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CSAAM 2013

31 Mar

April is almost upon us, and it is time to turn our attention to child sexual abuse awareness. Yes, yet again. Today and everyday, to keep all our children as safe as we humanly can.

I’ll make this short, I promise:

Please head to http://csaawarenessmonth.com, where you will see personal testimonials, expert advice, twitter chats, information sources and resources, workshops, an iPhone app and plenty of posts across the blogosphere, all centered around child sexual abuse awareness.

You can choose to be an active participant in conversations, a channel of information through your own social media feeds, or a recipient of material you need–the choice is entirely yours–but any valuable input/support would be appreciated.

For more on how to contribute to this effort that is now in its third year, please go here.

Feel free to link to this post, tweet about it, put it up on Facebook, or email it to anyone you think will benefit from knowing more about CSA.

Thank you for reading. Spread the word. May we protect our young ones from this scourge.

Seduction of Cities

3 Dec

Long before there was Sex and the City, urban landscapes unleashed their siren calls to populations, who, glazed-eyed and entranced, followed trails of grit and dust toward the lure of money, a life of relative anonymity and the opportunity to reconstruct their history. Cities, those giant sprawls of architecture, social alchemy and the human narrative, were levelers and dividers in equal measure; entities that made humans offer their sweat and spirit in return for bestowing on them the gratitude of belonging. Cities were power centers, hubs of every cog in the wheel of humanity, save perhaps, agriculture and animal husbandry, and legions of our race responded willingly, increasingly, and near-slavishly to the piper’s call, as the 19th century played host to this giant global phenomenon—the rise of the heterogeneous, indifferent-to-differences metropolis, where you were as worthy as your last contribution.

The world over, cities became shrines to human endeavor. To dreams, to plans, to architects of destiny.  Throbbing, expanded versions of village squares and coffee houses, they became repositories of social dialogue, justice movements, and battlegrounds for human rights. As decades hurtled forward, they turned into hubs of industry, agents of rewritten reality, organic farms of political thought and social sub-institutions. Cities, these nuclei of power and vibrancy, were only as strong as their denizens, and it is here that the human spirit rose to meet the challenge of morphing a maze of streets into megapolises of learning, expansion and culture.

Developing at different paces, cities found their niche. Their size and demand based on what they had to offer, cities became the textbook examples of macroeconomics and cultural anthropology. A majority of them operate in a blinding vortex of speed and urgency and the Next Big Thing. They pulse with things to do and targets to achieve. Entertainment is measured, pre-slotted, with chunks of time dispensed toward preserving sanity, lest existential angst get out of hand and run amok amidst our overloaded mental circuitry.

And yet, few complain. For the City is a charmer. A seductress. A deceiver. And we willingly succumb to its wiles for what it throws our way. In eliminating our uniqueness and personal history, the City invites us to belong. In disregarding our past and turning a blind eye to social strata, it allows us to blend in. It acts as Provider. Protector. Benefactor. With a dark and ugly side that we choose to take in our stride. It smiles non-committally when you call it Home. It shares its bounty ungrudgingly. To the winner go the spoils, and someday that might even be you. You can partake of its history and cloak it as your own. You believe in its script and mouth its lines earnestly. You are of its culture. Of its space. Of its zeitgeist. You give and receive and don’t keep score. You may be among its earliest settlers, or a train dropped you off  just yesterday, in a city, a sliver of space can always be yours, simply because you become that space, one of the headcount, you are, you exist, and living is not denied.

Without its montage, I cannot see my own existence, identify the entity that is me. Some may consider it a curse, but it is a trade-off I am extremely comfortable making. Without the City, I am contextless. Without the City, I am half a soul. Being born into the City and born of it, we are forged. For better or worse, richer or poorer, Home or half-spaces, without the City, there is no me. Cities distort the concept of Home. Wring it and hang it out to dry. You find it in yourself to belong to another. Fully in some, half-heartedly in others. Cities make your identity easy to whore. Today, it’s this one; tomorrow, another. Even amidst their extreme difference, you find yourself able to negotiate space and identity, and that is the ultimate gift of being of the City.

