I SURVIVED THE BIG ‘D’: AN ODE TO MY ANGEL

‘My daddy’s strongest’: Every time I said those three words, I believed it. My daddy was the strongest man I had every known: my partner in crime, my best friend and when time permitted he did play the daddy role. There are two types of daughters: the ones that are daddy’s little girls and the ones that are obsessed with daddy. I was the third kind- I wanted to be just like him and I was obsessed with him.  So at 12, when I sat there staring at death steal my dad away from me, it felt like someone was snatching the core of my existence away from me. When the doctor said ‘he was no more’, I tried to comprehend what it meant. He was right there and yet he wasn’t!Image

I don’t think I have moved on. Seventeen years later, I still feel like that child trying to comprehend the moment in front of me. I have heard ‘time is the best healer, it will get better’. The hard truth is it never gets better nor does time heal anything. You learn to live with it. I learned to live with it. The strangest thing about death is suddenly I realized how lonely I was. I could be in a crowd, at a party- yet there is an inexplicable loneliness I feel at every juncture.  Again I learned to live with that monster inside of me as well. I carry him around and somehow Mr. Loneliness has become my pal, and I mask it with my shyness.

I have been the patient in surgery and I have been the person waiting for my loved one in surgery. If given a choice, I would choose to be the patient. When I was waiting for my loved one to be out of the surgery, it is almost like you are being operated on without anesthesia. Death felt exactly like that to me. My dad had the anesthesia, while I felt every tremble, and every jolt. My dad has this poem he recited to me as a child when I was sick. It gave me strength through all my battles. It went like this:

“Without Daddy there was no daughter,

Without daughter there is no daddy”

To this day, when I think of my dad I remember these lines he used to tell me. Through childhood flus, cold, sickness, hurt those lines have given me a lot of strength. It made me believe my dad was always with me.

Death changed my life forever. In pop culture, every life changing moment is giving a one-letter word- sometimes a four letter too, but we are talking PG13. Marriage is called ‘M word’, love is called the ‘L word’, cancer is the ‘C word’ etc. I pronounce death the ‘D word’. Every life altering moment gives a person a chance to fight, death doesn’t. It comes and conquers- changing life forever. It should be rightly termed the ‘F word’.

I sit at home on this fall morning thinking back to the moment that changed it all. I feel his essence and his warmth each day, I see him in my smile each day.  To say I love him is an understatement- I would never be me if he were not a part of my life. A part of me might have died with him that fall morning, but I will survive. Through all that life has to offer, I know I can live through it because my daddy lives through me.

Aliens in the Inter-racial zoo

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Every time my husband and I walk down the street in metropolitan California, we get stares.  People forget personal boundaries sometimes in their quest to know if what they are seeing is actually true.  We are the eighth wonders of the world- Why? Because he is African American and I am Indian. People do a double take on us. If we would have let them, they would have tested the authenticity of his Afro to see if he was true blood African American. Although I am Indian by birth, I am my own cocktail and most often mistaken to be South American.  So here we are walking down the street where you see Asians with Caucasians, Asians with African American, Caucasians and African Americans but the stares come our way. In this interracial museum, my husband and I are the weirdest exhibits.

We have had our share of fun. Once in Wal-Mart, we had an old man who was so close to us that we could smell the garlic in the food he ate. Do we matter so much? I guess we do.  I guess Indian women are not usually seen in inter-racial relationships, so African American and Indian is not expected. I want to ensure I say this- Just because I am with a black man, does not mean I like all black men or as they call it I am not into all chocolate. I detest the line ‘Oh you like chocolate’. No I don’t, I like one kind and I am married to him.  Don’t compare my Godiva with Hershey’s- it is not the same!

I have had people ask me did you always want to marry African American man. Sure I wanted to since the time I was born. Walking down the street in India I hoped to marry an African American, because that’s what I saw around me. I want to shoot the person who made the line, ‘Once you go black, you don’t go back.’ It’s not true at least not in my case. If today I were not with my husband, would I want to be with another black man? Sure if he looked and talked like Denzel Washington. But they don’t make too many men like that. In which case, would I want to be with someone just because he is black? Not really!

I am an exotic Indian bird nabbed by an American. Men want to know how he managed this feat considering my people are not known to go outside the culture. Women wonder how he managed to get me to marry him. I am no Angelina Jolie that Brad Pitt was waiting at the corner for me. We are two normal looking people who fell in love and got married.  There are people waiting to see what this offspring of ours is going to look like. They assure me it’s going to be beautiful. I am collecting money for every assurance I get.  I call my baby a specimen- has to be if all the visitors in our inter-racial zoo are waiting to see him/her.  You need to be special to be a spectacle. Mine is not of royal blood with five names after him/her, and it sure is not a Jolie-Pitt or any other famous last name. So the most logical reason, it is a never before seen specimen- what we call an alien. If you ever read, “an alien has been born” in the newspaper, you know who made it!

