Friday, December 25, 2009

End or re-birth of democracy?

This appeared in The South Asian Times today.

The government of Gujarat has recently adopted an interesting Bill that makes voting compulsory in local body elections thereby making it the first state in India to do it. Which means all registered voters in Gujarat will be required to vote. No excuses, no backing out. Sounds rather unsettling on the surface. Those absent will be asked to submit a valid reason with proof and if the reason ain’t valid, it could lead to suspension of benefits. Love the idea. Reminds me of middle school. Love the public and political reaction to it even more. Reminds me of college. Apparently this move has come as a way towards eradicating electoral irregularities. Oh and of course eradicating the black money that buys votes (which is not going anywhere, if you ask me). Modi optimistically has termed it a “historic move to strengthen democracy”.

Supporters are so happy that they think it should be extended to Assembly and Parliamentary polls too. Wishful thinking? You never know. The Election Commission doesn't seem too convinced though and has termed the idea ‘impossible’. But an appalling statistic reveals that a staggering 40% of the voter population (30 crores out of 70 crores) is a no show on the big day. And then we complain. And we complain. And we complain some more. It seems to have become our favorite pass time to not contribute where we can and later feel helpless when unpleasant situations crop up. Sure voting is our right, and it should be discretionary by its very nature but when that right is not exercised, can't it be enforced and what is so wrong if it does get enforced?

Needless to say, it has been the cause of a major national debate. Some believe democracy and compulsion do not go hand in hand. Others believe less stricter options like educating the voters should be considered. But that education, even if in its understated form has been ongoing for decades and the results are there for us to see. It's been the same strategy on auto play. Engage the youth, particularly school and college students, get them to do street plays, distribute literature in economically backward areas, give a few TV and radio interviews and then what? Status quo.

It’s not an innovative idea. Some 32 countries have done it before and have witnessed a steep increase in their voter turnouts. I see a number of good things about it. It can be looked upon as an essential step to tackle the decline in voting. It has the potential of bringing people’s attention to politics which translates into better informed voters. The outcome would be really representative of the masses and not just a segment of the society and ultimately it would lead to better quality of decisions.

Like any new proposal, it has a not-so-bright aspect to it as well. First off, you’re infuriating that certain percentage of people who neither care not understand politics. Making it compulsory for them might do no good. Also, a good amount may vote with no knowledge or information about any candidates which can skew the numbers. In some sense, it is a denial of people’s freedom.

How practical and useful this decision turns out to be, remains to be seen. But for now, more power to people!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Change on wheels

This appeared in The South Asian Times today.

Something about the world is changing. There’s snow on the streets in the perennially sunny state of California, the man who defines 'ideal' is now a playboy with 11 mistresses, Indian politicians have discovered this winter that we just do not have enough states in the country with crazy names, Kareena Kapur is being spotted wearing Kanjeevaram sarees and the apology of 2009 has come from pigs and not the president.

Change is good. Change is inevitable. Change is the only constant. We've all grown up letting those concepts make an impression on our frail minds. But today I ask, why change what is already the best, what is already ideal, what is just right? Different people, different answers. Boredom, lack of thrill, the desire to try something new or just plain simple look-n-learn approach. Tiger Woods would probably choose all of the above. Kareena, the same. Indian politicians, I still have to ask and I really hope its absurd logic so I can feel better about my suspicion. As for Obama, I doubt he'll get away without an apology at the end of the year unlike Bush. If not for healthcare reform proposals, if not for deploying more troops and delaying the exit timelines, if not for bringing over our friends from the Guantanamo Bay prison and dumping them in US, if not for being extremely prematurely elected for bagging the Nobel and even accepting it, he might just end up apologizing to those of us who truly live for fashion for making us live through his wife's fashion icon image.

Then I read a nice article lately by John Kehoe who teaches the Law of Constant Change. The Law states that everything in our life is in constant change, constantly in the process of becoming something else. Nothing stays exactly as it is. Nothing. Movement and change constitute the reality of our being. Our finances, our friendships, our career possibilities, our life opportunities, our health, our relationships, our daily activities, our insights, all are forever changing and becoming something else. Sure we all know that but how easy or hard it is to embrace change.

Changes in life are always followed by consequences. Some major, some minor, some inconsequential but consequences can bring instability that can be daunting. I hope drinking spicy tea and eating some chavanprash everyday can gear me up for chote mote adjustments in life!

On that note, the year is about to change soon. It’s almost 2010 and I wish all the readers of South Asian Times a great new year full of surprises, twists and turns. After all, what is the fun if you can predict it all?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Perfect Bride

This appeared in The South Asian Times today.

My appetite for television has reduced substantially lately with only reality shows left in my kitty.

The latest one to haunt me is The Perfect Bride. It's a reality show on Star Plus where several street smart and candid beauties have bravely taken the plunge of very publicly finding a groom on television. Or perhaps finding a modeling assignment, a second lead in a telefilm or an anchor's role on a cooking channel but let's not go there. The title has really caught my attention. It totally catches the pulse of the nation. So apt. It's on every family's wish list and it's every man's secret desire. Regardless of their own standing, caliber, appearance or attitude, everyone's shopping for a perfect bride. The bachelor boys will reason that they deserve one and their mommies will nod in unison.

What rarified qualities define a perfect bride and why the emphasis on it? It appears that those who're extremely pleasing on the eyes, cool and confident, well educated with a high flying job, dress nicely, talk their minds, share great camaraderie with everyone in the house, sing & dance to peppy bollywood numbers, cook a storm, clean like it's going out of style and even make decorative garlands out of flowers meet the criteria, on the show at least. Is this true for real life? If one is lacking in one or more qualities mentioned here, does the radar not beep? Benign smirks from apparently unassuming dulhas, dramatically romantic moments and quick witted conversations between the girls tried to digress me from understanding the crux of the matter so far but I seem to have grasped it now. It's all about expecting the world from a 5'3" skinny girl with long shiny hair.

Why is Shahrukh’s wife Gauri Khan considered more of a perfect wife than Aamir’s wife Kiran Rao? Sure Kiran is an intelligent brain from JNU but can she pull off Dolce & Gabbana’s white strapless gown with sweetheart neckline from their spring 2010 collection and bronzer all over on the cover of Vogue India like Gauri? Probably not. Can Kiran be her husband’s shadow like the impeccable Tina (Akki’s wife)? Probably not. Can Kiran go gaga over husband and family during public speeches like Aish? Probably not. Are we trained to look for stereotypes? Most definitely.

I possibly am no different so just to practice what I preach, I’m going to look for new friends. And not those who’re like me or my other half. No more stereotypes, whatever they are. I’m going to look for incredibly brainy/slightly wonky/deeply sarcastic/phenomenally arty/completely unfortunate looking/anything but the kind of people I know to this date. I’m gonna find them, hang with them and make an earnest attempt to get to know them at a deeper level. And hopefully understand people on the other side of the river.

Someday, one day, I’ll be able to tell you what perfect is. Unless you’ve figured it out for yourself already.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Study abroad? Really?

This appeared in The South Asian Times on Saturday.

I was just watching a promo song, Mudi Mudi, from Amitabh Bachchan's latest Hindi movie, Paa, and instantly recognized the location. It's shot in Cambridge, UK where I was, just two days back. The song shows Vidya Balan and Abhishek Bachchan, looking sharp and very much in love, chasing each other on the streets of this adorable little town. Some scenes showed them in classes at various colleges that belong to Cambridge University. I recognized St. John's College, Kings College and Trinity College from some skillfully taken shots. Google them and you'll be confused whether you're looking at palaces or universities. They are in fact all palaces, most built in 1500s, some exclusively for the royalty to study and learn various crafts and centuries later, opened up for the plebeians as the queen would call them for education.

If you've lived the phrase 'losing oneself into the moment' ever, that's exactly what happened to me when I was in front of these magnificent universities. Mind boggling architecture with fine details, their vastness and their grandeur, opulent gardens complete with rivers and bridges for as far as your eyes can see, colorful trees, profs who looked like the rare cerebral types and students discussing pure science concepts made up for an overwhelmingly wonderful picture. It came to mind that noted poet Harivanshrai Bachchan was the 2nd Indian to earn a PhD from Cambridge in 1950s and hundreds have earned it since. For a second I felt like if I didn't study here, I missed out on a whole lot in my life.

Needless to say, India has a wide array of great universities to choose from but an vast amount of student population still prefers abroad education for a variety of reasons. Let me talk about Europe since I started off on that. What it is about studying there that sounds so appealing? Whether it's Istituto Marangoni in Milan for fashion design, INSEAD in Fontainebleau for MBA, London School of Economics for social sciences, Trinity College at Cambridge with its impressive list of Nobel prize winners or the oldest surviving Oxford University, each university has something phenomenal to offer. Throw in a few factors like history, culture, technological advancement, international influences, fashion and food and you've defined perfection.

Unless one has inherited wealth or works in private equity or in legal or medical fields, Europe is a tuff place to conquer. For international students, it must be fairly challenging I presume. Odd jobs is not an odd concept on most campuses but having seen everything from Indian boys wearing Sherwanis instead of warm coats and selling restaurant discount coupons on super chilly windy nights in crowded areas, Indian girls assisting underground train passengers with ticket gates and a couple of young boys even going as far as selling drugs as I saw first handed, it must be harder than it seems.

