Thursday, February 24, 2011

Childhood memories replaced with nightmares

I have had a transient life growing up. Different schools, different friends, different, countries, different cities.

One of those countries where my parents lived and I visited for fifteen years was Libya. I studied in the Indian International School in Libya for a few years. That is until my parents realized that school was a piece of cake, and all my teachers were their friends. So, on one hand they gave my peers and me homework; on the other, they partied with my parents over the weekend. Perhaps, it was difficult to take their role seriously. For all of us.

I joined a boarding school in Mussoorie, India. But my brother and I continued to visit Libya during our vacations.

I don’t think my brother bears any attachment to the country. He didn’t go to school there. None of the kids were his age. If anything, my friends would ask him to do things for us: lay out the tent, accompany us, play silly games. It was understandable why he felt nothing when my parents decided to move back to India. I still remember I was so upset. I had bawled my eyes out. I couldn’t believe my parents would want to leave the place where I had spent the most precious years of my life. My childhood home.

Back in the days, India wasn’t what it is today. And Libya was an amazing place for foreigners (unlike today) until you didn’t mess around with the local people. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi kept the country safe. Moreover, none of the stringent rules and regulations applied to foreigners. No burqa, no restrictions on beach wear. My parents’ generation is so guilt feeling and God-fearing that they were the best immigrants, ever! They kept to their South Asian community mostly and mingled with few European and other Asian communities.

I would have to say life in Libya was a mad party. Best food, best music, best movies, best company, best beaches, and ultimately best vacations. Mankind, as we know, is so inventive. Because there weren’t too many restaurants or tourist destinations or movie theatres within our city, we created fun. Literally manufactured magic: beach house rentals, mouth-watering BBQs, home-brewed liquor (strictly for the elders), swim in the Mediterranean Sea, never-ending picnics, crazy dance parties etc. etc. Most women were incredible, inventive cooks.

I couldn’t believe my parents wanted to abandon all that and move to India where only special guests were fed “chicken.” With me, it's all about food ultimately.:-)

But that was fifteen years ago. Slowly, I started to miss the place lesser and lesser. These days I barely think of Libya. But the past week has reignited feelings. Here is a poem that I wrote on Libya: Libyan memory; Libyan nightmare. It was published earlier this morning.

Today when I see what’s happening in Libya, my heart aches. Gaddafi, who once defended his people against foreign rule, has vowed to suppress a mounting revolt against his 42-year rule. He is killing his own people?! His forces have cracked down fiercely on demonstrators. Ruthless murders, innocent lives taken. Brutality galore!

The army, apparently, is firing random people on the streets of Tripoli (the capital). Many fear collecting corpses, lest they be shot. And tomorrow, there will be a general protest in Tripoli. Here is a video of a mass burial site in the city. Human Rights Watch said at least 233 people had been killed in five days of violence in Libya, opposition groups put the figure much higher.

Someone asked me why I am so bothered by what’s happening in Libya. I said, “Perhaps, this time it’s more personal. This past week of uproar has stained the pages of my childhood memories with nightmares.”

More until next time,


Copyright © 02.24.2011

"Politicians are like diapers. They both need changing regularly and for the same reason.” ~Author Unknown

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Do a good deed and save the life of a three-year old

For those of you who watch the ABC sitcom, “Cougar Town,” starring Courteney Cox, you might remember an episode from a week or so ago. It was based on the concept of “Pay it forward.” You do something nice for someone or say a few generous words, and they in turn do the same for another person—friend or a stranger. In the end, a chain of good deeds gets manufactured.

But this was a small town in Florida. City living, though I love it, has made me skeptical and distrustful to an extent. New Yorkers, overall, are often labeled as apathetic. Be it the paucity of time or the every day struggle, everybody is always in a hurry. And often engrossed in their own world.

Many years ago, one of my professors at Columbia University thought I was upset with him over a grade or something and that’s why I had not acknowledged his “hellos.” Apparently, this one time his family too was with him. He called out to me thinking he could introduce me to his wife.

I felt terrible. I am not the kind of person who would ignore or ever get passive-aggressive. If I have an issue, believe me, you will hear about it one-on-one—that is if I believe you are mature enough to comprehend the intent of the conversation. And if I think you are an adult with the emotional maturity of a three-year old, I will watch my distance.

I finally realized what had occurred. I always have music blaring in my ears. And when I step out of my house, I wear my coat of cautiousness with words floating in my head. You could say I switch off the world. City cacophony can enter spaces you don’t want it to. Someone needs to literally tap my shoulder to catch my attention.

Long story short, I reached out to my professor, apologized again, and asked him to make eye-to-eye contact the next time he saw me.

My example wasn’t an exception. Several of my friends have been in similar, awkward situations. And no, not all of them are artists and writers. I know, we, creative types have our own reputation.:-)

Anyway, my husband lacks the New York trait. He helps the randomest of folks at the weirdest of hours in the strangest of places. I don’t think it’s very smart, and he’s paid heavily, a few times, for his credulous attitude. I shudder as I think about those incidents. But he doesn’t give up. I think we are all wired differently. I trust people I know and get burnt while he relies on strangers to do the damage:-)

A week ago, over a cup of weekend-tea, my husband said to me, “You bend backwards for family and friends. So what if I help people without even knowing them? And yes, I especially assist women with carriages or the elderly with heavy bags on subway stairs because I know what you go you have to go through with your injured-neck. And maybe, when I do this for others, when you need help, a stranger might come to your rescue.”

