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Showing posts from January, 2007

Superkids

A few months ago, a co-worker gave me a copy of Joseph Epstein's WSJ article In American Culture, Children Rule. Our kids are the same age and we share the feelings of inadequacy as parents - we are not doing what it takes to make superkids out of our normal, happy go lucky brats. Teacher conferences terrify us - they depict us as penny pinching sloths who are set on ruining our children's future. The essay made for amusing reading though I can't agree that America is more child-centric than other cultures and countries as several comments on the blog post that references Epstein's essay correctly point out.

Around the world there are indigenous versions of suburban American soccer mom. While their aspirations for their children may vary, their tactics are largely the same. The kids are overcommitted and trying to best the competition at everything the parents sign them up for. The modern day nerd may also be prime NFL material. They become a hard act to follow but over…

Acronym Soup

You know you are on the other side of generation gap and fighting a losing battle when you can't even keep from drowning in technology acronym soup, less be able to keep up with it. When I came out of the caves, they were talking about MoSoSo and I thought that sounded a lot like MoMA.

The irony of discovering that MoSoSo referred to the latest social networking enabling technology and not a new art museum was not lost on me. I am so over the hill that even watching kids in action with their Gameboys and Nintendos makes me anxious as does a lot of recent cinema.

The pace and choppiness of the action wears me out. I seem to be retrogressing to an earlier generation that was happy to listen to really slow music, play solitaire with real cards and curl up on the couch with a good book and a cup of tea. I can find peace and joy in all of those activities. The chances of me catching with any of the myriad MoSoSo applications is remote to non-existent. Maybe I can leap frog a couple of ge…

The Whole Truth

A few months ago, my friend Poorvi wanted me to meet her boyfriend. Her family believes that the only way to marry is to have the parents arrange it. Needless to say, they knew nothing of the existence of Steve. I met them, we went out together and had a wonderful time.

Late that night when I was half asleep, Poorvi called to ask the inevitable question "So what did you think of him ?" I know of no other question that is quite as difficult to answer. My answer was truthful but incomplete. I told her I thought Steve was a decent guy, very easy to talk to and like.

The part that I did not tell her was that I saw no real spark between them and feared they would grow apart emotionally once the exhilaration of a new relationship faded. As hard as I tried, I could not visualize them as a couple. I told myself it was not my place to say any of that and besides I could be entirely wrong.

Since that meeting, whenever Poorvi calls me it is always about how Steve's interest in her see…

Vasudeva Kutumbakam

First off, I do not profess to be the Cliff Notes for raising the best adjusted desi kid in the west. It will take another decade and something to test the efficacy of my theories being that my child is only all of five at this time. That said, I have always been an interested observer of the coconut syndrome that kids of Indian origin growing up in the west are supposed to suffer from. I am sure other ethnicities who are relatively recent immigrants would have similar travails and like us desis pour their angst out just as copiously.

One would think given the great diversity of India, the desi has a distinct advantage over most other immigrants when it comes to being able to acclimatize with ease to a new culture. Even within our own country this is an essential survival skill that those of us who have not have the chance to grow up in their native state already have. It should be a skill we can teach our kids quite easily.

Yet children born and raised in this country continue to feel …

Friends Of God

Alexandra Pelosi's Friends of God is the story of one amazing road trip. She captures the many faces of the 50 to 80 million strong evangelical Christians community in America - a community anyone with political ambitions may ignore only to their own peril. Their strength is in their numbers and ability to influence constituents to vote for candidates who share their religious and moral values.

As a recent immigrant and a non-Christian, this documentary was an eye opener at many levels. A few key themes emerge in the message of the religious leadership. Marriages are sacrosanct and the only kind that has Bibilical sanction is between a man and a woman. The sole purpose of such unions is to procreate. Planned parenthood is almost as evil as abortion. Finally, God created the world in six days and evolution is scientific myth.

And that is the end of their message. Not once did anyone talk about kindness and forgiveness which most non-Christians believe to be the cornerstone of Christi…

Men, Women And Religion

Thought provoking post about why women are more religious than men in all societies and cultures. In an average Indian home, it is the mother and grandmother who perform the pujas and practice ritualistic observances but the temple priests are almost always male. One western commentator explains with characteristic disregard for facts and scant understanding of Hindu religion what women were used for in Hindu temples - but that is a whole different discussion.

