Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Have we met before—maybe in another life?

I have always wondered about what happens to people when they die. Death does not put an end to the entirety of one’s being, does it?

Someone recently asked me if I believed in reincarnation. I said, “Yes, I do. I believe in new beginnings rather than just endings. Reincarnation gives me a hope for the future.” Mind you, my answer bears no reflection to the fact that I was born into and practice Hinduism.

Depending on the religious faith of the deceased, we either cremate or bury the dead bodies but what really happens after that—what happens to the souls, specifically? Movies tell us a lot but they don’t really tell us much—a white light at the end of the tunnel or a dark angel flying souls to heaven or hell. But where do the souls really go?

I find it easier to believe that souls are reborn in another body. That there is some sort of continuity. Have you ever met someone for the first time but felt that you have known them forever? A sense of familiarity. A degree of comfort. I am not referring to déjà vu moments but a deeper sense of attachment. Or other times of people who do us no wrong, yet we can’t stand the mere sight of them. How do we explain these feelings?

I personally know of a case where a child was born moments after his grandfather died. As the little boy grew up, people noticed that his eating habits, body posture, demeanor, and nature were similar to that of his deceased grandfather. Not just that but also the people this boy was closest to were the ones the grandfather was extremely fond of. Part of the behavior and pattern could be attributed to genetics but what about the other aspect—the relationship angle? I can’t say with any scientific certainty that the grandfather returned as the boy. But it did get me thinking about reincarnation.

A cousin recently told me about the book “Many Lives, Many Masters.” Written by prominent psychiatrist, Dr. Weiss, the book is based on the true story of his young patient, Catherine, who reveals details of her previous lives through past-life therapy. The sessions eventually changed both their lives, but for the longest time, Dr. Weiss was mistrusting of anything that couldn’t be proved via traditional, scientific method. He treated Catherine for 18 months using traditional methods but when nothing worked, he resorted to hypnosis. During one of the hypnosis sessions, Catherine shared specific messages about Dr. Weiss’s dead son; he had never told Catherine about the boy.

I don’t want to give away too much about the book, so I would recommend reading it. Pausing for a moment and thinking. Sure, we can’t verify the truth of Catherine’s story using the limited scientific tools we have available. There is no way to know. But should we close our minds to possibilities?

Can we dispute reincarnation completely?

More until next time,
Copyright © 06.13.2012

“I am confident that there truly is such a thing as living again, that the living spring from the dead, and that the souls of the dead are in existence.” ~ Socrates

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Reading and Ranting...

Dear all,

Winter was a myth this year, and spring just flew by like words out of a book of poetry.

Hope your summer is off to a good start. After a lazy, relaxed Memorial Day, it’s time for me to make some noise. Okay, partake in some upcoming readings and conferences. And I really hope to see at least some of your friendly faces in the audience.

Thursday, May 31, 6:30-8:30 pm
Ken Siegelman's Brooklyn Poetry Outreach: May Featured Poet Sweta Vikram
Barnes & Noble Park Slope
267 7th Avenue (6th Street)
Brooklyn, NY 11215

Sunday, June 17, 3-5 pm
Queens Council on The Arts
Crossing Art Gallery, Flushing
with Jacqueline Donado and Miguel Falquez-Certain

Sunday, June 24, 9:00 am-6:00 pm (My segment TBA)
Vishwa Hindu Parishad
New Dorp High School, Staten Island
Theme: Self Identity and Connecting with your Roots

Sunday, June 24, 7-8:30 pm
Brownstone Poets Anthology Launch
163 Court Street
Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, NY 11201 Phone # (718) 875-3677
Take the F or G to Bergen St., R to Court St., 4 or 5 to Borough Hall

Saturday, June 30, 1:30-3:30 pm
Cultural Consonance: A reading of cross cultural literature between Queens and the world
Greater Astoria Historical Society
Quinn Building, 35-20 Broadway, 4th Floor, Long Island City, NY 11106
(near the M/R train at Steinway or the NQ train at Broadway)
with Nancy Agabian, Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhran, Joseph O. Legaspi, and Margarita Soto
$5 suggested donation

In other news, I won a scholarship to Wesleyan Writers Conference in Connecticut and will be attending the conference (super-psyched) in mid-June. I've also been selected by the Queens Council on The Arts as one of six participants in their Build Your Own Business (BYOB) Program—a professional development program for writers. My poetry chapbook, “Beyond the Scent of Sorrow,” was nominated for the Indie Lit Awards towards end of 2011. One of the judges interviewed me, and we spoke about poetry and where it comes from. Kismet? A memorable trip to Greece in December of 2011 led to the birth of my newly published travel essay: “The Allure of Socrates’ Land.”

