse stereotype and reverse racism is as heinous as bigotry.” Maybe so. But I haven’t been able to shake off this feeling if certain desis have a white complex. How else do you describe this chameleon-type attitude where they behave themselves when a white guy gives instructions and ignore the system when an Indian tells them to do something?

On a separate note, for those of you who’d asked for the link to my live interview, click here to listen to the recording!

More until next time,


Copyright © 09.02.2010