He got me thinking. I too have always believed in doing the right thing. But as mentioned above, I choose a different route. Munificent gestures get limited to the people from my own universe. As in, I am there for the people I know. And though I might offer my seat in the subway to a pregnant woman or an elderly, I am wary of random conversations with unfamiliar humans. If I see someone hurt, my first reaction would be to call 911 as opposed to helping directly. You never know who the person next to you is. And is it worth finding out?

Though not fully convinced, I decided to try my husband’s method of going out of the way for strangers. Of course, I hid my wallet in the deepest crevasses of my handbag.

Next morning, as I was crossing the street (mind you the roads were snowy and slushy), I saw a young, blind lady trying to walk over this pile of slush from the other side of the road. Normally, I would have informed her that the “walk signal” wasn’t on and that she probably wanted to wait a few minutes. Don’t judge; all New Yorkers partake in jaywalking. But this time I waited with her. I told her that I would help her cross the street and only then go about my business. She was surprised but thanked me immensely. A minute later, this man emerged out of his car and said, “I will take it from here.” He blocked the street with his car such that no other vehicles could drive by and hurt this lady. It was like the sets of a Broadway Show. Seeing this guy, another dude stepped outside his car and offered to help. In front of my eyes, on a chaotic winter morning, New Yorkers proved that good deed is infectious.

I called up my husband and told him what had happened. Needless to say, he gloated.J

A few days later, I saw several postings on Facebook about this three-year-old boy, Rayan, who was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), a form of blood cancer. It was heart wrenching. One particular update caught my eye; my friend had posted it. Her son and Rayan are classmates. And I have met her son on several occasions. This story at that very moment became personal for me. I hate the C-word.

I have decided to get myself tested for bone marrow compatibility. I hope and pray it matches, so I can help out Rayan. And if you are a South Asian, may I urge you to get tested as well? It would could be that much more helpful for a match. Click here for details.

When I told my husband of my decision, he said, “You know the transplant itself is very painful.” I said to him, “Much more than what the parents of a three-year-old are going through? Or the kid himself?”

I don’t know if winter brings out the nice in people. Or we all find our own causes that we believe and support in. Whatever might be the case, do a good deed and pass it on. Like laughter, it’s contagious. And God knows this chaotic world could use some positive energy.

More until next time,


Copyright © 02.10.2011

“For even in dreams a good deed is not lost” ~ Pedro Calderon de la Barca

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Cinema in India—sign of the changing times?

The only reason I can smile around this time of the year (Well, the cold and snow freezes every happy emotion) is because of movie and television awards. Though I have to say my favorite de-stressor is watching innumerable Bollywood award ceremonies, especially in the recent years. C’mon, there is music, dancing, celebrities, and fashion galore. And loads of sharp and sometimes strange humor.

Bollywood has come a long way. Remember those rose buds and suggestive sitar tunes every time an actor and actress held hands? Or the fake “bhishum” sound when a fight scene happened? There was an ugly villain and at least one person with some sort of mental or physical disability. I don’t know why a goon couldn’t be good-looking. The heroine was vulnerable, danced in the rain, and drank potions of pretentious shyness. There was almost always a widowed mother or a one-eyed, mean mother-in-law. And the male protagonist was stronger than Superman. Of course, there was always “art” cinema, which was often positioned as a documentary for intellectual snoots. And none of the “hot” and commercial actors ever worked in them.

Not too long ago, the producers and directors clumped the tastes, needs, and want of the entire Indian audience inside one bucket (Not very different from how the western world envisioned India). Diversity didn't matter! I don’t think there was a target audience in mind for every movie. The grandma, mother, the teenaged daughter, the maid, and the sweepers were perceived to own similar intellectual and emotional capabilities. Perhaps, that’s why cinema never seemed about people. Regular, common, normal human beings like any of us. Movies were far-fetched, distant, and monopolistic.

But thanks to the newer crop of storywriters, actors, producers, and directors, Bollywood has reached newer heights. Actors are making an effort, like Hollywood stars, and experimenting with roles and looks. For instance, Ajay Devgan had a small-town guise in Rajneeti; a 70s safari suit and long hair in Once Upon a Time in Mumbai; but short, cropped hair, and tattooed & chiseled body in Golmaal 3.

While watching Apsara Awards 2011, I noticed that most of the movies nominated for an award this year were unusual in their storyline and characterization: “Udaan,”Band Baaja Baaraat,” “My Name Is Khan,”Dabangg,” “Peepli Live”etc. But here is the interesting bit: debut directors filmed them all. The producers might have been an old mogul or a big banner, but not the director. And lot of unknown and first timer-names worked in the aforementioned films.

These newer and maybe younger folks might have found mentors in the industry. But the ideas and vision are still theirs. And it’s obvious in the variety of small and big films we watch. The flavors are unique. The characters have become more believable. There is a movie for every demographic and socio-economic group. In fact, cinema is available for every mood.

To me, the growth and the rise of India are visible in Bollywood. For a nation to succeed, it has to be open to bolder, braver, and newer notions. Fair to say India is on the right track?

More until next time,


Copyright © 02.03.2011

“Although for some people cinema means something superficial and glamorous, it is something else. I think it is the mirror of the world.” Jeanne Moreau