Violence Against Women Awareness Month 2012

30 Sep

Hands up all those who have never heard of or witnessed an act of violence toward a woman.

Thought so.

Starting tomorrow, or today, if you’re anywhere ahead of Pacific Standard Time, we kick off Violence Against Women (VAW) Awareness Month 2012, that will run through all of October.

I’ve shared this with you before and I am proud to continue to extend my support to the cause and the fantastic team of people behind it.

If you have a story to share, or are among the lucky ones not to have a violence story of your own, hop over.

Read, write, spread the word, encourage friends/family to speak up, offer support. Just don’t be an ostrich and pretend all’s hunky dory, and that if it doesn’t affect you directly, you’re going to sit pretty and not let it affect you at all.

This initiative doesn’t promise to change the world. It is intended to remind you–if the daily news doesn’t do that already–that violence, frequently gory, life-altering, vicious assaults on women’s bodies, minds and spirits, is far from declining. It could be happening next door to you as you read this. Or definitely down the street from your comfortable couch. Don’t believe me. Just read the statistics. And for the love of god or glitter, do your bit. Here’s your chance.

For more information on how you can help or contribute a post,

Write to: vawawareness@gmail.com

On Twitter, follow: @VAWawareness and RT our tweets

On Facebook, ‘Like’: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Violence-Against-Women-Awareness-Month

 

So am I going to see you on http://vawawareness.wordpress.com? 🙂

Documentary Review: Family Album

24 Sep

I am delighted to have made Chabi Ghosh’s acquaintance. She died in 2008, at the age of 91, unaware of my existence, never having met nor heard of me. How then, do I know she played the piano, was part of her college basketball team after delivering 2 girls, and had a naughty sense of humor that belied her nonagenarian-ness? For this and other stories, portrayed with simplicity and charming reserve, I have Nishtha Jain’s ‘Family Album’ to thank.

A documentary that I watched yesterday as part of the San Francisco South Asian Film Festival, Family Album generously allows the intersection of photographs, memory and cross-generational stories rather than forcing their paths to collide, and what struck me long after I had finished watching, was how little the filmmaker injected herself or her agenda onto the frames, letting the subjects speak for their own histories. And that is precisely what photographs become, irrespective of what we wish them to be—chroniclers of history, crystallized pieces of time that hold individual yet shared versions of stories that become the truth, regardless of the fleeting reality of the moment.

Taking us back to Calcutta’s old families and ancient baris (and reducing me to a quivering mess at the sight of all that achingly beautiful history), Jain introduces the viewer to clans that traces their kinship back to 38 generations, interviews multiple generations of the same family, facilitates their reminiscing ever so gently and occasionally, and asks very relevant questions.  Do we become our photographic memories? How do frozen frames elicit stories, how do we hold on to and pass on these stories, and in becoming the repositories of familial myths, how do we perpetuate stories? With one brief view of a family tree that abruptly ends after records of double-digit generations, the camera silently contemplates the white sheet of paper and we feel the story seeping away.