The division of religious duties home and outside is not unlike the role of men and women in the kitchen. When at home it is typically a woman's domain, a commercial enterprise would more likely find a male chef in charge. Women may have a more personal relationship with their religious faith as they do with cooking. As Grandma's rice pudding is to Ferran AdriĆ 's molecular gastronomy, so is Mother's soulful recitation of the Shanti Mantra to a strident Ashta Prahar (chanting for twenty four hours) led by a religi…

Fluffing Wikipedia

All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others (or at least try to be) comes to mind reading about Microsoft's latest woes trying to doctor Wikipedia.
While Wikipedia is known as the encyclopedia that anyone can tweak, founder Jimmy Wales and his cadre of volunteer editors, writers and moderators have blocked public-relations firms, campaign workers and anyone else perceived as having a conflict of interest from posting fluff or slanting entries. So paying for Wikipedia copy is considered a definite no-no."We were very disappointed to hear that Microsoft was taking that approach," Wales said Tuesday.Sounds like all MS had to do was to hire someone whose entire job description would be to monitor Wikipedia and the like, prettify and fluffify everything that the dissenters were saying. The official title for this position could be Web Media Hygiene Specialist. They would have been playing by the rules and not be causing so much "disappointment"…

Lunch Break

I stopped taking a lunch break from the time J started going to daycare. It gave me an extra hour of work and I could head home sooner. Among the many things in life that I have had to adapt and abbreviate to make room for the demands on my time, eating lunch at my desk while working is a terribly insignificant change - or so I thought.

After almost four years, I ate lunch at my desk without a single distraction - no emails flying back and forth, no status reports being prepared, so phone calls - nothing except complete silence. I could hear myself eat, I could tell the difference between the fruit, vegetables and bread. They were not the composite lump of "lunch" that I go through along with green tea. Lunch was not an interruption to the main event today but the event itself.

The twenty minutes of silence was at once magnificent and frightening. I think the Sanskrit word that comes closest to describing the ambiguity of that feeling is Vibhatsya. My mind having nothing to fo…

Too Much Detail

Not sure exactly how I ended up at this NYT article on evolution in the definition of beauty while looking for a funny birthday card to send N, my self appointed "relationship coach". With the advent of wide-screen high-definition television, beauty is faced with greater challenges. You probably see more detail on screen than you could with your naked eyes - every last flaw magnified.

It could be God or Devil that is in the details. While some viewers may like it that the stars are only mortal like the rest of us troubled by acne, spider veins and cellulite others may demand they be perfectly airbrushed down to the last pore.

Depending on the numbers on either side, the beauty business may further the cause of the "real" and "natural" look or make people strive towards impossible standards of physical perfection. If only it were possible to bring one's mental and emotional state into such sharp focus - it may have been able to shock us into recuperat…

The Desi-fication Of J

Unless you live in southern Hicksville like I do, and the Bharatnatyam teacher with two left feet is the only game in town, enabling the desi-fication of Indian children born in this country is much more than a cottage industry.
The offerings in the burbs of Boston for instance are mind-boggling. My good friend and our former "Activity Director" is using that as bait to lure me into relocating to Lexington, MA. Apparently, the public school system is head and shoulders above what I have going on in my town. I figure she is tired of me bellyaching about a) J's hidebound elementary school b) J's near complete cluelessness about all things desi for want of socialization opportunities.The Hicksville sensibility seems to be a contagious thing because the desis in my town stereotype me in ways that are not very different from the locals who have lived in the same county for three generations and never crossed the state line. I recall having met desis of a very different str…

Old Wounds

The third and final part of the Cold Attic seriesMeeting Clara and Mahesh again
V was so terrified that I feeding her a line about the intent and length of stay at her house, that she decided misbehaving with me was the best pre-emptive action. The things that bothered her were quite strange. Clara and Mahesh were over at their home one weekend.Clara was shopping near Trenton for some kind of specialty wood for her furniture and had stopped by at V’s. We got chatting after a late Sunday brunch – it was mostly about my situation and I was telling Clara how things had been during and after my deciding to walk out of my marriage. It was pedestrian conversation at best. She was curious about what it was to be in my situation in India and seemed to understand why I was so desperate get out of there.

