Monday, April 30, 2007

Leaves That Fell In The Middle Of Spring.

We saw the leaves fall this spring.
Wasn’t the tree always going to be lush,
adorned with green buds and white blossoms?
All the others were.

Why, the leaves are life of the tree!
They dance and sing with the wind,
and they tickle the young buds until they laugh.

We don’t know why, but the leaves loosened themselves.
It was too early.
Not fair.
No, it cannot be.
They had not felt the June sun nor tasted the August heat.
The young buds need their shade to grow
into delicious fruits of September.
They must stay.

The tree tried to hold onto them
“Just a bit longer.”
And, even when the stems were thin
the pain to cling was too much,
the leaves still believed they would stay
and keep the branches warm.

Along came a calm April breeze, which circled her arms
around the leaves. Quietly cradled each leaf and

carried them afar.
They were free to float and frolic.
They missed their tree,
but had another journey to follow.

The tree stands with a wide, open embrace.
If you listen to the rustle of the leaves in May,
you’ll hear the whisper of the melody they left behind.

In memory of leaves that fell this spring

- Dr. Padmaja Shinde 1966 – 2007

- Boney Dhar 1964 - 2007

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Movie Review - Volver

Penelope Cruz was nominated as best leading actress for the Oscar for her role in "Volver." I haven't seen too many of her films, but she acted very well in this film. The film's storyline was unique as a mother returns from the dead and there are lots of secrets - some deadly ones are told early on, and others are revealed at the end.
This movie is about mothers and daughters. They show Raimunda's relationship with her mother when she was alive and how it differed after her death. And, then a mother and daughter have a second chance at their relationship. There's another woman who needs closure and a resolution with her own mother. Also, Raimunda's fierce love for her daughter is so strong and shows what she will sacrifice for her daughter. She plays a practical, astute, and strong woman.
I'll be sexist and say I'm impressed a male director/writer, Pedro Almovodar, had executed the depiction of the complex mother-daughter relationship so well. There are lots of strong women in this - the mothers, the daughter and even the local prostitute is a smart and strong woman.
I had to laugh at certain shots which focused directly on Penelope's beautiful cleavage, either in profile or an aerial shot down her shirt. And, her breasts even become topic of conversations -- only in European films! (Bollywood shows everything, but pretends it doesn't.)
By the way, I think she has the most beautiful eyes, which bat and tear for the camera as well.
It reeks of being a chick-flick, but it's not -- there's a corpse in the midst.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

On the Job Training: Motherhood - Managing Expectations

"She's really smart, but she doesn't apply herself."

I heard this phrase throughout elementary, middle and high school. My parents were pushing me and teachers were encouraging me. I got A's in certain subjects that interested me, but I remained B+ in subjects that didn't interest me, namely math. I received my first A in math my junior year and I credit the teacher for communicating it so well.

I'm in a situation now with my daughter - a mere Kindergartner - and the teacher tells me she's not doing well in math. She dreams or she chats, doesn't speak up if she knows the answer and doesn't complete assignments on time.

This is so familiar to me. I had trouble finishing college exams on time and had to learn how to do that. So, I do not want this pattern to repeat in her.

We all know Indian parents who push the child into math, science or engineering majors. They shuttle kids to spelling bees, enrichment classes and other tutorials to make sure the child is above average. Kids are punished for getting 95, not 100 on exams.

I heard this commentary, "In Praise of Normal Kids" by Ayelet Waldeman yesterday on NPR. The story she said about bemoaning that her 1st grader was reading only at the 1st grade level hit home with me.

I'm not out to make my daughter a super scholar. I want her to be at the level I know she can be. She's very sharp, logical and curious. She likes to draw her own conclusions.

To hear that she's not doing well in math, or have her cry that the boys are good at math breaks my heart and infuriates me.

Frankly speaking, I feel the problem is with the teacher's style. I'm not about to change schools or anything. However, my plan is to reinforce her understanding of math with home practice and build her confidence. I had a horrible teacher in 6th grade. I had gone to India for an extended vacation and when I returned, she never sat with me to explain fractions. I failed tests. My father sat with me and explained quietly how this worked. Suddenly, everything made sense and I did very well. I'm still shocked at that woman's attitude.

Anyway, I had decided to speak my daughter's language. I pulled out her tea set plates and said, "We're going to have a party and invite 5 friends. Now Hannah and Rachel are coming. How many more plates do we need?"

She counts the plates, "Seven!"

