Friday, February 01, 2008


I smile a lot. One day when my friend Satya and I were standing outside a Thai resturant after dinner because it was raining, I looked into the rain and all those umbrellas and people under the pouring sky and smiled to myself. Most of you probably agree that rain makes you happy. So this middle aged gentleman that was passing by suddenly stopped near me and said "what a wonderful weather for saturday night. Is'nt it?" and smiled. Satya looked at me and said "This is why they say smile is infectious".
More often than not, people give a genuine smile back when I smile at them. Sometimes they say something about the weather or the scarf I am wearing. For the past many years in the united states, smiling at everyone that passes by is one culture that I'd embraced heartily. I love it when I see a pleasant face. I love it when people are not too busy to look around and notice others around them. I love the positive energy that a warm smile generates.
Rewind to my first trip back home after coming to the USA, I was smiling right left and center at all the personnel and passingers in Chatrapathi Intl Airport in Mumbai. Needless to say, I got back weird looks. One young man chased me to ask if I know him. Okay, so back home you smile at people only if you know them. Right? Or else they might fall in love with you or think that you are hitting on them, or worse yet look at you like you are "mad eye Moody" from Harry Potter series:-) So I quickly shunned the US culture and became this poker faced Indian.
All through my growing years, I'd seen many faces that looked like the face that looked back at me in the window pane of the passinger shuttle that took me to the terminal. A face that was stern with knit eye brows. A face that looked like I'd just lost a big battle or had the worst possible journey back home. I looked around the bus and everyone else's faces were the same. Stern. Smileless.
On my most recent trip to India, We travelled by EVA a Tiwanese airline. I met this very friendly and talkative Thai air-hostess named "Wanthana" whose name is the equivalent of "Vandana" in the Indian languages I know. I was amused at the similarities Thailand and India had culturally. So Wanthana and I chatted for a pretty long time, about 3 - 4 hours when the lights in the cabins were shut and all the passingers were fighiting the cramped seats to get a good night's rest. She seemed to be very interested both in my motherland India and my foster motherland USA. We covered Sfo to Mumbai. "It is hard to believe that you are Indian!" Wanthana exclaimed. I was kind of perplexed when she said that since I was clad in a salwar-kameez, sporting a bindi and bangles. I was as Indian as it can get. I said " I cannot be anyone else other than Indian, look at me!" Then wanthana explained that Indians are very serious. Her accent made it difficult for me to understand the word serious. Then she smiled and said. "They serious. No smile"
Afterall, the similarities between the land of people and the land of smiles was not that similar at all. India has the most people one can ever see. Okay, may be one can see more people in China. But to me China is no more real than "china town" in downtown SFO. So India is the land of people. You all know what the land of smiles is. Don't you?
May be this is what we have to do before we aim hundred percent literacy or eradication of Child labor. We should all smile first. We should stop to notice the people around us. We should wear our hospitality on our lips. We should teach our children to smile. A smile need not be reserved to our family and friends. All our other brothers and sisters as we claim in our Pledge should see us wearing a smile that can generate so much of positive energy as I'd said before.
"Smile" my cousin Nalini used to write to me often in the letters we wrote to each other. "It is the second best thing you can do with your lips"

Now do not ask me what the first best thing is. For, I never asked her and I am not as romantic as she is anyway. I'll probably say praying is the first best thing. Or may be I'd say "Smile - it is the best thing you can ever do!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


