Showing posts from November, 2007

Comfort Fit

L is new on our team. She reminds of myself many years ago - relatively naive, very eager to learn and hesitant about speaking her mind. I had seen her at the cafeteria sometimes with a guy I have worked with before. He is her husband. They have been married a couple of years. I would have never guessed.

There is a connection between some couples that spark between them an arc of completion. They lack nothing when viewed individually but when you see them together you realize what had been missing. The whole is much greater than the sum of the parts. My uncle and aunt are one such couple I know. Together they have certain aesthetic and emotional balance that is obvious even to a complete stranger.

Unlike a lot of couples who fate conspires to bring together like mismatched Lego pieces that can never quite mesh, they seem to be perfectly complementary. L and her husband also reminded me of the way my ex and I were. Everyone we met assumed we were dating and we felt that was cool. We thou…

I Imagine Myself In Time by Jane Hirshfield

I love to read and re-read Jane Hirshfield's poems and some lines become favorites like these from her poem I Imagine Myself In Time

Perplexed by my life as Midas was in his world of sudden metal,
surprised that it was not as he'd expected, as he had asked.

I wonder how one may overcome the perplexion that comes from looking at the outcome of dreams and desires of long ago. Wishes made fervently without fearing consequence or causation. Wishes fulfilled in complex and unimagined ways.

Wishes with outcomes that make you wonder if you really have the power to wish your wish or if the unseen hand of karma forces you to make them. I love to think of her Midas reference as a metaphor for the loveless, lifeless prisons we sometimes find ourselves trapped in our single-minded pursuit of that one thing that makes our lives worth living.

Sand And Sorrow

HBO's Sand And Sorrow is a touching documentary about the humanitarian crisis in Dafur that the international community has largely looked away from in the interests of political expediency. The strategic importance of some political relationships apparently makes systematic ethnic cleansing possible to overlook. That is the tragedy of Darfur.

The powers that be are only able to denounce what is happening there but not able to back talk by concrete, measurable action. So there are NATO observers who are placed on the ground to oversee and report on a fragile ceasefire but have no mandate to prevent the slaughter of the innocents. The aid of food and clothing to the indigenous African people who have become refugees in their own land, assuage the collective guilt of those who have chosen indifference to active participation in resolving the crisis.

The narrator contrasts the coverage on Darfur on popular media to stories on Martha Stewart and Micheal Jackson. Darfur is no more than a…

Impromptu Story

J was reading Not So Rotten from her favorite Rotten Ralph series one afternoon, when I commented that Ralph reminds me of difficult kids. J agreed and went on to add that Sarah (Ralph's owner) was like a parent or like a very good child like herself.

Maybe a parent with a child like Rotten Ralph wrote the stories to teach them how to be good I guessed as I smiled. J is very proud of being a "good kid" and will call attention to it whenever she can. When she said she could make up a story too with animal characters, I challenged her to make up one about me where I was an animal.

"What kind of animal would I be ?" I asked. I was hoping she would say a dolphin. Recently for a class exercise she had written that her imaginary pet was a blue dolphin who lived in the swimming pool. So I was guessing dolphins were her favorite animal.

"You would be a puppy" she replied.

"What would my name be ?" I asked"Arfy" she said

"So tell me a stor…

Thought Parasites

At the risk of being a parasite twice over, I have to link to this great article that draws parallels between blogging and scavenging and defends its inherently parasitic existence. Nicholas Carr says:

It's worth remembering that, in a literary context, another word for "parasitic" is "critical". Blogging is, at its essence, a critical form, a means of recycling other writings to ensure that every molecule of sense, whether real or imagined, is distilled and consumed.

The nice thing about millions of people reacting to events of the day is the teeming variety of perspective it brings to the readership. Back in the day the only way to air one's take on news, views and op-eds was writing letters to the editor and it was considered completely respectable and indeed a literary art-form.