You guys know I’m a sucker for history. The confluence of time, architecture and the human narrative intrigues me. But what you may not know is that photography holds a terribly special place in my heart, given that I was born to my first teacher of this beautiful art form and am married to someone who continues my education in the field. For this and the reasons listed above, ‘Family Album’, a companion piece of City of Photos, struck a deep, resonant chord, but even without the personal context, is a delicate and valuable contribution to the world of documentaries. Catch it if you can lay your hands on it sometime. I reckon you won’t forget Chabi Ghosh in a hurry.

~~~

Updated to add: I wrote to the director, sharing this review with her, and here is her response:

Dear OJ,

Thanks for taking out the time and sharing your thoughts about Family Album. A lovely review. Reading it means a lot to me as I couldn’t be there in SF to present my film.
Yes, Chobi Ghosh is so endearing and unforgettable. I loved her spirit. She was about 90 when we were shooting, she had a clear photographic memory of things from her distant past but her present memory was very short. She wouldn’t remember things we had talked about a few minutes ago. In a way she was in a happy state. She was a great storyteller, there are many more stories in the footage. Unfortunately I couldn’t put everything in the film.
You can buy the DVD of City of Photos by making a payment on www.paypal.com to raintreefilms@gmail.com. It costs USD 40 plus shipping cost USD 5. This DVD is for home use only.
Warmly,
Nishtha

Book Review: Island of a Thousand Mirrors

13 Sep

I went in with my eyes wide open, knowing the subject would be dark, unaware of the treatment of it by this woman with a dazzling smile who asked me to review it within an hour of meeting her. Growing up in India, some latitudes north of the Sri Lankan civil war, meant it had remotely touched me as a child and teenager through political rhetoric, waves of radiated human anguish and the assassination of a Prime Minister, but beyond that, I was a clean slate.

What I was unprepared for, was how much Nayomi Munaweera’s labor of love would demand from me as a human bystander, make me invest in the lives of its characters and their teardrop-shaped country, draw me in and make me stay, in spite of the savagery around me. There are novels you breeze through, nod “Good read”, and move on. Pick up Island of a Thousand Mirrors only if you’re willing to carry it within you for life.

Crafted in present tense and delightfully crisp sentences, one is busy falling in love with the emerald isle and the language used to sketch it, pretending nothing untoward will ever happen on this idyll where Munaweera’s father grew up. But that is the curse of history and hindsight: we’re forced to look back over our shoulder and bear witness to its horrors.

In the creation of drama, several authors rely on words of deafening thunder and grandiose landscapes of pain. Nayomi Munaweera makes you do the work, as her sentences play supporting roles in a beguilingly simple manner: her descriptors exquisitely gut-wrenching, her voice matter-of-fact, she draws out your blood, your angst, your despair at being human, like a literary shaman.

This searing debut, so beautiful it hurts, is pyrotechnics and poetry.  Award-worthy, absolutely, but ultimately, so deeply enriching that you’ll be infinitely poorer for giving it a miss.

Island of a Thousand Mirrors, published by Perera Hussein, releases on September 15th, 2012.

Hat Tip To My Parsiness

20 Aug

Maybe it’s because Navroze just went by.

Maybe it’s because I love food and laughing at myself, like a true blue Parsi.

Maybe it’s because it’s Monday, I have a bad back, am doing a Downton Abbey marathon and curling my toes over the Britishness of it all.

Or maybe I just want to share these awesome videos with you.  Between guffawing and salivating, I’m a right mess and loving it.  Join in, do.

Shit Parsi Women Say

The Parsi Feast

Link: http://cooks.ndtv.com/videos/player/will-travel-for-food/the-parsi-feast/236283?home

Tell me what you think! 🙂

So Spain

21 Jun

Let’s get back to my intercontinental gad-about, shall we? For those of you who follow me on Twitter (@orangejammies), the entire six-week trip is hashtagged under #PlaneTrainBusFuss. This is my longest post on the blog so far, so if you’re fairly confident 1800 words won’t knock you unconscious, grab a cup of something, sit back, and enjoy.