At the time, I felt so detached from the event and the dramatis personae that I could as well have been narrating a third party observation of facts. V stayed on the living room futon not botheri…

The Schooling Of J

It was a surreal experience meeting with J's homeroom teacher and guidance counselor yesterday afternoon. After requesting an audience with the later for half a month, I was finally granted one with both. I had expressed concerns about J's potential to get bored with the curriculum and explore the possibility of challenging her mind some more. I have already heard her say "I wish I could stay home and not have to go to school" a few times.

They were both quick to point out that I had a cultural background that found enrichment only in learning but there was much more to life besides that. This after my emphasizing to Mrs. H several times that the blossoming of J's social skills was key to me and that she should keep me posted on any concerns in that regard.

They know that I am a single working mother. I had thought this was useful information for the school to have so the teachers would know to be sensitive about J's absent father and that they have always been…

Sparklessly Married

After hearing one KANK reference too many from friends, acquaintances and strangers on blogosphere over the last few months, I decided to watch the movie. I was curious to know why it resonated with so many people who apparently had little in common. They most definitely did not share a common taste in cinema. What was the draw then, I wondered.

The story seems to make sense to the young, affluent and urbane desi of today - specially those who are or have been married. The message is simple : feeling the vibe, the click, the spark and having chemistry is not optional while entering the state of matrimony. Just having one nice person marry another nice one is no guarantee of a lifetime of happiness.

This turns traditional wisdom on its head which said that any two nice people once married would inevitably come to love each other, that the vibe, click, spark and chemistry were impermanent and should never form the basis of a durable relationship. You were taught to think of the very long …

Mural To Music

I knew that the word I was looking for belonged to the mural family but was not exactly that. I was wanting to suggest that S get a trompe l'oeil of a rustic courtyard bathed in warm sunlight on one of the walls so there would be an illusion of the tropics in the Midwest. He managed to get the drift even as I fumbled for the word trompe l'oeil.

"Where do you find those things ?" he asked. I had no idea but figured getting one painted would cost an arm an leg. "You can look it up on the net" I said. "My nephew would suggest I download the image and print it out on wall paper. Kids these days will never buy if it can be downloaded. He thinks I am old fashioned because I buy music CDs" he laughed. So from talking about the best shade of yellow for kitchens, we wandered away to discussing the ethics of using Gnutella type file sharing services.

Back in the 80s when we were kids, mixed tapes were cool, hip and fun. Everyone borrowed from everyone, you co…

Amusing City

My friend A has been living in Dubai for about ten years and has been trying to get his folks to visit with him for almost that long. They insisted that he get out of his bachelor pad and find a wife before they came. Finally, last year his dad arrived to meet with his brand new grand daughter. I asked "So did he like it there ?" and A replied "He found Dubai very amusing and knowing you, I think you'd feel the same way too."

I suspect he might be right though I have yet to make the detour through there on the way home to India as promised to A. Reading this essay on Slate tempts me to this time around though I might need a trip to Disney to primer me for the high octane "amusement".

Shoe Storing

This has got to one of the coolest shoe storage ideas I have seen - any woman owning upwards of twenty pairs has got to love it. Back in the day when I lived and worked in Bangalore, had no care in the world except making the difficult choice between several pairs of shoes that I loved equally well, Rakku would have been so perfect. Me, Ritu and Tanvi gave the Commercial Street stores the better part of our slim paychecks each month. Thankfully, I did not enjoy shopping for clothes and trinkets nearly as much as they did - window shopping was good enough for me as long as I was well stocked up on the shoes.

