An old post and A lesson in humility

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It was my very first post. I worried that it would send the wrong message. I did not want my blog to be about race or skin color or any of those things. I wanted to talk about children and parents, my child and my parenting. In the most universal way possible. And yet here I was, with a brand new blog and a brand new post with two “color” words in the title. I published it anyway, and hoped other parents would see the “universal”-ness behind it. It really was about insecurities that children feel so easily; and how we as parents have this incredible superpower to make them feel safer and stronger. I created 23 drafts before publishing it, and then updated it several times after that!

I did manage to get several hundred hits, and even a few comments that were encouraging and uplifting. But it was all pretty low-key until I sent it to Medium and they agreed to pick it up for their “Human Parts” imprint. Suddenly people were tweeting it, recommending it, liking it. And then the comments started to pour in. As every blogger knows, the 5 seconds before you open a comment are nerve-wracking.  You imagine the worst, what if it is an angry or hateful comment? What if it is criticism you are not ready to hear?
But there was no anger or hate. My cynicism has been severely tested in the last few weeks! The feedback I received was unexpected and surprising in ways I had never imagined:
1) Several parents from the Indian/Indian-American community wrote to say they can relate. Nothing surprising there.
2) A few comments came in from the African-American community – this was also not supsrising.
3) Two people from African countries responded. This was very surprising because I did not know I had an audience there! The comments continued to be along the lines of “yes we go through the same thing”.
4) A few parents from the hispanic community chimed in. There was a lot of conversation here about the “accent” complex that hispanic children develop.
5) I thought that was about it, until I started hearing from an expected group of people – people I assumed wouldn’t have to worry about this particular aspect. In other words, people referred to as “caucasians”. And in the most unexpected turn of events, they were also telling me that they could relate! Their stories were about themselves as well as their children. They talked about their own insecurities with pale skins, and worried that their children are growing up wanting fake tans. They wished their own parents had had this conversation with them. They told me about fears that transcend hair or skin color – the pressures of social media, about bullying, about gender stereotypes.

It was an overwhelming experience over all, and I came away with a few epiphanies worth sharing:

1) All parents worry about the exact same thing. Maybe the context is different, maybe the parenting styles are different, but we all want our children to grow into happy, well-adjusted adults. That really is all there is to it.
2) We are more alike than different. That is an over-simplification, but it’s true. Unfortunately, it’s a truth that is almost impossible to embrace. Everything in my environment seems to be aimed at clouding that view – the news, the mommy wars, pop-culture, stereotypes – everything is telling me that we are doomed to a future of conflict and differences. After all, I wanted my post to appeal to “everyone”, but I was still surprised that there were so many different kinds of people who could relate to it. But like it or not, we are all the same – in more ways than one.
3) Words are more powerful than you think. Millions of bloggers are throwing out simple words every day and it is all making a difference. You may not see it, but what you write is out there, making its way into people’s lives and affecting them. It is an incredible responsibility.
I have had the unexpected honor of knowing that I have been able to touch people’s lives with my words. As far as I know, it was all positive – it gave people hope, it made them nostalgic, it even made some people happy. And I hope I can always do that. I hope I can generate conversations, even arguments, but within a framework of kindness and acceptance.
When we were mouthy teenagers, my mom loved to throw this metaphor at me and my brother “Words are like mustard seeds, once they fall you cannot gather them back”. As always, I hate admit it, but my mom was right!

