Friday, April 29, 2011

Their graves will not be unknown

We were in Maryland this past weekend, celebrating my aunt-in-law’s surprise 60th birthday. As always, it was amazing meeting all the cousins and partaking in regular family fun: food, chitchat, cackle, and stories.

We all got talking. The family in the room knew that I was a writer. But they didn’t know about my deadlines or forthcoming books. I, personally, don’t fancy discussing my projects until they are ready. Of course there are a handful of people who are privy to the rodent crawling inside my brain. But that’s the extent of it. What’s to say? Everyone has a job. Almost. Everyone keeps busy during the day. One can hope. Why should my profession be given a special treatment? Why should I receive the limelight when every job is equally important?

Anyhoo, I told the lovelies in the room about my upcoming fiction novel, “Perfectly Untraditional.” I couldn’t have asked for a better audience. They were so attentive, encouraging, and supportive. Be it the aunts and uncle or cousins my age, everyone was beyond generous with their words. No double standards. No passive-aggressiveness. I was one of them—their child or cousin—not a daughter-in-law. I felt blessed. Believe me, that’s not an experience most South Asian women are always privy to. Are you surprised I cherished every minute of our stay in MD? Or why I love visiting them?

Speaking of novel, my husband manages to sneak in the author copy of it everywhere he goes. It’s really funny. He took it to his office. He’s taken it to our friends’ houses. Apparently, he packed it, hid it, and carried it to Maryland too. He, not so subtly, suggests that I show the author copy to my peers and friends. No kidding! I don’t because I see some benefits in humility. But we’ll keep that “success-goes-to-people’s-head” discussion for another time. J

I’ll confess: Deep down somewhere my upcoming novel makes me miss a few people. Relatives who passed away prematurely. People who would have been as happy as my parents and husband upon seeing my novel. People who influenced my life.

  • My Dada (paternal grandfather) - My Dada, a sweetheart, was an idealist who judged the deed, not the doer. He was a big believer in the truth and doing the right thing. My father is the same way, and I seemed to have inherited those impractical qualities too.:-) But I am ever so grateful for those genes. It makes for a tough but content life. My Dada died of throat cancer, but he urged me to never forfeit my voice. He never once mentioned medicine or law when he spoke with me. That’s almost unheard of for a South Asian grandparent (or parent for that matter). I was five when he passed away. But it seems he had me figured out before anyone else.

  • Baba (My husband’s paternal grandfather) - The first time I visited my husband’s ancestral home, Baba made me sit right next to him at the dining table. I was a daughter to him. He wasn’t concerned about my culinary abilities or crotchet collection. He asked me to sit-in when he was talking to his clients (He was a lawyer). Did he think I would get stories in my head from that interaction? I don’t know. But what I do know is that I have a picture of him on my writing desk. And that he would have been so proud to see my book.
  • My mausi (My mother’s older sister) - My mausi and I were extremely different individuals. The other week my cousins from California were over—mausi’s son and his family. We were all out to dinner at a fancy Mediterranean place, having a fantabulous time. Towards the end of the meal, as we glanced at the dessert menu, I saw it. Stared at it. Smiled at it. It had rice pudding as one of the options. On a regular day, I can eat rice pudding by the gallon. I don’t (because of the dumb calories and all), but if I could, I would. That evening too I had a glint in my eyes but didn’t order it. Instead, I told everyone a story.

My parents relocated to North Africa in the 80s. The first time we visited India on vacation, we spent a big chunk of our vacation at my mausi’s place. On one of the evenings, we all went out to a 5-star hotel for dinner. Upon seeing the menu, my mausi’s older daughter happily declared that she wanted to eat malai kofta with pulao for dinner. I was too young to own a spine or mind, so I asked for the same dish my older cousin had ordered. My mausi turned to us and said in an annoyed tone, “Try something new when you go to a restaurant. What is the point in ordering a dish which gets cooked at home?” That was it. I quietly ordered, “Chicken ala king.” Man, I loved it. I cook it at home. It is one of my husband’s favorite entrees cooked at home by me!

After that day I have never been able to order myself anything ordinary at a fancy restaurant. I learnt my lesson: Never follow the mob. Create my own identity. Strive for extraordinary.

My mausi expressed interest in my writing process and writerly life more than I could have ever imagined. My last conversation with her was about my book.

  • Saroj bua (My father’s older sister) - Saroj bua, whom I never met (She died before I was born), was a writer herself. A pure hearted poet, if I may brag. On my recent trip to India, my father gave me her journal. It will be the most treasured diary I will ever own! I translated her works (It’s now published in a Chicago-based publication. Click here if you’d like to read) from Hindi to English. As far as I am concerned, her journal of poetry gave me a sneak peak at what occupied her mind. Poetry was her therapy. Poetry was her escape route from reality. Words gave her the choices that life didn’t offer. I felt attached to her. I empathized with her. A connection. A revelation. I often choose to write poetry because it's healing. It's calming. It gives me the strength to deal with actuality.

