Blog Archives

I’m unique, but I want you to be just like me

Snowflake's identity crisis

We all like to think that we are reasonable, fair and mature, but we still poke fun of that vegetarian at the barbecue or sneer down at that hotdog eater who doesn’t believe in tofu dogs. You tell your friend it’s ok to be whatever shape she is, but proudly inform your spouse later that you coped better with pregnancy pounds than she did with the holidays.

The human ego is wired like that. It constantly wants validation that we are doing the right thing, and are on the right side. We hang out with people who make similar choices as us and we’re quick to judge those who don’t. We ensure that our children learn our values because we think that we stand for the right things. But although we think we are reasonable and unbiased, the verdict in case of a moral conflict is almost always in our favor, because that makes us feel good about our choices. Differences make us feel insecure, unsure and even a little scared sometimes.

So what is right? And since we pride yourself on being rational, how do we define it and back it up with solid proof? Some things are easy—like stealing, doing drugs and being abusive. But other things are not so black and white, and there are many shades in between. Take, for example, food choices or cultural idiosyncrasies. Law, religion and culture further complicate the defining process, and what is considered legal/holy/right by some may be deplorable for others. So each group feels strongly about their choices because they are backed up by so and so law/scripture/philosophy, and scorns the others, forgetting that all facts are relative.

Yes, all facts are relative. Every philosophy—religious or otherwise—has an ideal toward which it aspires, and the directives ensure that its followers can attain it. So everything that’s deemed ‘right’ or ‘holy’ is only so if you’re travelling on that ship and wearing that uniform. The law is driven by socio-economic motives and can quickly do an about-turn in its validations; think about the recent upheaval of state laws on legalizing weed—we all know that keeping minors safe wasn’t the primary motivation for that bill. So just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s always right, and vice versa.

How does all this trickle down to an everyday level? Our self-identity is partly influenced by our family, peers, culture, religion or philosophy of thought and our country, more or less in that order. Since we don’t know what the real definition of right is, it is natural to measure everything around us by matching it up against ourselves and our choices. Some differences are insignificant and we manage to take it in our stride, but some go against our fundamental beliefs and we cannot reason with them. So if someone or something does not conform to this fundamental belief, we assume that they are either wrong, misinformed or inferior. For example, think about someone dear to us dating a much older/younger person, swingers or even something seemingly as minor as women consuming alcohol (modern India is still struggling with this hypocrisy).

Can we change? Maybe in some categories, but definitely not in some. A friend once said that our belief system is built on two things—reason and conviction. The things we can reason with can be rethought, reshaped and expanded but there is no changing conviction. A vegetarian will always see a dead animal on others’ plates and yet flatly disagree with a vegan on how an animal was tortured for that milkshake.

Luckily, for everyday life, we don’t need to reevaluate our entire belief system. A good human being is not one who is fair and empathetic toward everyone; she knows when not to comment, and when to let things be without labeling them. Although we don’t need to agree with everyone else’s choices, we can choose to not judge them as weird, immoral or inferior. We don’t need to be alike somebody, but there is no need to be scared of them, dislike them, or pity them. We won’t be able to follow this all the time, but it might still make us some more friends because we’re not closing them out or hurting them. Of course, reevaluating in the meantime will help us be more rational in the long run and recognize when we react out of reason or strong conviction. It will help us pass on the best of ourselves to the next generation.

You can’t measure the entire world with one yardstick. Nature created us all differently so we could grow, gain depth and learn something new every day. Every snowflake is unique, and yet they all fit in harmony to form a beautiful blanket of snow. So can we.

You want to be unique, so why expect the world to be just like you?

Keep your cameras in, get your metal horns out!

Metal horns

That’s the least you can do to show respect to the band you just spent hundreds of dollars to watch.

Keep calm and enjoy the show!

 

Disclaimer: The second pic (of Blaze Bayley) is obviously photo shopped… he’s an awesome guy and musician!

Photo credit: http://maidenrevelations.com

http://www.ironmaiden.es

http://www.last.fm

http://popcultureblog.dallasnews.com

 

 

Frown lines or laugh lines?

I need a wrinkle-free breed!

Can I get some botox, please?

So the drive to conquer my fear of aging continues, and I just found the top priority item on my 30-year plan… SMILE! After all, happiness is a gift, and the best investment in ourselves. So go on, replace “I’ll be happy when…” with “I’m happy because…”

Laugh lines pay in more ways than one.

So who do you want to be, Grumpy or Happy?

A Rockstar is a Rockstar is a Rockstar

disco chick

Parties like a Rockstar

Would you call a nurse a doctor, a TA a professor or a 5k runner an athlete? Then why on earth would you call anybody who’s somebody in their respective field of Physics, Business, video gaming etc etc etc as a Rockstar?