Musical Journeys, East and West – Cultural exposure and children

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A few weeks ago, we spent a good thirty minutes taking stock of the cultural situation in our lives. More importantly, the amount of Indian culture my daughter is exposed to. The alarming conclusion – almost zero.  There are many ways to “teach” culture, and I have always felt that the most effective way to narrate heritage is through music, language and food.  Let’s asses: Continue reading

Courage, Fear, Safety And Things In-between

As a little girl I was obsessed with climbing trees. It was an odd thing to look forward to every morning. But that is what loved. There were plenty to choose from in my neighborhood, and once I had mastered one tree I moved on to the next, more challenging one. My favorite one was a guava tree. The best fruits hung from the top most branches and I did everything I could to get every last one of them before the other kids did. Continue reading

Letters To A Dancing Star – Trophies and Milestones

Introduction

Age: 5 to 7 Months

Numbers have never meant so much. We measure, we calculate, we track – our celebrations and despair have become entirely numeric. Continue reading

8 Tips For New Bloggers (Or “Infinite Wisdom For The Weary Newbie”!)

1) Audience is everything. You must know your audience and write for them and nurture them. But there is a certain target audience you may have lost sight of. For inexplicable reasons, they will like everything you write and share it and favorite it. Remember to engage with them at least once a week. This weird demographic Continue reading

‘How To Blend Spices’ And Other Life Lessons From My Mother

 

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I stand in our shiny new kitchen in our little corner of suburbia, and chop the red peppers with a less-than-satisfying Ikea knife. It’s Sunday – cooking day. My daughter, who is almost 5, sits on the bar stool across from me and is concentrating hard on the “problems” at hand. Her father has given her some Continue reading

‘Such A Girl’ And Other Outdated Phrases

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1) ‘Such a Girl’

My daughter is almost 5, she is the COO of our house, and she loves pink. I am not going to allow anyone to shame her for that. She lives her life without apology or explanation. She loves the princess clothes but thinks Barbie is too boring. She holds these and other views Continue reading

#1000Speak Nature and Nurture – What can I take credit for?

 

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Nature: “the basic or inherent features of something”

Nurture: “the process of caring for and encouraging the growth or development of someone or something.”

My daughter is 4, and she is our only child. This means every piece of attention her father and I can spare zones in on her. She has no competition; there is no Continue reading

8 tips that will make you the ‘expert’ tourist in India, even before you go!

Before you leave:

1. Pick your destination well. There are some standard destinations that every tourist will aim for: Delhi (because it’s the capital and because the Taj Mahal is almost next door), Goa (beaches), Rajasthan (because its tourism heaven), States up north/Himalayas (extreme sports). If this is the only trip you ever expect to make, any one of those destinations will give you a good snapshot of one small corner of India. But if you have the will and ability to choose, try something different. Head south. Very few people seem to think of southern states as “touristy”. Two alternatives (there are many, but these are my favorites):

  • My husband is from Kerala. It is appropriately called ‘God’s own country’. It is beyond beautiful and you can take in all the ethnic wonders in a true state of relaxation. If I ever retire in India, this is where it would be.
  • If you do head to Goa, take one of the popular side trips south to Karnataka and you will be elbow deep in historical beauty going back thousands of years.

Wherever you go, make sure you see more than one place. Each state is a country in itself, with its own language, food, culture, mannerisms, clothes, jewelry, history, etc. Going to one city in India and saying you have had a full Indian experience is like saying “I have been to Paris and seen all of Europe”.

2. Do you know an Indian family with relatives in India? Great! See if they can host you for a home cooked dinner one night. The food that you eat in Indian homes is something you will never find in any restaurant, not even in India. And you could spend a valuable two hours gaining insider knowledge of the city/town/state.

3. Ask yourself why you picked India as your next vacation destination. Do not prepare for an ordeal. Do not start your trip by telling yourself India is crowded and dirty and full of poor people. It is, but that doesn’t mean your vacation isn’t going to be fantastic.

4. Plan at least 6 months ahead. Getting a tourist visa to India is about as easy as finding a spot on the next mission to Mars. The intricate steps and details are worthy of a whole other future post.

When you are there:

5. Dos:

A. When you walk into someone’s home or a temple take off your shoes at the door.

B. Modern India is easy to navigate in terms of mannerisms, greetings etc. Almost everyone will shake hands, say “hi’ etc. But if you meet someone who is not comfortable shaking hands (especially true of older women), the standard “Namaste” with your hands folded is good enough.