Between January and May 2012, several of my poems were published: and also personal essays:

The councilman from Queens invited me to share my poetry at Immigrant Heritage Awards while NY1 named yours truly as “Queens Person of the Week.”

Did I mention that my first column, "Femininity and Feminism--do we misuse the two F-Words?"  appeared in Delhi-based Democratic World:

Other publishing and mad & wicked news is on my website: www.swetavikram. But you know where to find me in person (at a watering hole near you:-)), email (, Facebook (, and Twitter (@ssvik)

Wish you a splendid week!

More until next time,


Copyright © 05.30.2012

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Revealing the Dirty Indian Psyche?

Sorry for being MIA. Work, work, and more work had kept me away from you guys. But I did read and watch the news. And a few stories ate me up alive! And many others filled me with shame.

Despite all the economic growth and materialism flooding India, certain behaviors and attitudes remain unchanged about the country. We still don't respect our women. It starts at home and the culture is reflected in the thought process of even lawmakers and protectors of the law.

A few weeks ago, there was an article in the First PostFrom the Delhi police: Why women deserve to be raped. Sure, women have a tattoo on their foreheads that scream: “Come, violate me. And then put my dignity on trial as the lawyers make me relive the nightmare while the perpetrator roams scot free!”

Did I mention that New Delhi isn’t just India’s capital, but it is also the rape capital of the country? According to a report by the National Crime Control Bureau, 23 per cent of rape cases in the urban areas took place in Delhi. 1 of every 4 rapes in India is committed in Delhi.

Tehelka stint aimed at over twenty police stations across the Delhi-NCR area revealed harsh, crude, misogynist testimonies of cops (30 senior police officers, not havaldars). I urge you to read the full story in details here because I am going to paraphrase—it upsets me to re-read the profanities and delve into the sick mentality of these police officers. These so-called protectors of the law gave reasons why they thought women asked to be violated. “If you’re “really” raped, you would never complain. If you complain, you were not “really” raped.”

Not too long ago, in Gurgaon, also known as “ the outsourcing mega-city south of New Delhi,” police authorities came up with a law that doesn’t permit women to work after 8 p.m. To combat sex crimes, these pervert geniuses put a curfew on women, the victims, but the perpetrators of rape enjoy freedom. Amazing how even the lawmakers are gender-biased! The desire to control the weaker sex under all circumstances!

On paper we might say great things about women, but in reality, in the Indian society we work with the notion that women are commodities that can be treated like dirt. Go back in time and remember; it started with Sita and Draupadi.

The hero of RamayanaRama, might have been a good ruler and a perfect son, but he was a lousy husband to Sita and an irresponsible father. He asked Sita to prove her chastity twice when she was abducted because of him! She was in the jungle, when Ravan took her away, because of Rama and his unreasonable promise to his parents.

In Mahabharata, Draupadi, like a platter of food, was shared between five brothers: the Pandavas. And then molested by her cousin brother-in-laws because her loser husbands made and lost a bet. I am appalled; who the hell gave the Pandavas the authority to use their wife as a chip at a casino?!

The situation is only slightly altered today. Sure, my generation has more number of workingwomen, which brings financial independence. But that doesn't mean women are empowered, safe, or respected. They are still considered as property. Education has enabled people to hide their animal instincts better.

Women are beaten up, insulted, burnt to death, but we barely do anything. In-laws choose to say what they want and behave inhumanly, but a daughter-in-law is expected to put up with it because she has the XX chromosomes. A woman. Whatever a woman does is never enough or adequate—there are always mistakes pointed out. There is one set of rules for the daughters and another for the daughter-in-laws. But no one says a word to the man—be it the son or the son-in-law.

I recently watched a commercial for an Indian product: hygiene wash called Clean & Dry Intimate Wash. This skin-lightening product promises Indian women “fresher” and “fairer” private parts. As if demeaning matrimonial ads in newspapers about facial skin color weren’t humiliating; for a woman to seem desirable, the society now wants her to have “brightened” nether parts. Wow, our Indian society is incredible at creating new ways of demoralizing women.

