Tuesday, December 18, 2012


On Friday around 3, my husband gave me the news about the school shooting at Connecticut.

A few minutes later I left to pick up our son from Elementary school. The feeling foremost in my mind was one of helplessness and seething anger.

Many times I wanted to write about how I felt but every time I started, the words seemed shallow and artificial. The feelings expressed in flat adjectives, inadequate.

Driving down Main street, I realized that not far from our local Dairy Queen is a little cottage with an unpretentious sign outside. Firearms for sale, it says. A cute little cottage. A horrific cottage.

How easy for someone to stop there after lunch, buy a weapon, swing by K Mart for some ammunition and then oh well, look its 3:15, school gets out right about now. Maybe I could just....

Or lets make this even easier, mum owns a ton of guns, I could just borrow a few today. I'm sure she won't mind.

Little do we realize or perhaps at times such as these, we do realize how much power a random individual can have over our lives and if they put their evil minds to it, they can shatter lives as easy as smashing glasses against the wall. How easy it is to do harm.

Everyday we must end with a sigh of relief if nothing bad has happened is how I felt that day.

Our sons' teachers wrote to us parents asking us to hug our kids just a bit tighter that day. I didn't because if I had I would have broken down. I acted as normally as I usually do--my strict mean, brisk self. At least I tried to.

I had to because all that has been coming to mind since that afternoon is what the parents and survivors must be feeling. Pain so immeasurable. Pain of the kind I have no strength to bear. And every time I started to cry.

Every time we hand over our most precious ones to others to care for we take so many chances. We walk a tightrope everyday even with normal parenting. Worrying about whether your child may never return from school is something we haven't or at least I haven't lived through.

Ask a mother in Baghdad and there is the other side of the story. I got a glimpse of how that mother in those countries and places must feel. Every single day.

Death is something we are taught to expect, Untimely death not so much but we find ways to explain them--acts of God, war. Somehow we find solace.

But death in this manner--for no reason except that someone decided one fine day to take out his frustrations on innocent children is pure evil. And so easy to inflict that it leaves us trembling in our bones.

People are talking about the right to bear arms in a society that has much changed since it made sense to carry weapons everywhere. People are offering solutions asking teachers to carry weapons to defend themselves should such incidents occur.

If I lived alone in an isolated house in the mountains, perhaps, maybe I might keep a rifle handy for the odd bear. But assault weapons? Can you picture your daughter's kindergarten teacher keeping an assault weapon under her desk just in case?

Where do we go from here? How can this civilized society call itself that when such things go on happening.

Terrorism, suicide bombings, religious killings we get outraged about. But it can be defined. It is an aberration, against all Gods and religions. Yes. And must be stopped. Yes.

But this? What do we even call this? 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Japanese life lesson

I saw a documentary called "Jiro Dreams of Sushi."

Jiro-san is a 3 star Michelin rated sushi chef. His restaurant Sukiyabashi has ten seats and people reserve even up to a year in advance. One month is the minimum recommended.

The sushi even on film looks wonderful. The 3 Michelin stars are for his consistent brilliance within great simplicity. They serve sushi and nothing but. No appetizers, no drinks. The tab is usually about $300 per person. And every person who has eaten there says it is worth it.

But what is equally amazing about the film is how the 85 year old Jiro lives his life and has always lived it. A stickler for routine, he takes the same train to work everyday, gets off at the same place if he can. He works almost every single day of the year. Only funerals are considered emergencies. He lives, eats and breathes sushi. No...great sushi.

Fending for himself from the age of 10, Jiso philosophizes--"Pick a trade, make sure you fall in love with it, and slowly master it, working on it everyday. Success is inevitable. Better yourself at what you do by aiming higher everyday."

The film then shows how he has done exactly that with sushi. Nothing but the best ingredients from the best suppliers who in turn source the best. Apprentices who have to learn how to squeeze a hot towel for the customers for months before they can even get a chance to touch the fish. It's a tough job few stay in for long. And when they do they stay for at least a decade before going off on their own.

The dedication and passion for their work and their food is palpable, inspiring.

I have always been a Japan-o-phile. Who isn't?

Their minimalism, their food, their discipline, their bordering on unrealistic work ethic. This film is a soft look at that very philosophy which has made Japan a great nation. Such a small country that has suffered so much in past years but filled with people like Jiro-san, they bounce back every time stronger and stronger.

All this has filled me with such awe...not to mention a whole lot of hunger for some fabulous sushi....

Monday, August 20, 2012

A trip to the zoo

It's Friday. Little more than a week for school to start. I was going to have a quiet day at home with my boys but I think--I really ought to take the kids to the zoo. Not many Fridays in the future when we can just pick up and take off for some fun in the city.

I call my dad who is staying in town with my brother and ask him to be ready to join us for a "quick" run to the zoo.