I boarded a roller coaster named America!

I boarded a roller coaster named America!.

I boarded a roller coaster named America!

I was waiting at Chennai airport to board my first flight ever to come to America. After 23 hours on a flight, I could see the San Francisco skyline from the flight. It was beautiful, all lit up on a cold July evening. Was I prepared for my American life- sure I was. When you are a teenager, you know it all. And I knew America. How could Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys and Friends be wrong? Friends had to portray real America- they lived in New York, hung out in a coffee shop for most part and Hollywood movies: Oh yeah, I sure knew America. I knew English real well, I wore jeans and t-shirt, and I love pizza and hamburgers- I was American already.Image

DISCLAIMER: Everything in this article portrays India before 2001.

A day after we landed in America my mom and I decided to go to 7-11 to buy some sandwiches. As we walked there, this African American man looked at us and said “Y’all are pretty!” The complement totally passed by me as I gave him one of my “excuse you” looks. How dare he say I am pretty, the balls on that man! I wanted to fly up to him and punch him for calling me pretty. Anyways I was smart to realize that at 5’5, there was no way I would even dent his 6’5 frame. So there I was angry that this random guy called me pretty! I came from India; we never smiled at strangers on the street, so pretty was not acceptable.

My first day in college was trickier. I was a tomboy, who up until 2001 wore big jeans, bigger shirts and had short boy cut hair.  I went to college dressed exactly like that: big jeans, shirt and short boy cut hair. I used to be a popular girl in my high school, so why would I change my style in America? The girls stared at the fiasco I was. It took me three years to shrink my jeans to proper size, big shirts changed to right size shirts. While hair grew long too- that was partly because of a challenge. I would trade my horse tail mane for my cool spunky cut any day.

I had to mentally prepare myself to be a girl. Even though I was a tomboy in big clothes, I still got asked on dates. Dates did not exist in my vocabulary. I wasn’t sure why these guys I met wanted my phone number. Some were real slick: Do you want to give me your number so we can study? Sounds legit right! Not really. That study session was all about what do you like to eat, do you dance, do you want to go out for dinner-  I had no idea how dance and eating had anything to do with electrical engineering. Well, It took me two years to get past making excuses like,” my mom has cooked for me”, or “I don’t eat outside”, versus just saying blunt no. Dates scared me and I dreaded eating with a fork and knife. It took constant reminders of which hand the fork needed to be and which hand the knife should be.

Starbucks, why were you so impossible. I wasn’t invited to the coffee renaming session when Frappuccino, cappuccino replaced coffee. On one of my unaware dates, this guy took me to Starbucks. The whole time I told myself, “I can do it, Be cool, its coffee, there is no fork and knife”.  I looked at the menu and I was stumped. I thought it was going to be in English. Frappuccino, Cappuccino, espresso- I stood there stumped pondering on this new language. So I did the easiest thing ever- I ordered coffee. I hate black coffee. In India coffee comes with milk, sugar already in the coffee and that’s what I ordered at Starbucks. My Starbucks coffee came with nothing but black water. My “date” showed me the milk area. I did not know milk came as half-half, whole and fat free. It was too hard to decide so I skipped milk. Sugar, well I thought a bag of sugar equated to a teaspoon of sugar, so I put two bags. I walked out of Starbucks accomplished that I had made my first American coffee. Not really!! First sip and it was bitter, but I did not want to throw the coffee the guy bought, so I drank most of it until my bus came to save my soulwoman-freaked

My American journey took almost three years in the making, before I could confidently walk into an unknown territory knowing I can handle this. 12 years since I first landed in San Francisco and I still get culture shocks. Ordering food still brings out the immigrant in me. Even a simple question like wheat or white bread leaves my head in a swirl, perplexed if I really need to choose. But I do, and I have realized all it takes is a breath of air. A gasp of fresh air and I am ready to choose sourdough!

RAPE- A DAUGHTER’S OPINION!

A newspaper or a book has always been art to me. I love the smell of paper as I turn pages. My penchant for reading made me read newspapers daily as a child in India. I loved crime thriller novels, so clearly the section I always went to was crime section. Each day I saw a new rape case in the newspaper, either in India or elsewhere. I was too young to know what rape meant, but even then I knew it was real bad. My ideology was if there were no pictures attached, it wasn’t good! Today knowing what I know, I am glad it did not have pictures.