What do people fear about women that they feel the need to suppress them? Or to dominate them? Or break them psychologically? For a country like India with rich culture and heritage, poor thoughts about fairer feminine private parts or torturing daughter-in-laws or believing women ask for violence, is degrading. Don't you think the only goal these opinions and acts accomplish is in revealing the dirty Indian psyche?

More until next time,
Copyright © 05.01.2012

“The thing women have yet to learn is nobody gives you power. You just take it.” ~Roseanne Barr

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Children killing children!

I was speaking with one of my best friends in India the other day when she told me about the latest, unfortunate “fad” in the country: children kidnapping children for ransom. I have a hard time saying, let alone believing, the aforementioned sentence.

In the latest kidnapping case, the kid who was held hostage, died. His assailant, a young boy, who at one time was abducted but managed to escape his abductor, was callous about the incident. He had assumed that the little boy, whom he’d held captive, would manage to flee too—just like he had in the past.

Death has become a game. Survivors provide entertainment. The principal audience: children.

These days the world is obsessed with the young adult novel and movie The Hunger Games. Thanks to Wikipedia, I can break down the description of the film in the following paragraph: Written by American television writer and novelist Suzanne Collins, the novel is in the voice of sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives in a post-apocalyptic world in the country of Panem where the countries of North America once existed. The Capitol, a highly advanced metropolis, holds dominance over the rest of the nation. The Hunger Games are an annual event in which one boy and one girl aged 12 to 18 from each of the 12 districts surrounding the Capitol are selected by lottery to compete in a televised battle in which only one person can survive.

People have been excited about the book and the movie. I refuse to read the book and watched the movie only because my husband wanted to. The dialogue, “Happy Hunger Games! And may the odds be ever in your favor,” haunts me. Educators and parents are “happy” that kids are reading. But doesn’t it matter to anyone what the children are reading is about kids killing kids?

Anyway, in this tale of 24 teenagers forced to kill each other, readers/moviegoers follow a number of gruesome, heartless, bloody, and otherwise disturbing scenes. There is murder by snapping of neck. Few others are killed by spears, arrows, knives, and blows to the head with rocks—well, you get the picture. Gory wounds oozing with blood and puss and infected flesh appeared too often for my liking. One of the final competitors is mauled by a pack of rabid dog-like creatures before he dies.

Doesn’t the kidnapping incident in India feel like an offshoot representation of The Hunger Games? “Here’s some advice. Stay alive.” Insinuating lines like these appear throughout in the movie, and I am assuming the book too. Tempt children with cruel games. Show them how inhuman acts and insane killing makes them cool. Am I the only person who thought The Hunger Games was a morally inappropriate movie? The writing might be engaging, but the content was unsuitable.

I just read an article in the Guardian. According to the piece, The Hunger Games joins the most complained about titles in the United States for the same reasons stated above. I am glad people are taking the initiative to keep our environment safe. I am relieved not all humans are desensitized to violence.

I am disturbed by the hypocrisy. First: The movie needs a PG-13 rating. Second: For all the law, rules, and regulations the United States talks about, how can it be okay with promoting children killing children? Or is that we are willing to do anything for revenue, including sacrificing the youth?

More until next time,


Copyright © 04.12.2012

“Children will watch anything, and when a broadcaster uses crime and violence and other shoddy devices to monopolize a child's attention, it's worse than taking candy from a baby. It is taking precious time from the process of growing up.” ~ Newton N. Minow quotes

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Yes, I protected myself

I am one of those people who have memorable travel experiences. Okay, I am being unfairly polite here. Survival instincts? Name a calamity, manmade or natural, and sure enough I am destined to be there. I am not even kidding. My “travel luck” or lack there of is often part of family banter.

A couple of days ago, an ordinary day otherwise, I was on my way back home. It was one of those rare few evenings when my husband and I finished worked around the same time. He suggested that he would meet me near my subway stop, and we could head back together. Simple sequence of events, right?