Ironically, it’s not that I was super-close to anyone of the above-mentioned people in particular. For a woman growing up across three continents, boarding school, and hostel life, there is only so much time I had with them individually; however, I feel their absence. I guess it is the quality of time spent versus quantity. They each taught me a valuable lesson.

Actually, my unconventional attachment to my deceased relatives doesn’t surprise me at all. Maybe I am romanticizing the dead. Or maybe these were the people who very early on interpreted my dreams in their own, unique way. They encouraged me, the writer, to be myself. Be it through their journals or actions, they supported the perfectly untraditional me.

Here is a toast to them. I bow my head down in humble silence and thank them for their love. I promise, every time I look at my upcoming novel, I will mentally salute them. I know they are smiling at me. And perhaps, muttering, "You did it, girl!":-)

More until next time,


Copyright © 04.29.2011

“It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.” ~ George S. Patton

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Gay or straight, doesn’t matter. It’s the Y chromosome!

It’s my husband’s birthday today. A friend suggested that I write a post about him—my husband. Initially I found the idea odd only because I rarely plan my posts. The ideas come to me. I have to be consumed with a topic to blog about it. But as I sat down with my laptop earlier today, I had an epiphany. After all, Mr. Frost said, “Writing is discovery.”

My husband, a man of way above–average intelligence, has an embarrassingly forgetful memory when it comes to doing anything around the house. Okay, “embarrassing” is not the right word. But I have people from the older generation reading my blog posts too, so I figured I’d refrain from using anything non PG-13 to nickname his “laziness.”:-)

Just the other day, for the millionth time, it slipped his mind to bring the heavy-duty grocery—items that any sane woman shouldn’t carry. A few weeks ago, he forgot to tell me about a package his aunt had sent. Thanks for the embarrassment, dear. More often than not, I need to remind him to call his own family. Yes, the list goes on. But since it’s his birthday, let’s cut him some slack.:-)

Not too long ago in the past, I got mad and asked him how he could forget, again and again. He gave me that patented “I don’t know. I just don’t know.” I believed him. Ah, the foolish me. I neglected to see that his head was tilted at an angle, which I assumed exuded sincere apology. (That’s how Shahrukh Khan apologizes in Hindi movies). Apparently not. There was golf on the television, and the man was trying to get a sneak peak. He wanted me to shut up. He knew the “Deer-caught-in-the-headlights-act” would work on me. And it did!

When a friend of mine tried asking her husband about his forgetfulness, he pretended to watch television. It was his, “Honey, I-need-some-space, time.” When she insisted on having a discussion, he tried convincing my friend that they should talk later since he was watching TV. He started flipping through channels. Rapidly. Abruptly. Without breathing. Like she was a sniper from the enemy side, and he was trying to survive. His fingertips worked faster than his thoughts when he finally said, “Babe, there is something important that I have to watch.” She said, “What?” None of the games were on. She was well aware. She waited for him. But her husband was determined. He found a crappy channel showing……. POKER and settled with it.

My friend thought that she could totally call his bluff. Like, totally. C’mon, seriously. Who watches poker? For how long? And that too on television? That’s sick!

She waited, he watched. She waited some more, he watched more. And that was the day poker became a part of his sports viewing ritual.

It didn’t end there; during a commercial break, he pointed to a random model’s washboard abs and said, “Babe, you should do what she does. Doesn’t look all that difficult.” I am not sure why he is still alive!

Another friend of ours said that he wanted to get an iPad because in his neighborhood all the dads are expected to show up to kiddie birthdays. Oh, those poor men, “wasting” their sacred Sunday on their child. And those wives. Sloths, who don’t consult their hubbies sports-schedule before planning a celebration that comes only once a year. How could they imagine organizing an event that was convenient for all, just inconvenient for the men folk?

I hope you can smell the sarcasm and visualize me rolling my eyes.

Tired from negotiating channel flipping and living with monologues, my girlfriends and I believed that gay guys would make perfect husbands. They compliment, comment, care, commend, and never hit on women. They are friends, fashionistas, fervent, feisty. Every “Sheila ki jawaani” is safe in their hands. No Munni will ever become badnaam in their company. They are everything that your straight man won’t do or won’t be.

I wish I could stick to my postulation. Prove I am right. Alas.

Sometime back, I had the opportunity to spend a couple of wonderful weeks with a gay couple. I knew them both pre and post their wedding. All was going great until the marriage happened. The Y-chromosome kicked in, big time.

The husband in their relationship FORGOT what he wasn’t supposed to. He made the same mistakes, like straight guys. Maybe he didn’t squabble over Sunday afternoon football, but he did forget to bring the grocery. And then wine. Then it got worse; he didn’t remember to compliment his partner or appreciate dinner.

As I watched the two men turn into stereotypical, married mutts, I realized: Orientation doesn’t matter. Straight or gay isn’t the point; men transform when they become husbands. Perhaps, they assume, the legal paper somehow tells them it’s okay to be irresponsible. After all, they make great boyfriends, but the minute the “H-word” (Husband) comes in, mental deterioration seeps in. And there is no turning back.