Ok, so maybe I’m a little picky about words. But when I hear someone describe that playboy businessman, that daring stuntman or that brilliant programmer as a Rockstar, I silently summon lightning clouds to strike them down.

I can see why everyone wants to be a Rockstar. Rockstars have it all—they’re famous, they’re rich (at least back in the day), they’re sexy, they party like a… er…Rockstar and they get all the girls. But do you know how hard they worked to get there? It’s a dog eat dog world of competition, and only a small percentage of broke and starved Indie bands get a break, and even a smaller percentage get beyond their first album. And once they’re famous, they have to put in more hours practicing for bigger shows, not to mention travel endlessly that takes a toll on their health and families.

Dare devil (Not a Rockstar)

Dare devil (Not a Rockstar)

Star kicker

Star kicker (Not a Rockstar)

Yes, I take my music very seriously. Growing up to Old School Metal and 80’s rock (hairbands included), most of my music Gods were all metal-studded leather, long hair and blistering leads. The definition has changed now, at least in the sexy department, but here’s who does not qualify to be called a Rock Star—class toppers, extravagant Hollywood stars, rebellious businessmen, fearless extreme sportsmen, that cool guy with attitude… the list goes on and on. Extravagance, fame, rebelliousness and fearlessness may be the stereotypical qualities of a Rockstar and may even qualify you to be a star, just not a Rockstar.

POP star

POP star

So who does qualify to be a Rockstar?

  1. Should be a Rock musician. Duh. Not pop, not hip hop, ROCK. Get the point? Other sisters of Rock, like Metal, Punk, Grunge etc are ok too, most of the time.
  2. Should be a musician. You know, the one who actually performs on stage. Not their manager, or songwriter, or their cool hangers-on with Rockstar-itis.
  3. Should be reasonably well known. Every Rock musician knows the moment when they become Rock stars. It’s the dream when they pick up their first guitar, drum or microphone for the first time.

It’s that simple.

Rockstar

Rockstar

Music is what makes or breaks Rockstars, not their attitude or escapades. There are many Rock musicians who are gentle giants, teetotalers, vegetarians and early sleepers who are still Rockstars. Let’s respect that, and let’s respect the other exemplary persons by not making them look like wannabes. How about doing a bit of work to find other superlatives and calling them a star athlete, superstar CEO and brilliant scientist?

After all, a Rockstar is a Rockstar is a Rockstar.

Diversity is Changing Colors at Hollywood

While watching ‘Gravity’ the other day, I realized something. The main characters were all white… and brown. I then realized that brown as the color of on-screen diversity wasn’t such a new concept. Remember Ranjit in ‘How I met your Mother’? Or Rajesh Koothrappali in ‘Big Bang Theory, Fez in ‘That 70’s show’ and Aziz Ansari in ‘Parks and Recreation?’ And then there are many guest characters as well, like ‘Modern Family’ and ‘Rules of Engagement’. And although unrelated to this post, let’s not forget the many brown stand-up comedians who have made it big.

My first thought was that it’s fascinating how shows/movies about all walks of life think that Indians (or people from that general region) are now an integral part of their lives. And they don’t seem to mind it too much. I take part credit on behalf of my brethren, because we truly do our best to fit in. Although we may step on your toes in lines, we try not to do that culturally. Part of it is our cultural conditioning. Most Indians are partly proud and partly uncomfortable about their heritage. The slight inferiority complex means that we adjust to our host’s culture, and we adjust to our immigrants’ cultural differences too. This makes us excellent immigrants and excellent hosts to immigrants at the same time.

But there’s a certain cultural stereotype that the media has boxed us into:

  • Brown means brown: All Indians on TV are just the right shade of mocha, although we commonly range from caramel to espresso. All women are especially dark mocha, have long straight black hair and are composed, naïve, domesticated and have arranged marriages.
  • Thank you come again: All Indians on TV have a specific, comical way of speaking, something that is exaggerated and actually spoken by only a percentage of real Indians.
  • Social placement: Indians are generally shown as belonging to two sections of society—either as a highly educated nerd (with a funny accent) or a gas station/grocery store/taxi owner (with a funny accent).

If cultures were a book, then we are comic strips. Most Indians portrayed on screen are good-humored, somehow amusing (mostly because of the accent) and get to say very little in the screenplay. It is mostly a good thing, as all our tags are mostly positive and shows amiable acceptance by the local community. Maybe that’s why we seem to be gaining on the other overdone on-screen cultural stereotypes .