Blogging is not much different except that no voice is left behind, the bottle neck of editorial discretion to publish to ignore a letter no longer exists. We have a vibrant democr…

Office Spouse

She calls him her “work husband” in jest, a lot of co-workers call them a “work couple” also in good humor. They go to lunch together, he waits for her to finish up her last email so they can walk together to the parking deck. They flirt with each other openly. She is married with no kids. He is married with three children,a little shy of forty and gorgeous in the manner of Brad Pitt and George Clooney.
The day Ray started on our team, we could sense the immediate spark between him and Vicki. She is a vivacious brunette in her mid-thirties. It takes some getting used to her brashness but once you get past that, she is a wonderful person with a genuine interest in understanding people beyond their roles and what it takes for a them to work well together. Spunky and feisty are the two words that come to mind when trying to describe her personality.
She grew up in Maine and he some place in Louisiana on a farm. They are as different as chalk and cheese in terms of personality but physical …

Offline Memories

This holiday weekend, J and I watched My Friend Ganesha and she loved it. Then came the questions about Ganesha specially about the ritual of immersing the idol in water at the end of Ganesh Chaturthi. At times like this I feel like a student who after studying for an exam is confronted with questions that are relevant to the material studied but are still unanswerable.

The stories of Hindu Gods and Goddesses were an integral part of my growing up. I knew the parables, layers of meaning and the rich symbolism that is associated with our rituals and festivals. I took for granted the pool of knowledge around me that I could dip into at will, without needing to learn or retain anything. The Google search on Hindu mythology was in the collective memories of several older family members who were always happy to retell a story I had forgotten in parts. It was comforting to know that the stories were in a safe place from where they would never be lost.

Whatever, I gleaned from listening to t…

Short Fall

Fall came late to my town this year and seems quite anxious to leave already. The view from my living room used to be of a wood that turned resplendent in Autumn and stayed that way for several weeks. It was a feast for the eyes and made climbing the three flights of stairs quite worthwhile. I had a clear view of the trees from inside without the obstructions on the parking lot.

Unless you are hiding under a rock, it is impossible to go through a day these days without hearing a reference to the "inconvenient truth" of our times. The glaciers in Greenland are melting, the seasons have all gone awry, it is hotter than it used to be everywhere in the world. There is no good news, no silver lining to the doomsday clouds of climate change.

After a couple of very busy weeks and weekends, I am now home and have the time savor the trees. But the leaves are shedding rapidly - they swirl and scatter all day long and its not even windy. The bright yellows are all gone, the oranges and …

Debunking Myths

J was all of three when her doctor put her on a regular regimen of Albuterol and Claritin. I did as I was told but felt very strongly about "drugging" a child that young without giving her body a fair chance to resist seasonal allergies. As a full-time working single mom, I did not have the luxury of letting her stay home, work through the colds and fevers on her own time with only TLC and warm milk to fortify her. There was a huge amount of guilt associated putting her on the nebulizer before bed-time and giving her Claritin daily before dropping her off at daycare.

Then I got a homeopathic prescription for her that worked like a charm. There were no immediate miracles but in time, J was able to battle the allergies completely on her own. There has been no Albuterol or Claritin in the household for nearly two years now. I don't know about placebo effects and other scientific debunking of the homeopathic myth but I have seen it work time after time for J.

As a parent, I wo…

Real Accounts

It is refreshing to read this blogger's honest, balanced and matter of fact take on what it means for a desi to return to India from abroad. Such personal accounts are the perfect counterpoint to the media hype around R2I which insult the reader's understanding of India with their skewed version of the story.

Elsewhere she talks about the joy of finding together time with her husband without guilt about neglecting the kids who can be with their grandparents. This sentiment will resonate with most desis because we are culturally conditioned to put the needs of our kids far ahead our own. Though a small perk in the grand scheme of things, its importance cannot be denied.