"Ok, now Hannah and Rachel are not coming."

"Why are they not coming!! I want them to come!!" she cried.


So, I'll try more games. I've found worksheets on line. I've found magnetic pieces for counting.

However, is this right or too much? What about her peers who come to school for 2 hours of KG? They go home to play, while mine is in supplemental KG program. People are talking about Kumon and summer enrichment classes.

I don't know. We'll just do this one step at a time.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Shakespeare's Day

William Shakespeare was born on April 23, 1564 and died on April 23, 1616.

We were reading "Romeo and Juliet" in 9th grade and Mrs. Ekholm brought in cupcakes to celebrate. To add a twist, she asked everyone to quote a line from Shakespeare in order to receive a cupcake.

Just about everyone went up and said, "O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?" or "But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?" I had to be different and chose, "He jests at scars that never felt a wound." Mrs. Ekholm actually gripped my arm and froze. She loved it! This was said by Romeo when the guys were making fun of his lovesickness. Ironically, I often think of that line when people make comments or make light of someone else's situation.

Another favorite line of mine from Romeo and Juliet was "See, how she leans her cheek upon her hand!O, that I were a glove upon that hand,That I might touch that cheek!"

I always liked the following scene, more so after I saw the Leonardo Di Caprio and Claire Danes performance in Baz Luhrmann's film. The way it was depicted was beautiful, as they started with their palms touching to their first kiss. The language is so full of double meaning, it's pure desire.

If I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this:
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.

Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss.

Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?

Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.

O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do;
They pray, grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.

Saints do not move, though grant for prayers' sake.

Then move not, while my prayer's effect I take.
Thus from my lips, by yours, my sin is purged.

Then have my lips the sin that they have took.

Sin from thy lips? O trespass sweetly urged!
Give me my sin again.

You kiss by the book.

How hot is "give me my sin again"!?
Another powerful scene is the final death scene. Again, in the Baz Luhrmann version, as he dies and she awakens they see each other. Yet, it is too late. That makes it hurt even more.

What's here? a cup, closed in my true love's hand?
Poison, I see, hath been his timeless end:
O churl! drunk all, and left no friendly drop
To help me after? I will kiss thy lips;
Haply some poison yet doth hang on them,
To make die with a restorative.
Kisses him

Thy lips are warm.

First Watchman
[Within] Lead, boy: which way?

Yea, noise? then I'll be brief. O happy dagger!
Snatching ROMEO's dagger

This is thy sheath;

Stabs herself.

I don't get entangled in the scholarly controversies of whether Shakespeare wrote his own work or not. I simply enjoy what the world has.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

On the Job Training: Motherhood - An Imus Moment

So, we're at dinner with friends and I was quite animated in telling a story to a friend. I can't even recall now what story it was, but at one point I said, "Then she said 'Shut up, just go!'" and we were laughing.

I felt a small tug on my left.

"Mommy, I heard you say a bad word."

I quickly rewound the story in my head and realized I did say "Shut up." This is a term we've marked as a 'bad word' in our house.

"I'm sorry. I was just telling a story and said it to be funny." (echos of Don Imus?)

"Why do they have bad words?"

"Well, sometimes people use the bad words for the wrong reasons. You're right, I shouldn't have said it."

This is the toughest part of being a parent and leading by example. We're all human and make mistakes, but it's harder when someone is watching you intently and retaining what you do.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Media Misdirection

When I was in high school, I was interested in journalism as a major. My grandfather, an esteemed lawyer, was impressed with my interest as it was the "Fourth Estate," and encouraged me. Journalists were hard-hitting, fact-finding, unbiased communicators. I grew up in the shadow of the "All the President's Men," when Woodward and Bernstein were the catalysts in changing government. Daunted by the competitive nature of the field, I opted out of Journalism for an attempt at Business and finally graduating with English.

Anyway, had I pursued this degree, would I be sitting in the Bahamas right now, parked outside Anna Nicole Smith's house?

I can't understand what is happening to the media. How does entertainment and gossip become news? Are sponsors and ratings pushing them?

There's also a monomaniacal mindset among them, in that only one hot issue that can take the headlines. If there's a political scandal, that will take the headlines. Britney shaved her head, there you've got a space filler. Everyone else, fall behind, including the real war for fictious reasons.

Perhaps Americans are running out of things to discuss. It seems radio jockeys or morning show hosts only discuss American Idol. Even our local news the other night said we should stay tuned for exclusive interview with the latest singer kicked off American Idol.