I get the kids ready, pack snacks, feed them breakfast. We put on shoes and step out when the phone rings. Dad. "So, would you guys like to come tomorrow instead," he says. "That way you can all come...hubby included...the air and water show's going to happen."

My kids are dancing on the sidewalk waiting for me. I feel myself getting irritated with my dad. "I am coming today," I say. "The boys are practically in the car."

"That's ok," my dad says, "The planes will rehearse today. We can watch that."

I look at my watch. It's coming on 10:30. Time to stop and get dad, pack some lunch then head for the zoo. We can stay there for a couple hours and I can be back before rush hour hits.

I drive to the city. Painless until the exit to the zoo and my brother's place is backed up for a mile.

I look up at the sky. Fighter jets are zooming here and there. My older son is excited. So is everyone on the beach who has come to watch the rehearsal. I sigh. I shouldn't have come. Still, it's kinda fun seeing so many planes up close doing their acrobatics. The noise is incredibly loud but at least the kids are giggling madly.

A cop directs us to the next exit and so we take it.

I get to my brother's place. It is close to noon. I start packing a sandwich lunch--I wonder why I did not just pack a lunch at home. I can be so stupid sometimes.

My dad starts feeding the boys knick knacks--fruit, then nuts, then he starts heating some soup. "Not now please, we should leave."

"Only take a second, " he says. It takes him half an hour to fix the soup just right after which my older son sits down for a bowl full.

I'm done packing lunch so I say. "Let's go now."

It is 1:00 pm. We take off for the zoo. As soon as we enter, there is a carousel which my older son wants to ride. We go up to it and I buy shamelessly expensive tickets. We take a round. Dad shakes his head at our choice of animal to ride on. "You should have sat up front so I can take a picture," he cries from afar. I grin and tell myself not to get mad at him.

We decide we have to have a round two. I buy more horribly expensive tickets. My older son insists on perching on the same tiger. This time to please dad I sit myself and the baby on the animal closest to the  end so we can take a good picture. "You should have sat on the camel," he cries this time. "Much more room there!" Now I am gritting my teeth. There is no pleasing this old man of mine.

We get off and of course everyone is hungry. We walk down a find a shady spot. Sitting across from a beautiful snow leopard we eat our sandwiches and apple slices. Everyone drinks volumes of water. The fighter planes above us are flying lower and lower. I hand my older son a bag of m and m's since he is still hungry. I forget to tell him to save some for his younger brother.

Our water bottles are empty. "I'll get water," I say. "You look at the map, decide where we want to go next" I tell dad.

"Never mind the map," he says, "we are here to have fun."

I sigh and take the water bottles into the cafe that is simply bursting with people. There is no water fountain. I ask around and finally someone tells me that there is a small sink in the ice cream store where I can refill my bottles. I do when my son says he needs to use the toilet. I take him there and we make our way out.

We decide we need to see the wild cats. Luckily a gorgeous tiger has decided to forgo her nap and instead is posing for the crowd. She looks down at us and licks her chops. She is wondrous. No other cat is awake. We do see one jaguar's tail though.

My son spies a girl carrying cotton candy. "Can I have some?" he asks very nicely.

"Of course," I say--meaning if I find it and its on the way I will get you some. But I don't say that part. Just of course. In all these years, I still haven't realized that saying something like that is making a promise to a seven year old. We walk by a caricature artist. Now I have to have a caricature of my two year old since I have one of my seven year old at home. The planes are going completely wild. They are those blue nasty ones--worth twenty million a piece and they are screeching close to my ear. I am starting to get a small throb in my temple. The excitement of the air show is waning for me and my boys.

The artist starts to sketch my younger son. He sits nicely then suddenly sees the m and m wrapper in my older son's hand and demands his share. My older son has polished off the whole thing. My dad murmurs something about sharing and bad behavior. Then while my younger one hollers he goes off to buy more candy. I console my toddler while giving my older one an earful about sharing. He is close to tears and stands beside us looking very sorry indeed.

I buy the caricature, my dad arrives with the candy and we set off. We have seen two animals so far and its already close to 3. "You people don't know how to have fun," my dad says when I ask him the time and tell him that I want to head back before rush hour. "Everything is by the clock.." He tsks and shakes his head. This from the almost always grumpy, once upon an top executive who lived by the clock himself. I growl under my breath and we move on looking for giraffes.

My older son is very somber when we pass a second cafe. He quietly asks if he can still have the cotton candy. I feel bad for him. "Sure, I say." I tell my dad to go on and I'll follow. Dad moves on with the toddler. The cafe has no cotton candy. Go by the cafe near the entrance, they say.

I leave. The frequency of planes has gone up by 200% as has the noise. My son complains about the cafe not having cotton candy. I tell him he is a spoilt child and that he is not even showing the slightest bit of interest in the animals. Then I start to storm towards my dad.