I guess, on this birthday, my husband gets a free pass. I am taking him out to dinner at one of the most talked about restaurants in town. So excited to try it! And I won’t be offended if he decides to discuss sports and/or work or glances at his BlackBerry to check scores. I won’t hold his “straightness” as a reason for his inattentiveness. Not today! You got saved, birthday boy! :-)

More until next time,


Copyright © 04.21.2011

“In a husband there is only a man; in a married woman there is a man, a father, and mother, and a woman.” ~ Honore de Balzac

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Are we ready to clean, India?

When I was growing up, I didn’t know of anyone who wanted to enter politics in India. None of my friends, peers, or acquaintances. We might not have had official “Career Day” in school, but every time youngsters discussed their career aspirations, politics didn’t appear in the list.

Politics was meant for certain people. People who were not only okay with adorning saris and kurta pajamas 24/7 but also okay with being under-handed and salacious. In a nutshell, if you weren’t corrupt, you couldn’t make it in politics. If you weren’t slimy, you couldn’t survive a day. Maybe these were exaggerated impressions my generation grew up with, but after all, it’s all about perception, isn’t it?

Life went on. Politicians came and went. Corruption increased manifolds. I grew older. My questions became bolder. And hopefully, a lot wiser. My curiosity became unbiased.

A simple thought began to occupy my mind. Sure, corruption has eaten away the foundation of Indian politics and governance like termites in a New York building. However, for corruption to exist and grow, someone has to be encouraging it. All things, be it good or bad, are a two-way street.

It’s so easy to blame politicians. Much easier to call them sick and dishonest. Thieves robbing the morale and hope of the country. But at the end of the day, who is exacerbating the problem? Who is letting them get away with all the filth? Who has given them the power to ruin our lives? It’s the PUBLIC!

Corruption shouldn’t go unpunished. But along with politicians, people are equally to blame. Every one of us has resorted to “unofficial” methods in India to get something done. It could be something as trivial as bribing a traffic cop to avoid a DUI ticket to getting a ration card to a driver’s license to paying a bill to obtaining a passport. If parents refused to bribe the admissions committee at engineering and medical colleges, all kids would stand a fair chance. But when it comes down to survival, the thinking becomes inward. People think only about their individual needs and benefits.

Recently, Anna Hazare, a 73-year-old-man Padma Bhushan winner, decided to bring a change in India. He went on a crusade against corruption: a 97-hour fast until government agreed to almost all of his demands. Film stars like Aamir Khan and Rajnikant endorsed Anna Hazare’s mission. Soon, the common man followed.

It’s in our Indian blood to do “dharna.” To build and burn effigies. To follow the mob, often without understanding the crux of the issue. It’s considered elitist to attend processions and marches. Burn candles for “causes.” Then make others believe you believe in a cause. Doing so is associated with being “liberal.” And being “liberal” makes you appear hip and cool.

How many people really know what the The Jan Lokpal Bill is about? Literally, it means an independent body would investigate corruption cases, complete the investigation within a year, and envisage trial in the case getting over in the next one year. How many of them are willing to deal or comprehend the repercussions of it?

When I was in my 10th grade, the Mandal Commission chaos happened right before my board exams. Innumerable youngsters burnt themselves, gave up their lives for justice. I ask: How many of these people really knew what they were doing? What would their sacrifice bring? Who received justice? Not the mourning family members of those deceased.

Reactionary mobs, comprising of a large group of BJP Mahila Morcha activists, attacked writer and activist Arundhati Roy’s house, in New Delhi, in October 2010. About a hundred people vandalized her property. They were protesting Arundhati Roy’s remarks on Kashmir. My question again: How many of these protestors were there because they were truly offended by Ms. Roy’s statement and how many of them became a part of the brouhaha because they had nothing better to do?

An average Indian is angry today. It takes nothing much for a person with low self-esteem to be egged on. It takes very little for someone with no direction in life to follow any path available. It’s no surprise that the Indian youth is using social media to sway and be swayed. I have lost count of the number of Facebook status updates and Twitter tweets urging people to join Anna Hazare in his cause. I choose to not keep track of the number of “cause” requests I received to join Anna Hazare in his crusade.

The same people evade fines when caught speaking on the phone while driving. The same people tell tales when stopped for drunk driving. The same people send “gifts” to obtain a voter card. How many of these people even vote?

Believe me, I am all for Anna Hazare and the other society cleansers. I am an idealist and would like nothing more than India and the world to be corruption and crime-free.

I pose a bigger question: Is the average Indian prepared to live in a transparent system? Let go and get things done the right way, not the easy way? Get off their lazy butt and take responsibility for their actions!

A nation so crippled by corruption can come out clean when the changes start at home.

More until next time,


Copyright © 04.14.2011

“Instead of giving a politician the keys to the city, it might be better to change the locks.” ~Doug Larson