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  • Someplace Else
  • September 19, 2014 07:00:59 AM

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Impact of digital technology on culture. Books, travel and family tales.

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Mother’s Day Appropriate: The Forest of Enchantments

I’ve read a couple more books from Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, and also know that she’s a prolific writer in that there are so many more to read. Each time I read her books, it reminds me that truth is multi-faceted. My own mental health dilemmas and therapist made me learn the language around our incessant ... Read moreMother’s Day Appropriate: The Forest of...

I’ve read a couple more books from Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, and also know that she’s a prolific writer in that there are so many more to read. Each time I read her books, it reminds me that truth is multi-faceted. My own mental health dilemmas and therapist made me learn the language around our incessant need to find validity – in order to better accept our truths and feelings. The words we assign to these moments of conflict and self-doubt belong not just to us mortals but also to gods in their human formats. Divakaruni’s Sita is relevant today – as a wife, mother, and most importantly as the owner of her narrative and voice. It makes me see why being able to control your own narrative matters because no one sees it quite as you do.

There’s so much richness in these epics that it’s a pity if we end up seeing a unidimensional dumbed-down version on TV or street side Ram Leelas. These are stories with deep, evocative themes that make us more human. So, to bind them in morality and religion alone doesn’t do them justice. I grew up in a country and home full of stories from Indian mythology, so now reading these retellings is a natural connection. Divakaruni owns the female narrative in this space.

This mother’s day, I sat full of emotion and a hormonal rush. I felt like writing because sometimes that’s a disciplined way of airing out the feelings. But I’ve not processed them enough yet to talk them through. Mother’s day reminded me that once my ever-happy gynecologist asked me if I am enjoying motherhood. I didn’t hesitate from saying that it was hard in the beginning. I felt the need to add that now it’s beginning to get better, when all I really meant was that I need more sleep. Sleep is slowly beginning to happen but the loss of time for myself and as a couple is still so severe that sometimes I really do not enjoy things. And then feel intensely guilty for having thought that because it’s also true that having a child is nothing short of a miracle. But miracles can be tiring I guess? I actually don’t know if overthinking parenthood would have made me feel different because you can’t predict what you can’t. Each pregnancy feels different and children respond differently. No one would have predicted  pandemic parenting. Maybe like Urmila, I don’t need sleep but Yoga Nidra.


In Custody

Began this post in March, almost two months ago. And I’m continuing now because, life. In March I traveled to India for a month to be with my parents who continue to battle with their health. Now, back in Michigan, I feel like I don’t know where to start. I have so many open “projects” ... Read moreIn...

Began this post in March, almost two months ago. And I’m continuing now because, life. In March I traveled to India for a month to be with my parents who continue to battle with their health. Now, back in Michigan, I feel like I don’t know where to start. I have so many open “projects” that I feel I need to Marie Kondo my life at this point. I am not sure if it’s still the pandemic brain or if I am experiencing the childcare X parent care sandwich. But I feel like I am deeply in custody of this moment that feels overwhelming and never ending.

In March 2020, I was at a team outing at Pizza House in Ann Arbor. Sometimes it feels like I’m still in that moment, as a mother of a 5-month-old. Yet, everything that has transpired in the last two years has entirely changed me. Some of it is grief from illness, death, and the inability to connect as I desire  — including not being able to travel to meet my family overseas for over 3 years. A lot of it has been in my inability to respond with empathy and compartmentalize when I am going through something very hard myself.

In April 2022, I’ve moved to another job. My mother has just had a renal surgery, and my dad is on intense medication battling cancer. I’m here sitting thinking I am the worst toddler parent in the world. I am so tired that I don’t want to do anything except look at the list of things I have to do. Yet, with these feelings, I remember having the most normal conversation with a business owner sitting in the park outside Victoria Memorial (in Calcutta). And buying a French Peppa Pig coloring book in Paris while my toddler broke down into a massive tantrum. I traveled alone with him for 24 hours and that itself should be qualification for an award at all times, specially during a pandemic.

The ONLY thing centering me is books and Hindi films (Shah Rukh, naturally) that take me to times when reading on a couch and daydreaming for hours on end was possible. When I first read Anita Desai’s In Custody – I didn’t think it could play out like this in my life. But I can now see why Deven’s obsession, dissatisfaction, and whininess isn’t uncommon. Nur helps him push the gaze inwards. It’s what is inside him that he copes and fights with. Great books not only make characters personal, they make me reflect on my own life in uncomfortable ways.