Before my fellow countrymen get all riled up about me accepting our social stereotype, may I remind them of how we treat our own cultural differences? Seen any Bollywood movies? Or Mollywood, Kollywood, etc etc etc? Let me highlight some salient stereotypes:

  • All South-Indians are ‘Madrasis’. Madrasis are dark, have a funny accent and are in general, the jokers of the movie. Madrasi women are naïve, have long black hair and are domesticated. You got it, the Hollywood stereotype for Indians is the Bollywood stereotype for South Indians.
  • In South Indian movies, North Indians mostly wear a turban, speak comically rough Punjabi and frequently say ‘Balle Balle’, and are in general, the jokers of the movie.

To be fair, contemporary Indian movies have tried to move away from this. But movies cater to real people, and cultural stereotyping is real and sometimes not funny. Just a few weeks ago, I was called a Madrasi by a friend, and I shot back, “You’re a Bihari!” Of course, both the action and reaction were outdated and prejudiced. But it happened, and it’s not uncommon.

But the point stands, we handle our own cultural differences by poking fun at them, maybe other cultures have picked up on it too.

Nevertheless, it is much better to carve a humorous niche for yourself than a violent or scary one. As we integrate deeper into the cultures where we now belong, it will go a long way into promoting enriching cultural exchanges. Never mind the media, the people of the world already know there’s more to Indian culture than Yoga, Kamasutra and Ayurveda. Soon (hopefully) the media will reflect that too.

Until then, who’s your favorite Brown?

There’s more to Valentine’s Day than roses and candles

sdp_0766The world has turned pink, restaurants are overbooked and overpriced, and we are just about done finalizing our outfit for the big date. There are some of us who can’t remember the last time we were single, and for us V-day is just a bigger date-night. But there’s more to it than roses and candles.

Sure, we may be going to our same favorite date-night spot and ordering our same favorite wine with the same partner, but every year is different. We have added beautiful moments, had bitter fights, and changed a little individually and as a couple. A little every year can add up significantly over the years, so it’s important to take stock of the most important changes. Here’s a start.

Did I make any new secrets last year? If it’s embarrassing, you might be able to have a laugh about it together at some point, once you’re able to laugh at yourself first. If it’s something that might change your relationship (usually for the worse), then it’s a good time for introspection. How did I get there? How do I get over it? What do I do about it now? Either bury it or confess when the time is right, but make up your mind, rid any guilt and move on. Life, like food, should be guilt-free.

What’s the best and worst thing about us? I’m amazed at how this answer—mostly the worst part— changes every few years. Cherish your best, and plan to build on it this year. And then try to get started on making the worst a little better. Make a plan so you can achieve the desired results. And recognize that if there’s something fundamental about your partner or relationship that you want to change, it’s mostly a lost cause and your plan should be directed at yourself instead, to learn to accept differences.

What did I learn about him/her that I loved/hated? You may be married for 20 years, but you learn something new about your partner all the time. Tell him/her about the things you loved discovering, it makes for good date night talk. As for the things you didn’t love so much, put them in your plan from the last question and either shrug it off or try and work on it.

What are we talking about, right now? After years of being together, couples progress to becoming each other’s best friends and mentors. And what you talk about shows how you’ve grown as a person. We all know that as we change, we can go either way, and we often take our relationship in the same direction. Observe during your date, do you mostly talk about other people? About your kids? About work? Do you talk too much about your plans for the year? Do you give enough genuine compliments? Couples don’t need to constantly impress, and may become complacent. Your partner is also the one who inspires you the most, so aim to be inspiring and move away from the mundane. And this will prepare you for your biggest question:

Are we better than last year and how? However small it may be, a plus is a plus and deserves to be cherished. Don’t kill yourself over how much better you could have been, you have the rest of your life to get there.

After all, Valentine’s day may be a celebrated day for love, but we all know that love can be celebrated every single day of the year.

Fear of Aging: Not a Brave Old World

A strange thing happened after I turned 30. I became painfully aware of the transient nature of life. Sure, I was at ease with the idea of dying one day, but I finally connected the dots that the way to death was mostly through wrinkly, clumsy and dependent old age. Yep, I’m super smart. The fear that one day, I probably wouldn’t be able to pour milk into my own cereal bowl—let alone being able to buy it from the grocery store or digest it—started passively annoying me, much like a fingerprint on eyeglasses. Ignoring it was like telling myself not to think of the color red, so I decided to confront it head-on.

