Wednesday, January 26, 2011

HOT news on yet another cold day

I was saying to a friend the other day, we make fun of the English for starting their conversations (or at least sneaking excerpts of it) with weather, but we all have been doing the same off late. I don’t even need to browse through Weather Channel's website; Facebook has people sharing their temperature-plight.

This other friend, she and I were at the same workshop last weekend, said to me, “Have you realized, it’s only desis who use weather as an excuse?”

“How do you mean?” I asked as I rubbed my hands to keep them from turning blue.

“If it’s too hot, desis switch on their air-condition and drink lassis or juices. If it gets too cold, we rely on heat, friends, and food for warmth. And monsoon means pakodas and chai. But the Americans are different.”

“How so?”

“Whatever be the weather, they enjoy life: On a hot day, they sunbathe and partake in water sports and when the mercury dips, they go skiing,” she responded.

Well, we said goodbyes and got our frozen toes inside our respective subways. But I thought about what she’d said. She had a point. But this winter is different. Irrespective of ethnicity and skin color or background, people are dealing with the weather in similar ways.

The winter has been harsh and vindictive. And because NYC demands that you walk, the pain gets exacerbated. Innumerable cups of herbal teas can perhaps thaw you for sometime. But that’s about it.

New Yorkers are used to snow-teasers a.k.a. snowstorms twice or thrice over winter. But not three snowstorms a week. I don’t think most New Yorkers are prepared (in terms of clothing or gears) to deal with what we have this season.

My weather-venting aside, the raging optimist in me (whatever bit isn’t hibernating) likes to believe that there is a good side to the worst of situations. And well, there is.

Thanks to the weather, the day-to-day distractions are fewer. I am still meeting friends or peers after work but at a coffee shop or for meals at home. In my world of writing, where we have readings and drinks/dinners more often than the real world (An artist’s life can be that of solitude when he or she is in the creative process, so social hour is quintessential for maintaining traces of sanity), people have been scaling back. The last thing you want is to be stranded at a restaurant or salon—be it your own or a new neighborhood.

So, all of this sub-zero chaos has resulted in higher productivity: I was offered the cool (okay, try suicidal since honestitis is my forte and most people don't have an appetite for blunt words) opportunity to be a columnist for UK-based magazine VISNOMY. My first column was accepted by the editor, and the magazine will be launched towards the end of first quarter of 2011.

I did two readings, where I was invited as a featured poet, this month. One was at Terraza Café in Elmhurst and the other was on my birthday at Brownstone Poets, Brooklyn. It meant a lot to see family and friends at both these events. They braved the nasty temperatures to support my dreams. Thank you.

Aside from the readings, I have had a few pieces out too this month:

  • Five of my poems appeared in an anthology published by Unisun Publications in Bangalore, India: Timescapes.
  • U.K.-based Skylark Publications published my poem, "The riddle of Draupadi" in their first anthology: Word Masala. This poem makes you wonder if Mahabharata was a strategic arrangement between Krishna and Druapadi.
  • My poem, "Crossing Over," inspired by a true story (I met with a clairvoyant in Ireland who told me stuff about my deceased, paternal grandfather), was published in Recovering The Self: Volume III, Number1. Also, check out the cover of this magazine. The picture was taken by my husband. Super-proud moment in the Srivastava-Vikram house!
  • Danse Macabre, an online literary magazine, published "A Sea of Curse." This poem is part of a new collection that I am working on.

But the BIGGER NEWS: I signed a NEW book contract for a POETRY COLLECTION. I am excited about this project, a lot, for many reasons. The theme is very close to my heart and so is the location where I conceived the idea for it. Like most artists, I too would like to believe that one-day words and art would change humanity for the better. Increase tolerance and help people empathize. But more on the project as the time comes closer.

Thanks for all your warmth and generosity. If you'd like to stay updated on news at my end or just stay in touch, I invite you to connect with me on Twitter or join my author page on Facebook. It’s true: A writer is, after all, only half his book. The other half is the reader and from the reader the writer learns.

Stay warm! More until next time,


Copyright © 01.27.2011

“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” ~Ray Bradbury

Friday, January 14, 2011

No home to call their own

The other night, after work, I met up with a good friend for a cup of steaming hot latte. It was a cold evening, and the café was just the perfect place to play catch up without being caught in the snow.