Isolated cases? I bet. But I have no doubt there are more of the same struggling away. I'm sure Europe is worth the experience as a student but at what cost I wonder.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Of oddities and strangeness

This appeared in The South Asian Times on November 21st.

Lately I feel like I'm the chosen one. Life seems to be luring me with a variety of odd situations. Or maybe I'm looking out for them. Or simply being fussy. Either way, if I don't take them personally, they definitely seem to be on the funnier side.

As a hopeful up-and-coming photographer, I expect my online ad to yield some serious and some not-so-serious inquiries but no amount imagination would have prepped me for this one. A character who I presumed to be a frail old little lady warned me about her unusual request before starting her email but it didn't quite register in my head. Her dog had apparently bit a puppy and someone tipped her off saying the pup had recovered and was out and about having a good time. Our poor old lady of course preferred to stop paying for the extended treatment for the pup and thought of a brilliant idea. That of hiring a pro photographer with a telephoto lens who could do some detective work, catch the puppy on his evening strolls, yank out her zoom lens and take close up shots of the healed wound. All of this without the pup's owner getting any hints. If I wasn't living in a perennial time crisis, I'd have never passed on what I'd call a once in a lifetime opportunity of being a detective plus photographer, all at once.

On my way to pick up a friend, I took a wrong turn and landed up at the beach. It was a gorgeous day. As I was soaking the balmy air in on the Santa Monica Pier, I suddenly got surrounded by a small group of people carrying around literature, who just wanted a few minutes of my time. Having inherited a weakness for not being able to say no to people, I meekly agreed. Next thing I know, I get bombarded with questions about what my religion stands for vs. what a certain other religion had to offer. My day dreaming about catching some waves on a water scooter promptly gets ruined by profound questions that I couldn't furnish answers to. Seeing a weak target in front of them, their attack intensified and I had no option but to consider distracting them with a red kite in the air and running away. It’s not what ultimately happened but I was left with a subtle warning about where people land up if they don’t go that route and the answer isn’t heaven.

I was chilling with my family in San Francisco recently on a deceivingly hot afternoon. On the very crowded Pier 39, we sat to watch a stand up routine with some bland pretzels and coffee. As I was washing my hands in the women's bathroom later on, I noticed a young boy and a young girl walking towards the bathroom. Odd or not, I decided to stick around to gauge what the deal was. For a few moments, they locked themselves in one of the stalls; then boldly came out holding something that positively looked fishy… a.k.a. drugs. Before I could even decide if I wanted to tip off the cops or ignore, they ignored me and walked off.

Weird situations, although by their very nature aren't so welcoming, aren't so bad either. I'm changing my opinion about them actually. For one, they spice up life a little bit and balance it out. And more importantly, it gives you material for stories and keeps friends and family entertained. So next time you feel strangeness is luring you, go ahead, indulge. It'll definitely come in handy when you decide to write a memoir someday.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The ‘What’s Your Raashee’ model

This appeared in The South Asian Times on November 14th.

I've been completely out of the 'gossip news' circuit for a while now. No it isn't deliberate. It's more of a situational issue, one that I plan to correct before it's too late and I have morphed for good. In the meantime, thank god for well informed friends, one of who informed me this morning that Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty (actually corporate queen Shilpa Shetty better suits her these days considering the one-new-enterprise-a-month mission that she is on) is all set to tie the knot with London boy Raj Kundra. Another one falls pray to a married man, I concurred instantaneously. How many more actresses will follow suit and become another statistic I wondered. At least all of my favorites were going that route. Shabana Azmi, Hema Malini, Shridevi, Raveena Tandon, Karishma Kapoor; they all did it. Kareena is going down that path and now it's Shilpa! Where on earth have all the single, rich and handsome young men vanished?

It is not unusual for movies to be trend setters in India and often times awake a generation. Rang De Basanti was one of the esteemed ones. I wonder if 'What's Your Raashee' will meet similar fate. I will give it 2 stars one day when I'm feeling generous but the point is its old candy in a new wrapper. May be that's what the new generation can try out. It sounds absolutely insane but get this. If you are a nubile (I love that word, don't you?) woman or a just-about-eligible ('most eligible bachelor' is an illusion) man who's made mental peace with the notion of being married and wants to dive into it but is very very single, what is it gonna take? You'll dig out a potential partner from somewhere, date him/her for a few weeks, try to judge the hell out of him/her and countless evenings combined with way too much money later, you realize it wasn't meant to be. So optimistically you try it again. And again. And again. Ultimately it's mommy to the rescue.

With the ultra busy routines our generation is compelled to follow, what with the busy work schedules, evening MBA classes, near perfect gym routines and never enough time to hang out with pals, where is the time for poorly thought out and prolongated experiments? So unless you're a PhD who simply gets a kick out of experiments, here's the master plan. One week, meeting up with 12 potential partners (12 plus minus 5 is just fine!) and then a week to analyze. You know why it might work? Here's the logic. It's the difference between looking at one flavor of ice cream in isolation versus looking at a temptingly laid out gelato counter with a dozen flavors and then comparing them side by side. By the time you're on your third tasting, you will know what you don't like for sure. Few more careful observations and tastes and you might begin to realize what you do like. And by the time you're on your last, voila, you know the answer! Instead of that, if you try one flavor every 2 months, good luck remembering your likes and dislikes. Ultimately it’s the same process, only squeezed into a much shorter time frame. Plus it might give your buddies some fodder for entertainment. Two birds, one stone.

Don't buy my theory? Try it! If it doesn’t work, I’ll help you draft a mean letter to Ashutosh Gowarikar.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A different pace/a new face

This appeared in The South Asian Times on Saturday.

Life is a journey and u-turns are a part of any journey. Or so I'm telling myself ever since a u-turn hit me like the apple did to Newton. Sure enough, it's led to discoveries. My own discoveries.

Life perhaps decided to be fair to me and let me be one personality type for the most of it. Three decades later, blink and I'm a new person. Looking back, I realize that my primary goal in life was to have fun amidst other trivial goals that are on everyone's wish lists such as a great career, a great family and a good life in general. More socializing than I could endure, more friends than I could handle, more parties than I could attend, more lazing around than was good for my system, more random and disconnected-from-each-other aspirations than time would permit; an excess of it all. The anticipation of the new within the known was exciting while it lasted.

With the new me that I'm getting to know, so far a few aspects have surfaced. It's not like I prefer the tedium of routine or that I've become an introverted detailist or that I've sworn off people around me. Nothing that extreme thankfully. God no. The changes seem to be more subtle. Like a little less of everything random and focusing on things that could prove to be meaningful in my world. From the ping-pong ball that I used to be, bouncing at the slightest touch, I seemed to have turned into one at the bowling alley which requires a little thought, strategizing and introspection. Is it called killing my spirit? Does that make me non-spontaneous, uptight and boring? I'm not sure. But 'being selective' is my new mantra. Just like my grandfather's hearing ability. No there was no disability there. He just chose to hear what he wanted and discard the rest.

Shakespeare famously identified ‘seven ages of man’ so I guess it’s about time I move into my second, considering I do not remember my childhood all that well. Interestingly or sadly, depending on one’s perspective, the personality type that I always ran away from is what I’ve now become. I don’t want to fight it because I seem to like it. It’s easy, gratifying and doable. And it’s fun in its own way too.

I know I’m not alone in experiencing this. Perhaps this is why the 30th birthday is known as ‘the big three o’. It has unforeseen changes in store for you. Good changes. Changes that expand your horizon, that make you think before doing things recklessly, that make you forgive and forget trivial issues and that make you worldly and wise. It’s an adjustment and takes you a couple years to even realize all that.

So if you’re about to celebrate your 30th, dance the night away or do what you do best. It may not last forever. Hire a photographer for the big event so you can remind yourself of how you were although it might take some convincing later on. Peace out.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Tame that beast!

This appeared in The South Asian Times on October 31st.

At the risk of getting frowns from the fair-sex-of-a-certain-age readers, I'm going to start off with the fact that this has always been a hot button issue with Indian women. If moms fail to train (read tame) their wild boys, they pass on the legacy to daughter in laws. "Shaadi ke baad sab theek ho jayega" is one of those lines that people never fail to use with the underlying assumption that the new trainer will be more skilled and would easily tame the wild. But the issue spreads across all ages and stages and tends to affect a large percentage of the population. Whether it is sending kids to boarding school, keeping the new intern on a leash, grounding teenagers for a week, one upmanship on husband's personal secretaries or sending mother-in-laws to yoga boot camps, the idea is the same. Tame the beast.

All of us do it at some point or at the very least, aspire to do it in some shape or form. No wonder reality shows become a huge hit. It's all boils down to who can manipulate the rest of the herd.

How hard is it to tame someone and what does it take? Neither of us comes with a manual or a rule book and strategies are best left to the trial and error model. The big question is, is everyone tame-able or there are exceptions?

I heard a fun story from my Thailand returned dad last evening over some French Boudreaux. Kanchanburi, a small place near Bangkok, boasts of something very exotic called a Tiger Temple. In this bizarre place, you can not only pose next to a Tiger for those snaps that you can show off to all your friends and family and make them go wowsa but you can do crazy things like stroke a tiger, pull his tail and lay on him for a quick photo op. Little monks go for evening walks with them like we do with harmless little fuzzy puppies. Skeptics will tell you that tigers have to be drugged to pull off such docile behavior but the lamas have a different story to tell. They practice some age old and proven techniques where they stare in the eye at the animal and suck the violence out of them through that gaze. I'm very tempted to get the details of the technique and even more tempted to try it out on someone.