***

I’m not a morning person. Working full-time, hamster-on-a-wheel jobs and running businesses for the last 9 years have ruined my propensity to sleep past 8 am, but yank me out a nanosecond earlier and Shiva’s tandav will seem like a serene waltz through a starchy English ballroom. So what was I, bleary-eyed and nose in cappuccino, doing at Gatwick airport at 5.30 in the morning? Trying to drown out the adrenalized-beyond-caffeine shrieks of a hen party togged out in identical pink feathers. Trying to ignore booming golfers as they strode around eyeing the aforementioned chicks. Trying to be civil to my poor uncle and aunt who were whisking me away to their penthouse on the Mediterranean. This is where you commiserate with the drudgery that is my life.

Even before you board the aircraft for your 2-hour flight to the south of Europe, you know what Malaga will look like. A veritable English suburb, crawling with golfers, gaggles of party girls and British retirees with second homes under a punch drunk Spanish sun. Donning my sunglasses, I strode out of the Pablo Ruiz Picasso airport and into a throng of paparazzi screaming my name, popping flashes and wooing me to pose. Okay, so maybe not quite. We just hopped into a rented car and drove away to Fuengirola. But let it be on record that I like the first story better.

My uncle and aunt’s apartment is white. Cool. Marbled. Bright. With a spiral staircase that leads to their sun-roofed bedroom that leads to a wooden deck that overlooks the Mediterranean that is the reason the word “blue” was born. Forty miles yonder, say hello to the Atlas mountains of Africa.

Did you know Antonio Banderas is a local boy? Puerto Banos has a square named in his honor, and I spent a good quarter hour lusting over the letters of his name: the strong, masterful, lines, the sinfully sinewy curls, the simmering glisten of the bronzed god he is .  Get a move on, OJ-girl. That’s XXX territory four inches away. Aching back to real time, Marbella was next. Playground of the rich, famous, and rich-but-not-so-famous, its sprawling villas discreetly behind walls of foliage, Marbella’s rarefied air is suspended with currency signs. Riyals hang off potted palms, Pounds Sterling drape themselves over tapas tables, Dollars dangle over the glistening sea, and Dirhams bungee jump off the shelves at super-exclusive boutiques. In case you were wondering, it is also populated by people. Typically of the skinny, underclothed variety, their wraps are glamor, air-conditioning and the heady scent of power. And then there was me. Far from skinny or underclothed, splashing undaintily in the waves, collecting perfect and quirky shells for a little boy with eyes the color of Andalusian gypsies. Clearly I’m a local celebrity, though–Marbella beach had a bar named after me. My pet name, to be precise. The one that my uncle and aunt use. That I will not share, so don’t crowd around me now.  I’m 33 years old and get to keep my last shred of dignity until babies arrive.

Costa Del Sol has a thriving weekend market that hawks everything from handmade Italian leather bags to kitchen implements, local music to fresh vegetables. We spent a fun morning people-watching, puppy-petting, jostling amidst strollers and sunburned Brits, acquiring adorable and unnecessary things, then traipsed off to do justice to The Full Irish breakfast, in honor of my aunt. Just so dinner wouldn’t feel ignored and sob in a corner, we danced, supped, and toasted the night away at a performance by the enthralling Divo & Divas ensemble. The sky glimmered over the crash of waves, candles made shadows sway, flavors teased the palate in their own seduction sideshow, and I basked in the bonhomie of old family friends who last met me as a teenager-on-fertilizer.

A night so memorable needed a stellar day in its wake, and the village of Mijas held the promise of just that. Nestled in the mountains, looped around curving cobblestone streets, its whitewashed balconies, brilliant bougainvillaea, high-roofed church, and tinkling donkey carts transport you to a gentler century, and your denim-clad reflection, if you happen to glimpse it, makes you wonder who that stranger is. Ignore her entirely and walk into the world’s smallest chocolate factory. Fancy your own bar of the sweet stuff? Let the Mayan Monkey Mijas be your stage. And us, merely players, conjuring dark cocoa fantasies, cramming our gobs senseless, having to be hauled out kicking and screaming but still loved, the way only family can after you’ve embarrassed them into the dirt.

Why pamper one end of your body and leave the other feeling second-born? (Birth order studies show that younger children are humans too, the little snotty runts.) So tickle yourself pink. Treat your tootsies to a fish pedicure in your own dedicated tank, while sipping champagne and squirming on your plushly perched derriere.  The result: baby-smooth feet and a very giggly aunt-and-niece pair. Add an evening of boat-watching at the Benalmadena marina and a hunt for an ostrich steak dinner, and I was rapidly stocking up on memories of a lifetime.