  • Say Cheese: I meekly admit that vanity got to me first. After all, I’m a woman in a world of anti-aging products where wrinkles are the most dreaded disease. Suddenly, all ads in waiting room magazines have started talking to me. Looks like I’m already five years late in joining the ‘always look 25’ revolution, but I have abundant help in that area in exchange for a chunk of my wallet. But slowly, more serious issues have started to feed my Geranto-phobia.
  • Honey I lost my dentures: I balk at the thought of kissing my man with dentures, and carrying a walking stick. To hell with always looking 25, how about always feeling 30? Sooner or later, our bodies betray us and bring the best to our knees. And not all diseases are our fault… sometimes life is unfair. Looking at the number of things that can go wrong with my body, I feel the urgent need to connect myself to all sorts of tubes and machines that will monitor my health constantly and fix any problems instantly.  Very Catch-22, I know, but I suddenly agree with Capt. Yossarian.
  • Older and wiser? I’ve seen a strange metamorphosis happen to people as they age. Some get lonely after retirement, some recede into a shell, some appreciate the free time and use it to travel or grow spiritually and some join gossip circles but gradually, they change. I watch, mute with shock, as previously benevolent people make scathing remarks about someone else’s sad life. I see how women can be loving wives and inspiring mothers but mean mothers-in-law, playing the victim as they skilfully play emotional blackmail. Some get into the religion fad, scrambling to repent for their sins.  Some get into the ‘healthy living’ aka dieting fad. I listen, amused, as senior citizens (mostly women) compete over who’s the most under-weight, and remorselessly call anyone who is not a size-0 fat. There are prayer groups and cooking groups and book clubs, and they are all closed to outsiders. It’s like high school all over again! All the while I choose characteristics of my future personality, picking the best out of what I see and making notes on who I don’t want to end up like. It’s a good 30-year plan for my character.
  • I’m my only friend: Loneliness haunts so many as they age. I shudder when my paranoid thoughts take me to a world where familiar faces are all gone and the youngsters are busy making their own lives. All the while, remaining friends complain of this ailment or the other, and you wonder when your turn is.

Dark, I know, but when has fear been reasonable? Everybody is afraid of growing old for different reasons—beauty, independence, disease, loneliness… the list is endless, but it has a single tormentor. Our society is pro-youth and we are programmed to feel a sense of loss as we add on years. I sometimes wonder that if life didn’t progress through the ailments of old age into death, would people still be so scared of dying? Maybe it’s the journey to death that scares us more than the end itself.

I lived in fear and anxiety the last year. Then on my 31st birthday, I had a revelation—I’d rather prefer this demon than die early or without having lived a full life. And when I got there, I wanted to be happy with who I am, and how I got there. But the result of this soul-searching was positive. There are some things I can’t control but for the rest, I have a plan:

  • I make a note to reconnect with my dreams and start hitting my bucket list. Life is indeed a journey, but it makes a big difference whether your journey has been a mundane drive on life’s highway or has consisted of pit stops from your wishlist. Sometimes we don’t have a choice, but when we look back after 30 years, we want to be sure some dreams were worth giving up. Some dreams do have an expiration date. Barring personal tragedies, people who managed their limited money and time to lead fulfilling lives are so much more positive and happy in their older years. I want to be them. I’m also convinced that people who didn’t live enough when they could, whether out of circumstances or just plain penny-pinching, have a high probability of turning mean or resentful later.
  • I double-check my diet and lifestyle so that even if I end up being four sizes larger in three decades, I’m still healthy and active.
  • I reevaluate and revalidate my value-system, for it can either be a strong grounding force or run you aground.
  • I even try to be a better person—I try harder to keep in touch with old friends, let old hostilities be water under the bridge, and be more empathetic.
  • I try to see today’s actions from a 20-year rewind perspective. Will writing that stinker to a friend who stood me up on my special day bring me satisfaction or regret in twenty years, when I don’t have her as a friend? It’s an exercise that is fuelled partly by fear but mostly by the desire to be surrounded by a circle of my peeps, always. If life gives me lemons, I want my peeps to add sugar and spice to it and bake me a lemon-meringue pie.

30 is a great place to be. It is the perfect place to look back and see how you got here, to look forward and see where you’re going, and fine tune your current path so you get where you want to be. 31 is even better; you get to start working on your plan for the next 30 years.

I’ve found my 30-30 vision. Have you?

Stress, gift wrapped

holiday_stressMost of us find the gifting season stressful, because it’s a battle of managing budget with expectations. But have you ever stopped to think how many gifts you shopped for the rest of the year? In an average year, we are invited to around 12 home dinners, 2-3 baby showers/baby birthdays, 1-2 weddings and 2-3 adult birthdays where we can’t pick up the tab so we carry a gift. And then there are loved ones’ birthdays, anniversaries and various occasions where we pick up the tab as a grand gesture.