Wouldn’t it make for one easy life? No parents would to sign those red inked papers from school, no dinner plates would break in newly wed’s homes, no teenagers would have to be secretive anymore, no wives would drag their husbands to court and get a fat alimony and no managers would make interns cry in the bathroom.

Give it a shot? If something works, do share. You’ll save me that trip to Thailand.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Re-do buttons do exist

This was published in The South Asian Times on October 24th.

'A day in the life of' is a common theme for school essays and it can be experienced to an extent when one begins shadowing professionals as a part of the intern program. But actually getting a chance to live it is a rare opportunity. Or so I thought until I came across the news piece that you can experience the Titanic journey for yourself.

The British-based Miles Morgan Travel is now taking reservations for a 2012 cruise that will mark the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s ill-fated voyage of April 1912. It will carry 1,309 passengers; the same number that sailed on that unfortunate voyage on the same route as the Titanic, leaving Southmapton in early April 2012 before docking at the Irish port of Cobh (formerly Queenstown), where the Titanic made its final call on April 11, 1912.

It is not surprising to learn that that passengers will dine on the same menu as 100 years ago and the journey will follow the exact same travel itinerary. The food will match the sumptuous menus on the original voyage; the entertainment will include music and dancing in the style featured in those glorious times and there will be a chance to hear first hand from historians who have studied the Titanic story.

The "voyage of a lifetime" as they call it is a 12 night cruise aboard a ship called the Balmoral that the Miles Morgan Company has chartered. Here is the ironic part. Despite being built in 1988, the Balmoral is unable to sail as fast as the Titanic! So it will have to leave Southampton earlier than the Titanic did so that it can reach the spot where she sank on the anniversary. Tell me you see something very wrong with this picture just like I do. From there the ship will sail across the Atlantic, arriving at the Titanic disaster site on April 14-15 exactly 100 years after the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank. A memorial service will pay tribute to the passengers and crew who perished on that fateful night. The voyage will then continue to all the intermediate destinations on the route before sailing on to New York, the Titanic's ultimate planned destination.

Would you take this journey if you had a chance? It's only approximately 3000 quid so pretty affordable for die hard cruise and history lovers. It does definitely do its share in commemorating the gorgeous ship but is it in bad taste? I bet the fascination with Titanic is strong as ever but couldn’t there have been a more creative way to pay tribute to it? For once, I’m undecided. You be the judge.

Oh wait, isn’t the Apocalpyse supposed to be in 2012 as well?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A new beginning

This appeared in The South Asian Times on October 10th.

I’m going to be yet another statistic. Just like the 14% of the population that moves every year in the US. It’s not exceptional for a good majority of us between the fun ages of 18-32 to move frequently. And did you know more gals than guys move? Here I go again with my data insights. Can hardly help something that one does for a living.

But here’s the million dollar question. How does your mind and your heart react to the numerous moves? How are you supposed to feel? Are you leaving a part of you behind? Can you pack years of memories in a 25 feet move truck and take it along? Would you want to take it along if you could? Ok I lied. Too many million dollar questions. You can sell worn out furniture and lamps on craigslist or by putting those colorful ads on campus boards but what do you do with everything you’ve grown a liking to? And everything else that you’ve come to hate? Like that barrel who lives over you and thumps his feet at 2 in the morning? Or the neighbor’s dog that just doesn’t seem to get over his lady love and keeps crying all night? Or that annoying cop in your neighborhood who is always pointing at you with a speed gun no matter what route you go? Or that Thai take out place that always messes up your order but you can’t live without it despite that?

My landlady very categorically asked me not to dump all the junk that comes out of my place in the garbage in one day when I move. So I shall plan a phased junk disposal process for a week. It’s a brilliant idea if I can apply it to life. I indulge in frequent detox diets to purify my system all the time. I hope I can do the same with my mind. Phased junk disposal. Everything negative out of the window. Ill feelings, grudges, dissatisfaction, envy… all wiped out from time to time. Perhaps I can put it on my Outlook calendar. Make it a recurring meeting. A mind just full of happiness, gratification, dreams. A beautiful mind as the cliché goes. Sounds wonderful doesn’t it? Hopefully that’ll knock off a few pounds on the weighing scale too.

When you’re still growing vertically, anything new comes bundled with enormous excitement. It brings a cheerful bounce in your step and an oblong smile on your face. Over the years that excitement seems to fade when the ‘been there done that’ feeling creeps in. I’m consciously trying to dodge that familiar feeling. Yes I’ll miss what has been my home, my surroundings, my friends and my colleagues but I’m sure there’s a new barrel, a new dog, a new cop and a new Thai take out place waiting for me.

Did you spot the common factor with Indian weddings? I wish I were speaking at a pageant but I’ll say it regardless. If I could bring about one change in our rituals, I would totally get rid of the bidaai part of it. Why the need for a formal process to cry it out? What’s left behind will be greatly missed and always be an integral part of the new life. But I’m sure we can do it in a little less tragic and a little more joyful way and the videographers will just learn to survive without the drama. Besides, it always leaves stains on those expensive silk fabrics that are so hard to get rid off. Promise your pundit a new iPhone and I’m sure he’ll approve of a wedding without the orchestrated sob ceremony.

As for me, I’m back to packing. It’s all so overwhelming that I just hope I don’t pack my little one into one of those boxes accidentally. She’s a screamer though so not that I’m worried.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Come celebrate Diwali in LA!

This appeared in The South Asian Times on October 3rd.

If you have been thinking of celebrating Diwali with a twist this year, hop on to one of those hundreds of flights that fly daily into Los Angeles this festive season and experience the fun first hand. And don't forget to bring your family and a nice camera along. We've got something for everyone. And do it the Indian way - celebrate for a two week stretch.

We kick it off with some laughs and chuckles. First up is the 'Indian Stand Up Comedy' in Hollywood on October 3rd at 8 pm. Five talented Indian comedians blowing aside political correctness and masterfully breaking down every imaginable stereotype. With no topic off-limits, the result will be pure comedy: raw, revealing, and wildly entertaining. So brace yourself for two hours of non-stop, side-spitting entertainment. Details at

Who wouldn't want to shake a leg and dance to some pulsating beats? Tell you what. When you're maxed out on laughter, take a cab to from Hollywood to Tantra on Sunset for 'Club Bollywood'. The party starts at 10 on October 3rd and they've got a trio of DJs: DJ EsQue for spinning bollywood, DJ Desc for mixing bhangra with R&B and DJ Blaze for mixing bhangra with hip hop. And you can't beat this. They've got a live Dholi! What’s more, ladies are free till 11. Just get yourself on the guest list. It's easier than you think. Details at

Up next is the authentic diwali stuff. Keep yourself free and in the valley on October 9th 7 pm onwards. At the beautiful Canyon Club in Agoura Hills, Chilli Beats pulls off a live bollywood concert and dinner with style every year. It's called 'A musical diwali night by Chilly Beatz'. In case you're wondering, they're an LA based band who specializes in bolly music so mark your calendar and keep a spare pair of comfy shoes in the trunk of your car for dancing the night away post dinner. Details at

If you feel like avoiding all the glitzy events and opting for something simple and unpretentious instead, I've got the right thing for you. Pasadena Hindu Temple presents Indian classical, movie and folk songs, dances, skits and a whole lot more along with some mouth watering ethnic food & spiced tea. ‘HTHF diwali cultural program’ is happening on October 10th 7 pm onwards in Monrovia. So go ahead, call all your uncles and aunts there and make a big family event out of it. Details at

If your or your little sis have been procrastinating that one trial Indian classical dance forever, here's your chance. On October 10th at the Music Center Plaza in LA, Lakshmi Iyengar is offering Bharatanatyam classes as a part of the 'A Taste of Dance' - an Active Arts program. I bet you've taken those hula dance classes in Hawaii. They're so fun. Go ahead try Bharatanatyam this time around. Details at

One of you has gotta be up for Carnatic Music. A unique ‘Music concert with Kadri Gopalnath’ with a Saxophonist, a Violinist and a musician who plays the Mridangam is happening on October 10th at 5 pm in Lakewood. Details at

It's the biggest Indian festival and we haven't elaborated on food yet. So here goes. My two favorite Indian restaurants, Tanzore and Gaylord in Beverly Hills are having a 3 day fest from October 14th to 17th. During the ‘3rd annual festival of diwali’, each night the festival will include food, couture fashion & jewelry, henna artists, Bollywood videos & films, modern & traditional dances, live Tabla & Sitar and DJ's mixing the latest sounds of Bollywood. After dinner you can walk into their adjacent banquet room where they promise to have an elaborate dessert buffet and stunning and colorful exhibition booths. People, this is a must do. And if you go, give the chef my regards. Details at

Finally, if attending a Kumbh Mela in India is on your list of 500 must do things before turning 75, wait no more. A very special 'Diwali and Kumbh Mela' event is happening at the Vedic temple in Montclair on October 17th. Details at

Are those tickets booked yet? Happy diwali!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A novel be borned

Four months and twenty four days, mastering the art of juggling, deliberate downturn in social life, countless sleepless nights and some unsightly dark circles later, the day has finally arrived much to my contentment and immense disbelief. Yes my novel is all done. The 0th draft anyways but still it's brought me the kind of excitement that I thought could only come out of being invited to the Grand Ball at the Buckingham palace or going to space for free or attending a top 10 couture designer's benefit dinner in Milan.