Being that Desis love to plan with care and execute with caution, an R2I shopping list comes as no surprise. We are decidedly a clannish people, if there is any cause, group, name or calling we can band under we will do so with alacrity. So there are specific schools for "R2Ier kids"

There is such a thin…

Needs And Wants

On a cold and rainy day some may want other pedestrians to have polite umbrellas and a penguin teaboy waiting for them at home. Love the idea of slipping into a warm cocoon in bad weather though hanging off a tree or a cliff in a snow storm is not quite as appealing. This contraption could be a cross between a sleeping bag and a hammock. It would be neat if you could also lay down flat instead of being forced to curl up in the fetal position. However, in event of being stranded and curled in a bag, some food capsules instead of spices in a pendant might come in handy.

Objects like these are signs of a society taking its leisure very seriously. Only when life's basic needs are met many times over can people branch out to address frivolous wants, create new ones as they go, indulge themselves and their loved ones with unique, personalized creations. For those whose lives are in complete disarray, the cute overload factor of a whimsical penguin teaboy might not even register - a plu…

On Love

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar describes three kinds of love in his book Celebrating Silence:
There are three kinds of love: the love that comes out of charm, the love that comes out of comfort, and Divine love.The love that comes out of charm does not last long. It comes out of unfamiliarity or out of attraction. In this love, you lose attraction quickly, and boredom sets in, like most love marriages. This love may diminish and bring along with it fear, uncertainty, insecurity and sadness.The love that comes out of comfort and familiarity grows. You are more comfortable with an old friend who is a familiar person, rather than with a new person. But this love has no thrill, no enthusiasm, no joy or fire in it.Divine love supersedes all other love. Divine love is always new and the closer you get, the more charm and depth you experience. Divine love brings comfort, familiarity and enthusiasm. There is never boredom, and it keeps you alert and aware.I have been told more than once that my expectat…

I Am An Animal

If I were to choose just one word to describe Ingrid Newkirk's activism for animal rights as depicted in HBO's I Am An Animal it would be passion. As a Hindu, I find it relatively easy to understand her central message; to feel a sense of oneness with animals because they are sentient beings just like humans. There is no "us" and "them", everyone and everything in the universe is intimately linked. Their pain and suffering is no less or trivial than ours. Therefore, the controversial parallels between the holocaust and the slaughter house in PETA's campaign literature.

Watching this movie, just before Thanksgiving definitely makes the act of buying turkey for dinner distasteful to say the least. Somewhere between the horrors of the slaughter house depicted in gruesome detail in this movie and the high resolution images of braised chicken with rosemary in Food and Wine magazine, the plight of the helpless animal is lost on the average consumer. When they…

Imagining Voices

As far back as I can remember, I woke up to the sound of Akashvani playing in the background. It was not until six or seven that I actually paid attention to what the news readers were saying, understanding would follow a few years later. Seduction by the rich male baritone happened in the early teens. I cannot remember the name of this news reader but I was most positively infatuated with his voice.

In my mind, he was a very handsome young man with the savoir faire of the classical romantic hero - the kind that left a trail of broken hearts in their wake. I envied the woman in his life to whom he whispered sweet nothings in that killer voice. I must have been a year into this voice lusting phase when I saw a picture of my news reader in some magazine. He was an average looking, slightly chubby middle-aged man - not nearly the Amit Ray of Shesher Kobita come to life that I had in mind. I was ever so disappointed to have been forced to connect voice to face and thus abandon my favorite …

Retail Phobia

After many months of being tethered to the desk even at lunch-hour, I stepped out to the cafeteria with a few other co-workers. One woman was complaining about how much she hates shopping for clothes and how badly her wardrobe is in need of replenishment. Everyone shared her sentiments with the exception of our resident style maven Judy. Turns out that some of us (including myself) hate shopping of any kind and would love nothing more than to never have to go inside a store.