C. Travel by train. It’s the best way to see the nooks and crannies of rural India.

D. If you are visiting a touristy place, you will invariably see a little child outside vending something (toys, artifacts). As long as it is not food, buy something and don’t bargain. It may be a fake, it may be useless but you are helping out a kid who is trying to make an honest living. As a corollary, see 6E) below.

E. Talk about politics. For one thing people love to get worked up about politics and politicians, and the discussion is guaranteed to get lively and philosophical. You also get a lot of insight into how the civic system works (or doesn’t work) for the people. You will hear about the good and the bad, the victories and frustrations.

F. Ask about cricket (play a game or two on the streets if you can). This is even better than talking about politics! And be prepared to see alarming displays of fanaticism if there is a prospective match with the neighbors (Pakistan).

G. Shop. An outfit you buy for $15 in India will cost you about $85 in an Indian store in Edison, NJ. If you are buying from local artisans, do not bargain. In larger malls, by all means haggle your little heart out!

6. Don’ts:

A. Don’t worry about learning the language, almost everyone speak English, or at least understands it.

B. Avoid raw foods if you can. Stick to hot, well-cooked dishes.

C. Don’t drink tap water; don’t trust the bottled water in smaller restaurants.

D. Don’t worry too much about people staring at you. People are not being rude, they are curious about someone who looks different.

E. When your taxi stops at a major intersection you will be overwhelmed with people begging for money. The sight is gut wrenching – crying children, disabled men, mothers holding babies, etc – don’t give them any money, You will not solve poverty in India by enabling them for another day. But you can make a difference by donating to the many nonprofit organizations that work to ease the conditions of such people.

F. Don’t treat poverty like it is a tourist attraction: Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you must take a tour of the slums to understand the “real” India. There is no real or fake India. It is all out there on full display without apology. “Slum tourism” is exploitative and pointless. Unless you work for a non-profit that has tasked you with taking pictures, there is no earthly need for you to take photographs of beggars and slum dwellers.

G. Don’t watch Bollywood movies just for the experience, it’s a huge waste of 3 precious hours. The Cineplexes look exactly like they do here, and all the popular Hindi movies are released to US screens at the exact same time as in India.

7. Safety tips (true for men and women):

  • Don’t take public transportation unless you are with a trusted local. If you are a woman, don’t take public transportation, period.
  • Don’t travel anywhere late into the night.
  • Don’t hitch hike or accept rides from anyone who is not a licensed taxi driver.
  • Being curious and adventurous is great, but within reason. You cannot pitch a tent on the side of a random highway and expect that nothing bad will happen.
  • How should you dress? Use your common sense. You do not have to cover yourself from head to toe, but as in any foreign country, err on the side of caution.
  • One extra note of caution for women (and it hurts to say this, but it’s the unfortunate truth): you will often encounter men who will stare, say something inappropriate – you can almost feel the visual undressing. Even from a distance this will be degrading and humiliating and you will want to react. Your safest option is to walk away. Forget everything you have learnt about “standing up for yourself”, walk away and find safe harbor. That said; remember that not all men in India are rapists and misogynistic.

8. A little bit of perspective will go a long way in making this the best vacation of your life. As you step through the crowd, noise, dust and fight for street space with cattle, it is sometimes hard to forget that you are walking in the land that (among other things)

  • was home to a civilizations almost 5000 years ago
  • is the site of the world’s first “university
  • is the birth place of 0 as a numerical concept.

Letters To A Dancing Star – Listen To Your Heart, Always

Introduction

Date: March 1, 2011

Age: 9 Months

You sleep on your back without a care. We call it “wild abandon”. The blanket has been thrown off to the side, your hands are above your shoulders and your bow-shaped lips have a perpetual half-smile. I place my hand on your tiny chest and feel the vibration travel up through my wrist, clenching my heart with a vise-like grip. Your heart beats almost twice as fast as mine – twice as happy, twice as energetic, twice as important. It is soft and gentle, but imperative. Continue reading