It may be a financial matter where news programs need the ratings to get the sponsors. And, if entertainment stories are what draws people, so be it.

I like to think most of the educated Americans get their news from the radio or internet. However, at this moment, this is on Yahoo "News":
Dozens slain in Baghdad, Karbala attacks
North Korea disarmament deadline passes
U.S. Peace Corps volunteer missing
Poll: Most Americans filing taxes online
Vatican defrocks ex-Philadelphia priest over abuse claims
Online gambling service takes bets on global warming
Auction for rights to canceled O.J. Simpson book on hold

OJ Simpson!?

Remember the old days when CNN just did news and MTV played music videos? At the gym, they have TV's set to three channels - CNN, ABC and ESPN. A few weeks ago, CNN's Larry King was interviewing people related to Anna Nicole Smith and they were showing the same pictures over and over. On ABC, they had a PrimeTime series on "The Outsiders," and focused on a porn star whose parents were her managers. Of course, they continued to show her 'at work' with strategic blurred images. So, now ABC was showing porn to get ratings. Bravo.

Pushing the Envelope
The hot topic this week was Don Imus's racial slur. I was horrified by those comments. Don was trying to be funny by acting Black to his white audience. He's heard African-Americans call women "ho's" and feels that it can be used freely. Right now, I've seen a lot of solidarity among African Americans about this issue - this is unacceptable, misogynist and racist. They've pointed to the power of language, and the power that Imus has a media personality to influence people.

My first issue with this situation is the media again. Donny Deutsch was interviewed on this topic and he pointed out that these kind of hateful programming are being supported by handful of companies. If these corporations took responsibility to promote decent programs, it would be more beneficial in preventing such incidents. I don't know what happened to the FCC either. The more fines Howard Stern received, the higher his listening base went and more sponsors came forth. I don't get it.

Another issue this controversy has raised is language. As human beings, we always tell other people how to define us. I know there are a number of African-Americans who are against the street language of rappers. I hope the solidarity they built through this experience will help formulate change.

I know some people say that by using the N word or for women, Bitch, is empowering. I don't really buy that. While I may use Bitch as a word of strength, I don't want someone else calling me that because I cannot be sure of their intent. Now, among Indian-Americans, I'm seeing Macaca become that word of empowerment. I'm sorry, but I don't see the need to be called that. It's an absurd word, and there's no reason for desis to toss it around carelessly. If we do and someone is called macaca, we can't feel bad because we've given them that word. That's it - it's not about taking back, it's giving forward.

What is NOT in the News

I learned about this story of an Indian-American man who was brutalized by a police officer for vehicle tags. The Sikh American organizations and other Asian groups are getting involved in this. If Don Imus can lose his show for slurs, I think this police officer should lose his job!

The part that infuriates me to no end is that all brown people are potential terrorists. I remember after September 11th, bearded Indian men suddenly were clean shaven. The media with monomaniacal tendencies and the government have driven home FEAR into the mind's of the American public. For the most part, middle-America is safe from terrorists. Yet, when a mass fear grips people, it can be extremely damaging. Think of the Japanese internment camps. The Bush regime uses this fear to get public support. His approval ratings are decreasing, but the fear has been implanted already.

If any of my readers have advice on how to support this cause, please share!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Carb-elicious Memories

I came across an article in which the author reminisced about her mother’s homemade cake. While I could relate to the mother/daughter relationship and the intimacy with food, that cake and recipe meant nothing to me. She talked about slicing fruits and exact measurements of flour and sugar.
Anyway, I couldn't relate to this article about baking. We make cakes out of boxes around here. And, my mother's kitchen didn't have one measuring instrument (Indian mothers just "know.").

For me, my mom’s two desserts are sublime and her chef-d'oeuvres: gulab jamun and jalebi. I don’t know what it is with her gulab jamuns, but I cannot eat anyone else’s. I don’t care if it’s a fancy Indian restaurant or homemade by someone else’s mother, I will pass. Most likely they’re soggy, burnt or just taste a little weird.
Now, I know I’m not biased because I’ve seen my college friends pop half-a-dozen of them like doughnuts. Family members recognize her gulab jamuns as treats.