Now the part that looked so far away until recently, of actually finding a publisher or an agent or anyone even remotely related to them, is looming. Hopefully I'll meet him or her while we both accidentally order the last cheese danish at starbucks or while one of us is about to buy a terrible new lotion that gives a rash at Sephora and the other one cautions or while he or she rear ends me while sitting in LA traffic.

One day when I get really really lucky, my two main characters, who I've spent so much time with in the recent past that I feel like I know them intimately, and the nineteen other characters whose lives are intertwined with theirs will come to life!

Until then, I'm going to dream some more dramatic scenarios of how I'll run into a literary agent. I am not even dreaming of running into a publisher ever. See even my dreams have a hint of reality.

Oh and if you have a spare moment, please wish me luck. Frida Pinto's, Miley Cyrus's, Chetan Bhagat's, Obama's... anyone's luck ;) Gracias.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Why Ms. Rai, why?

I never watch Oprah. I really don't. I know she owns half the world and everything but the two of the three times I decided to try her out, she had really depressing segments. I mean incredibly depressing. And I run miles away from anything even remotely gloomy. Not because I want to turn a blind eye to reality but mostly because I cannot handle it. I know she does a ton of other varieties but the coincidences weren't good.

Today, I had to chew my words and watch her. Her and her... the other her being Ms. Rai. I distinctly remember the shows she did when she tried the i-am-the-new-face-of-bollywood-in-hollywood bit post hiring LA based agents and publicists 7-8 years back, who promptly gave her her money's worth and got her an appearance on all the late night shows. Ms. Rai, apparently being new to the whole late night humor (I bet she thought very little of the Shekhar Suman show in India) really rubbed most people the wrong way. First off, she showed up in regular evening outfits; leather jacket, leather skirt and leather boots... quite an imagination there but drab nevertheless, giggled like it was no one's business and showed being guarded to no end. Then as soon as the annoying "do you live with your fam?" questions made the rounds, Ms. Rai forgot all about humor, the underlying theme of most of the shows she was on and fired rockets back. Choicest ones. Letterman had no choice but to respond to her preaching with "Ladies and gentleman we all learnt something today."

Then I watched Ms. Rai undergo an overnight transformation post high profile nuptials as she started speaking what is referred to as 'Mr. Bachchan speak'. The big B speak that is. Big words, subtle sarcasm, the art of articulately confronting critics, holding back on unremitting giggles, practicing even more of a guard and being super diplomatic. Yes it looked coached. And rehearsed. All of it did. Nothing wrong with that. I like. Hence breaking my rule of never watching Oprah.

Today, today she rocked it in her Sabyasachi outfit. No the outfit didn't rock. It was just another sari. I'd have loved to see her in a Satya Paul on the show. But she made a huge impression. More so because he was by her side. Hubby that is. The cool, calm, composed and spontaneous factor in her life. And humor! I loved him for all his funny little jokes today. He called her "pleasant on the eyes"; then said "you wake up and you are like really, even in the morning?" He really brings out the fun side of her, for a few moments, until it hits her that the camera is rolling and then she's back to her coached demeanor. Back to her 'plastic' self as they say. Not me, they.

For those of your die hard Rai fans, I beg forgiveness. I got nothing against her. But a girl's gotta have a little fun at someone's expense once in a while so unless you want to volunteer yourself...

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Imaginary friends

This was published in The South Asian Times on September 19th.

You probably had an imaginary friend as a kid. Someone you had elaborate conversations with, someone you trusted all your life stories with. Your imaginary friend perhaps had an amicable personality, guided you when you were lost, gave you company when you were lonely, provided you with strength when you felt powerless and accepted the blame for whatever you did wrong. Being a kid in the company of other kids is sometimes tough and your imaginary friend helped you get through those delicate phases in life.
Then you grew up and found real friends. Lots of them. People who did the same things for you as your imaginary friend did and a whole lot more. And for that, you started relying on them - sometimes for guidance on trivial matters, sometimes for major decisions of life and at most times just for comfort.

So much so that it became a routine to run most things by someone before consulting your own self. Can't decide which cruise to go on in December? Check with a friend. Confused about what second career is better for you? Ask a friend. Can't decide whether you forgive your wife and proceed with a divorce? Of course, consult your friend.

Ever been in that situation? It’s certainly a good thing to draw from other people’s experiences. Sometimes it saves you time for doing research, other times it saves you from unpleasant experiences. But at what cost? If it has become a habit, it means you have kissed your own thinking and opinions good bye. No I’m not preaching. Sadly, I’m a case in point. Or I was until it hit me recently. In my defense, I’m always surrounded by people. It feels unnatural to not ask or run it by the next soul in the vicinity. But from now on, I’m a different person. Well at least I hope to be.

Here’s my new plan. Giving every routine scenario a thought can be demanding and tedious. So I’m gonna have some imaginary friends. Not to the extent that it sounds ludicrous. Nothing crazy like that. Just within reasonable limits. For instance, if I am lost in the end game of chess, I’m going to ask Kasparov what strategy he would use. Or may be I’ll ask our own V. Anand. Not aloud, silly. God no. I’m just going to have a silent dialogue with him and may be the solution will come to me. If I need fashion help, I’m going to catch Sarah Jessica Parker on her way to a movie premier or something. And if don’t agree with the reviews about a book, I’m going to strike up a fun debate with Salman Rushdie and hopefully I’ll see both sides of the story.

I’m not sure if I’ll end up making the right decisions in the process. But I’ll be doing my brain a huge favor by inducing some imagination and by brushing away the rust from my thinking neurons. And no, those imaginary conversations will not be making it to this column, in case you were curious.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Duct tape anyone?

This appeared in The South Asian Times on 26th September.

We've all lost it at some point or the other. At school, at work, in a social gathering, almost anywhere; for what might seem to be unfair treatment, uncalled for judgment or unacceptable actions. Sometimes we’ve lost it just because. But what do we do about it more often than not? We bite the bullet and wait till it's out of our system. Or at least until we're out of that situation.Not our girl Ms. Williams, Serena that is. She yelled at the poor little Asian woman sitting in the center with a white tennis cap, doing her job of judging the US open matches two weeks back in Flushing Meadows to the best of her ability. Serena went all out, used threatening language and gestures and pointed her racket at the judge and made the poor woman run on the court. "I swear to God, I'm (bleep) going to take this (bleep) ball and shove it down your (bleep) throat, you hear that? I swear to God," she said. It was nothing short of a shocker. Yes I’ve seen those John McEnroe videos but Serena is immensely popular, has spectacular ratings and happens to be a role model for countless aspirers. Could she get away with it? Sure she could. One because she won the US Open Doubles finals the next day. Two because at worst, she gets fined and a few controversies later, she’s back to doing what she does best: a little tennis and a lot of endorsements.

Serena isn't alone in the outrage game. Couple weeks back, a South Carolina Republican Joe Wilson heckled and yelled "You lie" during President Obama's health care speech as the country looked on. Of course he promptly furnished an apology and our president was gracious enough to accept it (He had to; it hasn’t been too long since the White House Beer Summit). But Wilson found himself to be the fodder for numerous late night comedy shows and voters of his state may not forget this for a long time. Political analysts called him ill-mannered and established his act as "making a fool of himself on national stage". Why Wilson chose to reveal his bad manners and his lack of self-control in a political set up is best left to his psychotherapist (I bet he has one), who I expect will make a fortune out of this.

If it could happen in Sports and Politics, why should Entertainment be left out? Kanye West obliged by rudely interrupting Taylor Swift's moment on MTV Music Video awards. Ms. Swift, one of my favorite country gals, was in the middle of her acceptance speech for the Best Female Video when Mr. West just couldn't hold it in any longer. So in one swift action he grabbed the microphone from the gobsmacked poor girl who was innocently giving her speech in an awesome silver one shoulder dress. What’s worse, Mr. West announced that Beyonce's video was the best ever. Yes yes Kanye apologized. He said he was truly sorry on Jay Leno but that doesn’t give the girl her moment back does it?

What’s the bad behavior bug going around ya all? I’m sure it shares some characteristics with the flesh eating bacteria or the swine flu virus. It can kill at some level if not literally.

Let's zip it up if we can, shall we?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Fall fashion

Labor Day marks the start of the Fall - time for cooler temperatures, going back to school and more traffic on the freeway. But this time of the year also brings its own fashion trends.

Here are a few must haves for this season:

- Leather jackets are back in vogue. The new ones have a ton of zippers and a body-hugging silhouette. Go check them out and see if you can find one that matches with your hair or eye color.
- If you need more than one jacket, military jackets look quite hip. Any color, any cut... you can't go wrong with this.
- In that same breath, cardigans have a different look. It goes with dresses and pants alike but is more casual and you can keep it on all day. There's a whole range in lightweight soft cotton with lots of layers and cuts.
- Get one fabulous wool dress that you can sport multiple ways - with a blazer for work, with boots for a party or with a nice hat for church or a horse race.
- In addition to regular leggings, a lot of fancy ones can be found out there. There are the ones with zippers on the sides, buttons towards the bottom and for a really bold look, try the leather-looking ones or the snake-skin-looking ones in dark shades.
- A metallic trench coat can instantly add oodles of glamour to a regular outfit. Silver can make you stand out so if that's not your personality, opt for a dull shade or gold or bronze or molten gray.
- If your birthday or a wedding is around the corner or you attend a whole lotta parties, a cool trend this season is a goddess draped dress with silk finish. Asymmetrical hemline/neckline/waistline/anyline in a plush fabric and romantic color that accentuates your curves.
- Finally, you can use all those scarves you bought in spring and pair 'em with up with any of your jackets.
- Don't forget those studded cage heels if you bought them in summer. They can amp up any ensemble.