Aside from our love for words, this friend and I have another thing in common: our nomadic upbringing. We both grew up across different countries and cultures. While she studied in Paris as a teenager, I went to school in North Africa for a few years until I joined my boarding school in Mussoorie, India.

Eventually, she, along with her parents and siblings, moved back to New York City; my parents returned to India. Both our families had the option to return “home” when they were ready. They could make that journey without thinking twice about “could they?”

On my recent trip to Dubai, India, and Singapore, I had the opportunity to enter the world of a high profile Pakistani journalist. For the sake of anonymity, let’s forget the “how” and “where” of the meeting. This man had to temporarily move from Europe to Pakistan due to work visa issues. The couple has teenaged children. Their son, while attending school in Pakistan, began to show signs of inappropriate “influence.” The journalist’s own father asked his son (This man I am referring to) to get out of Pakistan as soon as he could. And to take his family along with him. He feared his grandson would join the “wrong” side. The family moved. But they don’t know for sure if and when they can ever go back to the home where their extended family lives.

My friend asked, “Didn’t India and Pakistan get their freedom around the time? I replied in the affirmative. She asked further, “How are they so different? What’s up with that?”

I joked, “You tell me. I hear so many westerners want to visit India but no one says the same about Pakistan.”

Mid-way through my sentence, I turned serious. There is nothing light-hearted about what is happening in India’s neighboring nation. There is nothing funny about murder and crime. A life lost is a life lost. Color, countries, and boundaries don’t matter.

I said: “Sometimes I wonder about the same. We were one and the same country. Less than seventy years ago, we overthrew the British. Fought for freedom. Then we killed our brothers and sisters. Stole from each other. Orphaned children. Raped women. Despite all of that, India has emerged as the future while Pakistan’s future is feared by its own people.”

Punjab Governor Salman Taseer’s was recently shot dead in Islamabad. Facebook and Twitter were flooded with stories about his assassination. My friend and junior from school, Nikhil Kumar, shared this article written by Mohammed Hanif. It’s incredible, and I highly recommend reading it. The article makes you wonder if Pakistani culture is to blame for all the mayhem in that country.

I have been talking to a few writers based in Pakistan. And they don’t have the most promising things to say about their own wellbeing. They might have gotten used to the idea of an unsafe existence, but I feel helpless. Also, as a writer, if you live in a place where freedom of speech is a myth, how do you survive?

I visited Karachi, twice, in the days when Anil Kapoor (of Slumdog Millionaire fame) was a big hit. Perhaps around late 80s to early 90s. I didn't think Karachi was very different from New Delhi. Similar looking people listening to Hindi music and eating spicy chicken curry, naan, and gulab jamuns. So, for the longest time, I never understood the stated differences between the two countries: India and Pakistan.

But as the wise folks say, time is the best teacher. The more I drown in my world of words, the more differences I see between India and Pakistan.

Can you imagine not being able to return to the land where your history, legacy, and memories lay buried? The simple things we take for granted.

I met a poet recently who, like me, happens to be a first generation immigrant. She moved to NYC with her family when Ukraine was a part of Soviet Union. I promptly asked her, “How often do you go back?” She responded, “Never. It’s not safe.” Over two decades ago was when she last saw the country where she spent her childhood.

My Palestinian-American pals have that pining hunger in their eyes to experience their history. To feel their soil. To smell the water where their grandparents bathed. To touch the walls of their ancestral house. But it’s either a distant dream or a nightmare—if they do manage to visit. I don’t even want to get into the horror stories I have heard.

As a person of Indian origin, thank god, I have never had to worry about not being able to visit India. Yet. And I can only hope and pray India will remain that way.

Home is where your hearts is. Picking a new home out of your own free choice is one thing; but, having the choice of returning back to your roots taken away, is different.

More until next time,


Copyright © 01.15.2011

“Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to.” John Ed Pearce

Thursday, January 6, 2011

I am pro-choice!

In the third quarter of 2010, France banned Islamic face-coverings: burqa and niqab. I was in England at the time for a literary festival. That particular weekend, I happened to stay with a couple, dear friends, who happened to be of different faiths. The guy was Hindu while the girl was Muslim. Both the guy and I like (kinda worship) our French, red wines.

