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!