My husband was running a little late, so I checked the different exits to make sure we hadn’t missed each other. In those 10-15 minutes, an angry, non-crazy man showed up. This guy began to mumble something. Living in New York, you learn to tune every outside noise out. Survival instincts? It’s your music & your book that carry you home. Also, America has a ridiculous approach to guns & weapons—our streets are not safe. You want to avoid unnecessary confrontations. God alone knows who has what on them.

Initially, I ignored this man. His rambles increased in volume, but he wasn’t crazy. He began to throw profanity at Caucasians. And held them responsible for all the atrocities committed towards the African-Americans. My first instinct was that he was sharing his frustration about Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old whose death in Florida has sparked nationwide controversy. I felt empathy. I too, like many others, want justice for Trayvon Martin.

A few minutes later, this guy began to personalize his contempt. He started to harass this white guy and me. Started to personalize his rants. Mind you, this was at one of the busiest subway stops in NYC. I walked away at first. But then he followed me and stood two inches away from my face. For some inexplicable reason, he assumed I was white. He assumed I was a “white supremacist out to get black people.”

Years of watching criminal drama have taught me one thing: Always stare the perpetrator in their eyes. Never show them you are scared. Cinema and television shows have been good mentors in their own ways.:-) I asked him to step away and mind his own business. He didn’t budge, so I raised my voice without fear at a bigot. He moved, and I walked away. A few minutes later, I complained to the cops. Irony: the cop asking me for details was an African American guy too. Friendly and comforting. When he asked what the man looked like, I said, “He had long, unwashed hair.” This wasn't the first time I didn't see skin color. The policeman smiled upon hearing my description.

As my husband and I sat in the subway, headed back home, I started to cry. The happenings of the evening finally hit me. I couldn’t sleep at all that night. But it wasn’t fear that kept me awake; it was reflections on our degraded world.

The next day, last morning, I was scheduled for a haircut. My hairstylist, who has known me for years, could tell something was not right. Finally I told her what had transpired the evening before. A recent victim of mugging herself, she said it took between a month to 6 months for a victim to stop thinking about “the” incident—some research shows that number.

As I started to talk to her about it, I conceded I was upset about what had happened. But I was angrier about what the guy had assumed: (a) That I was a white woman. (b) That all women are weak and can be scared easily. (c) One race is out to get another race in all entirety—if we can’t look past our past, how can we create a healthy future together? Wrong on so many levels. Yes, I was mad that this man stereotyped humans/race/ethnicities just the way George Zimmerman did when he killed Trayvon Martin on February 26, 2012, in Sanford, Florida.

But I promise you, not once did I think I shouldn’t have stood up for myself. Not once did I think I shouldn’t have spoken with the cops. Not once did I “assume” that ALL black men like to intimidate women.

Out of genuine concern, many have told me that I should have not spoken up that day. Avoided the guy. That I should have walked away. Listen, I did that at first. But there are moments when you have to make a decision, and all your training and ideals in life can become immaterial at that time. You do your best and whisper prayers. Survival instincts?

More than anything else, I, for one, am tired of dehumanization. Sick of hatred and mistrust. The innate human desire to dominate and hurt. So, yes, I pick my pen and protect myself. I pick my pen to be involved. I pick my pen, so I don’t stop believing. I pick my pen, so the world doesn’t change me.

More until next time,


Copyright © 03.31.2012

"I thought poetry could change everything, could change history and could humanize, and I think that the illusion is very necessary to push poets to be involved and to believe, but now I think that poetry changes only the poet." ~ Mahmoud Darwish

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Is your child THE ticket to your social life?

Yes, I am a bit irked. And the post will explain why. But please don’t assume that any one person is the center of my universe—as in the topic for this post. Some emotions are cumulative. Some emotions are spiked because of unusual interactions. Some emotions are evoked because of the insanity involving people’s behavior. And last night happened to trigger all of the above.

History has proveth that the war between married and unmarried women has been long ongoing. Even decades later, some things don’t change. I have often heard married women, mind you it is always women telling stories and whining and not so much men, complain about how they can’t always do the things their single friends do. Marriage changes their emotional status more than what’s required. A ring on the finger, and they almost want to feel captive and unnecessarily important. I find the whole drama nauseating.

No one is denying that priorities change when you are in a relationship and/or married. But marriage shouldn’t mean the death of your remaining ties. Most modern, reasonable men don’t want a slave to serve them. They’d much rather be with a person who has their own life too. Hello, there is a beautiful concept called “space.”

