Tag Archives: love

Book Review: Salaam, Love

25 Mar

Two years ago, aboard a Eurostar train to Paris, I spent a two-hour journey reading a collection of essays called Love, Inshallah. The book was a pioneering effort for 2 important reasons: it showcased Islam in America in all its glorious diversity, and it projected a strong female voice, breaking cultural and religious stereotypes of docile, homogenous, powerless women trapped in a world not of their choosing.

When I blogged about Love, Inshallah, I did not know the women behind the book. Turns out Ayesha Mattu, one of its two editors, had read my post and knew who Orange Jammies was when we met as part of a writers’ circle. Why am I telling you this? Because I need to insert a disclaimer that by the time I read Salaam, Love last month, Ayesha was (and is) a friend.

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[Credits: OJ, her MotoX phone, and good old Instagram.]

 Islam. Is there any other word you can think of that conjures up stronger images, reactions, and sentiments across the world? Have any of you been told absolutely nothing, positive or negative, about the religion and its people, whilst growing up? The faith of 1.6 billion people around the globe is the subject of debate, attack, defense, paranoia, curiosity, and wild conjecture. Stereotypes are split sharply by gender, and the men usually get a bad rap. My own experiences with the faith are best reserved for a longer post, but know this: I have formally studied both the religion and its early culture, so I speak from a platform of at least some knowledge.

Salaam, Love is a sort-of sequel to Love, Inshallah. This collection of 22 deeply personal and frequently heartrending narratives by American Muslims smash the supposed monolith that Islam is perceived to be, and are shared by those who are typecast perhaps more than any other group I know: men. Frequently believed to be a conglomerate of beards, skullcaps, and patriarchal tyranny, Muslim men are the mythic bogeyman that women not of the faith are warned about. Looked at askance by even their own gender, it is often thought they have nothing to say, let alone feel or reflect.

Related from their perspectives and experiences as men, as Muslims, and just people, the book shares with us the passion, heartbreak, loss, confusion, imperfection, and intimacy that comes with being human. From within the framework of personal definitions of the faith to far outside it, these men: native-born Americans and immigrants, gay, straight and every orientation in-between, Caucasian, Arabic, South Asian and born into other faiths, tread delicate territory as they navigate their relationship with themselves, loved ones, and their identity, all the while leaving the door wide open for us to follow their journey. From infertility to infidelity, sexual confusion to questioning tradition, the gamut of their experiences leave us enriched, educated, and often plain agape.

The ‘unfeeling male’ stereotype evaporates before our eyes. The ‘benevolent patriarch’ melts into an unrecognizable puddle. And the ‘men don’t talk about their feelings’ notion? Smashed beyond smithereens. Where is the seemingly violent man who forces his will on life and women? And the pious one who holds dear his prayer mat? We meet agnostics, anti-traditionalists, believers, and those crippled with self-doubt. As we lurk, voyeurs in their vulnerable worlds, we soak in their reflected humanity, feel their pain, and exult in their expressions of happiness. Gender lines dissolve, and all that is left is unabashed, universal emotion and a strong sense of being people.

It is to the book’s credit that it allows us to build absolutely no preconceived notions and offers the literary equivalent of open-heart surgery. This is a brave, groundbreaking, and compelling collection that more people need to read, not just in America but around the world.

You can read the Love Inshallah blog here and purchase Salaam, Love from one of the several links on the home page. This is not a promotion or paid post. I only share with you stuff I enjoy myself! 🙂

 

Rain Again

13 Mar

This piece was originally published in India Currents magazine. Written as an opinion piece for a print publication, it is longer than the usual post, so sit back with a nice cuppa. 🙂 And share your favorite memories of your favorite season (I’m hoping it’s the monsoon!) Oh, and for other rain-related posts, read this and this.

~

Three and a half decades ago, on a late July night in Bombay, the rain came clattering down on the red-tiled roof of the Parsi General Hospital. Just a few hours earlier, my mother had delivered her firstborn, and I lay in a bassinet under ultra violet light, tiny and jaundice-ridden, strangely soothed by the rumble of thunder even as other babies wailed and started.

In the years that followed, the only thing that made the start of the school year tolerable was the monsoon that accompanied it. Through the warm downpours and rising waters of my coastal city I would wade, delighted by the damp and the puddles and my red Bata gumboots.

My first solo travel experience happened at 18. And as the train wound through the emerald northern Maharashtra countryside, my face mirrored my elation. It was August, a steady stream of raindrops splashed my tee-shirt in the doorway, the wind was in my face, life lay waiting for me, I was young, and thrilled, and free!

Die-hard fans of summer can keep their king of fruit and the steaming, sultry weather that comes with it. Each year of my life, June was the Holy Grail, and the anticipation of rain was excruciating. Sometimes the clouds would gather, then flit away. Every pore of our bodies spewed humidity. Who could blame the brainfever bird in its near-hysterical state? I would fly between trees in agony if I could! Finally, at long painful last, the sky would darken, the drops would descend, falling faster and faster toward the eager earth, and all life would stop to watch  the miracle unfold.