For all the times in my life I’ve called someone my Rock of Gibraltar, I waved goodbye to my uncle and aunt and trundled off the next morning, to see the Real McCoy. The ginormous bus was packed with tourists, mostly from the UK and western Europe, and I chatted with the friendly Irishman next to me.  A girl from Prague struck up a conversation when I shared I was Indian, and then just as quickly ended it, appalled that I did not know who “Babajee” was.  The bus turned a bend and the Rock came into view.  Rising out of otherwise perfectly flat land, its strategic geographic location is of military (and therefore political) significance to the United Kingdom, and Spain apparently still chafes at the loss.

At the border crossing, a UK visa official got on board and asked to check our passports. Amid the flash of red UK covers, I held out my lone Indian blue. His eyes halted at my visa page. He shook his head. And said I couldn’t go through. A hush descended on the bus. All eyes converged on me.  I blinked, then calmly reasoned. I had been to the United Kingdom on this visa and sailed through immigration. Surely its own territory had no reason to see me as a threat when the country had granted me access?  The border official shook his head again.

You need a one-year visa to enter, he said. Yours is valid for six months.

So let me understand this:  the United Kingdom considers a six-month visa acceptable for tourist entry, but its own territory requires a one-year permit?

That’s right.

She’s only here for the day as a tourist, other voices spoke up. She’ll go back with this bus.

Let me check with my supervisor.

3 minutes later, he was back. It was no go. I had to get off in Spain. The bus couldn’t go on with me in it.

I swallowed hard, collecting my things, and walked to the door with as much dignity as I could muster. “It’s too bad,”  my co-travelers complained audibly, “they let terrorists into the country all the time and won’t let this harmless girl visit for the day!”

Go to the bus station and buy a ride back to Malaga, said our tour guide, and gave me sketchy directions in his hurry to get on with the day.

“It’s a shame! Be safe! Don’t worry! Take care,” my companions called out, as I stepped off the bus, looked the officer straight in the eye and fought back mortification, anger and worry with a savageness I rarely need to employ.  Thank You for Visiting, mocked the board above my head as I walked back into the border town of La Linea, exhorting myself to keep that chin up and draw on the reserves of toughness that have seen me shout off a gunman and tackle house robbers with nothing more than a kitchen knife by my bed.

I assessed my options. They weren’t plentiful. I had barely any Euros, having carried Pounds for Gibraltar, and my cell phone, still on American roaming, was down to its last bar of battery. And since we weren’t in a British-populated principality, nobody spoke much English. With my rudimentary Spanish, picked up in a year of living in California, I found my way to the bus station. Uno billete Malaga, I signed, pulling out my last remaining Euros. How much? The woman in the window held up four fingers, then slashed the air with a horizontal palm. Four and a half euro, man this place is cheap, I thought, until I saw her pointing at a clock on the far side of the hall. Damn. She meant 4.30 p.m. It was presently almost noon. There was no other bus that day. I’ll take it, I said, and paid her, and prepared to wait four and a half hours.

Sitting on an old bench, I saw an old man watching me. He was grey, grizzly, with rheumy eyes and dressed much too warmly for this blazing April day. He nodded, half to himself, and continued his inspection. With nothing else in the waiting area to distract me, I called my uncle and aunt to update them. “We’re coming to get you!” cried my knights in Skoda Fabia. And no amount of reasoning would budge their belief that a towering woman of reasonable sense and experience wouldn’t crumble to pieces without their instant ministrations. So that was that and I now had two hours to kill instead of four. Walking into the strip of shops and block of flats that comprises the satellite town of La Linea, I considered soothing my bruised spirit with some retail therapy. Except, there weren’t any stores of that kind. I could exchange money, buy luggage, check email, rent a car, and eat a sandwich. Those were my options. So I swapped Pounds for Euros, strode into a cyber cafe, and put my time to productive use by writing this post. You’re welcome.

In no time at all, my uncle and aunt had screeched into the town’s sole parking lot and I was spirited back to a universe where border officials play violin concertos and swoosh crimson carpets to welcome me. Over the phone, the Boy’s voice echoed with worry and relief, my uncle stopped ribbing me for a whole day, and a moon-sized platter of fragrant paella was dished to me at dinner, lest the trauma of the episode melt my stores of lard and gasp, unearth a waist.