Dad wants to walk back by the lake. I am not sure I want to do that. "We go back the way we came," I say firmly. "I need to buy this one cotton candy." Finding that cotton candy has become an obsession. Why can't I let it go, I wonder. "And those planes are driving me crazy."

He quietly agrees muttering something about spoilt kids and eating too much candy. I let out a scream which luckily no one can hear because of the planes flying by.

My older son is now walking with his shoulders slumped and his eyes teary. He suddenly hugs me from behind and apologizes for being so bad. He says he doesn't want any cotton candy.

I hug him back. Maybe he is a trifle spoiled but he is not a bad little chap. I tell him we will keep looking and if we find some good, if not next time. That was all he needed. he nods happily.

It is now about 3:30. We go up to the entrance where there is a small train going round and round in small circles. My toddler goes wild with joy. We take a ride on the train then buy cotton candy, an ice cream and a coffee. Then as we watch the train the boys munch on cotton candy and ice cream. Dad and I share the coffee.

My dad says quietly, "Kids get hungry when outdoors--heck adults get hungrier when outdoors. He asks my older son if he is happy. My son nods joyously. My younger one is too entranced by the train to respond.

"We ate, we saw one tiger, one snow leopard and one jaguar's tail, we ate again," Dad says. "A successful day all in all."

We must have walked a total of 200 square yards in three hours. I laugh. He is right.

It has been a good day after all.

We dust off our hands and leave the zoo. "Lets walk by the river," I say.

I start to take a picture of him with the boys when Dad sees a rower in a canoe approaching us. "Wait until he is passing then take the picture," he says. My toddler is getting antsy in his stroller and my older son is doing handstands far too close to the water. But I smile and I wait for a couple minutes. When the rower is in the frame I click. Everyone smiles.

Then we stroll back home.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

How to make a million the very hard way. No the very very hard way.

I started writing this blog as part of an elaborate marketing plan hatched by my agent and me for the time when my first bok would sell and I would need a platform for readers to find me. The book didn't sell, my agent has lost interest in me but my blog limps along.

Over the years, I became sick and tired but used to getting rejections that I smiled and plowed through with courage from God knows where, holding back tears and hardening myself for more, for there were more and more rejections that came. Some pleasant, even praising, some short and scathing.  When I gave birth to my second son, I was done getting flayed because of my first book--a dear sweet book, a good book I insist. 

It was not easy but I decided to put it away. And I started work on my second. Now its almost done.

In the meantime Borders died and there now remains one bookstore for everyone from the likes of Stephen King to little ole me to sell to. Makes absolutely no business sense whatsoever to even try to do so. And so I have decided not to bother with the establishment that I am convinced is a dinosaur. 

I am no player in the social media arena but I know about its power. I know of the power of a well told and well placed word of mouth. 

Yes I wanted validation. I thought self publishing was for wimps. I thought it was for the people who didn't have the chops to make it through the battle field of traditional publishing. Thank goodness I am being proved wrong every single day.

I still want validation of course. Who doesn't. After spending long hours and years in a room, alone, not sure if you are wasting away your best years, you want someone who isn't your loved one to tell you it is worth it.

But would I rather not be doing this? No. I like telling stories, I like living with my characters, I like watching what they do under my direction. I like giving them faces. 
And I also like control.

In a few weeks, I will launch my book. And because it is the center of the world, I am going to start by launching it in London. I met my friend Charis who lives in London this afternoon and I asked her to be my sales agent in London. Charis is smart, pretty and knows everyone. I am going to give her a buck for every single book she sells. The book will sell for 1.99 which leaves me 0.99. This is more or less what a publisher would have given me anyway. 

Not long ago I spent many hours in the London tubes, on the throbbing London streets. I looked at really affordable ad spaces, I noticed how millions of people walk through the train stations every single day. Even if a fraction of them could be enticed to buy my book, a small fraction of them, at a price less than the cost of a bloody cup of Starbucks,then maybe just maybe I have a shot at something. Maybe small but maybe big too. I don't know why I feel like London is an easier target to tackle than say Chicago or New York. Maybe Indians are more well established in that society, maybe its because I speak the same language that they do there.

Or maybe its because of my faith in my friend.

Many steps to go before launch. First step. Charis has yet to read and like my book. That will happen next week. The reading bit that is. As for her liking it and then linking her lot with mine....well, I am used to rejections aren't I? 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Sunshine lady

There is a woman I know. Her name is Christine Grobart. She is blond, cute, has an infectious laugh and is funny, very funny.
I heard about her and met her a few times when our oldest sons went to the same preschool.
That was when I heard about her second born Tim--a little doll of a boy who was born with a rare heart condition.
I remember there was a fundraiser conducted for him a few years ago towards which I donated on a website and sent prayers and good wishes. Sadly, though, I hadn't made much of a personal connection with the Grobarts although I wished them and little Timmy well.
Soon we left for India.