Of course, I have neither of the above so far. Who's going shopping with me?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Sleeping optional

Eating pizza, buying fruits, tap dancing on the sidewalks, soaking in the magnificent skyline from across the river, watching a stand up comedy routine, picking out shoes, browsing books... what can't you do in NYC at 3 am on a random day? And you won't be alone. It intrigues me every single time. What is it about that city that people consider sleeping optional?

If you look up any city on Google, a Wiki page will pop up with demographics. San Jose, for instance will say, 25% Filipinos, 20% Indians, 15% Hispanics, 30% Caucasians and 10% unknown. I haven't looked up New York but I bet it'll say something like 25% sleep deprived and cranky, 15% sleep deprived and buzzed, 20% sleep deprived and neurotic, 30% sleep deprived and workaholic and 10% weirdoes who sleep at night.

If I'm there for three nights, I absolutely would opt for no sleep. But I always wonder what I'd do if I lived there and wasn't bound by any responsibility. Would the initial excitement wear out or the limitless options would continue to lure me? I'm not talking about just having fun. There's something oddly satisfying about doing chores at night. For instance I'd love to get my shoes fixed at 2 am and go book browsing at 2:30 and end the night with a steaming cappuccino at 3:30. I guess it’s as close to a homogenous surrounding as you can get. In a city as diverse as New York, being out at night could be a good bet on being in the company of slightly more similar kinda souls.

I always hear stories about the young 20 something guys who make a killing in private equity during the day and blow up that money in Greenwich Village all night. Or the women in publishing who talk at the speed of light during the day and enjoy life over several rounds of martinis at night. If I try to fool with my body clock and get less than 8 hours on a weekday, every one in the meeting room finds out the next morning. And yet, in NYC, it is a way of life. ‘Work hard, party hard’ is the motto most live by. And it works for them!

One more day and I’ll be back to appreciating the regularity of everyday life in LA.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Where is humility hiding?

This was published in The South Asian Times on September 4th.

When I was little, I used to hear a joke where each kid in a group of kids would boast about how his dad can drink exceptionally hot tea. "My dad can drink it so hot that steam would come out from his ears". "My dad can drink it so hot that sugar would melt in a split second". Finally the last kid would say "My dad can just sit on the stove and put all the ingredients in his mouth and tea would be made instantly".

There were more of the same. They sounded so silly at the time but I didn't realize they all have one key ingredient. Boasting. As a kid grows, that quality changes from boasting about parents to boasting about himself and his surroundings. The part of India that I'm from, this practice is very rampant. Narcissism is quite the order of the day, everyday. Obsession with one's professional accomplishments, talent, property, prized possessions, foreign trips, pay packages, who they know... it's never ending. At times it is in the form of a joke, at times by putting someone else down and most times just out of context.

Then I moved to US and got to know a whole lot of people, who despite being from varied backgrounds back home were all students and/or new professionals struggling to settle down. Every one with that profile had a down to earth quality about them which was so refreshing, so real. It’s quite an endearing trait. But every so often, I still run into narcissists and wonder, where is humility hiding?

We live in a society that shares all our joys and sorrows in innumerable ways so it’s only natural that we divulge all sorts of information about our high points in life. But there's a fine line between sharing our joys and being arrogant about it, one that is hard to notice. The problem with being too self-absorbed is that at some point, even if one might lose traction or interest and decide to do away with it, it's invariably too late since your immediate circle has grown to expect that from you. It's a stature that you only have the ability to build, not the ability to break away from.

The added drawback of indulging in constant self-praise is the harm it causes to the weak mind in your vicinity. It leads to inferiority complex, low self esteem and general dissatisfaction with one’s life for a chosen few around you. Even a mild form of depression in some cases is not uncommon.

Narcissists frequently forget to be a part of other people’s happiness since they’re often too busy getting people to be a part of their own. Creating barriers in your relationships is as easy as that – forgetting to be a part of the other person’s happiness, however minuscule it is. It can only go downhill from there. Scratch on the surface and see what the reality of it is. It might just surprise you, and not in a good way.

On the other hand, being humble gets you noticed one way or the other. It’s the classic case of a great new house for sale on the market. If the listing price is too high, a few might come to have a look but it might evoke little to no activity and it’ll stay on the market for months. On the other hand, if the listing price is below market, chances are that quite a few buyers will fall in love with the property and price giving rise to bidding wars and before you know it, it’s sold for a lot higher than list price.

Does humility translate into timidity? Not at all. Bruna Martinuzzi says “Humility is all about maintaining our pride about who we are, about our achievements, about our worth - but without arrogance”. So go ahead, make humility the most beautiful word in English language. You won’t regret it.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Rail talk on a roll

President Obama is going retro or going hip, however you wanna look at it, and funding a project worth 8 billion USD to build rail roads in this country. High speed rail roads. So I guess it's not so retro. It's more like the tubes in London or rails all across Europe with fancy locals, enthusiastic tourists and lovely views.

I couldn't help but draw parallels immediately between my only two train experiences outside of India. In Paris ages ago during my first trip, every woman who got off the Metro, from 14 to 45, wore almost the same thing from head to toe. It was winter and everyone was either in black pants or tiny black skirts paired with black stockings. And black trench coats in wool. It was like a slumber party with coordinated PJs. Blue eye makeup was quite a rage and every female eye lid on the train was brushed with it. It was like you'd jumped on a runway accidentally and realized what an outcast you were. When I'd taken the train from Paris to Cannes and Monte Carlo, I'd come across some breathtaking views of the country side. Surrounded by beautiful French people and eating some delectable croissants that I’d picked up from the station, I'd hoped secretly for that train ride to never end.

In LA ages ago, I'd taken the train to downtown on an odd afternoon hour and had found myself surrounded by bums and homeless people. Thousands of people take the train to downtown today and I bet things are a lot better but that one image will remain in my head forever.

US is a car crazy nation and it's going to take me some convincing to imagine that people would really consider this mode of transport for traveling across cities. Plus it’ll never be the magic movie like experience that it is in Europe. On a more realistic note, it’ll offer huge employment opportunities. And it'd be a good change from flying. No wait in crazy security lines, no taking your shoes off, no getting to the airport hours ahead of time.

If it picks up, it could give rise to a whole new set of romance novels and chick flicks set on trains. How cute would that be!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Sach ka incredible samna

This appeared in The South Asian Times on August 29th.

When Gandhiji wrote about the significance of truth in his book 'My Experiments with Truth' and widely preached people to incorporate this concept in their lives, I doubt he would have seen this coming despite the great visionary he was. Our scriptures would perhaps refer to this phenomenon as the absolute peak of Kalyug.

If you are tuned to the Indian television, you've invariably heard about this show. With the Splitsvillas, Is Jungle Se Mujhe Bachaos and the Rakhi ka Swayamvars of the world behind us, I thought we as a nation were so done and over with the shock factor from reality shows. But I was merely underestimating our media's ability to strike the conditioned mind again in an unprecedented manner.

My latest dose of shock value comes from 'Sach Ka Samna', the newest reality show to hit the Indian media with overwhelming TRPs. So much so that I've altered my evening kick boxing routine to indulge in bold-Indians-washing-their-dirty-linen-in-public act. It's controversial, extremely personal and at times sleazy. But it's my guilty pleasure and I'm hooked, just like the rest of the 30 million people who tune into it daily.

It's ad has Rajeev Khandelwal holding fire in his palm and with immense sincerity, he looks into the lens and poses a question to the world "hain koi aisa jo sach ka samna kar sake?" I imagine a teenage girl popping a giant bubble she blew from her gum saying "not me" to that. The reaction can't be much different if it was an insurance agent or a pujari or a mother of three responding to that question. Not because it has anything to do with truth, but because it's on TV. So it baffles me that there are contestants from all strata’s of society, famous and otherwise, who're willing to be virtually stripped as their family and friends witness their private lives becoming a public spectacle from just a few feet away. Don't they fear judgments? Are they hoping for sympathy? Whatever happened to the confession box in churches or a quiet introspection on a river bank? No tangible payouts there I guess.

What ensues is a series of deeply embarrassing questions that are meant to titillate and stun. The probing questions touch upon various aspects of one's being from relationships with family members, unethical acts at work, disreputable acts in the society, indulging in vices, infidelity and bedroom drama and spares no contestant irrespective of their age. It takes the notion of privacy and buries it deep into some faraway land.

It has caused many a controversies and furor amongst people in general. Indian society has been pretty good about suppressing intimate details or disturbing truths so far. And it is no easy task to confess your wrong doings, acknowledge your guilt and share your darkest secrets in the open where it might live in pubic memory or at least in DVDs forever. Every Indian is blessed with the peeking-into-neighbor's-house-when-neighbors-fight syndrome so it is only natural that the show is a super hit. But it is giving the moral police sleepless nights and despite causing rage in the parliament, the show continues with full glory.

