Zinda hoon yaar….

When I first heard the song “Zinda Hoon Yaar” by Amit Trivedi from the movie Lootera, I thought what a fatalistic song. The lyrics of the song are: Mujhe chod do mere haal pe, Zinda hoon yaar….Kaafi hai. Translation: leave me alone in whatever state I am… I am alive and that’s enough. I don’t like fatalistic songs and this song made me think…oh what a loser that all he wants to do is live his life the way it is.

But there was something about it that made me go back to it again and again; the background score, the singer, or something else. The beauty of a poem is you can interpret it any which way it pleases you sometimes you interpret it in five different ways depending on your mood. In my current state of mind (running around sorting out my personal and professional life) when I heard this song, I absolutely agreed with the song. The song tells you “leave me alone, I am alive and that should be enough…” When everyone is running in the rat race trying to prove themselves to some corporation, trying to get a higher paying job, a higher figure salary, better benefits; all to improve their quality of life. The life which they are too busy worrying and working for and which they have no time to live! Each of us, including myself is a corporate rat; scurrying around…trying to finish that one last task at the expense of our health and life, living from one weekend to next. Every Friday is the same phrase, “thank god it’s Friday today” and every Monday are the same droll faces with an expression on their face saying “please take me far far away!” I sometimes wonder if everyone collectively hates their job or Monday blues are contagious.

The last line of the song is “kuch mangna baaki nahi, jitna mila…kaafi hai…” translation: I don’t need to ask for anything more, whatever I have received is enough. My life is a constant struggle between needs and wants, and I am sure most of our life is wanting more- I need more clothes, more shoes, more money, more status even more knowledge and more love! For once, I wish I could say I am happy with what I have, and don’t want more.

I wish I could follow this song and say- I am alive and kicking and that’s more than enough!

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Of childhood and birthday cakes….

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Today I picked up some Indian style pastries: a black forest cake, a pineapple cake and a butterscotch cake from a small Indian snack shop on my way home. You have to be an Indian to understand the lure of these cake flavours. Black Forest cake is a layered chocolate sponge cake, with vanilla butter cream frosting in between and on top, decorated with chocolate shavings and a sugared cherry; pineapple cake is a layered vanilla cake with pineapple flavored frosting in between and on the top layer and topped off with a sugared cherry; butter scotch cake is also a layered vanilla sponge cake with vanilla and butterscotch flavored frosting and topped with some hard butter scotch pieces and a sugared cherry. Notice, how all the cakes are topped with cherries…I don’t know why but all the Indian style pastries always have a cherry on the top!

When I started sharing these cakes with my friends, I realized that they were not particularly tasty nor were they true to their names in terms of flavors. They all just tasted like sponge cakes with some kind of butter cream frosting. We had a bag of potato chips and we ended up eating a completely unhealthy snack of pastries and potato chips. That’s when a friend remarked, “Isn’t this what we ate at birthday parties growing up?” Our childhood birthday parties consisted of going to a friend’s place, whose house was decorated with balloons and confetti, where after the birthday cake cutting ceremony, your friend’s mother served you a piece of cake, some chips and maybe a samosa on a disposable paper plate. All this was eaten up quickly and then you were served an orange drink called Rasna in disposable cups.

Growing up we had only one cake shop in our town, and probably only that one brand of pastries existed throughout India at that time. It was called Monginis, and having a pastry there was considered a treat which was reserved only for special occasions. So of course all the birthday cakes growing up were from Monginis. I remember it would be such a treat to select your birthday cake a week before your birthday, looking through the pages of their ‘made to order birthday cakes’ book, so you could select exactly the one you wanted for yourself and your friends. I remember Monginis being the only cake shop around until much later when I was in my 20s that couple of local brands sprung up in some corners of the town.

I know the pastries that I bought here in Boston don’t taste anything like what they used to be in India; but they tasted like childhood memories, of the days when lives were simpler and birthday parties were joyous occasions intended only for gorging on Monginis cakes and rasna!

Escape while you can!

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Unless you have been living under a rock in the last few months, then you know the media has been buzzing constantly; first with endless US presidential election campaigning, then the US election night, Indian PM demonetizing the Rs.500 and Rs.1000 bills and then the final cherry on the top: Donald Trump winning the elections to be the 45th President of United States. While all the outside news has been constantly hammering on in my mind, the twists and turns of life and work have also kept me constantly busy.

For as long as I remember whenever life overwhelms me, I have turned to books and reading. Like Hermione in Harry Potter, when faced with a problem I have looked for answers in books and library. So it isn’t surprising that in whatever little time I have had lately I have read voraciously. When there is so much drama happening in real life, one doesn’t want to read anyone else’s life drama; even that of a fictitious character. So I picked up couple of books from science fiction and fantasy genre. Fantasy genre is one of my favourite genres and if the book is a fantasy thriller….my life is all set! I mean who is thinking about real life problems and presidential elects when you are hot on the trail of aliens trying to invade earth or a wizard trying to save humans!