Even as animals scuttled away to safety and dry spaces, human beings would emerge to partake of what was surely heaven’s blessing, laughing, splashing and exulting in the headiness of this grand new season. As the days turned into weeks, these same ribbons of water would cause damage to parts of the city, washing away homes and flooding the roads with their ferocity, but in that first moment, they were welcomed like god himself, all of his creatures rising to celebrate this magnificent arrival.

Indian movies are frequently accused of filling our brains with associations of rain and romance, but as a child I watched none. And yet, I cannot imagine anything more romantic than the end of summer and the lushness, virility and borderline-obscene greenness of this reckless season. Not for the monsoon is the polite chill of winter; not for the rains are the persistent claws of heat; this is a time for unbridled joy and a celebration of life and all that perpetuates its cycle.

My personal definition of rain was a downpour, one in which we could barely see beyond the cascading sheets of water. Anything less was a mere drizzle, and the sheer number of words used in India to describe rain based on its volume never fail to amaze. There is varsaad for rain—audible but not blinding; there is jhoptu for a brief, forceful shower; there was chhip-chhip for a slight drizzle; and naago varsaad for that rare combination of simultaneous rain and sun. There are also dhor maar (pouring) and ghela ni kani (like a madman), my favorite kind of precipitation. And these are just the Gujarati words! Then there are the Marathi rhymes our maids taught us about their beloved, benevolent bestower of prosperity on the fields back home.

The scent of wet earth is a cliché that’s been done to death—for a reason. Have you ever smelled anything that drove you to greater elation? That scooped you right up and plunged you straight into your childhood? That made you long for this unique and precious Indian phenomenon on this continent so far away?

When the skies turn stormy in our home country, Indians across the length and breadth of the land quicken their steps. They emerge onto rooftops and terraces and into narrow gulleys, calling out to friends and neighbors, their eyes trained skyward, their fragile hopes clutched deep within their hearts. The first drops are intercepted before they can embrace the earth, a collective gasp encircles the air, and exultation and dancing are de rigueur. No matter what their age, religion, or station, the advent of the monsoon is the Great Indian Equalizer for my people. In the land of a thousand festivals, this is probably the most universally celebrated and uniformly welcomed. And when that first deluge is done, leaves drip leaky silver missiles onto freshly cleaned streets, and to be sure, it has washed some of the dust off our souls.

When I landed in San Francisco on Valentine’s Day three years ago, I was newly-married and eager to join my spouse. It rained for six straight weeks after my arrival, and even as I laughed about being duped by “sunny” California, I could not have felt more accepted by my new patch of sky. Today, as the state battles the severest drought in its history, that gentle rain is but a memory that I hold on to with hope. A rainless existence affects me in ways deeper than just the physical. It strains the connection to my past, highlights the flaws in this Valley I am learning to befriend, and keeps me hankering for home.

It may sound dramatic, but it’s true: a lack of stormy weather parches my soul. I become unreasonable, forgetting the potholes and waterlogged streets of Bombay, and unfavorably comparing my desert-surfaced skin to the dewy glow of a season run wild to the strains of Hariharan’s “Indian Rain”, the aroma of ginger tea, and the crunch of freshly-fried pakodas. I swear up and down that I’ll visit Bombay this very monsoon, I rail at the maddeningly blue skies, and even as the rest of America faces extreme, dangerous weather, I can only wallow in my own drop-less fate as I watch the country of my birth drifting away on drain water.

Maybe it will rain before the winter is over. Maybe it will compensate for the chronically cloudless air. Maybe it will pour down in sheets as penance, and drive the weather channels into a frenzy. If this indeed manifests, as thousands across this state will it to, then in the midst of it all, remember to watch for a lone Indian woman standing in a parking lot, soaking it all up and deliriously reclaiming her connection to her ancient skies.

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! 😉

Under the Redwood Trees

5 Feb

There is no feeling in the world comparable to standing on a forest floor, surrounded by redwood trees as they quietly, mightily graze the sky. It wasn’t a feeling I was familiar with when we first moved to Northern California 3 years ago. An acutely urban creature, I am completely at ease amidst concrete and glass towers, maddening traffic, and the ceaseless buzz of humanity that characterizes metropolitan cities. Be it New York, Philadelphia, Boston, L.A., Paris, Washington D.C., Miami, London, Seattle, San Francisco, or my own Bombay, I have felt a sense of comfort in city air. I have never known nor craved the outdoors, or wanted a home with a sprawling garden like some folks dream of. The streets were to get to places. Who aimlessly rambled outside their home when there was so much fun to be had with indoor pursuits? So when I first walked into a redwood state park 40 minutes from our home, a never-before hush descended on me.

There, in patches of sunlight that struggled through dense treetops, I experienced an exquisite sense of aloneness. Not to be confused with loneliness, no, just a feeling of being the only human in that cool, scented universe, being watched by companionable flora and the creatures that call it home.

