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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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6 Months And a Lifetime In Therapy

Six years ago when we moved to the United States, I was finding my way through this country as a new immigrant fresh off the plane from India via Germany. On some days when I really struggled (which now feels trivial, though I still remember a few aspects), I told my husband that I should ... Read more6 Months And a Lifetime In...

Six years ago when we moved to the United States, I was finding my way through this country as a new immigrant fresh off the plane from India via Germany. On some days when I really struggled (which now feels trivial, though I still remember a few aspects), I told my husband that I should see a therapist. Half-jokingly he said, what a great way to integrate myself in this new culture. I began seeing a therapist in January 2021 in the pre-daycare/pre-vaccine pandemic.

Six months ago on her birthday on May 5, my grandmother died of misinformation and COVID-19, so it all made sense. I thought about cheesy email forwards (before messengers) which declared people enter your life for a reason. I had saved my life for the therapist to show up four years after I nearly died, three years after a miscarriage, nearly two years after giving birth on an isolated island (just with my husband), and almost a year after a pre-pandemic night of screaming between two underslept parents. I am not fully over that night. Or the night 31 years ago when we left home in a truck. It felt like it was time to schedule an hour to talk about things I didn’t want to talk about.

I’ve discovered a few things in the meantime:

  • My flaws make me human
  • I am not chill and always overthink
  • Sometimes, I feel I’m not fully open with my therapist or say what she wants to hear- but she and I both know the act
  • I’m constantly focused on family, and pay less attention to friendships
  • Frequently, I suffer from self-doubt (a step up from low self-worth in my 20s)
  • Boundaries in personal life are hard for me
  • My grief shows up in many different ways: anger, hurt, pain, crying, silence, lack of motivation, constant feelings of being overwhelmed, bitterness, fear, compulsive behaviors, stress, lack of sleep, and confrontation. I keep it locked inside in hopes of using healing time and it comes out bursting through the seams. Because time doesn’t process emotions, I do.
  • I grieve things, places, and people. Loss comes with many subtle or big changes.

With my grandmother, my grief feels physical, like today, when I’m unable to swallow my own spit without my throat hurting for a gargle with the bicarbonate of soda or sips of mogil chai. I’ve been told it lasts a year, and that gets me mad. Because I can’t live on a timetable with my feelings, and it feels like my feelings are being invalidated. I was listening to Doyle’s Untamed recently, and a quote really resonated with me:

“It’s okay to feel all of the stuff you’re feeling. You’re just becoming human again. You’re not doing life wrong; you’re doing it right. If there’s any secret you’re missing, it’s that doing it right is just really hard. Feeling all your feelings is hard, but that’s what they’re for. Feelings are for feeling. All of them. Even the hard ones. The secret is that you’re doing it right, and that doing it right hurts sometimes.”

I did not know, before that woman told me, that all feelings were for feeling. I did not know that I was supposed to feel everything. I thought I was supposed to feel happy. I thought that happy was for feeling and that pain was for fixing and numbing and deflecting and hiding and ignoring. I thought that when life got hard, it was because I had gone wrong somewhere. I thought that pain was weakness and that I was supposed to suck it up. But the thing was that the more I sucked it up, the more food and booze I had to suck down.”

― Glennon Doyle, Untamed


A Piece of My Broken Heart : Gowri Shouri Kakroo

On May 5, 1930, in Mallikangan, Fateh Kadal, Srinagar, Tarawati Bakshi (Razdan) gave birth to her only girl, Gowri Shouri. This little girl’s father, Dayaram Bakshi was posted in Gilgit at that time, and with work and road closures was only able to see his baby girl six months after she was born. Despite growing ... Read moreA Piece of My Broken Heart : Gowri Shouri...

On May 5, 1930, in Mallikangan, Fateh Kadal, Srinagar, Tarawati Bakshi (Razdan) gave birth to her only girl, Gowri Shouri. This little girl’s father, Dayaram Bakshi was posted in Gilgit at that time, and with work and road closures was only able to see his baby girl six months after she was born. Despite growing up in a family of means, Gowri was not schooled, and married off at age 12, as was the societal norm at that time. Wearing a Pashmina saree, she married  Kashinath Kakroo, of Zaindar Mohalla, Srinagar on a cold December morning in 1942. 

