Tag Archives: life

Reheat, Serve

30 Oct

This past month, I’ve been revisiting definitions of home. Specifically, how my notion of the word itself has changed, from an intensely familiar brick-and-mortar space bearing my history and tales of generations of family, to new lands: both geographical and synaptical, and finally to the person I come home to roost with each day. It’s a fascinating concept, this little word, but I have no bandwidth to say anything new about it presently. So here’s another reheated (read previously-published) piece from India Currents magazine about home, histories, and belonging. What do you think of when you think of home?

~

Three Fates

We sit at a table crowded with spiced, steaming tea cups, a study in diversity. One whose bronzed, gleaming skin carries tales of her ocean-framed ancestors. Another, pale, fair, with whispers of ancient Persia in her veins, and the third, of the same people, her bloodline mapping the landscape of two great nations.

Between us, live roots and displacement. Among us, rock movements and plane rides and boat journeys from 1200 years ago. We are of people who have shifted. Whose sensibilities and histories have shifted. People who once belonged, then belonged again, spun in cycles of precarious identity. Ripped from their homeland by threat, under duress and desire to build a life beyond living.

Around this table covered in cheap formica we sit, the Buddhist from Colombo, the Parsis from Karachi and Bombay, who have known other lands as rank strangers, then intimately, as a secret shared on a one night stand. We congregate our beings around disposable cups of chai and unleash our stories.

Time, it melts away. We jump off a cliff in the 10th century, swing past invasions, conversions, and long bloody, migrations, crash land into civil war and hurried overnight departures, past the smell of burning flesh and singed spirits, yank and sow roots stripped to rawness, touchdown in subcontinental cities where lineage marched to a temporary tune, then continent-hop over to Africa, to North America, the luckiest among us belonging only to two places,  now gathered here in these cities around the Bay, where a microclimate, a microculture, a microuniverse of one can safely exist.

Turning around in unison, we nod to our waiting ancestors. It’s alright, we say, you survived, and then revert to the vapors rising out of our drinks, to punctuate our sagas with a period.

Through the hollows of their eyes, Fate stands silently by, eraser in hand, knowing her day will come again.

 

Suffering September

11 Sep

This piece appeared under another title in India Currents magazine last Fall. I’m sharing it here, given that recent geo-political developments sadly keep it as relevant as ever.

Apologies for being AWOL. Daily life currently demands huge parts of me and the best I can do is ride the wave.

~

On a crisp September morning, a dozen years ago, I emerged into the sunshine feeling happy and ravenous. Having finished an intense summer at Syracuse University’s famed Newhouse School of Communications, I was easing into the Fall semester, thoroughly enjoying the thrill of learning. Breakfast was on my mind as I walked over to the Schine student center and waited in line for an omelet. Maybe I’ll add hash browns and toast, I was thinking, when an undergraduate student interrupted my thoughts.  “What are they showing on those screens,” she asked, and gestured toward two pull-down panels showing planes and buildings and smoke. “Probably a movie,” I shrugged and took my tray over to a table to watch. That omelet, those potatoes, and the carefully buttered toast grew cold and unwanted as I watched with dilated pupils and mouth agape a moment that changed the course of history.

Of course, when events occur that change lives, nations and entire lexicons, you hardly hear the warning bells right away. The enormity of shift that will follow isn’t always estimated accurately. Especially when you are a recently-turned 23-year-old who landed in the country with two bulging suitcases and a crock of naiveté. What I remember of the day is the not-so-flattering peach top I had worn with my jeans, a leaf pattern around the neckline. What I remember is running through the Bird library, to tell a family friend who had already heard. I remember being inundated with calls from folks in India, because nobody knew the difference between New York the city and the state—or maybe they didn’t care. I remember being in the World Trade Center, a mere three weeks earlier. I remember a picture taken in its foreground, young 20-somethings leaning into each other, laughing into the camera, unaware that this would be the last time we would see the twin towers standing.