For science fiction this time I tried a book called The Three-body Problem written originally by a Chinese author Liu Cixin and translated in English. I just finished it yesterday and it was one of the most interesting science fiction books I have read; it was mainly about how a group of people are sick of the current state of humanity and decide to invite a race of aliens to save the human kind. It resonated with me because this is exactly how I feel about human race today, where we are completely losing touch with our humanity. While realistic it was also thrilling, fun and educational. Today I picked up Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. I have never read any Ursula Le Guin, but have heard wonderful things about her writing and I am excited to start the book. The other one I picked up was Fool Moon by Jim Butcher which is the book 2 in the Dresden Files series. Most of the books in this series can be read standalone and I have read a couple of them in no particular order; but this time I decided to start reading the series in its right sequence.

I have always loved to read thrillers, mysteries and adventure stories.  I guess I have always looked for a way to escape the reality even if it is for a little while, if I can get a fun ride with a wizard or an alien during that escape I am more than happy to get on it!

Lands we leave behind

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More than half a century ago a man left the green fields and farm lands of western Maharashtra to try his luck in the glittering city of Mumbai. His mother had passed away a while ago and he left behind his father and younger brothers with the promise to bring them to the city. In Mumbai he found friends, a small place to live, got his degree as a certified accountant, and a job. Eventually he started his own company that manufactured chemicals and trained his brothers to manage that company. That man was my uncle, who brought his younger brothers from a small rural village in Maharashtra to Mumbai, give them better education and to give them a chance at a better life. Once he came to Mumbai, he never went back to the village except to visit the other relatives there every now and then. He got married and found matches for his brothers one by one, including my father. Everyone started their families in Mumbai and nobody gave a thought to return back to the village. The second generation of my family (my cousins and myself) decided to come further away to improve their lives and a few of us immigrated to the USA. Like our elders before us, we have not given much of a serious thought to going back to our lands. Like my uncles and my father who were immigrants to Mumbai and eventually became citizens of Mumbai (called mumbaikars), we have slowly become Americanized.

People all over the globe move from their home towns and home countries and become immigrants elsewhere. Mostly they move for a better life, better opportunities for families, and sometimes just for the sheer adventure of living unmoored in a new place. I moved away from my home when I was young to find a life different than the one I had back in India. Maybe like my uncle I thought this was the right move to have a better future; but unlike my uncle I didn’t have to bring any of my family here with me.

When you move far away to make your life better, you leave something behind…usually elder parents, other family. You lie to yourself saying you will be back one day but you never get back. Whether it is moving 350 km to Mumbai or 10000 miles to US, it is a move where eventually you will never look back. You have to make a life where you move in order to be successful, but the happier you are in new place the guiltier you sometimes feel about all that you have left behind.

I don’t know if my uncle ever felt the guilt or worry about his move decades ago (he wasn’t the kind of person to talk about his feelings), but he was very happy when his daughters moved to US, he felt that like him they were moving on to something better in life. I just wish I had asked him about all this when he was still coherent, I wish I had talked to him about how to immigrate when you leave half your life behind.

Strangers once again

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It is funny how sometimes you meet strangers and can just connect with them. And then sometimes the opposite also happens, the strangers who had become friends go back to being unknown strangers again. I have had experience with the latter when a best friend became a stranger and a ‘he who shall not be named!’
But life is strange and time is weird, it heals you even though you don’t want to be healed, and finally there comes a time when memories don’t hurt as much and you can smile and let the stranger go…

Getting Hitched Attempts!

Since past 5 years or so my parents have been trying to arrange my marriage. By Indian standards, 5 years ago, I was at the “right marriageable age”, and today by those same standards, I am already old! The way the arranged marriage system works, is your parents give you details of some random stranger and ask you to talk to that guy, and then depending on the quality of those first initial conversations, things either move forward or come to a halt. After so many years of doing this, I have realized these guys can be divided into several categories: some love to talk and talk and talk without taking things in any direction, some who are in a serious hurry to get married and talk about kids in the first conversation, and some who talk to you because their parents are pushing them to talk. Sometimes I am myself in the last category, when I know I don’t want to talk to a person, but it is difficult to explain it to your parents why you don’t think this guy is worth your time!

But sometimes the guys seem decent on the paper and I do end up talking to them willingly, only to realize that they are usually talking to number of girls at one time and will suddenly disappear because they have hooked up with one of the several other girls they were talking to! Sometimes by some accidents of fate, I end up meeting these eligible bachelors. Lately my “dates” with these random strangers have gone from bad to worse and my life has become one hilarious event after another. I have decided to laugh to entertain everyone with this post because if you cannot laugh at yourself then life becomes overwhelming and difficult.