Anyway, perfect wine, good music, and awesome food led to a debate over France’s decision. I felt that in contemporary France, secularism was a farce—if they implemented such a draconian law where women couldn’t cover their bodies. Selective secularism to suit their convenience is how I interpreted France’s policy. Didn’t France, at one time, encourage Moroccans and Algerians to migrate (more like bring them over as slaves) to their country? Today, the nation with Europe’s largest Muslim minority feared the same people because they didn’t need them?

My friend’s husband presented an, opposing but very valid, argument: Given the mayhem in the world, he understood where the backlash was coming from. Public officials and lawmakers believed they had to implement the law for security reasons.

While the two of us drowned in our conversation, my friend said something pertinent. She agreed with both our viewpoints. On one hand, she understood her husband’s concern about security; on the other, she got the human rights issue I was ranting about. But she raised one question: Did anyone ask these women what they wanted?

In December 2010, I read about Ireland’s ban on abortion. The article was about three Irish women, who were forced to travel abroad to terminate their pregnancy because abortion was outlawed in Ireland in 1861 and can bring a sentence of life imprisonment. These women actually turned to the European court of human rights.

One of these ladies was a recovering alcoholic and substance abuser. The second woman got pregnant while undergoing chemotherapy. All of them feared for the safety of their unborn. I believe the cancer patient finally got an okay from the Irish government. But not the other two.

Apparently thousands of women travel from Ireland to England to get abortions done. And if they can’t afford to spend that money, they seek unqualified help. We all know how that must end.

Despite whatever the Catholic Church says, how could these single mothers take care of kids when they themselves weren’t fit for it? Both mentally and physically! Are we okay with orphans or sick children or even unwanted kids roaming the streets? And we can obliterate the rights of the living?

I am not looking at getting into arguments that define “human life.” And the rights of an unborn child. Or what God intended. If we are taking that path, I can tell you God would consider humanity over religion. If anything, humanity should be every single person’s first and foremost religion. Being pro-choice is not being pro-abortion.

About six months ago I was in a classroom, on the west coast, with fellow poets. I can’t recollect how, but we started to talk about burqa. Two of my classmates (One American and the other Canadian – both Muslim women), shared their two bits with the rest of us who didn’t grow up in an Islamic Community.

The American found the burqa derogatory to women. She saw it as a sign of oppression. She thought of it as another one of those many things man invented to express his superiority over women. She alluded to the burqa as being a prison for any woman. But the Canadian lady felt there was a romantic and soft element attached to the notion of covering your face. Or even your body. She found the garb feminine. And felt it gave women more power—they chose whom they wanted to really “see.”

When I left the classroom that day, I realized that as non-Muslims, we have all had opinions on burqa. But most of us never considered asking a woman, who was born in that religion, what she thought of it. Was wearing or not wearing ever her own choice?

All I am saying is that I am pro-choice; be it wearing a burqa or getting your pregnancy terminated. Shouldn’t a woman be able given that choice of a decision? Shouldn’t women be given the opportunity to take care of their own lives? The world cannot become a better place if women's voices and choices aren't heard. Isn’t lack of choice a breach of human rights?

More until next time,


Copyright © 01.06.2011

“Women are the only oppressed group in our society that lives in intimate association with their opressors” ~Evelyn Cunningham

Sunday, January 2, 2011

"I am awesome!"

Before you jump to any conclusion about my newly found path of narcissism, hold your horses. J

This past week, my husband was off from work. Since we weren’t traveling anywhere, to give him company, I decided to indulge in “staycation.” Still loathe the word, but I now understand the concept. For me, this was the first week of rest in 2010. So, I decided to take a break from technology. Literally. No emails, Facebook, phones etc. aside from a few urgent or imperative ones. Sorry to those whose calls and messages I haven’t replied to. Now you know why. But you will be hearing from me shortly.

These last few days, my husband coordinated our local meal, movie, and party meet-ups with friends. He handled a handful of calls to the immediate family and ignored most other phone calls, emails, and texts.:-) He was actually annoyed with the multiple phones ringing. By the third day, he said to me, “How do you do it? Staying in touch with the family and friends along with everything else. And the phone rings a lot!” I smiled and said, “Well, I have never had that choice of evaluation.”

Boy, I can’t even tell you how refreshing and healing the whole experience of walking away from communication was. To be able to hear your inner voice and desires as opposed to the cacophony of humanity. Don’t get me wrong; I LOVE my family and friends. But sometimes, an open path of communication cannot ensure that you get to interact only with people you like or get along with. And there are no guarantees that you will always like what you hear. Overall, that is fine with me; good comes with bad. But sometimes, we all reach our breaking point with multiple thoughts and ideas convoluting our precious mind and heart. And that’s when a break is required.