I’ve also come a full circle in my thinking about the mundane existing of small towns. What is the humdrum and struggle in a large city worth? Does my life gain quality because I spent 4 hours in traffic with aggressive people and polluted air? I feel like my aspirations are changing as I validate my feelings and judge them less. And maybe that’s the silver lining of these two (and however many more) years.

in custody anita desai book

For now, I am off to journaling and finding ways to create the discipline to find time to do things.

 


Snow, Herath, and Nectar in a Sieve

Invariably on Herath — the festival celebrating Shiva’s grand wedding with Parvati, like a miraculous white Christmas, Pandits expected snow. During the Afghan rule in Kashmir, Jabbar Khan, the governor of the valley barred all Hindus from celebrating Herath in winter. Since they usually expected snow and worshipped a Shiv linga made of snow he ... Read moreSnow, Herath, and Nectar in a...

Invariably on Herath — the festival celebrating Shiva’s grand wedding with Parvati, like a miraculous white Christmas, Pandits expected snow. During the Afghan rule in Kashmir, Jabbar Khan, the governor of the valley barred all Hindus from celebrating Herath in winter. Since they usually expected snow and worshipped a Shiv linga made of snow he decided to kill the celebrations by asking them to celebrate in the summer. Anecdotes say that although it was Haar (summer), it snowed that year creating an often repeated moniker of Janda (ragman) for Jabar. It goes like this:

Wuchtan ye Jabbar Janda,
Haaras ti korun wanda

Look at this ragman Jabbar
He made winter out of the summer as well

Although I am in Michigan, it did not snow today. We’re very much in the middle of winter so I could expect it. But I didn’t think of it. I thought about recreating what Herath meant for me as a child growing up in Peerbagh, and cooked a few things. I did not however go through the two-hour Pooja rituals and nor did I clean the house with the intensity with which my grandmother and mother would attack the day. Then I felt intense guilt for not doing much and asked my husband why I wasn’t doing it despite no Jabbar in my life.

The only way to do more would be to take a day off. In a day full of back-to-back meetings, it’s hard impossible. I’m having a hard time disconnecting from the hamster wheel of parenthood and work. But I also lack the social push or family pressure to recreate everything. Yet, I have Shiva tattoed on my back for life. Will He save me, or the Vatuk that my baby and I offered loose sugar to instead of a Kand. I wonder what truly defines a community. Shared rituals or a need to preserve them blindly?

On a mildly related note, two nights ago, I dreamed of my grandmother sitting on a chair in what felt like a family gathering. She was enquiring and learning about my father’s illness. I was not in the frame but seemed to be listening in. I tried finding meaning to this and finally settled on my fear of the results of a blood test from a day before. Each night I tell Adi stories of Nana and Big Mummy, and I wonder how he’ll remember her, having never met her except for a photograph from my wedding dutifully pasted on a wall at home. Will he see her as a bapoo-giver to Nana or a safe space his mother keeps finding ways to go back to?

How there can be a place
so cold any movement saves you.
Snow, Naomi Shihab Nye – 1952


P.S. In book news, I finished reading Kamala Markandaya’s Nectar in a Sieve. I have so many feelings about it. Markandaya wrote this book in 1954 before both my parents were born. She was born in 1924 before both my grandparents were born. Unlike my grandmother, she went on to attend University and had a flourishing career as a journalist and author. She lived in privilege but her bestselling book shared the deep wounds of rural India post-independence. Several famous authors after that have hailed her for being relevant even in today’s time. Luckily her heroine is not a sacrificial goat but a survivor who feels grateful in all hands of fate she is dealt with. The West hailed Markandaya as a diverse voice bringing the stories of true India to the English reader. It’s how most Americans understood India. Now in 2022, I see her as a privileged voice speaking for people whose life she could not have fathomed. Rural has so much nuance to it everywhere, and among a billion people I question the authenticity of one urban woman’s broad-stroked narrative.


What We Call the Beginning is Often the End

What we call the beginning is often the end And to make and end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from… Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning… – Little Giddings, T.S. Elliot As I absorb this, it feels like Elliot borrowed from nature and Indian ... Read moreWhat We Call the Beginning is Often the...

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from…
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning…

– Little Giddings, T.S. Elliot

As I absorb this, it feels like Elliot borrowed from nature and Indian mythology. In 2011 on my birthday I got a celebratory tattoo to invoke Shiva, the God of death, and endings, in order to create space in my life for new beginnings. What the Swedes call döstädning or death cleaning often speaks to me ritually too. These days I see myself actively wanting to let go of junk in the closets to find elusive space. I see myself dreaming of clean desk space. Two years of couch work are getting to me. I am ready to honor my new life with tangibles that make space to create. And then there’s the question houseplants and dedicated light – both of which I have lost and miss in the present.