Most men I have spoken with want their beer and sports time too. And they don’t want a noose around their neck—their woman focusing her energy solely on only their relationship. If you want a healthy bond, please “allow” your man to be a friend, son, and sibling aside from just being “your guy.” Each of these roles adds value and is important.

I also get annoyed when married women rub their marital status in their single friend’s faces. Well, honey, we got it. You have a man and you have it made. You made a choice. And not all single women are alone out of their own free will. Circumstances and crap happens. Not narcissism but empathy will go a long way.

What riles me up even more than obsessive married women—some of these pretentious, socially inept, young moms, who finally find a social, not individual, identity because of their children. All of a sudden, having a baby allows them human interaction, a ticket to finally making social connections, and a reason to justify their existence. Also, a kid is the best excuse to use—be it getting out of family commitments, hosting a social event, meeting up with friends, or wanting to sound busy. Do they assume everyone else is just plain stupid?

Haven’t you met women and/or couples, who never really had friends (umm, signs of social inadequateness?), and the minute their kid was able to lift its head/started going to play school, they began to drop names. And highlights of their self-invented busy schedules. Most of these people do little but talk a lot—having a kid gives them the license to bullshit without being caught. News flash: if you weren’t like able as a single or married woman/man, no one is your big fan even today. People tolerate you because your child/children is pleasant and/or a companion for some other kids. And most humans will do anything for their kids, including putting up with a moron.

Most of us with a real life (Doesn’t matter whether we are single, married, working women, or stay at home moms) and friends don’t need to prove to anyone how we spend our 24 hours. Life comes in phases (People close to us will understand & respect the newness), and we deal with the commitments without ignoring all the real people in our lives. It is always the ones with no purpose that stir up trouble.

I am not saying all married women and young moms are nasty and should be tuned out. Not at all. That would be an awful exaggeration. And not just because I am married too. JI have friends whom I admire as they manage to keep such a classy balance between their professional and personal lives. I look up to them. No one relationship defines their identity. And no one person rips off their reality. They never need to prove what all they achieve in a day. But such mature people are few and far in between. Sadly, women, especially when insecure, become vicious. And very often the insecurities are self-inflicted.

As humans, we try to make our lives easier for ourselves—not have to explain our choices. It’s understood that singles might exist in a different mental zone and would interact more with single friends. Similarly married couples might find more in common with two-member households. And couples with young ones would like to befriend others with the same familial structure. That’s not the point. True relationships need to be beyond age, income, social status, or pedigrees. And when you use your child as the ticket to your social life, it's time for some deep introspection! Remember, your kid is going to grow up one day, and if you haven’t grown as a human being, you’ll be back to those lonely, dark days because even your support structure would have moved on.

More until next time,


Copyright © 03.28.2012

“Life is a ticket to the greatest show on earth.”~ Martin H. Fischer

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Don't blame the kids!

Last evening, my friend Archana and I went to the pre-screening of Adrien Brody's new film: "Detachment." The movie, shot in just 20 days, will officially be released in theatres on Friday, March 16. But thanks to Archana, we not only got to watch the movie beforehand but also had the opportunity to hear actor Adrien Brody in person—he barely sat two feet away from us—at the post-screening discussion.

Brody is an incredible actor and eloquent man in person. No airs about him. Real. Sincere. Charismatic. And he is a native New Yorker—you can tell why I am biased.:-)

In the film, Brody plays Henry Barthes, a substitute teacher who drifts from classroom to classroom without making any real connections until one assignment opens up a world of emotion and passion for him. Brody stars in the film, alongside Christina Hendricks, Lucy Liu and James Caan—teachers in a troubled high school, and said he could relate to the powerful character thanks to his father, Elliot, who worked as a public school teacher.

I urge you to watch this film. It’s somewhat melancholic but real & emotional. The movie is the face of reality and our future. It doesn't matter whether or not you are a teacher or a parent; if you are a human being with any concern for the next generation, don’t miss this film.

Both Archana and I took the movie to heart. Maybe because she has a little kid at home and many aspects of the film scared her. As a parent, you want to protect your child from all kinds of evil. As for me, some of you probably know that I am also an educator. I have taught creative writing to people of all ages at schools and universities across the globe. But my recent classroom includes teenagers. I teach them poetry. And I can tell you poetry can reveal a human being's darkest secrets, troubles and reflect on their mental state.

