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.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

15th Avenue Coffee and Tea

Starbucks and my life are weaved together. It's been the thing that beats the 3 pm slump for me since ages. It keeps me going, literally. If I could work from there, I would. If I could schedule all my meetings there, I would. If I could just sit and read in the inviting orange couch with a warm blanket all day, I would.

Starbucks is now venturing into something novel. The new venture is Starbucks but not Starbucks. It's a hybrid of a bar and a coffee shop. The idea is to open a few Seattle locations, each one named after its neighborhood, furnished with repurposed materials and offering a wide variety of coffee and tea brewing options. It doesn't have the big green logo that I've conditioned my eyes to spot from far away or their signature color scheme. Needless to mention, it has a rather cool decor and a warm inviting feel from the description I've read and the snaps I've seen. It also offers some new age stuff like you could bring in your own LPs to play on the sound system and and this one's brand new, host poetry readings. Perfecto.

I'm all about companies reinventing themselves when the going gets tuff but am undecided on this one. Lots of companies take the major branding overhaul path. A while back I heard about Holiday Inn looking to build/acquire something quirky and charming as well under a different name. I guess companies continue to grow in one vertical until they reach a plateau and then they typically branch out. The same thing happened to Starbucks when they shut down thousands of stores last year and cut down on hours in some of the existing ones. I wonder if they can create an authentic neighborhood coffeehouse experience though given the liquor component.

Maybe someday I'll walk in and pretend like I've never heard of it before, and just soak the air in.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

What does your tattoo read?

This appeared in The South Asian Times on August 1st, 2009.

A very 'newsworthy' segment popped up recently on one of the news channels about tattoos being the latest fad in India. Some celebrities had catchy ones so I tried to capture names along with the associated content mentally.

My colorful commentary before I go name dropping. I love tattoos. Temporary ethnic ones that do their job on the occasion they were brought in for and never interfere with my existence, reputation or image again. I've never let them on enough to figure how long before they turn from 'ooh nice' to 'unfortunate'. I wouldn't puncture myself for anything though. I'd be a total wuss and not get a real one for fashion sake or to satisfy whims and fancies but loads of people get it done for what it means to them: a souvenir of their wild vacation, a last resort for proving their undying love, their attempt at being a rebel or to just fit in. I've seen everything from dragons to butterflies to kanji characters to people's names in Chinese. Perhaps everybody needs a youthful indiscretion or two, and a strategically placed tattoo that can be hidden well may not probably be something worth regretting too much.

I think the million dollar question isn't whether you have one but where you have it. If you have it on the face, head or wrists, you'll never have to worry about getting a job or paying taxes. No venture capitalists will ask to submit business plans either so you can safely throw those entrepreneurship dreams out of the window. If you have it on the neck somewhere, you are probably in prison in which case I shouldn't elaborate on it for safety reasons. Forearms are the only socially acceptable rebellious tattoo zone so if have been wanting to get one but not sure where, pick this area. Upper back may not get you bang for your buck because you can't wear halters and tube tops forever and what's the point of getting it done if you ain't gonna flaunt it. The only significance I could uncover for a tattoo on the lower back would be that you'll never have to pay for anything. The ones on your abs can be super high maintenance unless you hang out at the gym a lot whereas ankle tattoos can be cute and easy to pull off no matter who you are.

As for the celebs, we're maxed out on Saif Ali Khan tattoo talk but he started it all so definitely deserves a mention here. He's been sporting Kareena’s name in Hindi since ages. Then came Esha Deol with a rather fascinating one - the stylized Gayatri Mantra on her upper back. It looks a little like Ms. Jolie's but who's comparing. Amrita Arora followed suit with a "Love saves the day" on her back. Thanks for entertaining us Amrita. Malaika Arora chose some random letters, Sanju baba chose wife Manyata's name while Shruthi Hassan chose her own in Tamil. Mandira Bedi found a Tibetan Om most suitable and several others are joining the bandwagon and getting into the groove for this "trendy body art".

It’s intriguing that the ‘basic requirements’ list for being a bollywood celebrity keeps getting lengthier by the minute: great looks, well defined body, phenomenal dancing skills, finest networking skills, at least one martial arts proficiency, ability to create controversies and a parent/godfather in the industry. Apparently the latest requirement is tattoos. Oh I almost forgot about acting!

The runner up for that segment for me was Sherlyn Chopra with "I love you". And the winner was undoubtedly some Tollywood actress Trisha with Nemo’s picture (yes the fish) on her chest.