Occasionally, there were others who passed by respectfully, with a nod and genial smile, their sneakers crunching along the path, babies on their front or bottles of water on their hip. Then, I was alone again.

The silence pressed in on my eardrums. It is amazing how deafening a lack of sound can be. There was, quite literally, nothing. I strained to catch a distant chopper. I recognized the sound of my breath. And all the while, I was dwarfed by these magnificent natural marvels that have stood guard for several centuries.

I touched their tannin-tinted bark. Imagined what they have witnessed. Has their environment changed so much in the last 500 years? Some trunks lay horizontal, their gnarled roots exposed. Others formed a ring around their Mother Tree, a mammoth entity worthy of awe. A carpet of ferns sprawled around them, gleaming emerald-gold in the slanting light. Embarrassedly, I hugged one of the slimmer trees, my arms wrapped around its solid girth. Bloody Californian, I mocked myself inwardly. But there was wisdom in soaking up their energy, and I was conscious of doing just that as I loitered, no particular plan in mind, no agenda, just a wish to be.

Deeper in the woods is a river. Jumping across stones, I stripped my socks off and wiggled toes in an icy stream. I’ll never be Huck Finn, it’s true, but for someone for whom taking off footwear outside the home is a Parsi version of haraam, you’ve got to concede it was a beginning!

The sun traveled, ruling a cloudless sky. Such welcome warmth in its friendly rays! I inhaled the pungent, heady scent of our ancient friends one last time, then turned and walked toward ‘civilization’. And this worshipper of all things urban knew an unexplored part of her had awoken.

~

I leave you with pictures from an afternoon jaunt to Land of Medicine Buddha and the ‘Enchanted Forest’ in the Santa Cruz mountains, and hope you experience the peace I did. Click on any picture you wish to view larger.

[Credits: Instagram on my Google Nexus phone, and the charming Land of Medicine Buddha.]

The Season of Rust

23 Dec

I wrote this post 2 months ago, but clean forgot about it in the non-stopness that has been life lately. Apologies for the delay, especially since it was a time-relevant subject, but without any further delay, here it is.

~

Northern California has two seasons: sunny-and-pleasant, and sunny-and-mildly-chilly. And oh, three- drops-of-precipitation-before-the-sun-colonizes-the-sky-again. For about 2 and a half days a year. Last week, we awoke to Season Two. And felt a delicious shiver on throwing off our down comforters and savored that warm, milky coffee a teeny bit more.

The leaves have changed color. Like an earnest child who can’t quite catch up with his peers. You love him for trying, but you know he’ll never make the League of Sporting Champions.  He’ll always be the one with “Good effort” on his report card, and a slightly patronizing smile from his teacher, glory reserved for his siblings further east.

The pumpkins are out in all their plumpness. And if, like me, you enjoy the national color of this blog, you’re in for a treat, because it’s everywhere.  Crunch through piles of raked, dried foliage in your chocolate suede boots, wonder whether you can sneak in a swim for a few days more, and smile as your favorite hot drinks make a comeback at Starbucks. Apples and caramel abound. The soups are hearty, there are spices in the air, and ovens begin their annual overtime. Suddenly, sugar is a friend.

But this time of year isn’t special just for what it offers. It carries the promise of what lies ahead: Halloween costumes and Bingo night. The sparkle of Diwali, the colors, the lamps, the family time, the mithai. Thanksgiving, our annual mini-moon, and another year added to our legal partnership. Bringing home our Christmas tree, stringing lights while drinking eggnog and spiced cider, picking out new ornaments to add to our collection, watching our holiday traditions—The Nutcracker and A Christmas Carol—baking brownies and hosting our annual Christmas gathering. Playing Holiday Radio until it comes out of our ears. Singing hymns into the clear, starry night. Spending time with loved ones, exchanging gifts, Christmas Day dinner and the food coma after, and festivities until another year is properly welcomed. All of this, permeated with that delightful winter chill that has us wrapped in light scarves and jackets, with not a snowflake in sight.

This year, our already-busy season is topped with two special family events. The excitement mounts. We trade updates about outfits and coordinate schedules. Calls fly across the globe as we prepare for visitors and make lists of places to take them.  Much lies ahead. We bubble with plans to celebrate. But for now, I’ll enjoy the moment. Watch another leaf drop and the season turn, as I grab the chance to stand still. The pleasure of anticipation is half the fun. But the other half lies in letting the future take its time.

Here’s a toast to the season of rust. As the earth evolves, so must our destinies with it.

Et du?

18 Dec

“OJ Mami,” he says with all the breathlessness of a critical revelation, “milk has 2 names: last name Du and first name Du.”

And with that, my 4-year-old nephew gulps down his glass of cocoa.

(Yes, yes, I only married the Boy for his genetic material, so sue me.)

Halve the Dozen

7 Dec

Me: I look like a potato.

The Boy: I look like a celery stick.

Me: Aww! Together, we make ….. a rather strange salad.

And, just like that, we turn six today. And your erstwhile blogger of dark thoughts is an annoying globule of mush. Blech.