Forget about retail therapy, the grouchiest among us probably suffer from full blown retail phobia. The idea of circling round and round the parking lot until I find a spot is enough to kill any enthusiasm that I might have mustered to check out a big sale at the nearby mall. Judy being slave to fashion, cannot afford to have a wardrobe several seasons too old like the rest of us. Increasingly, she finds herself shopping online and avoiding the mall.

Judy may be part of a larger trend here - even for the conspicuous…

Compelling Not Convincing

In her essay on the what makes nuptials between small things rather special, Rachel Poliquin talks about erotic cuteness. The cuteness of small, innocent, baby-like things is undeniable and there is a fairytale quality to the marriage of dolls, miniature pets and such but erotic certainly does not come to mind in any of these contexts.

I don't know if I agree with Poliquin's line of reasoning but it is definitely provocative. Maybe even a well reasoned argument will fail to make people see what they would rather not. For those who are opposed to the war in Iraq, in this defense of the strategy and why it is a success would not seem very convincing. It is almost like fabricating an alibi to fit the evidence.

Lands And Language

Read this interesting essay on the aesthetics and fluidity of East Asian English. The author Thorsten Botz-Bornstein explains the dream-like quality of this language thusly :
Another reason why EA English appears like a dream language is that it is often slightly out of context. As English fragments lacking a cultural frame, these elements stand out in any East-Asian environment. The words are there in front of our eyes, but we do not immediately recognize where they come from. It is as though they are spat out by a madman who does not really expect to be understood, who just says what he says, letting us more or less guess what he really means. It is this disconnectedness that makes EA English fascinating for EA-readers. Often the words are there as if they had sprung out of the deepest layers of somebody's linguistic consciousness, layers in which words are not primarily items used in real life but rather intimate companions of our ruminating childlike fantasy. These words and s…

Arranged Successfully

This story of the Indian woman coming to America by way of arranged marriage to an NRI would not be representative of the average H4 wife story but is a good assessment of what makes such marriages work. Like the author, I believe in arranged marriages even though mine was one and lasted less than two years.

As the author points out, the norm in the West is to expect to go to bed on the third date and it seems as if an arranged marriage allows the very same outcome only you are married by then. Traditionally, there is an initial meeting between the prospective bride and groom, if all goes well they meet another time to get engaged and then the third time to marry and therefore go to bed as a couple. There is a reason for the third-date sex rule.

The need for physical intimacy to precede emotional closeness seems to be the unifying thread in both customs in both cultures. Whereas in the former, several older family members have had a chance to meet the individuals getting married and ass…

Needle And Yarn

Years ago, I embroidered often and did a pretty decent job. Usually they would small be enhancements to my clothes. A plain collar would acquire some floral details in coral and satin stitch, a kurta a colorful cross-stitch yoke . Just when I was getting ready to start my very own sampler, I read what Freud had to say about women and embroidery. He believed that "constant needlework was one of the factors that 'rendered women particularly prone to hysteria".

Needless to say, that piece of information dampened my enthusiasm for the sampler and I grew somewhat distant from the hoop, thimble, needle and yarn. Old loves fade but probably never completely die away. Every once in a while I find myself browsing through Sharon Boggon's quilt squares wistfully.

I am no longer sure about what Freud said about embroidering women turning hysterical. I used to find it very relaxing. These amazing samplers make me think about picking up the project I dropped nearly twenty years ago.

Limbo Bar

An older desi gentleman once gave me some great advice on how to insulate your child from the competitive pressures of desidom while allowing them to experience a slice of desi life abroad. When asked about how his kids were faring at school and outside in desi parties, he said they were average kids who he expected to attend college and become gainfully employed.

He volunteered no other information and after a while, his two kids were out of the running in the race to the top. While other parents bragged out their kid doing a Peace Corps stint, or making it to the national level as the most promising young entrepreneur of the year and such like, he sat by the corner safe as the father of two unremarkable and unpromising kids. The kids have done very well for themselves and never had to contend with desi peer pressure.