As a child bride, she traveled with her in-laws, and in a local fair, was permitted to eat pork pickle, while also being allowed to tattoo her hand. A minimal almond on the back of her hand between her thumb and forefinger, and a religious Om on her wrist, both in black ink. Her husband’s job took her around the state several times with changing homes and cities from Srinagar, Jammu to Batot where she carried six pregnancies, birthed four children, and decided to name her three sons – Kaka, Buti, and Pappu after another tenant’s children while wishing for her own. 

The entire family eventually landed in Peerbagh where they built their home, a kitchen, and a rose garden. Her husband was a man of many moods. He was gentle but also famously known for getting upset. The way he fought was often by just offering the ‘silent treatment.’ In the morning, he ate rice with curry in the kitchen before leaving for work. At that time in the morning rush, he often didn’t care about taste and made no complaints. In the night, however, at 9 pm for dinner, he would often start off a complaining tirade, from not enough salt to no taste. As a girl who grew up with agency, and a strong sense of self-worth, Gowri did not show up with food for her husband on her own for a year-and-a-half, but always sent someone else with his thaal. During some other disagreement, they once had a month and a half of no conversation. In this time, as a homemaker, she expertly managed the kids and ran the house while he continued to hand her money by putting it in the kitchen or directly depositing it in her blouse, never telling her the amount, but making sure she had enough. In the end, several such non-communicative fights would break by him exasperated and offering, “payi tse macchi (may the house flies attack you).” Gowri held these moments in pride, and always maintained that bagwan rachin (may God save us), they never had fights.

Although she had an early marriage, and hiccups like being sent home for six months when someone at her in-laws complained about her singing too loudly during a wedding, Gowri loved her husband while holding her own. Her love found its expression in hand-knitted Pashmina sweaters, her children, and the way she sacrificed for his extended family. In happy times, he reciprocated with declarations like I’ll be with you for all my seven births. In October of 1990, after forty-eight years of being married to her, Kashinath died from a heart attack. His heart never recovered from being forced to leave his land, his rose garden, and home in Peerbagh due to the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits. As her final expression of tangible love for him, Gowri threw away her tekni into the Ganges in defiance while finalizing his last rites. What use was her horoscope when he was gone? 

In the thirty years that followed, Gowri continued to work thoughtfully with foresight, keeping her family closely bound together. She lost her brothers, friends, and her family shrunk, but she carried on with dignity, never being invisible as an older woman. She kept herself aware, was a mobile phone user, and was heard describing Facebook to someone younger. She was intelligent, liberal, and did not shy down from voicing her opinion. Even in anger, everything she said and did was passionate.  She was also a big proponent of self-love before it became fashionable. She ensured her feet retained their softness, and that her hair was tied up carefully after using her wooden kangany, and ensured that her baths went on for the exact hours that she wanted.

A series of unfortunate medical conditions led her to a very vulnerable condition during the pandemic. For someone who had not seen any major medical conditions for most of her life, she missed her independence and often did not enjoy reliance on anyone. She fought bravely but eventually lost her battle and breath on May 5, 2021, at 9:20 pm in a hospital in Ghaziabad. While flanked by her sons, the pandemic still posed significant challenges to her family being able to celebrate her life and grieve her loss. Her grandchildren spread all across the world in the middle of a pandemic FaceTimed their grief and cries. Maybe there’s gratefulness in the fact that her body went quickly and perhaps saved itself from too much pain. But the loss of life, a mother, a grandmother, a great-grandmother, and an overall boss lady feels unbearable. 

While her husband died from the want of his land, she struggled with the want of air. Perhaps as we let her go, and she crosses the Vaitarni, she’ll meet him again in heaven where land and air find a place together. In our memories, she’s forever alive. A piece of my broken heart that will never be whole again.

 


Feeling Scared, Doing Brave: India’s Pandemic Surge

There’s no silver lining to the pandemic. I am unable to find a great story to share at a time when I am struggling to process that one person is dying in India every 4 to 5 minutes. Let that settle in. Every family or person I know has cases of COVID and many people ... Read moreFeeling Scared, Doing Brave: India’s Pandemic...

There’s no silver lining to the pandemic. I am unable to find a great story to share at a time when I am struggling to process that one person is dying in India every 4 to 5 minutes. Let that settle in. Every family or person I know has cases of COVID and many people I know have died. In the near 40 years that I have been alive, I have never witnessed such a catastrophic health event anywhere. And definitely not at a global scale. I am tired, worried, and with my 8000-mile distance, listless. On some days I feel like I can no longer see. It feels like everything is physically hazy, with my mind on anxiety pills. How the hell did we let this happen?