 
You don’t need me to tell you that America changed that day, twelve years ago. Human anguish, horror and anger hit all life within a 1000-mile radius like a ton of bricks. Rhetoric and war and a decade long manhunt were only the most high-profile casualties of this emotional earthquake that equally crumbled bricks and the notions of security, terror and insularity. America darkened, its economy crashed, and against the backdrop of the nation’s struggles, my own newly-minted life in the country rode the crests and troughs of immigrant life. Industries creaked to a crawl, jobs grew scarce, and the then-President’s reaction to this atrocity bubbled over and scorched lands and people. Relatively cocooned in my student existence, grad school provided a buffer from the ugly realities of the next year. But there comes a time when the door is thrown open and you finally must walk.

The graduating class of 2002 walked out into a drastically changed reality—one of a tanked economy, financial uncertainty, and no warm welcome from a suddenly hostile America. Engineering students, fattened on stories of bulky sign-on bonuses and Silicon Valley embraces, felt like dethroned monarchs. Ph.D. candidates desperately delayed graduation for the next few years. Young people from India who never had to lift a finger in their lives were now grunting it out in food courts, temp jobs, and limited projects, the golden H1-B nowhere in sight. Many returned to their home countries. The ones with loans looked on in despair as ends simply refused to meet. America’s manpower loss, a small casualty in the face of the larger horror, was India and China’s gain.

Two years later, another war was announced. And I’ve always wondered how many rallied against it only for the havoc it would further wreak on their lives. Even as I traveled and worked and plodded along my own 20s journey of self-discovery, relationships and independent living, the rumble of 9/11 was never too far away. Millions before us were fed narratives of the American Dream, but we, those who arrived in the year of 9/11, saw the country at her naked worst—her breath craggy, her vision blurred, refracting her trauma on other innocents of the world.

I sometimes wonder how it must have felt, being part of the wave before that date seared in collective memory. To have known the tech boom, the easy green cards, the ubergenerous land of plenty. A country preceding brown skin hostility.  A time before I had to say my name, spell it out, and quickly share I wasn’t Muslim even to my fellow Indians, because my horns, you see, were simply waiting to burst from my skull if I happened to be one.

A dozen years later, as I write this from my serene couch in the heart of Silicon Valley, I marvel at how we survived—both America and I, on our respective but not discrete journeys. That we held on through the harsh times with resilience I didn’t know existed. That it is this country, and not the land of my birth, that has taken me on the ride of a lifetime—one I know is far from over yet.

Maybe we choose some of our difficulties. Or perhaps they choose us. We come out on the other side with battle wounds and weary spirits, but I live with the faith that I survived—and the hope that America, strange bedfellow in a stranger journey, will as well.

A Month of Milestones

15 Jul

I’ve been terribly remiss about blogging (as is apparent, how clever of me to point it out!) and am going to blame it squarely on eustress: good stress caused by positive life changes, in this case a new job, a visit from family, travel, several celebrations, and the contradictory urge to romance my couch and see no one but my Boy.
With that long-winded excuse out of the way, let’s collectively acknowledge some fun milestones in this, the best of months:

  • July 1: A bloggy birthday! Wisdom Wears Neon Pyjamas turned 6 and I did nothing but blow my blog a kiss. Finally, I understand all those couples who have to halt a moment and calculate how many years they’ve been married. The ones whose limbs are extensions of each other and those who think in twos. Not-so-Little Blogette and I, we’re at that comfortable juncture. I love her like an old shoe. She knows I’ll be back. I’ve been coming back for 8 and a half years. But in the meanwhile, there are sparkly heels to be tried. Oh, and speaking of heels…..
You likey?

You likey?