When we returned and my son started school, many times we'd walk to and from school. Especially on bright sunny days. And on every one of those bright sunny days when I'd go to pick my son up after school, there would be Christine sitting under this shady tree outside the school building along with her cherub of a baby girl and Tim fooling around with his bright pink stroller, all waiting for Christine's oldest.
And as if attracted to a honey pot would be around her like a small swarm of bees, other moms and babies.
The laughter under this tree was loud, the mood sunny. And at the center of it all was almost always Christine--saying bright hellos to all, telling stories, laughing.

And to this I began to look forward. If there was no Christine under the tree the day was most likely a rainy or dull one. If she was there, it was anything but.

She became sunshine lady. I looked forward to running into her, sharing some laughs, basking in the bright day, even if it was only for a few minutes. For as soon as the bell rang and the kids began streaming out, the spell would break and it was time to go home.

Christine truly is an inspiration for her positive attitude, her being able to laugh about dealing with Tim's condition, staring life in the face. And often even making fun of it all.

Please if you are reading this, consider visiting her blog (link below). And please also consider making a donation towards the Grobarts' efforts to give Tim the best possible medical attention he can get.


I hope I have told Christine how much she brightened my days this past fall, especially since I was often in dark places pondering the wisdom of my decision of choosing to return to the US after spending a year back in India. And just those few minutes spent laughing with her and her swarm of bees was therapeutic.

It is unfortunate how often we don't tell people how much we admire them.

And so I am saying this now...Christine, you inspire me to be brave and smile and laugh. It is always a pleasure to run into you and your kids and to share in the banter.

I hope to keep doing so as brighter days beckon...

From Christine's blog:

Tim suffers from a rare heart condition in which the lower half of his heart operates in reverse. Instead of the stronger half of his heart pumping blood to his body, it is serving his lungs. And the weaker half is working in overdrive to pump blood to his body. Tim also was born with other heart defects. A hole in his heart was repaired when he was just 5 months old. During that same surgery, a pacemaker was installed to remedy an irregular heartbeat

For more please visit:


Monday, February 20, 2012

The blessings of bad skin and frizzy hair

I turn 40 this year.

I already have people asking if I feel old, people are calling me middle-aged. But it all skims off my back like an omelette off teflon.

Ask me why. Because of bad skin and frizzy hair.

I didn't always have bad skin and copper strand like hair. Just in my prime--the time girls are at their prettiest--those late teen years and twenties when the skin can be sometimes problematic but can also be at its most glowing and hair at its thickest and shiniest. When no matter what, just being young makes you look good.

Not me though. I had sun damaged skin ever since I can remember. I had hyper-pigmentation--dark patches--on several parts of my face and then some hypo pigmentation--light patches--on other parts. I was quite the soccer ball. The longer I stayed in the sun--which is sort of impossible to avoid living in India--the worse I looked. People called me smart and confident but seldom pretty. I got used to it. Mostly people looked at me with sad expressions examining all my various patches--tsk tsking at my misfortune. Asking why I had such awful skin, sympathizing, shaking their heads.

It wasn't all bleak. There was one small blip of ego boost I had. It happened on a trip to Germany at age 19. For three weeks there I was called pretty, beautiful, exotic. It was awesome. Surreal. And it gave me the confidence to go on for the next few years at college where I was surrounded by nubile beings by the dozen all with clear skin they didn't have to hide or explain away. And hair they could toss and run their fingers through. Me? If I ran my fingers through my hair, they'd stop after the first inch or so. The humidity made my already frizzy hair a positively razor sharp ball of copper wire.

These nubile maidens got dozens of roses for rose day and friendship day and what have you. I think I got one in my four years in college. But I learned to accept my fate as the one who may not be pretty but the owner of one or two other redeeming qualities.

Those prime years passed. I made pilgrimages to dermatologists. Upon their advice, I changed my religion to sunscreen. The effects were an oily shiny skin that only my sweetheart seemed to think attractive --bless his heart. Give it time, I was told, your skin will improve.

Fifteen years later--in my thirties, I found my skin improved. Vastly. And magically, I discovered hair products that transformed my hair to curly from frizzy. Thank you Ouidad.

It had taken years but finally, I had arrived. Pregnancy reduced my thick storm of hair to a sad mousy tail but at least I had the Ouidad gels to mask that. My skin continued to improve. Yes the years advance and if the only way isn't up anymore, at least it is sideways...for a while...

I sail into my forties therefore not at all unhappy for being older. I'm wiser thank heavens. My anger and angst have dimmed. And thanks to my two boys my sharp edges have been reasonably blunted.

Hey on my good days, I'm even called pretty.

As far as I am concerned, the only way is up!