To deal with this, I am busy doing things. My therapist said it’s a way to protect my emotions. She wants me to write about my grief in not having met my family in three years and trying to cope with or hope from a distance. But I am increasingly becoming numb. I am unable to feel the emotions. I’ve had a couple of breakdown moments and cried but it’s not the same as feeling the magnitude of what this fear and uncertainty is. I’m busy helping, donating, and volunteering. And I am afraid to face my own fears.


#SareesAndBooks: March Books, Pandemic Edition

From the beginning of March, my baby has gone back to daycare after a year. It’s so hard to write that actually – a whole year. I feel intense guilt and no matter how chirpy I sound to my therapist for sharing how this is a good thing for all of us, I don’t know ... Read more#SareesAndBooks: March Books, Pandemic...

From the beginning of March, my baby has gone back to daycare after a year. It’s so hard to write that actually – a whole year. I feel intense guilt and no matter how chirpy I sound to my therapist for sharing how this is a good thing for all of us, I don’t know if I truly feel like that. Sometimes I see an old photo of my baby and my heart feels intensely sad. How is he growing so quick? Do I let my mental tiredness come in the way of me being fully present with my child?

After handling a full-time job for so long with a baby, I just didn’t feel that I had any more energy. And he was beginning to think there are two people in the world. The pandemic was beginning to suck all the joy out of parenting and work. The ability to afford and find good childcare is a blessing, but like all things parenting, it’s easy to get on to a guilt trip and grieve small things that the pandemic took away or gave to us as a family on a timed basis.

The only thing saving me is consistent walks with my audiobooks, and reading in general. I’ve not posted here in a while, but here are my March books so far.

pandemic books in march

  • Hunger, Roxane Gay: This is a deftly written memoir, and I decided to read because Gay recently married Debbie Millman (who I love) and I was curious. It made me think a lot about things that are normalized in our media and culture that we don’t seem to question. It gave me the vocabulary and thoughts I seldom had as a child trying to process information around me. It feels like something I’d love for my children to read to grow up more humane, and understand how trauma can or does impact lives. Gay has a great ability to make everything sound so regular when it’s actually tragic in so many ways.
  • Inner Sky, Mari Andrews: I love Mari’s little drawings and this is the first book I’ve read from her. We all fight our own demons, and Mari does so with extreme sensitivity and gentleness. She is vulnerable and direct in her writing, and I can imagine that this is not an easy one to pen. It’s very personal but expressed in a way that is relatable like most of her creative work. My key highlight was Mari’s lovely documentation of the joys and sorrows of in-between times, like today, a year after the pandemic. It also has those cringe moments (for me at least) where she goes through her healing journey and chooses methods that I questioned. It’s not because I wouldn’t (or haven’t) tried things like these in dealing with my own issues, but it felt like I was judgemental in her talking about them. Maybe it’s because I haven’t fully processed some of those emotions on my own. Don’t know if that makes a lot of sense, but it’s a book that will speak to those who engage fully with her work.
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky: Just finished the audiobook and Noah Galvin deserves a lot of praise for narrating it so masterfully. I can’t wait to see the film, although, I’m sure it possibly loses some of its nuances in that medium limited by time. I enjoyed the book, and it does have the voice that’s inspired by Catcher in the Rye. It still holds its own and has an emotional arc that is suddenly accelerated toward the end. It all adds up but makes it a lot more tender than I was prepared for somehow. This book sneaks in on you.
  • The Silent Patient, Alex Michaelides: I really loved the twists and turns. The writing is fast-paced and feels well-researched which is a good ally for a book that almost reads technical in parts. But in this whodunnit kind of genre, it’s hard to believe that I could read it again – although I am very, very picky about reading anything again.
  • On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Ocean Vuong: Vuong is an incredible writer, and this book is very, very deeply felt. Although it’s just spring, I won’t be shocked if this is one of the best books I read this year. There’s so much to it from the immigrant experience to the Asian American characterization to survival amid a war, to deeply felt love and addiction. It’s the magnum opus of  Vuong’s life with very his intensely provocative and observant writing style. This is an incredible read especially in today’s times when the Asian American race tensions are so high.

I am now wondering what to pick next…


#SareesAndBooks 15: The Henna Artist

Alka Joshi is a debut novelist at 62. Women at any age are often made invisible, but brown women in their 60s are particularly not in the forefront of a literary revolution – although, there’s no reason for that not to happen. Patriarchy and societal structures often have ways to diminish some voices. Through her ... Read more#SareesAndBooks 15: The Henna...