  • July 7: On this day in 1994, a girl tapped my shoulder as I sat on a class bench in front of her. “Excuse me, are you OJ?” she asked. “No, I’m Janice!” I replied huffily, knowing full well that she knew my name. What didn’t penetrate my thick skull was that she was trying to start a conversation. A lesser mortal would’ve run for the hills. She, she came back, and for the last 20 years has been my dearest friend, soul sister, and rock of Gibraltar (no connection to the one I couldn’t visit!) Her name means “Jewel of the World” and my lord, how she has shone me through my darkest hours. We now know why we weren’t given sisters: having each other, a birth sister would be a mere appendage.
  • July 9: Daddy blew out a ring of candles on a cake brought by SOMEBODY ELSE. HMPH. That’s right, snatch cake-sending rights away from your first-born now. That dethroned monarch business just never ends. But my Daddy, he had a birthday, and oh how the world is wealthier because his goodness dwells in it! (Still throwing that corner tantrum, though. )
  • July 25: SO excited about this upcoming birthday, not only because hell-0, it’s a BIRTHDAY, what’s not to be excited about, but also because it is another important milestone. Champagne and cake all around! Would it be terribly inappropriate to wear a huge party hat, get one of those tooter horns and be my very own one-woman parade? No?! See, this is why I love you guys. :mrgreen:
Here, make do with the cake our SIL baked on July 4

Here, make do with the cake our SIL baked on July 4th

~

In Other News…
When the Boy’s brother got married last year, I heard a strange word for the first time: “co-sister”. Apparently, in the south of India, this term denotes women married to brothers. Being a similar combination of un-Southern and irreverent, my sister-in-law (the one of cake fame above) and I cracked up over the term, came up with instagram hashtags for it, invented a co-sister ghetto sign, and even harmonized “Hey sister, co-sister” (Lady Marmalade). Can you tell I love her? Will I be forever banned from kanjeevarams and mallige for this? *beats chest at the thought of no more bisibele bhaath in her life and eyes some Angus divinity in its place*

~
My 18-month-old niece called me this morning. She is currently visiting family in Texas, saw her mother’s phone lying around, found my contact on it, dialed, and chirped “Hi OJ Mami!” When my uterus finally un-puddles itself from the floor, I can’t wait to watch her in mid-toddlerhood-almost-preteen action.

~
We’ve been taking visiting friends and family to this Gujarati thali place that serves the most amazing shrikhand and khichdi, among other delicacies, but I won’t be going back for a bit, because the last time I had 5 helpings of khichdi and they started looking at me funny and avoiding my gaze and I’m mortified that I might have eaten them out of business. This redness of face isn’t rosacea, my friends, it’s ignominy.

How do you solve a problem like more khichdi?

How do you turn a seventh helping down?

How do you walk away from yummy khichdeeeeeeee?

Ignore the glutton, she’s just being a clown.

 

~
Swimming: I’ve been the resident hippo lately, breast-stroking gently through cool, turquoise waters on these warm summer days while our American neighbors wear toddler-sized swimwear, chug beers, burn themselves to a crisp, toss their hair and pose, and do everything but swim. Most puzzling, this behavior.

~
Books: Sindh: Stories From a Vanished Homeland, by Saaz Aggarwal, and To Marry An English Lord, by Gail MacColl and Carol McD Wallace. Both recommended for history buffs, albeit very different eras and geographies.

~
Heard in the OJ-Boy home:
Me: I think I’m getting food-averse. I don’t think I’m so interested in it anymore.
The Boy: Good. Now we can buy a house next year.

How large can I make the font for HMPH??? 😡

Adios, my friends, pardon my future busybeeness, although I will put up a recently-published article before the month is out and would love to hear your thoughts!

Little Life, Giant Joys

5 Jun

Early last year, I began volunteering for a local nonprofit that supports literacy for visually impaired children in developing countries. This is where I was introduced to Sudha. Whip-smart, thoughtful, and uncannily perceptive, Sudha had arrived in the United States from India in 1998. She worked as an engineer in Silicon Valley (surprise, surprise!) until an event occurred that changed her life. Sudha began to lose her sight. The decline was steady and unstoppable, and soon, she could only perceive light and shade, and hazy shapes. Her condition compelled her to quit her profession and I can only imagine how challenging things must have been for the young family.

She took refuge in her immense faith in Sai Baba and spent her days supported and loved by her spouse, daughter, and giant circle of Baba devotees who popped in and out of her home all day to check on her, sing bhajans of praise, and volunteer for worthy causes. A magnet who was never short of goodwill or company, Sudha attracted well-wishers to her by the force of her optimism, faith, and incredible ability to deeply listen to words and the sentiments behind them.