Is it reality for real? Perhaps not. Is it a reflection of a mature, growing and positive India? I doubt it. It is a wake up call for those of us who are hypocrites with high double standards? It better be. It is about redemption? I have no clue. It is addictive entertainment at the very least? For sure. Last but not the least, does it have an adverse effect on the society? I'll let the viewers decide that one.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Unaccustomed Earth

A bright burning sun almost roasted my face as I was walking across the street for a meeting this morning. A tall white guy with long unruly curls was coming from the opposite direction. He was engrossed in reading a book as he walked. When our paths crossed, I noticed two big words on the book 'Jhumpa Lahiri'. Shocking.

I walked to a nearby commercial area at lunch to get a slice of the best garlic bun I've ever had and instead landed up in Borders next to it. Just as I entered, the first shelf had 'Unaccustomed Earth' by Lahiri bang in the middle. I've wanted to read her book ever since I saw 'The Namesake' and thought of this coincidence as a sign to buy it. It was a Borders Express, not even a full blown one so I was surprised that it was right by the entrance.

Later in the evening when I got a chance to put my feet up, I opened the first 2 pages which were splashed with glorying reviews by tons of newspapers and magazines. She is after all the Pulitzer Prize winning author so all her books turn out to be high profile. Getting excited by the reviews, I proceeded to read about 15 pages of my new possession. It wasn't the most exciting start I must confess. Dull every day situations, dull every day characters, dull every day story. What's there to like I asked myself?

This was the same reason I hadn't been able to finish her previous book, The Namesake. I would open it every so often, read a little here and then and back out because I felt it was lackluster at the time. Then I saw the movie and for the first time felt how emotionally captivating her powerful tale was. It had left me speechless for quite some time.

The language of her books doesn’t have all the bells and whistles, her characters are often just ordinary immigrants with the typical experiences that you might have heard a dozen times and there is a slightly depressing undertone to the story. But everyone from Oprah to The New York Times raves about her. I hope to see what they see when I go through the book. And I certainly intend to finish this one before forming my opinions. Forming them yet again I mean.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The 2012 Apocalypse cometh

This appeared in The South Asian Times on August 22nd.

According to the Mayan calendar, the world will come to an end on 21st December 2012. You've probably heard and read about it a few times. How do you suppose it'll happen? There are zillions of theories: A Russian hitting a button, planet X colliding with the earth, a deadly solar eclipse, electromagnetic pulse, loose nukes, dirty bombs, space attacks, information war and countless others.

It's hard to ignore something if it keeps bombarding you. That's my story. I've encountered this piece of 'news' so much that it's scared me into thinking what I need to accomplish before I complete my journey on this planet. I'm a fan of convenient theories and had assumed if I eat well, work out, abstain from vices and exercise my brain enough, I can live a healthy, happy and satisfying life for the next five decades without a glitch. Now with the 2012 deadline out of nowhere hanging like a sword, I either have to condense my wish-list ruthlessly or cut down on my sleep severely to accomplish my wishes.

The other day I purchased a book on the 1000 must see destinations in the world and I'm very very tempted to see at least 300 of them. Perhaps live at a few of them for a few months and try out their way of life. Maybe the rest of the destinations will look interesting as time goes by. And when those space tours become affordable, I want to be the first in line. I need a truck load of money put away in Swiss banks or some place exotic for that, which means I either need to win a lottery or inherit, neither of which looks like a possibility hence I will succumb to slogging away at my job. My job - I love my job. I hope to fly as high as I'm capable of and be an inspiration to at least one colleague one day.

But there's more to me than my work. I certainly want to be an ace photographer and if I can capture the essence of a person, a place or a thing with my pictures, I'd ask for no more. Also with my new found interest in the literary world, I hope to read some great works by some of the genius writers of the century. And decipher every word in the P.G. Wodehouse collection. I'm being a dreamer here but may be I can write a book one day. That's the thing about wishes. They have no connection to real life. Talking about being unreal, I would love to be a size zero for one day just so I can figure out what the hype is all about. I imagine you can't really protect yourself if someone attacked you or can't help your neighbors move their furniture if there was a hurricane with a size zero hence the one day time frame.

Oh and I need another kid so my first born can have some company. Nothing size zero like about that. Of course I'd want nothing less for them then to be interesting and well-rounded personalities. Talking about interesting, I want to meet Conan O'Brian. I think he's really funny and I want to gauge how funny he is when unscripted. He is such a stress buster. By the way, what better place than Kerala to relieve stress? I've been dying to spend 3 weeks at one of Kerala's serene detox centers to calm my nerves and treat myself to some revitalizing yoga and meditation but where is the time? And indulge in their delish food. I'm such a foodie. One day I want to be able to make 10 mouth watering Thai dishes in my chef's kitchen. My chef's kitchen - I need a chef's kitchen in a warm inviting house, a house that I still need to buy. Perhaps I'd be lucky enough to make money out of selling my first house and buy a second beach house. But before I can do any of that, I need to meet my next deadline and prepare a deck.

I'm only on page two of my wish-list diary and kinda O V E R W H E L M E D. Utter shock. Gasp for breath. Panic attack approaching. Loss of words. Numbness. Defused neurons. Dry throat. Thump. Black out.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Two halves not a whole

Every afternoon at Starbucks when I'd wait in line to get some chai in my system, I'd start off with peeking in at the sumptuous pastry section even though I never get one. As the caffeine would kick sluggishness out, I'd take a look around and notice some regular faces and a whole lot of new ones. The regulars are so regular that I feel like I know them personally. Of that group is this one woman with nice curls always lost in her thought, who seems to be a writer, slightly whimsical. Then there's this grandpa who always sits there with a venti green drink topped a generous blob of cream and a book. And this one guy who always sits on the corner table, dressed like he's appearing for an interview, working on his laptop. His face is always half turned towards the wall so I’d only seen half of it. Today he turned to look in my direction when someone behind me dropped something with a thump challenging my assumption completely. I would have never imagined that the side face I'd been seeing everyday was a part of the complete face I saw today. Something didn't quite add up. It was like looking at two wrong pieces of a puzzle put together. Something an irrational artist might have painted on an inspiring day. It was perhaps faultless biologically, just not what I'd extrapolated looking at a piece of it.

If I use that story as a metaphor, life has shocked me time and again by presenting people who appear to be a certain way when our paths cross and an entirely different story when reality hits. Change is a whole different aspect of one's existence and not what I'm talking about. I'm purely hinting at perceptions. We've all seen those ambiguous images in forwarded emails with multiple interpretations that invariably trick us. I guess when people view something with a preconceived notion about it, they tend to take those notions and see them regardless of their existence.

I often tease my cousin that she would at times watch TV so intently from just a foot away that even when someone switched it off, she'd keep looking. It's true but she's in denial.

As for me, Alice in wonderland syndrome? Who knows. I'm going to stop my foolish face reading games for now since I’m clearly not qualified.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Let’s go shopping

"It's ending", "Not just yet", "There are signs", "But only time will tell", "A brand new scheme", "Unfortunately the last one was not quite", "Home sales up", "Retail still not", "Wall street is slowly", "Unemployment rate on the other hand", “More teachers had to”, “State again cut”, .....

I get it. It's the worst recession since the great depression but it's been too long (please spare me the numbers and figures) already and I'm getting sick of hearing about the tell tale signs of recovery only to hear that they were pre-mature.

The benefits of recession that initially lured people like more sales in your favorite stores, deep discounts on cars, amazing bargains on home prices and cheap air fare soon got old because it also started affecting other bigger aspects of our existence like threats to our jobs, inability to afford healthcare and gloomy stories from our friends and family.

Yet another radio story brought out an interesting point, that it was a global recession which affected every country simultaneously but the recovery is a different story. Just because they all crashed together, it doesn't mean they'll all recover together. Some nations will lag behind others in this aspects by months or years. France and Germany were the first to report a teeny bit of growth last year, followed by Hong Kong and Japan today. The likes of China, Indonesia and Brazil are reportedly quite stable as compared to their richer counterparts like US.

If you are sick of hearing about it, here's a proven solution. Go shopping. Homes, cars, paint, toys, shoes, cameras, whatever you can. Yes frugality is the new black but let’s put that on the back burner for a bit and do something collectively. If you go shopping, retail sector will gradually show some recovery just like manufacturing has after ages (thanks to cash for clunkers), consumer confidence will rise and US will start buying again from other countries eventually lifting global economy.

Sometimes the most complex situations have the easiest solutions. Like shopping! Go.

Friday, August 14, 2009

A new tryst with destiny

This appeared in The South Asian Times on 15th August.

It's been exactly 62 years since Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of independent India made his famous 'tryst with destiny' speech. I saw the speech on YouTube after ages today. The modest video with a strong unshakeable voice had the power to transport me into that world, even if it was for a minute. A world I can only piece together through historical books and movies and stories from my grandfather, if I tried hard. "At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom" brought a hint of wetness to my otherwise unfazed eyes, although I've heard it a million times. Yes it's been 62 years since we achieved independence. We've lived it long enough to believe it.

True independence however is not just freeing the country from the holds of foreign rulers. It is not a one time occurrence. Rather it's a continuous evolvement process, and we've gone through several phases of it already from getting rid of socialist-inspired policies, giving birth to private sector, being a big part of globalization and winning the coveted 'software mughals' epithet.

The popular opinion that prevails these days is that India is all set to be a superpower. Let's take a contrarian view on the subject on this important day before we get submerged into the routineness of the rest of the 364 days. How is the economic independence plan going for our country? It is just an approximation of where we hoped it would be? Sure we're making progress by leaps and bounds on some fronts but why then do we still notice the same cracks in our socio-economic structure?