For those who have do not know and have lived a pallid culinary existence, gulab jamuns are Indian sweets. Balls of milk and flour are deep fried like doughnuts until they are nicely browned. Then, they are saturated with a thick saffron sugar syrup. Did you feel your arteries clog as you read that? My mom’s gulab jamun stay crisp, but absorb the right amount of syrup. You can eat them warm, so the syrup just oozes out. Else, you can eat them cold and bite into crystallized sugar.

In my house, we have a “no fry zone”. We're super health-conscious and we really don’t fry anything. I actually bake sweet and savories. However, I had always made gulab jamuns under my mom’s supervision. I attempted to make them on my own as a newlywed. I made them for my mother-in-law, on the last day of her visit. The outcome wasn’t as spectacular as I expected, but she was very gracious and appreciated the effort.

The other specialty my mother used to make was jalebi. These are another one of those Indian sweets that have zero health benefits. The creation process is much like a funnel cake. The batter is drizzled in a circular pattern right into hot oil. When it fluffs up perfectly, take it out and plunge it into the sticky saffron sugar syrup for a long soak. (BAAAM!!)

I haven’t eaten a memorable jalebi in years. My mom stopped making them in the ‘80’s when she lost her special bottle for making it. She tried other bottles and tips, but it would either glop or get stuck in the tube. Then we were lost. We tasted fluorescent orange and neon yellow concoctions made by others, but it wasn’t right. Actually, often it was too sweet, too soggy, too crisp or too thin - sorry excuses for jalebis.

I remember being 10 years old and telling my friends how many I could eat. “I could eat this many jalebis!” with my arms outstretched. Then someone would top me. “Oh yeah, I could eat that whole house full of jalebis!” I replied.

Maybe because I revere my mom’s versions, I haven’t attempted to do these at home. I’m more likely to make my proven successes such as sev-kheer and carrot halva.

One my last visit to Mumbai, my father-in-law ported home a batch of ghantiya and jalebi. “I bought this for you! This is the traditional breakfast for Gujaratis! ” I stared at the sticky sweet circles and didn’t know what to do. Firstly, in my Gujarati household, we always had cereal or eggs for breakfast. No one was making hot jalebis for breakfast. Secondly, how could I eat these since I have declared I will never eat another’s but my mother’s? I thanked him and said, “I love ghantiya.”

Thanks for indulging my memories. I’ve been on a low-carb diet and now these carbelicious desires are manifesting themselves into my blogs!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Message in a

So, I'm back to my Sting mode. I never finished "Broken Music" that I bought recently because I needed to finish a Rushdie for a bookclub. I like reading a memoir like this because you feel like you're on the couch with the author, he has his arm around you and is just telling his life story. When I read "Bookless in Baghdad" by Shashi Tharoor, I felt I was being led by the hand through a library (here's my review). With Hillary Clinton's book, "Living History," I felt like we were sitting across from each other with her photo album and yearbooks on the table.

Anyway, I mentioned the universe is pulling me towards Sting. I was at Best Buy the other night with the intent to buy a DVD gift. There was a Police CD, Every Breath You Take: The Classics, on sale for $9.99. What a happy coincidence!

I was listening to "Message in a Bottle" a while back and some of the lyrics struck me in a different way.

Just a castaway, an island lost at sea, oh
Another lonely day, with no one here but me, oh

More loneliness than any man could bear
Rescue me before i fall into despair, oh


A year has passed since i wrote my note
But i should have known this right from the start
Only hope can keep me together
Love can mend your life but
Love can break your heart


Walked out this morning, don't believe what i saw
Hundred billion bottles washed up on the shore

Seems i'm not alone at being alone

Hundred billion castaways, looking for a home

It really reminded me of my online writing experience. I've been actively engaged in writing articles and discussion posts for almost 10 years now. I send out my lonely message, not knowing where it will end up. Yet, I do it. Then I learn there are lots of castaways like me! Anonymous voices chiming in agreement with me. Sometimes there are dissenters, but that's ok. Else, we'd be in an echo chamber with our own reverberations pounding back at us and we'd never learn. I like to meet people who have opposing views because it helps me reinforce and strengthen my own beliefs.

I love the line "A year has passed since I wrote my note." A year? A year means disaster, baby. We need instant feedback. We needed to know yesterday!

Even though I send out my bottles, I try not to be anxious and collect the ones that do wash ashore. A majority of my blog visitors don't bother to communicate directly to me, so I have to take a deep breath of faith and confidence that they are enjoying what I have to offer and keep coming back! So, for the "hundred billion" castaways, only a handful are sending their bottles to me!

Keep the bottles coming!