In the course of our work together, we brainstormed, strategized, chatted, laughed and swapped unique cultural nuggets in the manner of people from very different backgrounds. I’d drive her to events, subjecting her to ‘80s American music that must be anathema to someone with a Carnatic vocal background. She’d laugh at my ardent meat-eating ways. I would rant about how most Indians simply don’t consider non-religious charity a part of citizenship. We would talk long and deep about karma, life purpose, and what drove us to believe in an underserved cause. A beautiful singer, she frequently lent her voice and heart to fundraisers for our nonprofit, singing devotional songs that made the audience choke with emotion. I, who didn’t know what a Hari Katha was before we met, was stunned at the energy she generated across the auditorium—not just through her vocal chords, but from a deeper, divine place.

In the later months of last year, I saw much less of her, engaged as I was with family weddings, visits, and travel. This past February, Sudha went to India for eye surgery and treatment, in the hope of improving her condition. The last few months have been a whirl of the everyday, and we weren’t in frequent touch. Until she called 2 days ago. Patiently, she heard all my news, getting excited over the small measure of positive updates I had to share. Finally, when asked how she was, she stated without fanfare–in typical Sudha style—that her surgery had been successful, and she could see her own hand!

Between my exclamations of delight and tears of gratitude and her quiet joy at this restored gift, she asked to see me—for the very first time.
“I want to see you, your face,” she said.
“There’s a lot to see!” I laughingly warned her.
And I haven’t stopped smiling since. We plan to meet next week, along with the wonderful colleague through whom we were lucky to be acquainted, and I can’t wait to celebrate this thrilling blessing that has me sniffling in gratitude and wonder and overall bleeding heart foolishness.

So each time you read about one more horrific rape, or yet another mass shooting, whether the California drought alarms you or the murder of innocents by right wing organizations makes your flesh crawl–or you’ve just had a decidedly crappy day and are perched high on your pity pot–think about Sudha and her miracle, and know that there is joy and justice on god’s good earth.

If you have a message for my friend and colleague, feel free to leave it in the comments space and I’m happy to relay it to her. Now hand me a tissue, will you? Unfortunately, through boon and bane, the consistency of snot remains exactly the same.

*deafening trumpet*

Aah. Much better.

Daddy’s Not-So-Little Girl

15 Apr

This opinion piece was originally published in this month’s edition of India Currents magazine. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject!

~

One of my strongest memories of childhood is from age 9, where, propping my eyes open with thumbs and forefingers, I willed myself not to doze as I waited behind metal railings for Daddy to emerge from the airport. I had never been on a plane myself. Foreign travel was many years away. But none of that mattered because I was finally going to be reunited with my beloved parent after a two-month gap. When he came into sight, tall and French-bearded, I dashed straight into the exit aisle, head first, running as fast as my chubby legs would carry me, pigtails bringing up the rear. Thankfully skirting the trolley, I hurled myself into his belly, determined not to let go.

I’ve never been one for diplomacy in declaring love. I had a favorite parent and made no bones about it. I have a favorite friend and think nothing of calling her my bestie in the presence of our other close pals. I even have a favorite spouse, but he says that isn’t applicable, since he’s the only one who has ever occupied the position. Circling back to what I meant to share, yes, I was always Daddy’s girl, and remain so to this day.

My discomfort with the tag begins with the insertion of the word “little.” When grown women voluntarily declare juvenility, it is cause for concern. It signals a refusal to mature, a hankering for continued protection, and the rejection of the possibility of a loving adult relationship with your parent. We all grow up. Most of us even manage to add maturity to the checklist. We spend the maximum chunk of our lifetime in adulthood. Who, then, are these women who declare their undeveloped-in-some-aspect status and are they fully aware that it entails connotations of emotional stuntedness?