The kids in my class mean a lot to me. Interacting with this age group has made me a different person. Given me a unique understanding of people and situations. Taught me patience and compassion on a level I could have only dreamed about.

As the movie began, in the first 10 minutes a student spat on a teacher. My friend turned to me, "Aren't you grateful for your students?" I replied in the affirmative. But I kept thinking about the act of spitting. A horrible deed, but was it an expression of something deeper?

I am of the school of thought that everyone has something to say. Sure there are exceptions, but majority of teenagers aren't out to get the world. They want to be heard. They are at that awkward age where everything feels dramatic. We have all been there. Hormones, peer pressure, parental nagging, teachers at school, and other outside influences—it's a lot to deal with at such a young age. Then there is rejection, conformity, anger, resentment, and the need to be somebody. By stereotyping them as monsters, we aren't helping anyone.

I want to acknowledge that most teachers and parents try to do their best. But times have changed. As my friend Jaya and I were talking, while our generation learnt to straddle a livable line between what the parents’ dreamed for us versus what we desired, kids today are different. We didn’t have mentors or role models growing up. There was no one there to guide us or discuss career options. Most people caved in and chose a career that their parents wanted them to pursue; a few fought for their rights. Even fewer went rogue. There was no emphasis on individual growth or thinking. Every milestone in life was about homogeneity.

Today if we want younger people to become good human beings, show them how to do so. Don't tell them via threats, screams, and slaps. Be the example. And definitely don’t compare them to others. If your kid is acting up, instead of screaming at them, find out if something is bothering them. If their grades fall, ask them what happened before you reprimand them. If they get into fights, there might be a deeper emotional reason behind it. Don’t assume because every child is different.

I wrote a dialogue, which I still stand by, in my novel Perfectly Untraditional: “Becoming a parent and knowing parenting are two separate things.” My friend Dona, a psychologist, after reading my book wrote back to me saying she was going to print those lines and put them up in her office for parents to see. She too works with teenagers and sometimes parents need talking to more than their kids.

If we want teenagers to listen to us, first we need to lend them our ears. Come to their level and respect them. They will make mistakes. And that’s fine. They are going to be 17 just once. But as adults it is our job to be there for them, without pointing fingers, if they fall.

What we tell people stays with them. I lost my Dada, paternal grandfather, when I was five. Even when he'd lost his voice and cancer got the best of him, he would leave me metaphorical notes. He was the first person who encouraged me to follow the arts. Decades later, I give his example at readings and in my classrooms.

If we could all influence just one person, it would be worth it. If we could inspire one kid to follow their dreams, you would have done a good job as a teacher/parent. If we could all encourage one child from not hurting itself, consider your time on earth worth a while.

More until next time,


Copyright © 03.13.2012

“No one is born a good citizen; no nation is born a democracy. Rather, both are processes that continue to evolve over a lifetime. Young people must be included from birth. A society that cuts off from its youth severs its lifeline.” Kofi Annan

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The battle continues, not!

Earlier today, I was making my second cup of tea while mentally preparing lessons plans for my students & editing my poetry manuscript, when an interesting conversation stopped me in my steps. One of my fellow writers was talking to another TV/Screen writer. They were both native New Yorkers discussing living in Los Angeles—one of them had been offered a job in the City of Angels.

What New York is to the literary world, Bay Area is to technology world, LA is to films. If you are in the TV/film/screenwriting business, your best opportunities are in LA. It makes sense to spend a few years there. Or so I am told.

One of them said, “I hate LA. Only thing good about it is the hot girls.” Sure, I continued to steep my tea bag. There was no way I was going to quit eavesdropping now.:-) The other person said that LA weather could get monotonous—they preferred the four seasons offered by New York. Then the chat continued about lack of public transport and fake body parts and superficiality in Los Angeles.

I was amused. This wasn’t the first time I had heard LA-bashing. And that too by New Yorkers. Just as an FYI, no self-respecting New Yorker likes LA. Neither do I. We are trained and taught to despise Los Angeles. To me it is the most pretentious and fake city in the US (Maybe world). But then I am not a big fan of California or of that lifestyle overall. I prefer the urgency and diversity of New York. And I’d much rather slit my wrists than stare into space without concerns for my future, dreams or ambition. I don’t think LA has a stress-free lifestyle. It seems that way because most people don’t boast wrinkles. And that is because of abundance of plastic surgeons and botox.