I have always flinched inwardly as desi parents of my generation parade the accomplishments of their wards at your average Diwali party. This is in no way different fro…

Killing Creativity

Ken Robinson's makes a great case against public school education. The "system" is not designed for kids who cannot stand being taught by rote and boxed in to conform with established procedure. Those who are lucky, encounter someone who recognizes them to be a diamond in the rough that they are and enables them to achieve their full potential. Many others are diagnosed as having learning disabilities and suffering from ADHD and set up for spectacular failure.

Ms. L, J's first grade teacher told me recently that J among a lot of other things, is an "astute" student. My ex was too and I suspect she gets this trait from him because "astuteness" was definitely lackling in my early education. I am glad for J, because it may be a while before I can fulfill my dream of home-schooling her. Until then, she is on her own and the more she "gets" the system, the better it is for her.

As a child, I never "got" the system and never fared that…

Call Center Rep

Most of us have at least one horrible customer service representative experience. It usually begins with some moron reading from a script like an automaton and fully tuning out our desperate pleas for help. Horror stories abound.

For the first time in many years, I fell prey to a tempting promotional offer which would shave $30 a month from my high speed internet and phone bill for twelve months. The call center ordeal extracted much more than that in a few hours. I would be writing this long rant about my nightmarish encounter with twenty different reps in the course of a few hours but for Leslie.

My nerves were completely frayed when Leslie answered the phone. Even before she could complete her greeting, I demanded a credit to my account since my services were non-existent and the imbeciles at the call center had no idea how to fix the problem. I had been bounced through different levels of tech support each as incompetent as the other. I was furious and my decibel levels were high e…

Meandering Read

I am very delighted to see some support for my somewhat style odd of reading - "another kind of reading, which should be a form of wandering, as in a garden." Necessity was the mother of invention in my case. I used to read the regular way until work-single parenting-life (what is that ?) imbalance squeezed out all the leisure time I once had. While I still craved to read , I lacked the time for it. I love Pierre Bayard's answer to the question about reading or skimming through Proust:

Are you saying you skimmed Proust? Yes, of course I did! I prefer to say that I live with Proust. He’s a companion. Sometimes I go to Proust and I seek advice for my life. I open it and I skim some pages. That is to live with books. It’s important to live with books.

Now I can skim more books even more voraciously and not feel any qualms about it. I would be indulging in the non-scientific, walk-in-the-park style of reading which I have believed to be the best course for everything except t…

Many Indias

As an Indian, you ask yourself which picture of India is closest to mine when you watch Mumbai Salsa followed by Matrubhoomi. The five thousand year gulf separates the zeitgeist of the two movies yet they are both supposedly representations of present day India.

Salsa as the reviewer points out is a desi-fied "Friends" with the action taking place in Mumbai. The women are depicted as willful, wanton and determined to have as much or more fun than the boys. Female empowerment is about sexual gratification without emotional involvement and prioritizing career over marriage and family. Despite the cliches and hyperboles that riddle the movie, there is some truth in what is being portrayed.

Then there is Kalki of Matrubhoomi, the modern day Draupadi married to five brothers and turned into the resident sex slave for them and their father. Her father is paid five hundred thousand rupees and five cows by the father for the grooms. You prefer to believe this is a futuristic dystopia …

Dressed Rich

In her book Deluxe How Luxury Lost Its Luster, Dana Thomas bemoans the democratization via mass production of luxury goods. The workmanship of a genuine Gucci or Prada is no different from that of a much cheaper knock-off because they were probably manufactured in similar facilities in China. She says:

"The luxury industry has changed the way people dress. It has realigned our economic class system. It has changed the way we interact. It has become part of our social fabric. To achieve this, it has sacrificed its integrity, undermined its products, tarnished its history and hoodwinked its consumers. In order to make luxury "accessible" tycoons have stripped away all that made it special. Luxury has lost its luster"

From being available to the select and privileged few, luxury has gone to being available to anyone who is willing to pay for it or settle for a good imitation. Wearing or carrying a designer label is no longer enough to set the haves and have-nots ap…

Good Enough

I call him Uncle K and have known him since childhood. Though he and his wife are about as old as my parents, their kids are younger than me and still in university. J fulfills their longing for a grandchild that might be a few years in coming. Any time they call to check on me, Uncle K and his wife will say Why do you want to live there all by yourself when you could relocate closer to us ? The job market will be a hundred times bigger and the school system just as good if not better.