Some are those who lost their father/father-figure early in life, leaving a gaping hole in their emotional development. I am truly sorry for them and understand at some level the need for comfort and protection. Then there are those who, despite having a living father, go all cute and helpless in his presence and think it is perfectly okay to exhibit this inappropriate behavior. We beat men up for being tied to their mothers’ apron strings. They are called sissies and contempt is showered upon them, because adults are expected to operate within the parameters of healthy, mature boundaries. Why then is it perceived as culturally acceptable to have women in their 20s, 30s and 40s openly declare that they will always be little girls to a parent or parental figure? Does one have to be a “little” girl to spontaneously hug one’s father and laugh over childhood memories? And more crucially, how healthy is it if your parent still sees you as a child when you have one of your own? You’re probably thinking “this is socially acceptable across pretty much all of India” and you’re right: infantilizing one’s adult children is a predominantly Eastern trait, but in the case of Daddy’s “little” girls, this phenomenon seems to cut across cultures with the stereotype readily accepted and fostered in Western society, a classic example being grown-ass Jewish-American Princesses (JAPs).

As women in an era that affords increasing freedoms and gender neutrality, how relevant is this “little girl” position and why do we even want it? Are you less of a daughter if you share a loving, positive equation that includes talking about your work, your dreams, and those cookies you charred in an adult manner? Do you see no need for self-determination when Daddy dearest is around to arrange it all? Even if you did not have a positive paternal role model during your childhood, how does clinging to a false image benefit your growth as a fully functioning adult human being?

In Dr. Peggy Drexler’s book Our Fathers, Ourselves, she points out that daughters feel more at ease around their fathers when they are treated like intelligent beings and not delicate playthings. Perhaps it is easier to continue in the rut of set relationship patterns. But there is pleasure in realizing your father, whom you looked up to as a child, now listens to your thoughts about the upcoming elections. There is the joy of explaining how you tweaked that favorite family recipe. There is fun in trading musical experiences and recommending new reads. There is even an undeniable pleasure in bashing the relatives, now that you can see their follies through adult eyes!

Eric Berne, of Transactional Analysis (TA) fame, states that we operate from three states: Parent, Adult, and Child. Our relationship patterns usually crystallize over time such that we tend to relate to one another in predominantly one state over another. Some, for instance, will react to a spouse as a child or a parent. Plenty of parents, out of sheer habit or perhaps not knowing any different, will respond to their adult children in parent mode, occasionally deploying child mode as a guilt trip. This unhealthy scenario does women a disservice, helping to enforce stereotypes of weak, helpless womanhood. There is no shame in being weak or helpless when you truly are, but a lifetime of interaction on those lines can only harm you.

It is true, ladies. Our fathers are frequently the first male loves of our lives. But then we GROW UP. Like ALL healthy human beings. And the evolution of our loving relationships is the best indicator of much-needed maturity. You’ll always be Daddy’s girl. But you haven’t been little for a really long time. Take ownership of your adulthood. Embrace its unique perspective. You will find that your daughterhood won’t diminish because of it.

Lizard’s Tail

25 Feb

It’s fascinating to watch the morphing of an entity that has been severed or disconnected from a larger part. Whether it is a country partitioned from its old composite avatar or a person who forsook their religion because of marriage, they seem to be propelled toward polarization, creating identities more extreme than otherwise necessary. This has happened, I chose this, now I must take a stand and be different, stand up for my act of separation, perhaps even justify it. Ignore the sameness. Ignore the city streets with approximately the same amounts of garbage, because there is a heightened sense of Another Religion in the air. Ignore how nothing has really changed about your food, your clothes, your very colloquial exclamations, because now you are Married Out.

While some are compelled to change, feel an obligation to become The Other, a few dig their heels in and stoutly choose to be driven by factors that prod us to take these steps. Still fewer others fling themselves between identities, but who likes the dissonance that produces? One over the other is easier, safer, infinitely more convenient than duality.

In the rarest of cases, it is a personal blessing for those who never really belonged to one space to begin with. A chance to seize the molding clay of circumstances and fashion from it at will. Those who say I will not be driven, pushed, compelled. Who acknowledge that many factors may change external situations, but we choose to renew our identities-or not. Even as I hear the constant drone of “change is ever-shifting” in the background, I am intrigued by the endless buffet of change, what whets its appetite, what platters we pick from, and the choices that fill our senses and identities, keeping us alive, moving us forward, nurturing stability, dulling our nerve endings into half-burying ourselves into the ground and sticking Velcro-like to the comfort of our original realities.

