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