Just a few things to ponder about:

- India has always been a price sensitive market owing to its large middle class. But unless we become quality conscience, the confidence in Indian products will not be instilled in the West. India is at the forefront of innovation but generally it is in the direction of making something cheaper, not better quality. If we can change this mindset, our products would be very welcome globally.
- The population explosion is as uncontrollable as it always was. We're at 1.1 billion now which leads to several resource issues that we've seen time and again. We’re all set surpass China’s population by 2030 unless each individual does something to prevent that.
- Corruption has become inseparable with our society. It's thought upon as a default action for any new venture in both public and private sector. Anywhere there's a demand-supply gap, corruption exists and no one even raises a brow anymore. We’ve unfortunately accepted it as a sad reality.
- I am ashamed to even include this one. Although India's national constitution of 1950 sought to abolish cast discrimination, Casteism still remains deeply entrenched in our culture. Six decades later, I believe it has gotten worse.
- If I can take the liberty of generalizing, the biggest difference between an Indian in India vs. abroad is his work dedication. It has been generally noted that the same individual seems to take his job and the law a lot more seriously overseas. Why the different treatment?
- If there's one thing our politicians are good at, it is creating a variety of yojnas. Anyone heard of those berozgar yojnas where a 100 odd crores are sanctioned for a pond to be built so workers can get employment? Anyone seen those ponds? Yes they exist, in the documents that the elected officials mandate.
- Much has been spoken and written about land acquisition in prime agricultural areas by companies that set up factories by uprooting lives of some 500 families who work there. The owners of that land sure benefit but the poor workers lose their livelihood. Industrialization is certainly the need of the hour but why utilize prime agricultural land for it?

There are several more issues that need more awareness and demand our attention. Needless to mention, we've had immense 'wins' which can't be overlooked by any means. Arihant - our first nuclear submarine, space endeavors, green revolution and individual talent, it's endless. I think the biggest win for us is that we as a country have been able to survive as a unified force despite the tremendous diversity. But we already know that and that's not what I wanted to highlight with this article. We are more than aware of all the 'thumbs-up' aspects and we're equally aware of the 'thumbs-down' aspects as well. The duration for those flips is what will lay the blueprint for India's hope as a superpower.

No nation is flawless but at least we can try. It's about time we schedule a little detox for the country and a little rehab for 'those' politicians, don't you agree?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Emerging personality types

Aamir Khan announced on his blog today his wife had recently had a miscarriage. Paula Abdul announced a few days back on Twitter that she won't be returning to American Idol after 8 seasons. And Kourtney Kardashian (from Keeping Up With The Kardashian) announced that she's expecting, also on Twitter.

Despite even-celeb-sneezes-are-newsworthy media, agents that charge an arm and a leg and paparazzi who act as their shadows, celebrities are taking the route of directly connecting to their fans. Then there's the added drama of their friends, cousins and others interested in their lives that react/respond to these news on these blogs or social networking sites.

The phenomenon isn't limited to celebrities. Even we mortals are at it. Every new event, non event, budding gossip, comic or witty or interesting story/feeling/opinion is saved for the online world before being shared with fellow warm blooded creatures. Our online profiles are an extension of us but it is our alter ego? If at the end of the day people try to reconcile their online existence with their offline one, how much of it would be real and how much fantasy?

The encouraging part is, it makes story tellers out of us all. It makes us think what we're really doing and we've conditioned our brains to learn that 'laying on the couch and watching TV' is not a daily acceptable internal response. It sometimes gives us TMI about ourselves as it continually contributes to the self discovery process at some level. And the best part is that it makes us aware of what our limitations should be, emphasizing the classic think-before-you-speak, for someone might call us out. As Indians, we lacked that quality by and large but the new generation is forced to be conscious of it.

The not so fun part is that, most likely you have a heterogeneous group of people as 'friends' which bars you from being you. With those with 2-300 odd people watching your every move, you need to be ever so careful about what goes on record. For those of us who're not too comfortable in our skin, this can take a toll as the goal might become to spit out something impressive as opposed to something in its bare form. But then, dull honesty isn't all that appealing on a recurring basis either.

Psychiatrists of the world will now have to go through extensive training to decode these aspects of our personalities. Now, they’ll have to deal with more than just a few types. There’s a quiet-in-person-but-miss-nasty-online, a married-with-kids-in-person-but-mr-looking-for-kinky-affair-online, a charming-in-person-but-miss-overkill-online, a humble-in-person-but-mr-narciccist-online, and so many more permutations.

As for me, in case you're wondering, I'm just me. Trust me. Just me. ;)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Opinions opinions

What is the common thread that unites bloggers of the world or rational thinking types or women in a book club: opinions. A dime a dozen for others but every so often priceless to us.

Being a victim of bullies as a school girl with atrocious plaits, (who for the record aren't easy to fight as per an article in Slate today that said bullies can be stopped but it takes a village. phew) I almost had no opinions that I can recall. As college happened, individualistic qualities surfaced making confidence creep in and opinions took shape and form. Now so many years later, I feel I'm a barrel of opinions. The lack of subject matter expertise of a sales guy at Best Buy, my landlady's husband's overbearing presence, my inability to be punctual... I seem to crank out opinions on everything in under a minute. And these aren't necessarily judgments but simply manifestations of my feelings.

Is it awfully wrong? It is maybe a little rightish? Is it even required? I could perhaps do something more constructive in the time it takes to form opinions and express them. Like iron the dress I haven't worn in ages just coz it's crumpled. Or wax my car. Or call my elderly uncle who I haven't spoken to in a really long time.

Then I came across a quote that instantly made me feel better "any clod can have the facts, but having opinions is an art". Think I’m gonna run with it.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Virtual yaadein

The skilled procrastinator that I am, I surpassed several deadlines I had given myself to clean out my official laptop. Finally as I ran out of space, I compelled myself to get around to it on Sunday night.

Being at work for about 8 hours a day and spending some time surfing while away from work, I had reason to believe that if someone asked me where I live, and if I said online, it wouldn't be a completely outrageous answer. Perhaps I'd get a chuckle, perhaps a confused look but certainly not a you-are-crazy expression. I have been just as much a part of online world as I am of my offline world and frankly quite torn between the two.

Over the span of 2 years of semi-owning my laptop, it had become my virtual residence and just like my real one, my stuff was scattered all around. No surprises that cleaning it up almost felt like moving homes - grouping like things together, zipping them up and transfering. The stuff I stumbled upon ranged from an interesting article I had once come across, link to a painting that had once inspired me, a snapshot of a website that sold fashion stuff cheap and several other trivial things. And pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. I tend to carry my camera along almost everywhere hoping to catch something intriguing when I'd least expect it. And the invention of digital cameras has liberated us from the fear of think-before-you-click syndrome. There is nothing to waste anymore, only beauty to freeze.

As I came across folder after folder, with names that made no sense, I was overcome with mixed feelings. Some made me nostalgic, some made me blush and some others were just whatever. An hour later, I was done playing my own search agent and the pile with 'whatever' pics was significantly heavier than the others. I had accumulated so many memories that I wasn't even sure I needed. But having discovered them, I didn't have the nerve to hit the delete button. After much convincing that went around from me to me, I finally was able to get rid of the blurred ones that I'd saved thinking I'd make them arty one day with photoshop and making pretty wall pieces out of it.

Ray Romano once said something beautiful… that one needs to keep editing one’s life to discard the bad memories and to retain only the good ones. But it isn't as simple as good or bad anymore. What do you do with all the other piles that you don't care about today but unsure of whether they’ll evoke any interest in you someday.

O well, at least I'll have those memories in my head. That's the thing about human brain, it doesn't reach maximum capacity every 2 years forcing you to dump stuff to an external hard drive

Saturday, August 8, 2009

'Wrong guy' again?

This appeared in The South Asian Times on August 8th.

The last movie I saw, the last book I read, the last hour long international phone call I was on, all marked one distinct trend: girls falling for the proverbial 'wrong guy' a lot more often than they'd like to believe. It's probably true vice-versa as well but girls tend to analyze and recognize these patterns a lot more, turning it into somewhat of a crisis.

Who is this 'wrong guy' and how what charming quality does he possess to draw a girl who will eventually shower him with the infamous ‘wrong guy’ epithet but not without going through heartache? The range is far and wide and includes but isn't limited to age, attitude, an annoying habit or two, too much or too little gray matter, too much or too little westernized outlook, too much or too little de-Indianized outlook or vice-versa, flakiness and a whole lot more. There always seems to be a deal breaker with a giant red flag that is too hard to ignore. Why is it so hard to notice this red flag from a distance then? Perhaps because people always put their best foot forward while scouting out and meeting a prospective bride or groom. Whether it's their profile on or a referral from a friend or an enterprising relative, you always see/hear compelling things at first. It's the classic case 'right on paper but wrong in person'.

Ladies, repeat after me – I will not pick him just because he looks great on paper. Expected level of appearance, education, profession and family background alone does not suffice. These things do not come in handy when you want to plan your summer vacation doing something adventurous while he wants to stay home and read books on Alzheimer's or when you are dying to go to Disneyland but he thinks it’s juvenile.

Girls aren’t likely to spend even a quarter of the time evaluating his personality as they spend looking for that splendid pair of strappy sandals for a friend’s party. And there is a perfectly valid reason – personality traits are intangible attributes, something that requires time and careful consideration. Who’s got the time for that right? Personality should not be an inconsequential factor when it comes to decision making so let’s quickly categorize these personality types for you.