Freezing midwinter February needs to be called out differently in the midwest. I feel like my soul is frozen now, and the darkness is eating up what’s left. For the last several weeks, it’s been a rare hour when the temperature may seem close to a tepid 30 (ZERO C).  I rub my hands in order to generate heat but also to feel ready to close twenty open tabs in my head. When will this end? Will the summer ever come back?

Meanwhile, there’s movement on the media front that enables winter survival.

the Beginning is Often the End

* Books I’ve been reading*

  • Continuing the year with paper books, I’ve recently read the Turner House by Angela Flournoy. Delish with a special wow if you know Detroit. What a great debut!
  • I have also continued to steal my husband’s reads, and read my first translation this year — The Little Virtues by Natalia Ginzburg (originally in Italian). He said it’s written for us – parents. There’s a lot that speaks to me personally, and there’s a lot I don’t relate to but take note of. It’s hard to decipher if it’s her casual observations or if it’s the articulation of subtle idiosyncrasies that I find more charming. There’s such a melancholic and intimate tone to the essays. The last essay on parenthood feels like a guidance book in ten pages that I need to know and revise every day. I wish I knew some Italian to bring myself closer to the words.

* Films *

  • Don’t look up: Maybe I am not such a futurist, but this film really made me realize, it’s how I think the world will end. It also made me think of tech bros even more despicably than I thought possible. Ishan Khattar was a fun addition, I liked that he represented a billion people randomly, haha! I still can’t sustain Jennifer Lawrence. I still want to know why they chose Michigan State. And literally, no one says, I’m in Lansing, Michigan, if they are in East Lansing. It’s the same as saying, I am in New York, New York.
  • Gehraiyaan: Naseeruddin Shah lights up the screen in 5 minutes and I want to see more. I found SC very fun. I thought the women acted like themselves. I find this particularly true of Deepika who feels like Deepika in every urban movie I see her in. In general, I am at a different place personally compared to the time I saw Cocktail (I found it supremely frivolous). I appreciate the foray into showcasing mental health struggles. The last 30 minutes felt intense, so I ended up feeling fine with the movie. I also found myself actively hating every shot with a wave which felt like a random addition to justify the title.

In other news, my husband gifted me a new polaroid. This means, my cell phone days are ending as I begin a new journey figuring out a polaroid film camera. Analog is the new digital. Love is meeting me where I am.


Our 30s are the decade where friendship goes to die

The pandemic has taken all my leftover extraversion out of me. My husband would tell you, I am not an extrovert, to begin with. This is perhaps true – I am a very talkative introvert and not gregarious at all. But I belong to a very loud family of Kakroos talking incessantly. Things do shift ... Read moreOur 30s are the decade where friendship goes to...

The pandemic has taken all my leftover extraversion out of me. My husband would tell you, I am not an extrovert, to begin with. This is perhaps true – I am a very talkative introvert and not gregarious at all. But I belong to a very loud family of Kakroos talking incessantly. Things do shift if I am in a crowd I don’t know well though. The truth is that the 30s have been so hard that, I’ve not had the time or patience to deal with small things that make me stay over-friendly or make new friends. Truly, the 30s are the decade where friendship goes to die (thanks, Lydia Denworth).

Within a pandemic, I dream of a house with high ceilings, close to the woods, with a sunny porch and fursat to write, or just let the day go on snuggled up with a book. I am not excited by the humdrum of crowded streets. I miss travel and yet prefer airlines with 50% of the crowd. So, maybe, the pandemic is really showing me what I truly care about? But it’s also true that I find the idea of meaningful connections truer than ever before. Hello, old/future friends in forest hikes.

In other news, I finished reading Megan Moss’s extraordinary/ unputdownable book – Sorrow and Bliss. Admittedly, I fall asleep even with the best audiobooks, but with a paper book — the true friends of my childhood, I simply can’t cheat. And this book is going to stay in my mind a whole lot more than I was prepared for. We’re so often weaving tarnished threads together to make our messy, imperfect lives. It’s so easy to believe that what’s happening to us is special. Yet, the similarity of experiences building our common humanity is so large, often invisible when we’re so close to our own shit. There’s magic in being able to share this, and maybe that’s all life is about.


My Intention Today Is to: Show Up For Myself

I’ve started this year with three hours in the ER waiting for COVID results (negative eventually, so far) and the diagnosis of an ear infection for my toddler. And although it’s only the 11th day of January, March 2020 v3 continues unabated. We have had canceled events, postponed health appointments, family COVID cases, family illnesses, ... Read moreMy Intention Today Is to: Show Up For...