Anyhoo, I digress. One of my very close friends, a big shot at a bank in NYC who could relocate to any place in the US, was born and raised in LA. The first opportunity he had to leave the city, he did. And there has been no looking back for him ever since he moved to New York. Though I did recommend Asia to him—awesomely comfortable life. The other night, when a bunch of us got together, I asked him why he loathed LA. My friend reiterated the same points my fellow writers were talking about today. He hated the traffic in LA along with the superficial culture, air-headed people, low to no work ethics, and lack of professionalism. He also found LA extremely bureaucratic. People don’t work much. And even they do, commitments & professionalism aren’t words that resonate with them. He also pointed out that, unlike New York, LA is homogenous. There are whites and Latinos. And given he grew up in a white, affluent neighborhood, he was friends with mostly Caucasians. New York pampers you in that sense—just the sheer diversity of people and cultures one is exposed to, should you choose, is remarkable.

There is something about the not-so-convenient lifestyle of the city that keeps you real, grounded, and interesting. I remember reading that Mayor Bloomberg takes the subway to work. And he is the sixth richest man in America. If you have watched the hit American television comedy-drama series, Sex and the City, you’d recall an episode where the four friends visit Los Angeles. By the end of it, they are miserable and can’t wait to return to NYC.

American playwright and screenwriter, Neil Simon, once said, “When its 100 degrees in New York, it's 72 in Los Angeles. When its 30 degrees in New York, in Los Angeles it's still 72. However, there are 6 million interesting people in New York, and 72 in Los Angeles.” I smile every time I read these lines. And no part of me believes there is anything exaggeration in them.

Another classmate of mine in graduate school, born and bred in LA, said similar, negative things about her city. Her father ran operations for one of the largest entertainment houses, so growing up she mingled/partied with the “in” people, which included big name celebrities. She’d said, “Men in LA are always on the lookout for “better” women. They could be chatting with you, but they would be looking around you. Given every 3rd person in LA is an aspiring actor or a model, there is no dearth of good-looking people.”

New York is clogged with celebrities. At our restaurants, bars, parks, bakeries, schools, and stores. But we don’t gawk at them. Or rush to them for an autograph. I was shopping for shoes at Barneys when I spotted the Olsen twins. We literally sat next to each other. A couple of years ago, I saw Jennifer Lopez in Tribeca. But I have also met Jhumpa Lahiri, Malcolm Gladwell, and Salman Rushdie in New York City.

Ultimately, LA might be fun with Disneyland, Universal Studios, Sunset Boulevard and all of that, but New York is that damn efficient and cool where we define who our heroes and celebrities are!

More until next time,


Copyright © 03.07.2012

“Tip the world over on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles.” Frank Lloyd

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Will your child have a criminal record?

Timing is everything. Less than a month ago, my husband read a study in TIME Magazine. According to it, 1 in 3 Americans will be arrested by the time they are 23. It could be a traffic violation or something more serious. But, yes, a criminal record. A couple of weeks later, we were both summoned for jury duty. Weird coincidence, right?

The judge excused my husband after the trial juror round, but I was put on a case as a grand juror. I was actually excited (more like intrigued) about the opportunity to understand the workings of the American judicial system. The thought of sitting in the same room as the defendant felt uncomfortable. But the United States law expects jury members to assume the defendant is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by the prosecution.

On the first day, the judge presiding the case, the prosecution, and the defense attorney threw a volley of questions at the trial jurors. This was part of the jury selection process—who would fit and who wouldn’t. We went around the room sharing our personal and professional details. The officials asked if any of us had been victims, witnessed, or convicted of a crime. Several people raised their hands confirming they had been victims. Later on the attorneys pestered, “If not you, has someone close to you been a victim of a crime?” Over 95% of the people raised their hands, I was part of that 95%, and most confirmed that their perpetrators hadn’t been arrested. At that moment, even for a raging optimist like me, the world seemed dark.

America has the highest reported crime rates in the world. Granted this is New York, and big cities come with their share of issues. But New York, thankfully, isn’t amongst the top ten American cities in terms of crime risk. St. Louis, Atlanta, Birmingham, Orlando, and Detroit rank the crime-charts. Can you imagine the streets and courtrooms in these cities?