First up is the serious and quiet guy. He’s intelligent, independent and interested in security and peaceful living. Someone like Ajay Devgan. He might be stubborn and far from being tame-able. There will be nothing you can say or do to change his mindset, beliefs or behavior. But he will responsible, dependable and caring. So think before you leap if you are that girl who needs a little spice in life.

Next up is the rarest breed – that super intellectual guy who has a ton of charisma. His range of interests will vary from working at an NGOs to doing a photo shoot for a new designer to being a connoisseur of wine. Someone like Rahul Bose. His inherent charm can be his USP, just as much as any of his other qualities. But he won’t be easy to attract or to hold on to. So unless you are a rare breed too, let’s move on.

This one is a favorite. He’s traditional, conventional and a family man. He will be well-read and well-informed and good at a broad range of things. He would never be afraid to try anything but don’t expect him to succumb under peer pressure. His ways will be original, his personality individualistic and he will be far from being impressionable. Someone like Abhishek Bachchan. But he will look for values, morals, and a grounded person. So unless you are ms-goodie-two-shoes, he will not settle.

Let’s move onto the instantly likeable guy. He’s the quintessential fun, flirty and eternally romantic man. Someone like Shahrukh Khan. He will have a heart, like you, that beats loud, now and again. He is guaranteed to be warm-hearted, popular, friendly and adaptable. He’ll be a hit with all your friends and family. But if you are that girl that needs to be alone from time to time to think alone or just be yourself, his enthusiasm might be a little too much to handle.

Don’t get confused between the romantic guy and the playboy. This one will be a charmer at first but soon you’ll see past his exterior and realize that he has a big ego and is quite unreliable. Someone like Salman Khan. So if he starts hitting on you before you could even ask him his last name, forget the goose bumps he gives you and switch your brain on. He might have outstanding people skills and might get too popular too soon with your friends, but take a moment to analyze the compliments he gives you and the very sweet gestures he shows. Too cliché and not genuine? Back off.

This one is a little hard to come across. The strong and protective guy. Someone like Sanjay Dutt. It’s not easy to strike up a conversation with him. He is not too fond of social situations. He will usually prefer hanging out with his buddies and talk about manly affairs. He’ll ensure you are safe and have everything you need except for his company. So if you need a part time husband that leaves you with plenty of time for your career/friends/family/whatever, you got it.

I guess in the end, ‘wrong’ isn’t wrong on an absolute scale, but just something that isn’t right for you.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

'Hottest freshman' congressperson

Politics is certainly changing in this country. Mr. Obama created history by being the first African-American president, Ms. Palin provided the country with some eye candy and entertainment and Mr. Schock is being quite a shocker.

He lives in newspapers as well as men's glamour magazines, he's profiled on CNN as well as MTV, people are interested in his career as well as his personal life and they might have to make a special list for him 'politicians under 30'. We're talking about Aaron Schock. Aaron is a Republican from Illinois and the youngest member of congress. He grew up on a farm, launched his political career at the age of 19 and his leaked scandalous MySpace pics like the ones with him and his six packs and a girl in swimwear are making the customary rounds. Talk about having it all.

I love this story because it sets the path for all the young bees to imagine a career in politics. Young blood in politics comes with many benefits: it gets the youth interested, it lends a much-needed fresh perspective to stale issues and it is just a better deal economically and financially - more productivity without the price tag. And more than anything, the passion and the enthusiasm is usually unprecedented. Back to the shocker. His accomplishments are unique, just like him... or that's what makes him unique. He was elected a member of a school board with 150 schools under it at 19, became VP on the board 2 years later and when most people are trying their luck at internships, he became a school board president at 22. And he received a BS degree along with it. A year later he ran for state representative and became member of Illinois house of representatives. All of his titles usually include the 'youngest member of' phrase. I've seen situations where unqualified people are sometimes promoted to something they can't really handle but not this guy. In just 5 months of joining house of representatives, he authored 11 bills and sponsored 18 bills, all dealing with reforms at one level or another.

No surprises that he's received an unusual amount of coverage for a freshman congressman. And this treatment isn't just based on his age and appearance, but significantly due to his work ethic and how quickly he can bring about a change. One reader poll recently selected him as the "hottest freshman" congressperson.

I can only hope to be the youngest member of something someday besides 'yoga for the elderly' club at a park near me.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Marrying Anita

It only took me a month and a half to finish this book, not because it was any lengthier than regular novels, but at 15 mins/day, you can't really get far.

First off, it wasn't a novel. It's a memoir by an Indian girl of 1st gen. immigrant parents, born and brought up in US. Anita comes across as fun, spunky and seems to be the sort of person who can charm just about anyone with her word craft. She went to Harvard to study journalism and has traveled internationally as a journalist. While dating extensively in NYC, she got bored of her delightful albeit trivial escapades that promised no future when she hit 30. So she tries reverse immigration that seems to be quite rampant lately and decides to move to Delhi to find a suitor.

There are quite a few things I liked about it: the Diaspora theme in the initial chapters, the depiction of modern India, Harvard acquired vocabulary which is superb and the Slumdog Millionaire kinda theme where people/ places/ incidents have a significant bearing on a certain aspect of the country. It is certainly far from run-of-the-mill summer reads. The contrast she's drawn between her father's journey from India to US and her journey from US to India is fantastic and got me immediately interested. Her descriptions and insights into the new India are quite notable. Her intelligence flows through her effortless prose and I absolutely loved her witty and amusing writing style.

A few things were slightly hard to digest. Anita meets a 100 different characters when she moves to Delhi. Each character has a unique story to tell. Since the backdrop is India's transition to modernity despite critical issues like domestic violence, women's oppression, rising rates of failed marriages, foreigners moving to India in search of employment, brain drain, bar-nightclub culture, homosexuality, disparity between rich and poor, etc, each person conveniently seems to portray one of these issues. I wonder why my social circle isn't even remotely as diverse. It can almost pass off as non-fiction in certain sections where such issues are highlighted except every victim has a name and has met Anita at a bar. Which also means that these 100 different characters are not related to each other and have no bearing on the 'story' leading the book to get disjointed in parts. The third very clear thing that explains my first two points above is that Anita seems to be in no frame of mind to find a groom. It seems very obvious that she's moved to Delhi only to write about her wild encounters under the pretext that she's looking for a groom. And every self-destructive wild sequence has been initiated by her, only to write about it later. Some even seem fictional. How else can every guy she meets be a wrong guy (i.e. drastically younger or older, hash smoking, unconventional and strictly interested in a fling) given that she’s a smart, intelligent woman who knows what she wants. It should have been marketed as fiction perhaps.

No surprises that the book ends with her still being single.

Overall, a very well-written, interesting and entertaining read. My rating – 4 / 5

Monday, August 3, 2009

Sharing beaches with UFOs

According to a report in Russia Today, the Russian navy has declassified its records of encounters with UFO's, which indicate that extraterrestrial intelligences like to stick to oceans while visiting Earth. The records, dating back to soviet times, were compiled by a special navy group collecting reports of unexplained incidents delivered by submarines and military ships. The Navy commander heading that group said that 50% of UFO encounters are connected with oceans and 15% more with lakes. So, generally speaking, UFOs tend to stick to the water.

"Big deal" I thought when I read that. Sparkling water, wind piercing your body to liberate it from the scorching heat, warm rays that do the job of a masseuse, careless moments and no concept of time; what's not to like? Whether you're from a technologically advanced galaxy or a galaxy that's barely catching up, everyone needs a little R&R. If anyone cared about my opinion, I wouldn't be opposed to UFOs using the beach parking lots but I'd prefer the creatures from UFOs land up on cold lonely beaches where no one goes and leave the gold coast for the sheer pleasure of those who live there.

Southern California is known for a wide variety of beaches. The southern most part of SoCal is San Diego. SD beaches are splendid and the surrounding areas, a great eclectic mix of the old and the new world. Slight north of it is La Jolla, with some finest golf courses, art deco districts and college crowd living it up with all the imaginable water fun activities. Further north bordering LA is Newport Beach. Newport boasts of untouched charm with a line of mom & pop cafes embellishing the coastline. Hermosa is the hottest of SoCal beaches. Manhattan is elegant. Venice is out and out crazy. Santa Monica is the touristy one. Malibu is for the richie rich. Santa Barbara is the fun one. And there are many many more that define the essence of California.

Its summer and I've been spending quite a few lazy afternoons at the beach. Free time doesn't come without its share of contemplation leading to revelations when you're no longer a teenager. I've been questioning myself lately about why I haven't rented a little place on the beach all these years. The concept of affordability is all relative. I could have survived in half a kitchen and half a bedroom and just taken baths in the ocean if I tried. Why then despite being in the vicinity, I did not chase the option to indulge in this immense exquisiteness of nature? If it could inspire me in countless ways in a matter of few hours, imagine a decade. I could have been a lot more productive, a lot more calm and a lot more creative had I lived by the water. Three 'lot more's, now that's something definitely worth a shot.

As I was reluctantly walking back from the sand post sunset towards my car yesterday evening, I saw an ugly shack, 3rd non-house from the ocean front, 1200 sq ft, 2 bed/1 bath listed for a meager 2.1 million (a board in the front yard read 'reduced price') and felt good about living where I live again.