I’ve started this year with three hours in the ER waiting for COVID results (negative eventually, so far) and the diagnosis of an ear infection for my toddler. And although it’s only the 11th day of January, March 2020 v3 continues unabated. We have had canceled events, postponed health appointments, family COVID cases, family illnesses, and a severe allergy to work with. We’re not even halfway through the month yet. It’s hard to say what’s different now compared to the last two years. Sometimes, I don’t quite know how to cope.

The intentionality of showing up for myself

I did an online Yoga class a couple of days ago (it’s anyone’s guess if I can stay motivated) where the teacher asks everyone to set an intention for the practice. The hardest thing is to show up on the mat. The practice itself generates enough endorphins to sustain itself, but it’s getting started that’s hard. As a mother sometimes my day, my mind, and my body all feel unavailable to me. It’s as if I’ve become a shared resource for my toddler. There are a few things that I do just for myself. Yoga and reading are those for me at this moment. So, it felt appropriate that despite the sh*tstorm the world is right now, I needed to show up for myself, intentionally.

Reading Lists

This year I started reading two books (one on Dec 31, so last year technically as you see below) that have been allowed me the mental space to think about life, decay, aging, death, loss, grief, moving on, and things that lie in between. I’ve also started reading paper books, to begin with, which just feels like a more present way of allowing words to seep in. I find myself distracted on walks with books. This feels old school and more even-paced. It takes me back to childhood feelings of wanting to curl up with books on a couch. I’ve lost all my books, but that feeling has sustained itself.

Dear Edward – Ann Napolitano:  It’s a fascinating premise and story set in a tragedy that lends it cinematic qualities. It’s quick-paced and interesting in its layout and shifting narratives. I read it quickly in a week all evenings with pleasure. But it’s not a book that is etched in my heart. And that’s only because the premise itself makes it page-turner but the writing somehow lags behind.

Last year in 2021 (better known as March 2020 v2), I heard mostly audiobooks, except Lahiri and Yun. Here’s what my list included:

  1. Whereabout – Jhumpa Lahiri: I felt it just ended abruptly. It didn’t satisfy me entirely — like the protagonist’s year in therapy. Maybe I wanted some written word to punctuate what happens next or answer nuanced questions that arose slowly. It also lacked wild optimism and centered itself on spartan, realistic living. Two (plus one) years into the pandemic may be the reason for this, but at this point, I don’t mind wild, unbridled joy instead. No matter how I feel about the content though, Lahiri never fails to live up to her craft — especially her editing, so it’s always a tasteful read.
  2. Untamed– Glennon Doyle: There’s a lot there to digest, in a good way ;
  3. Less – Andrew Sean Greer : I began slow but ended up really liking everything about it;
  4. Between Two Kingdoms– Suleika Jaouad: I did not listen to the ending fully, it also felt like I don’t want to hear about more cancer. But she really is a good writer. ;
  5. A Place for Us – Fatima Farheen Mirza: I REALLY enjoyed it and I hope she writes a sequel ;
  6. The Four Winds – Kristin Hannah: This I had to stop listening to, it got too depressing in the pandemic ;
  7. Love is an Ex-Country – Randa Jarrar: Very unique but maybe just an audiobook? ;
  8. Britt-Marie Was Here – Fredrik Bakman: Really delightful, somehow ;
  9. Daisy Jones & the Six – Taylor Jenkins Reid: Loved it ;
  10. The Ten Thousand Doors of January – Alix E. Harrow: Loved ;
  11. The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky: The movie doesn’t do it justice. The book is good! ;
  12. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous – Ocean Vuong: It’s intense and will make you rethink everything you feel. ;
  13. The Silent Patient – Alex Michaelides: I hope they make a film of this. What a fun thriller! ;
  14. Inner Sky– Mari Andrew: Sensitive, like you expect Mari to be – here ;
  15. The Henna Artist– Alka Joshi: What a stunning debut ;
  16. Hunger: Roxane Gay: Her talent as a persuasive writer is clear ;
  17. Love, Loss, and What We Ate: Padma Lakshmi here  (pass) ;
  18. Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng here (stunning) ;
  19. The Vanishing Half – Brit Bennett here (exceptional) ;
  20. Caste – Isabel Wilkerson: Worth reading once
  21. Some are always hungry – Jihyun Yun: The one poetry book on this list, totally worth it! ;

I hope to get to more books this year!

Maybe this year will turn. I’m going to pretend it’s not fully begun yet.


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