My latest attempt at meeting someone topped all my disastrous dates so far, in that I went to NYC to meet this person and he almost stood me up by coming in 2 hours late! The guy seemed good in the initial conversations so I decided to go and meet in person. But apparently he didn’t think I was important enough to warrant coming on time. Even after coming late, he kept on checking his cell phone and texting. The best part of this whole ordeal was the beautiful day I spent in NYC walking around Central Park, enjoying my company while I waited for the moron to make an appearance. So all in all it was a great day spent almost entirely by myself; with 9 hours of bus ride to meet someone for 2 hours!

Last month was yet another funny attempt at meeting a random someone. In a couple of chats, the guy seemed very immature and annoying. This guy-a complete random stranger-would argue with me over chats when I didn’t wish him good night and good morning. Since he was in Boston though, I couldn’t get out of meeting him and we agreed to have dinner at an Indian restaurant. Then when I met him, he spent the whole evening giving me creepy stares and telling me to honest with him. During the course of that disastrous dinner, he also informed about me looking skinnier in my pictures than I did in real life. Yet another Prince Charming….Yes, my life is full of them!

There was one guy who was actually quite interesting and who chatted with me on phone for couple of months and then hedged around when I asked about meeting up and ultimately told me he had found someone else.

There was one guy, who was some long lost relative of a family friend and was in Boston, so obviously I had to take time out and meet him otherwise I was going to disappoint everyone from here to Mumbai. Turns out, this guy didn’t like talking, every time I would talk his response would be a one liner and then “and what about you?” Yup, he was a talkative one!

There was another guy I talked with last year, who was very interesting and I had a very good time chatting with him, but he refused to talk on phone. I was so interested in him that I let that nonsense go on for quite a while, almost affecting my mental health in the process. Thankfully a close friend forced me to put an end to it.

One blog post and couple of paragraphs don’t do justice to my stories. But it suffices to say, this is a long drawn and difficult process for those who don’t conform to the societal rules. I have been told that I should not to seem too independent or too talkative; to not tell any guy that I drink, lest he think I am too fast; to not tell anyone that I work in cancer research field or someone might think I can’t have babies. The implication being that the only way anyone would like me is if I not reveal my personality at all.  The good part through this experience is that my parents have never forced me to compromise on issues important to me. Living within the Indian society while not conforming to its rules has been an ordeal I had never imagined myself having facing while growing up.

Just Imagine!

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Imagination is a powerful tool, and a fantastic gift. If you can imagine it, you can have it. It makes you see ordinary everyday things as something extraordinary and exotic. For example, seeing a bridge on a foggy rain soaked evening, and you can imagine yourself standing on a foggy street in a time far away from your own, waiting for a horse driven carriage to whisk you away! I love visiting historic ancient ruins and palaces, because I imagine I am standing in a different time when I was surrounded not by the ruins but the actual sites.

Last year I visited some old palaces of Mughal kings and queens in Agra, India. If you get away from the crowds and listen carefully, you can imagine the fading echoes of the laughter of the women who lived in those palaces centuries ago, you can imagine the kings holding courts in the traditional garbs and the women sitting and watching the proceedings from their private wings. Imagination brings an additional layer to your experience, whether it is visiting an old palace or walking on the street listening to a song. It can take you to places unseen and can introduce you to the people you would otherwise never meet. Never stop imagining, it makes things beautiful and possible. Like the road less traveled which could lead to something beautiful.

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This is something which I need to remind myself everyday. Hopefully the rest of you are smarter than me! 🙂 But seriously so many of us try so hard to be in someone’s life because we cannot let go of some image in our minds. The image where we our happier selves, but end up making ourselves so miserable. I have decided to slowly let go of the bygones and the maybes and try and embrace the nows. What will be, will be; there is no point in obsessing about the past-its mistakes and its possibilities.

What ifs?

We are always focusing on the unattainable in our lives. If you had that job you would be so happy, if you had that guy you would be so happy, if only you lived in a better place, had more room, more shoes, more…..If only we had everything that we wanted, we would be so happy is a central theme that runs through most of our lives. It is the emotion that drives us to do better, that emotion that sometimes drives us nuts, the feeling which either gives us success or drives us to the bottle and meds!

I am no stranger to the, “If I had _____, I would be happy” club. We build our dreams around what we want, and when things don’t go our way, we lose control. But humans are so fickle, we want one thing and then when we get it, we crib and complain about it and then we want something else. Sometimes it is better to let go of some of those dreams, because not everything that we want is good for us. Sometimes perversely we want something precisely because it is unattainable, and that is no good reason to want something or someone in your life. Maybe it is better to slowly let go of that possible dream job, the dream house so that you can count your blessings, and so that you can make way to build new dreams. We need to be reminded of our achievements and blessings so that we stop being so hard on ourselves. Maybe instead of searching for that elusive dream and that “would have beens” we should start living with what we have, maybe we will find new ways to enjoy our blessings!