I thought about the defendant in the courtroom where I sat. Young, smug, and in trouble? Sitting in a courtroom instead of playing ball. Or studying or working.

One of the trial jurors, she didn’t make it to grand jury for a reason I suppose, said that her store had been burglarized twice. Both times, the burglars turned out to be young boys who put a gun to her head. She cried, begged for her life. She was the only surviving parent of a 14-year-old. They eventually let her go but not without violating her in other ways.

I couldn’t sleep that night. What were these boys, not men, doing with guns? Again, shouldn’t they be playing sports, meeting deadlines, being yelled at by their parents? Massacres in the US receive significant media attention, but gun deaths and injuries in the U.S. usually occur quietly, without national press coverage, every day.

Studies show that firearms are the second leading cause of traumatic death related to a consumer product in the United States and are the second most frequent cause of death overall for Americans ages 15 to 24. Every year, more than 100,000 Americans are victims of gun violence. Do these numbers tell us anything?

“Homicide rates tend to be related to firearm ownership levels. Everything else being equal, a reduction in the percentage of households owning firearms should occasion a drop in the homicide rate.” Evidence to the Cullen Inquiry 1996: Thomas Gabor, Professor of Criminology - University of Ottawa. “The level of gun ownership world-wide is directly related to murder and suicide rates and specifically to the level of death by gunfire.” International Correlation between gun ownership and rates of homicide and suicide.’ Professor Martin Killias, May 1993.

Is it fair to infer from the studies that accessibility to firearm is not helping our already troubled youth and society? And that a teenager with raging hormones and access to firearms is a recipe for disaster?

Mass shooting tragedies like the school shootings at Virginia Tech in April 2007 and Northern Illinois University in February 2008 – or the 1993 office shooting in San Francisco are testament to what happens when a young person has access to guns. Politicians and other officials have a lot to lose if there was stricter gun control. Or a ban on ownership on weapons. Frankly, I have come to expect very little from them. They will sacrifice their families for their own agenda. But as common people, we can take charge. Instead of a driver’s license, I bet you wouldn’t want to get your kid a lawyer on his or her 18th birthday or a coffin for that matter!

More until next time,


Copyright © 02.21.2012

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Henry de Bracton

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Back from the dead

Its been a while since I wrote my last blog post. Many of you have asked me about it. Thank you caring and noticing I was MIA. For those of you who’d like to know what I’ve been up to, feel free to connect via Facebook, Twitter, or my website.

See, I am not sure why my blog posts took a pause. Maybe because I learnt to address my problems—deal with them head-on versus passive aggressive-paths. Or learned to ignore the troublemakers and heart breakers. Or maybe, just maybe, because I got a book deal for my first nonfiction book—it’ll include my rants, new and old, that you have been reading for all these years.

Whatever be the reason, we all evolve with time. Good or bad, our experiences change us forever. 2011 was a year of personal, professional, and emotional growth for me. It was tough and some days I didnt think I could take it anymore. But I wouldnt trade that time for anything else, as life is the best teacher. It has taught me about my personal universe. What kind of people & noises to filter out. I am aware people disappoint us, but the first time you hurt me, shame on you. Twice if you hurt me, shame on me.

A 92-year-old-man recently said to me: “Happy birthday, Sweta. There is no writer or thinker as honest as you. You are the real thing.” His note reminded me that the “real” people in our lives accept and appreciate us for who we are. They bring us comfort and smiles, not stir up trouble.

I now know that I dont need to change for others. And am proud to declare that I see myself as a human and a woman before anything else. And within the context of that identity, I take offense that woman-beating, homophobic artist, Chris Brown, was applauded, rewarded, and asked to perform twice at The Grammy Awards on Sunday, February 12. Way to send a message to all the domestic violence victims and women everywhere, you friggin’ douche bags! By the same token, love to Adele for being herself. Its inspiring to know “Someone like you” does exist. Didnt I tell ya, peeps, the real stuff is here to stay?

It’s Valentine’s Day today. Send love to the people who matter and pray for those who cause you pain. Stay real and have a good week!

More until next time,


Copyright © 02.14.2012

“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.” Dr. Seuss