With fun times and adventure under my unshrunk belt, we flew back the next day. England welcomed us in her usual chilly, wet way, but even the greyness of the skies couldn’t eclipse the radiance of her rape fields and my delight at being back in the Land of Aapri Rani.

Paris Amour

30 Apr

The first time I met Ceej at a common friend’s party, he poured wine over my pizza, all the while yammering in a French accent, leaving me in splits. And no, neither of us was the least bit drunk. (In fact, I’ve never been drunk, but don’t let this declaration distract you.) Over the years, it became our funny routine–him spouting English in a French accent, me cracking up every single time. In Bombay, in Goa, in Stratford-upon-Avon, and London. And now, we were meeting in Paris, where the accent could come home to roost.

It was he who knocked on the door and received a bear hug from me. We were in Paris in the springtime–with a weekend to live it up!

Come walk/sail/ride with us through the city of amour:

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[Credits: OJ and her Olympus E-PL2 DSLR. And the stunning capital of France.]

But would I bore you by droning on about the touristy usuals: gawking at the Tour Eiffel, hopping on and off the Batobus, elbowing Chanel-crazed Chinese tourists at the Galleries Lafayette, whispering up at the Rose windows of the Notre Dame, taking in views of Paris from Sacre Coeur, downing one too many nutella crepes, cruising the Seine, nibbling at escargot and pain au chocolat, pinching oneself in disbelief at the Louvre, traipsing down the Champs Elysees?

Excitement of another kind lies in a political rally, a mere dozen days away from national elections, where a tourist from California was swept up in a frenzied crowd chanting “Nicola! Nicola!” and waving the colors we know as the Juliette Binoche movie trilogy. The mob hustled, the roar grew louder, the police were on high alert, children were passed from shoulder to shoulder, and little old ladies strained to wave to the President, who, having finished an impassioned speech, drove away in a massive convoy. Couple that with the Paris marathon and I’d call it a pretty eventful weekend. Even if we missed the Moulin Rouge thanks to a strep infection.

Ceej and I parted ways, he to Geneva, me to London, and we knew we’d meet in another country, another city, but he knew, and now I do too, that there is none like Paris in springtime.

Some OJ While You Wait?

28 Apr

While you await the next installment of the Paris trip, here is a little something to divert your attention from the fact that I’ve been all over the place and unable to update the blog.

The founder of InterNations, a global community of expats, asked to feature Wisdom Wears Neon Pyjamas as a recommended San Francisco expat blog. I just liked the way it sounded.

Here’s my interview on their website, large nose and all.

Be good. I’ll be back.

 

Come Meet Me in Gay Pah-ree

23 Apr

The trip to Paris began with a blunder. On arriving at Ebbsfleet to board the Eurostar to the city of luhhhve, the puzzled stationmaster shook his head and said ¨But this train left at 5.58 in the morning!¨ So much for a darn 24 hour clock.

A 100 pounds poorer (how I would love to substitute the word ´poorer´for ´lighter´. Don´t let me distract you now. Carry on.) but not to be vanquished, I was on the next train to St. Pancras, the station from which subsequent trains would leave. Fresh ticket issued and a sandwich consumed out of sheer boredom, (missed trains clearly aren´t excitement enough), I awaited the boarding announcement by counting men in pink shirts. Having been exposed to only Yanks in my youth, apart from our very own desi boys, European men are a subject of fascination for me. They´re…well, so….different. And they wear pink. Yes, I´m very descriptive that way.

Cut to me on the train, chugging along the Chunnel, admiring yet another pink-clad person, and reading this interesting collection of narratives. Gare Du Nord station arrived soon enough, and there I went, hopping off the train, into a taxi and zooming along the streets of Paris, who welcomed me with light and Louvre and a tilt of the head that sighed Óne more admirer´. Oh these stunning cities. How hard it must be to be them.

¨I´m here already,¨ he had said over the phone, and I went up to the hotel room. No, scratch that. I´ve seen seashells that are larger. As I sorted my things and readied to end my 36-hour, multiple time zone day, there was a knock on the door. There he was, smiling broadly, and I hugged him in excitement and relief.

(To be continued…)