During this week, I worked very closely with the editor of my upcoming fiction novel. I felt I was able to see the book from a very different angle. Key points that I otherwise hadn’t noticed. I was more pragmatically involved and less emotionally attached to the feedback. And it did wonders for the entire team. Maybe because my mind was not flooded with fifty other compartments of “things-to-do.” I guess, I was able to live like a man - focus on myself with minimal multi-tasking.

When a friend asked over a scrumptious meal, “How does it feel to not be connected?” I said to her, “I am more connected than ever now. I can actually hear my breath. And there is nothing more calming than that sound.”

My brain, all of a sudden, had all this good, empty space and felt very positive. I spent the week, aside from catching up with friends in NYC, reading. You’d assume that as a writer, I get to read all the time. Well, yes and no. For work, I don’t always get to read what I really want to.

Because of the holidays, there was always a social plan every day. I didn’t cook all the meals at home. I did yoga, meditation, and went to the gym. And I pursued few other therapeutic, Asian healing techniques.

Last but not the least, I watched many clips on the educational website, TED. My husband and I swear by TED. But with everything else going on in my 24 hours, I don’t always get to visit it as often as I would like.

One of my absolute favorite ones was the talk, “Why we have too few women leaders,” by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. I highly recommend it. Two things she said that I would always remember:

  • Women leave before they leave: In our quest of planning our future, we ruin our present. Even before women have children, they start thinking about scaling back on their career. Meanwhile, they pass up promotions and good projects because they think they would need to stay at home to care for their children. Sheryl said that when the time comes, take whatever decision suits you best. But in anticipation of one day that time will come, don’t ruin your today.

I know I look at writing residencies that aren’t longer than two weeks. I think like a typical woman. I store up food for my husband before I travel and get the house all organized. He isn’t a stereotypical Indian guy, so there aren’t any expectations. But I am wired to “take care.” And everyone has an opinion on how I should accommodate my career in my husband’s life. But it's acceptable for the man to be ambitious.

Sheryl shared statistics of the level of involvement at home: men versus women. The numbers are appalling. And irrespective of color and race, most women face similar challenges. Men do their thing when they need to without wondering about any of the above-mentioned emotional battles: family, friends, or food. But women tend to add their needs to the bottom of the totem pole.

The world is so quick to add gender stereotype to emotions and outbursts. Sure, as women, we might be more effusive in how we react or behave. But look at our platter. Truth is, we juggle home while we manage family and friends and focus on our career. When you do a lot, you stress out, and breakdowns will happen. I am not asking for sympathy. But look around you; women who don’t necessarily express themselves on emotional scales are often the uninvolved types. They are the center of their own universe. Well, almost like a man, right?

  • Sheryl raised another important point, which hit home with me. She said that when you ask a successful woman the reason behind her success, she always gives credit to her partner, family, and friends. But when you ask a man the reason behind his success, he says, “I am awesome!”

With my three book releases this past summer, I have been doing a lot of interviews lately. And I so understood what Sheryl was talking about. I am one of those women. Whenever an interviewer asks me the reason for my success, I attribute it to the people in my universe. Okay, I find humility attractive and find it nauseating when people can’t stop singing their own praises. BUT, there is something to be said about affirmations. If you keep giving everybody else credit for what you do well, somewhere, deep down, you begin to believe that. And likewise, if you think you rock your own world, somewhere you believe that you are the best thing that happened to planet earth.

The other morning, my dentist and I joked about how we were going to call each other “awesome.” But I asked her, “How many times have people told you that you are lucky to have such a supportive husband?” And how many times have the same people said that your husband is lucky to have you as his wife because you are so supportive?”

In this New Year, amongst my many other resolutions, I have decided to make place for myself in my own life. Even if a little. Because if I do not, no one will. And sometimes, to be able to listen to my true voice, I might have to disconnect myself from the outer noise. But more importantly, as women, we need to tell each other that we are “awesome!” And sure, we are lucky to have good people in our lives who support us. But if the talent didn’t exist, you couldn’t support thin air!

Happy New Year to everyone! May 2011 bring you good health, happiness, and awesomeness!

More until next time,


Copyright © 01.02.2011

“The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.” ~ Ayn Rand