What do you fashion for yourself? Does your sky take on a different hue? What drives you to be still or shed layers? Do you see it as a necessity, inevitable, or a painful metamorphosis? When you throw off your tail, does your yoke get cast off with it? Or is it warmer to wrap a familiar milieu around your being and rock it close all the live long day?

I thrive between answers. So from the looks of it, I am in no tearing hurry to grab the nearest available one. Let me go arrange a bowl of flowers in the meantime. Nothing like petals and stems to dissipate a whorl of question marks. 🙂

St. Valentine: Smartly Single and A Patron of the Plague

14 Feb

This Valentine’s Day, because we’re sodding balls of mush, because the OJ-Boy romance is far from typical (who gets a book on financial investing on the very first V-Day of their relationship? I do!), and because it is my moral duty to educate you about the reality of this cotton candy-filled, chocolate-centered, gooey-as-snot emotion, here is a compilation of my Twitter hashtag ‘Things Marrieds Say To Each Other’. I don’t guarantee sappy, puppy-eyed romance. But I do promise this: Someone, somewhere was made for your sense of humor. And blessed are those who land them.

~

“I’m an equal opportunity farter.”

“I love how effective our communication is. The morning greeting beautifully boils down to one word: “COFFEE!”

“I have photographic rights. When we married, you signed off on them.”

“Isn’t Cheteshwar Pujara that Bihari festival?”

“I never find anything soulful. Except maybe a shoe.”

“I will share my life but not my plate /The depth of my heart isn’t quite that great.”

“My needs are simple. Coffee and a little Tiffany.”

“You had me at correct punctuation.”

“Oh good lord, don’t pass out! That’s not my toe lying on the carpet, it’s the Band-Aid!”

“You’re my ardhaangini. So I get half of every cupcake.”

“That’s your ‘We’re getting late’ sigh.” ~   “Yeah, and…?”   ~    “Aaaaargh!! I can identify your various sighs!”

“You’re too far away.” Apparently, six inches of separation is terribly much.

You know that awkward phase between sizes?”  ~   “Hmm.”    ~   “You don’t know! You’ve always been 1 size! Just PRETEND!”

“Ear-digging can be a dangerous business. I just found chocolate shavings in mine.”

“‘Bheeda’ and ‘eeda’ rhyme. That’s proof that they’re meant to be together.”

“My camera, my house, my wife,” he says, when I accuse him of being a stalker. Damn such sound logic!

“It’s MENstruation, not womenstruation, and yes, you can tweet that.”

“You’re so much more than a pretty face.” ~ “You’re so much more than a wild imagination.”

“Sometimes people are broken and imperfect, you can’t reject them because of it!” ~  “Baby, it’s a WAFFLE.”

“I think I’m getting bucktoothed.”

“What do you call someone whose farts knock people out?”  ~  “What?”  ~  “Gaseous Clay.”

“See you in my dreams,” he says, blowing a kiss from his pillow.”Oh, and make dhansak while you’re there.”

“I’m not cooking dal. Then you’ll have a bad air day.”

Me (digging into his IHOP pancakes): “Babe, these are two of the three pillars of our marriage.”

“I’ve had better luck finding a spouse than a coffee table.”

“In this new year, may you realize the critical importance of coasters.”

“I’d say your eyes are my windows to the world, but now you have Twitter.”

“Ooh, baby, you’re so fly!” ~ Me to the Boy every time he takes a plane.

“Even the inside of your nose is cool and nice.”

“I share my LIFE with you. Now you want my mawa cake as well?!”

“It’s so hard to walk around hearing the Canon all day!”  ~ “Wow, that must be loud.”  ~ “I mean Pachelbel’s.”  ~ “Oh!”

“Bless you…now that you’ve sprayed your germs on the wall.”

“That’s it. We’re moving to a nudist colony. I’m not doing the laundry anymore.”

“Repeating verbatim what your spouse wants you to say.”

~

Happy Sweet-Saint-Whose-Head-Was-Chopped-Off Day! Don’t forget to share the things you tell your beloved in the comments section! 😉