Rapes in India have graduated from being a common fixture in local newspapers to international media. It breaks my heart and shames me. I take great pride in my country and my culture. We as a culture have hundreds of deities, women who were the driving force behind men. Women in India to a certain extent represent exactly that. She is fearless and strong, shy yet resilient, submissive yet very aggressive when required. She is powerful. India has a strong history of strong women. We had an Indira Gandhi, a lady Prime Minister in the 1960’s, long before America or the rest of the world knew how powerful women can be. We call our country Mother India. Yet the daughters in her land are not safe.Image

I have read several versions of what needs to happen to solve the problem. Some horrible things like women should not go out after dark hours to don’t wear x, y or z clothes. Some sensible ones like teach the boys to respect women. As I read these many opinions, I wondered is it that hard to just be human. True, parents need to teach their children to respect women, but how about treating her like a human being. I don’t see men walking around just punching other men just because, or tearing someone’s shirt because oh, he really liked the shirt. When men can be humans with other men, why can’t they be human with women?  Rape is worse than punching someone without a reason; it is tearing a person’s soul out of their body for those few minutes or hours. As a woman, I can only imagine what the girl might be going through during this ordeal.

Rape has become a hobby in India. Each day there is a new case, and we believe death penalty is going to send the message across. Yet, even after the death penalty, men continue to rape women and children. Raping children, my brain cannot wrap around that concept- it completely disgusts me. I don’t know what the punishment needs to be- to me there is no punishment that can do justice to the crime that rape is. Yet, here we are wondering how we can raise better kids. How about we teach them to respect life, all kinds of life irrespective of color, gender, and sexual orientation? We as a culture have forgotten what is important, and somewhere compassion has been replaced with aggression.

Rape happens everywhere around the world. There are women right now as we speak who are trying to put the pieces together, and just want to be heard. So it is not just India. Don’t pity me for growing up in India. My country is not a specimen in the rape zone, it’s everywhere in the world.  Women everywhere are fighting this battle alone. So don’t tell her what she needs to do. Instead treat her like she needs to be treated- a human being!

THREE WEEKS AT HOME!

After eight years and six failed trips, here we were finally in San Francisco airport making our way to India. This trip was special for many reasons. I was going back home after eight years and a marriage. I was stoked to take my African-American husband to India and nervous how he was going to handle it all.  We were miles apart- he was as American as I could find and I had lived most of my life in India. So here I was taking him to see me.

Here was our agenda: Bangalore, Coimbatore, Madras, and the state where my family was from- Kerala. While I could go on and on about the first two places, Kerala was a place I had visited twice before.  I was excited to explore the place called God’s own country…. and in every sense of the world it was as heavenly as it could get.  We toured the backwaters of Kerala where you truly know why it is called God’s own country. Calm, serene and just peaceful- that one night on a houseboat in the middle of the backwaters was exactly what I needed. I was rejuvenated to say the least.Image

We explored Kerala by ourselves for the most part, except for a few days with family. That was when the fun began. My African American football-playing husband was a freak of nature in my country. Sure, there were men who were taller than him, and bigger than him- what my people never understood was why would a football player have big shoulders!! Soccer was football in India, and American football was an alien sport. In Cochin, a state in Kerala we decided that we were going to get my husband a kurta (a tunic in America). While people wondered why he was built so weirdly- they thought maybe just maybe he was related to Mohammed Ali, and he boxed for a living. While Mohammed Ali became his family, he represented President Obama to them. There were countless times when people told him they loved President Obama, and he stood there stumped.  While African Americans often complained about their hair, India loved it. My family and friends loved touching his hair, and combing it with a pick. It was a new toy and they loved everything about it- texture, fluffiness –all of it.

ImageKerala, what do I say about the state that is my identity. There is no place like her. She is calm, untouched by technology and going there takes you into a trance as you wonder how on earth could a place be so untouched by modernity.  I had been away from India for eight years, so much had changed and yet nothing had changed. The warmth and love that I think is the core of India was untouched.Image

India is more than just food, or yoga as the world sees it. She is an embodiment of love and immense sacrifice. The moment I got out of the Chennai airport, a sense of belonging filled my soul. I knew I was home. After years in the US, an American husband, a home, a career- India still remains my only home.  India might have changed with her booming economy, but the heart of India remains untarnished.  No matter where I might travel, going back to India is rejuvenating- It’s homecoming for my soul!