Alka Joshi is a debut novelist at 62. Women at any age are often made invisible, but brown women in their 60s are particularly not in the forefront of a literary revolution – although, there’s no reason for that not to happen. Patriarchy and societal structures often have ways to diminish some voices. Through her work, Joshi defies that stereotype. The Henna Artist is a well-written book and shows me the India my mother was born into, newly independent, exuberant, and positive- in the 1950s. It’s also a book with a female protagonist who finds agency while retaining her softer energy in a man’s world, like the author.

The Henna Artist book review

I read the book a few weeks ago in February, and let it marinate in my head a while. It’s a cinematic book creating bright visuals of newly independent India, as you go through it. Joshi’s background as an all-round creative (ad agency) is reflected in the aesthetic of the book. Not surprisingly, it will be made into a production for the screen, starring Frida Pinto (who I want to rediscover).

Considering Joshi is American, it is not surprising that her book touches on caste in a light way, informing, yet holding back on the more grueling nature of what it could represent. This doesn’t make it perfect, but it still allows it the nuance that can’t be ignored. Like so many of the unspoken social rules around class, gender, and caste. In a way, it let’s the story unfold itself organically not forcing a theme for the sake of it. It lets the reader in on an English-speaking, world-traveling Indian world which perhaps represents Joshi’s own background better than the ways the west looked at Indians in the 1950s. That’s refreshing and I haven’t read many books focusing on the optimism of those times from a woman’s lens (both the author and her protagonist).

Joshi is planning this to be a trilogy with a couple more books coming up in the series. I am interested. She has a uniquely hopeful voice that I enjoyed even more in this morbid pandemic time. I like it when books are able to do that.

Maybe one day when I’m 60, I’ll also remember writing the book that’s in me forever. Sometimes you have to see (or read) it to believe it.


#SareesandBooks – Everything That I Never Told You

13/50: Everything That I Never Told You (Celeste Ng) As a new parent struggling in the middle of a pandemic, this was a tough book to read. Apparently, Celeste Ng wrote it four times before the final draft was published. Lo and behold, it really does work. Both her books dig deep into race, parenting, ... Read more#SareesandBooks – Everything That I Never Told...

13/50: Everything That I Never Told You (Celeste Ng)

As a new parent struggling in the middle of a pandemic, this was a tough book to read. Apparently, Celeste Ng wrote it four times before the final draft was published. Lo and behold, it really does work. Both her books dig deep into race, parenting, motherhood, guilt, and all else that happens in the lives of those living at the borders of what’s normalized. Parenting within a biracial marriage can feel daunting, but you also realize how similar it can feel to any family.

The tug of war between the individual and what a parenting unit becomes together is all too real. So is the inherent impact things have on small children or their ability to sense without specifics. It scared me. I don’t know if there’s ever a perfect way, but this past year, I’ve struggled with more self-doubt bringing up a human that all my senses are attuned to this weird fear of doing something wrong.

This is a beautifully written book whether or not you’re a parent. Ng is a master crafter of human emotions, and I can’t wait for her to write more and pick up books that make me question everything that I ever knew, or did not observe before. Brace yourself for a deeply touching midwestern saga that will find its way to creep into your heart.

Everything that I never told you

14/50: Love, Loss, and What We Ate: A Memoir (Padma Lakshmi)

I didn’t know much about Padma except her left-leaning Twitter persona, and Top Chef stardom. So, in many ways, this book was simply a journey into her life as a model, a TV host, and an American who’s also Indian. After a point in the book, it felt like a response to various tabloid stories, and Padma sharing her side of controversies.

I heard the audiobook format (in her voice), and for the life of me could not understand how Padma could mispronounce Rushdie’s (her ex-husband) name. While I am no one to judge someone else’s authenticity, as an Indian who had no idea about the author’s life or style, and was trying the very best to listen, I found the writing very vacuous. It has been written for the Western reader and tries to give India this colorful, spicy image.

Lakshmi constantly harps upon her Brahmin identity. Self-awareness in itself is not wrong, but she doesn’t seem to see her entitlement or privilege as off-putting. There’s also a severe lack of research in that she generalizes her personal Brahmin experience as the truth (especially when it relates to food). This came in conflict with her self-portrayed left-leaning liberal stance in the United States. I mean, imagine saying, oh but white people only eat fish from lake Walloon, anything else is beneath them. Isn’t that weird? That’s how she sounds. I’ve decided to stay open to books this year, so I finished it. It didn’t merit much thought and was openly casteist (here’s a great review).

On to more reading now 🙂


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