Now that I am older and wiser and the paychecks support enterprises less frivolous than fancy shoe stores, life is different all around. The shoe rack has been drastically downsized. No longer can I wear those absurdly high heels. After untying countless knots on J's shoe laces each day (apparently the kids in her class are learning to lace up shoes and use hers to test their s…

One NYC Trip

Around this time, four years ago. In which I go out with V and S, and spend a night in Brooklyn instead of in their cold attic :Arriving in the City
One weekend we went over to NYC to Clara and Maheshs'. The occasion was a reception Clara's was having at her studio. I had heard a lot about these two – S’s brother and his American wife. The woman was a jeweler and a vegetarian. The studio was somewhere in Upper East Side and that sounded incredibly cool and artsy. We reached NYC at night and the skyline looked gap-toothed. I could not tell where the towers had stood but something that defined the Manhattan skyline was gone forever – it looked stunted and powerless. The symbolism of it all hit me suddenly and I began to see the great need they had for waging war on Iraq and all that was a perceived threat to their way of life.

The studio was a little shack . There were plenty of Art-Deco touches in the interior including a rather stylized commode – thankfully it was easy enough to…

Serendipitous Discoveries

I was looking for audio recordings of the Bhagwad Gita online for J and the search lead me to places I would not otherwise found.

Autobiography of a Yogi I have seen this book several times but have managed to never read it. As luck would have it I jump right to Chapter 8 that is about J.C Bose and his experiments on the consciousness of all matter animate or not. I read about this last in a school text book when I was about twelve.

Then after wandering some more, I arrived at some writings of Sri Aurobindo Ghosh reminding of my childhood visit to the ashram in Pondicherry. There was no Auroville then as I recall. Encouraged by the discovery, I looked for the text of Savitri online and found it too ! I remember having looked for it when my friend P had first shown me the amazing series of pictures she had painted in Photoshop inspired by this reading this epic poem - I had not found it then.

She had said "As an adult, Savitri became the link between me and my father. He liked to rea…

Summer Of 2003

We went out to feed ducks in the lake in our community earlier today and were disappointed at not finding them in their usual numbers. The few that were around were not interested in food - I theorized to J that they must already be full. Sitting on the wooden bench, enjoying the mild weather and the silence all around, I found myself thinking of a time few years ago when things were much different both for J and I. I felt grateful for the passage of time and its healing touch. But for a while today, I was back in April of 2003 when I wrote this :A Short WalkI change into a red, pink and white striped tee – red is color of my happiness – I need to try these new shoes I bought, so I can survive in them the first Monday at work. My first job after coming back to America in such difficult times. Decide to take a walk to the strip mall across from the apartment community. It is cold outside, I step back in to grab a cardigan – my room-mate of two days snaps at me “ Did you lock the door b…

Unlikely Heroes

I have been reading The World Is Flat the last few days. Of the many sound bites that pepper the book, the one that will stay with me is on page 256 where Friedman talks about how young people in China hang from the rafters and scalp tickets just to hear Bill Gates speak. He says "In China today, Bill Gates is Britney Spears. In America today, Britney Spears is Britney Spears - and that is our problem"

Elsewhere he talks about how at the height of the cold war, most average 11 year olds in America dreamt of being an engineer. Today kids that age are far less likely to see engineering as a career choice. He talks about the role of parenting in enabling future generations to take on the world flattening forces of globalization - about how they need to wean kids from the many distractions of Game Boys, TV, iPods and the like and get them to work hard.

Being that there is no contest against Sputniks or a space race to be won, rallying the masses around the cause of challenged nati…

Indulging A Nihilist Impulse

Bloggers get applauded or dissed by the punditry depending on what value they perceive the community brings to online social, political and cultural commentary. This article in eurozine presents some very interesting views on the subject of what blogging and bloggers are good for and not. One excerpt feels particularly germane to most if not all of my posts :

Blog entries are often hastily written personal musings, sculptured around a link or event. In most cases, bloggers simply do not have the time, skills, or financial means for proper research. There are collective research blogs working on specific topics, but these are rare. What ordinary blogs create is a dense cloud of "impressions" around a topic. Blogs will tell you if your audience is still awake and receptive. Blogs test. They allow you to see whether your audience is still awake and receptive. In that sense we could also say that blogs are the outsourced, privatized test beds, or rather unit tests[9] of the big m…