My rendezvous with mystical Morocco

Packing my bags, getting on a flight, sitting for hours in a cramped up space: while all this might sound horrendous to scores of people, for me it is therapeutic. I absolutely love the thrills of waiting for the D-day of my trip to unknown horizons. New cultures, people, food, food and food..hahha…I totally live for this. Morocco was one such adventure for me.

When we decided on Morocco, it was based on a budget vacation. The price was good and we had never been there. Sure we knew where Morocco was, and the food was amazing…. but besides that there were no expectations.

D-day did arrive and here we were going to Morocco. After the long flight ride from California to New York and New York to Casablanca, here I was spell bound from the second I landed in Morocco. We were welcomed by our tour guide Ibrahim and 12 other people with whom we were going to spend the next 14 days of our lives. We had young, old, fashion designers and people who were so well traveled that suddenly I was a novice in traveling. I had never met more people who had traveled to India than on this trip. For the first time in my life, I was among people who yearned to travel as much as I did. The interesting stories, the breakfasts and dinners, the bus rides, the endless laughters- each of those moments will be relived a million times. We were a family for 14 days, and we shared everything together.

As our bus ride took us through the streets of Casablanca to Rabat, I was hooked by the gorgeousness of the place and people.

Rabat, the capital of Morocco was like every other big city in the world. Absolutely stunning, this place was filled with history among jeans clad young people ‘hanging out’ at 8 pm. Rabat to me was a culmination of old meets new, a perfect cozy start to tourists like me.

From Rabat, we made our way to the old Imperial city of Fez. How do I describe Fez beyond the old imperial city with its magnificent palaces and forts? The air smelled of spices, the aura of artisans making pottery, crafts and carpets welcomes the shopaholics to the city known for its arts and crafts.  We enjoyed a day of shopping for carpets, spices for your every problem including snoring (So ladies if you have a snoring husband- Fez is your snore stopping destination!), and magnificent pottery. For the art lover in me, Fez was divine.

Our journey to Ouarzazate was another highlight of our trip. We saw Morocco’s own Grand Canyon. While they called it little, it was no little Canyon. Standing there amidst the tranquility of mother earth was both overwhelming and enchanting. We saw courageous rock climbers, and people enjoying the stream of water amidst nowhere.

ImageOurzazate our new stop was the desert city at the gates of the Sahara. My first time at a desert and I realized how overwhelming it could be. We woke up real early to get to the desert by 5 am to see the sunrise on the dunes. Being an avid hiker, I figured it would be real easy. Little did I know Mother Nature was right there to tame the cockiness in me. Fatigued and tired, I felt like I scaled the Mount Everest as I reached the top of the dune escorted by my own Moroccan prince.  Tranquility set in as I sat on top of the dune waiting for the rising sun. The horizon was orange and red, and the most beautiful sight I had ever seen in my life. The camels were hanging out as we were watching the beautiful sunrise- a Kodak moment captured in the canvas of memories forever! Ourzazate, you will always be my first desert love.

IMG_8834If all this wasn’t highlight already, we were going to the magnificent Marrakesh. Marrakesh reminded me of my home, India. The Jaama El Fna Square with the snake charmers, food, belly dancers, monkeys doing tricks- as I walked down Marrakesh, I was walking down my childhood lanes as I relived India again. While tourists marveled at the tricks, I was reliving a part of my past again. Thank you Marrakesh for making me nostalgic. As I sat on the highest floor of the café’s, the hustle and bustle of the square brought back memories of my life in India where a simple evening at a square like this was an event.  I know I am rambling about the square, but that’s where I spent every evening in Marrakesh! Besides the square, Marrakesh had beautiful Palaces, Gardens, and amazing architecture.

Essaouira, a beautiful beach town near Marrakesh was an absolute delight. Calm, pristine and blue- it was almost like the sky washed down to the earth in the form of the beach. Argan oil, the magical oil for your hair made by women owned and operated company was our next stop. We clearly went overboard shopping all things Argan. Who doesn’t want beautiful hair after all!! I am sure men would have bought some if it would have cured baldness!

Our next and final stop was Casablanca, the economic capital of Morocco. Modern architecture adorned the streets of Casablanca. The magnificent Hassan II Mosque rested in the lap of Casablanca was the most serene point of our trip.  At Casablanca, we as a group had our last farewell dinner where we spent our last few precious moments before adieu.SONY DSC

Morocco, a mystic place that made me hers from the second I landed there. The people welcomed me because they loved Shahrukh Khan, an Indian actor. Suddenly, I was popular because I came from the land of Shahrukh Khan. I will forever be indebted to you Morocco for the nostalgic feelings you evoked in me. Thank you for welcoming me with your hospitality and showing me how simple moments in life are the most precious ones.