Since we tackle these instances one by one, it is not as stressful as Christmas shopping. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t stressful at all.

Apart from Christmas and family occasions, there is an unspoken budget for casual gifting. The budget is normally $10-15 for a dinner invitation, $25-30 for a casual friend’s baby shower/ housewarming/ similar party, $100 or multiples for weddings, nothing for BYOBs and flowers/wine for pot lucks. But there are other nuances to gifting as well.

The biggest challenge is picking something in your budget that is right for the occasion, looks good AND will be liked by the receiver. Whew! And it becomes harder if you don’t know the person that well. Weddings and baby showers are simpler because gift-cards are more acceptable and the gift-list has been picked out, so you can’t be blamed for a useless gift. Drinkers make gifting easier too. Whether or not the gifter drinks, wine and wine accessories are the cutest and most convenient gifts. Otherwise, what do you find under $15 that is gift-able and not too preposterous? The health conscious don’t eat chocolates, fruits are boring and flowers may be inappropriate if you or the host/ess is single and not your type. Gift cards aren’t always the best option and can’t be less than $25 anyway. I tackle this by gifting a kitchen accessory—a Misto or a cool timer is always appreciated. Wind chimes and bird-feeders are nice ideas too.

Then comes the more complicated issue of meeting expectations—you neither want to appear cheap nor preposterous. It is stressful to remember who brought a wine to your holiday party and who gave a crystal stemware set, so you can return the sentiment at their party. Moreover, lavish gifters—the ones who bring along a $100 wine for a dinner party—are stressful too, because you are compelled to reciprocate on a similar scale, whether or not they expect you to. Gift unto others how they gift unto you. Women are normally great at this so either maintain a file or get a girlfriend. And my rule of thumb is that I’d rather be preposterous than cheap to keep my friendships.

Finally, there is the suspense game of whether the gift was liked. Did they return it or exchange it for something else? Did they push it off to someone else? Did they give it to charity? Do they like me a little less?

There’s stress on the other side of gifting too. After the rush of unwrapping, what do you do with all the gifts? Not all gifts are made equal. Many exchange for a better one and although I frown upon re-gifting, many do that and it’s a win-win. Some re-gifters don’t even bother re-wrapping; I received a re-gifted package at my wedding that was probably just peeked into before resealing the gift-wrap. Too bad the original gifter had left a note inside the box. I do reuse cute gifting covers, but only because that helps the environment. Whatever. After all, reduce, reuse and recycle, right?

I think the key to making gifting less stressful lies at the receiving end. You can’t always put up gift registries, but how about maintaining a public wish list that is subtle yet easily found whenever someone is second-guessing their choice of gift? Also, if you are using their gift, show it to your friends the next time they come home. It wouldn’t hurt to send a quick thank you message or email either (although thanking for wine is normally an overkill). It will help your friends relax, feel happy and it’s also good karma. Maybe someday you will receive a thank you note for spending your precious time to pick a gift, wrap it and add a personal note just to make someone happy.

So, did you thank Santa Claus yet?

You know the suburbs have got to you when…

WP_20131028_006

  1. You see a warm, sunny day in November and think, “It’s a great day to do yard work!”
  2. Your local social circles mainly include older people with kids or recently married couples secretly planning babies.
  3. You stare down fellow pedestrians at downtown, but happily wave at all passing cars on your morning walk because they just might be your neighbors. Even if they never wave back.
  4. A baby shower at your neighbor’s makes you go ‘awww’ instead of dreading sleepless nights.
  5. Costco sizes actually start making sense—no more quantity v/s guest room trade-off!
  6. You suddenly start seeing Home Depot and Lowes everywhere. After all, the top items on your Black Friday shopping list are a ladder and a lawn mower.
  7. You ‘plan’ a day in the city by packing some water bottles, snacks and extra shoes in the car.
  8. You’re always a little over-dressed when you go to the city, but you’re never wearing the ‘in thing’.
  9. You feel a bit of a fraud when you brag that you support small businesses—what else is there anyway?
  10. You prefer to call people home instead of meeting them in the city but find it mildly irritating when other suburban couples call you home, because if you’re driving, you might as well hit the city!

Welcome to suburbia.

PS: A lot has happened since I last blogged. Between helping my sister plan her wedding, getting stuck while vacationing in my own country because of  bureaucracy and moving to the suburbs for the very first time, I haven’t had time to blog because (sob) I actually had a life! Now that I’m back home and old habits are kicking in, it’s time to start writing all the blogs I’ve written in my head. Once a blogger, always a blogger. Keep checking back in!

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