Recently, he was around my neck of the woods on a business trip and swung by to spend the weekend with us. J was overjoyed to see him - I think she reminds him of her grandfather. He asked if I was seeing someone and then why not. The next several hours we chatted about relationships and marriage, what worked for his generation and what it takes now.

Uncle K is married to his high-school sweetheart. He recounted how his daughter once asked if he was happy in his marriage and he had to admit he had abou…

Fact Or Fiction

The Onion story about outsourced daycare fits in nicely with this eco-cradle. While I am all about being green, tucking baby away in a cardboard box even it costs $65 feels only a little less bizarre than shipping them way via USPS.

As you chuckle at the Onion video, you think about what does happen in real life. A working couple or a single mother swaddles up her two month old and packs a bag full of clothes, diapers and bottles of pre-expressed breast milk to leave baby at a daycare center for eight to ten hours. They could either do that, miss the best part of their baby's babyhood, continue to pay the bills and fulfill the dream of parenthood or flirt dangerously with poverty by trying to get by on one income.

For the single mother the later is not even an option. A lot of women choose to delay parenthood until they can afford to take time off and still not compromise their quality of life. By when they are ready, motherhood might have passed them by.Parenting is already near-so…

The Weighing By Jane Hirshfield

I have wondered about how very small, insignificant things in life bring enough joy to compensate for the greatest pain and disappointment. Looking back at the end of the greatest adversity , how and why the good always outweighs the bad.

It takes the luminous words and wisdom of Jane Hirsfield to explain how a scale so unevenly loaded still balances. I find these lines from her poem titled The Weighing from her book October Palace immensely beautiful and inspiring.

The heart's reasons
seen clearly,
even the hardest
will carry
its whip-marks and sadness
and must be forgiven.

So few grains of happiness
measured against all the dark
and still the scales balance.

The world asks of us
only the strength we have and we give it.
Then it asks more, and we give it.

Loss Of Sound

I talked with M after years today and got of the phone feeling nostalgic about those long ago days when we spent an entire Saturday chatting as we went about our day in different ends of the country. I was hurting from being away from J, not knowing what the future held for us or when I would be able to see my child again. M would tell me that the waiting would end one day, J and I would be together again. She believed that I would overcome with a certain infectious passion. Her faith would rub off on me and I would feel optimistic once again.
M and I had met about seven years ago on an online message board. After exchanging several emails, we exchanged numbers and started to talk. M is about fifteen years older than me and defines an optimal blend of best friend and big sister. With her no topic is out of bounds or taboo. Until I knew M, I did not know how amazingly liberating that could be. There are things that I have heard myself speak out loud for the first time ever with her. The…

Fair Beyond Compare

Reading this article about genetic haves and have-nots reminded me of a close relative. She was born very light-skinned even by the standards of a family who were generally considered "fair-complexioned". To confound matters further, the patriarch was an uber-Babu of some sort in pre-Independence India who swore by all things British. According to him, this whole freedom-fighting business would never come to any good and was a huge waste of time.

With his Babudom and the Brits gone by the time of her birth, he took comfort in the fact that his grand-daughter had peaches and cream complexion just like a regular Memsahib. Her given name was a celebration of her exceptional color and was fated to become the pre-dominant theme of her life.

She grew super-obsessed with her "fairness". The man she married against vehement opposition from the family was almost as light-skinned as her - and that was possibly his sole qualification. To this day relatives do not fail to mentio…