My mom often tells me about the picture that flashes in her mind when she thinks of me. "long fingers- flushed pink" She would recollect the image with dilated eyes " with a teeny movement". The first glimpse she had of me - my fingers. She often tells me that I was the easiest labor she had had, in spite of being her heaviest baby. She tells me how I used to have a flair for food and a penchant to not tire my body trying to crawl or walk. yeah, I was this overweight, Bald baby. Oh yeah, lazy too. The saving grace - long fingers perhaps. So that is what she remembers fondly these many years after having me.
Mom also remembers how I used to be a kleptomaniac when I was in kindergarten. I used to come home with a bag full of pencils that I'd "collect" from the pencil boxes of my class mates. And she used to send them back with an apology note to Mrs.Transfield our kindergarten teacher. Rest assured, I do not have a memory of that, nor do I have any traces of those tendencies left. Promise.
She remembers a lot more things that is classified information too sensitive and private to share in a blog, even on a brave impulse. So I'll let them be that way and try to get back on track without straying too much and boring you with how I was as a baby and toddler.
So - Mom. A word that packs so much of punch in a single syllable. A word that personifies love, sacrifice and duty. A word that is so complexly simple. I am ashamed to admit that I didn't quiet fathom the depths of being a mom till I became one. It was a very complicated feeling. It was vulnerable, happy, actually ecstatic and confusing all rolled into one. Being a mother added a new dimension to being a person. I didn't understand it till date if I'd become more sensible or sensitive after being a mom. When I was taking the flight to the US after I got married, I pulled my mom to a side and begged her not to cry since I was not up to a reciprocation - A teary farewell. I probably didn't like wearing my heart on my sleeve, or I was well aware of a new beginning in my life and didn't want to cry in that daze. My mom obliged. She didn't cry. At least not in front of me. I could almost feel the tears in her eyes. I just didn't see them.

Aarti came into my life and showed me taught me a thing or two. She has me wrapped around her little finger. Just today, I had a bad back, but she insisted that I carry her on my hip, while she would rest her head on my shoulder and her little baby doll would almost puncture my neck in that awkward angle but Aarti would not let go of her. She wanted to cuddle her baby while she wanted me to cuddle mine. So, in an weird group hug and a wrenching pain in the spinal cord, I thought about my mom and thanked her - just like that!

Aarti is still cuddling with her baby doll on this side of the bed, where I sit at her feet with my laptop. Her tender cheek resting on the head of the bald doll and her fingers clutching tightly to the doll's hand. This image will definitely become one of those 'mom' moments for me. A moment that I'll narrate to her till she would be thirty and beyond.

And back to my mom, I should admit that I was the reason for her tears many a time. I made her cry when I left her after my wedding. I made her cry when she was with me in my labor room. I made her cry when I held my baby for the first time. I probably made her cry on many more occasions that I do not remember. I'd reciprocated her tears just once, after walking on this earth for twenty nine years and receiving her services for nearly that long.

When my mom left me after serving me for five long months during and after my delivery, I, for the first time, felt the twitch of heart, that she'd felt for me the moment she saw those long fingers, flushed pink with a teeny moment thirty years ago. I cried openly, awkwardly and childishly, blowing my nose with a box of Kleenex in my hand when she'd left me that warm July night. Cause I'd had more than a baby. I'd had the heart to appreciate a mom.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Skin Deep

The last time I travelled to India, I figured that many things had changed. My In-laws' place was not sub-urban like it used to be before and I saw a lot of businesses come up, especially the ones selling designer Sarees and Salwars. Not to mention the ones selling dreams and beauty. There were two beauty parlors just stone's throw away in our quiet neighborhood, promising a slimmer bod and a fairer complexion to all their customers just like many more of their kind.
Since spas, pedicures and manicures are so much more expensive here in the United States, I got tempted to pamper myself with a pedicure and a facial. I chose the nearest beauty joint to go reward myself. Armed with a cell phone so that my MIL can call me if Aarti gets out of hand, I headed out.
I waited for a few minutes before I got to my appointment and could not help over hearing the conversation between the lady that owned the clinic and one of her customers. "I did not see the 'glow' this time" The customer complained. "you should go for the bleach before the facial" the owner suggested. And then there was a big lecture about how to make the skin appear lighter and a sales pitch that promised the coveted glow if a certain kind of creme was used.

Fast forward to my utter disbelief when I saw the variety of facials they offered. They had a gold one, a silver one and an all natural fruit-skin-detox (or something like that) that would not have costed me any less than something similar sounding here in the US. I chose the most affordable one and begged to skip the bleaches or anything else that could be a potential hazard to my over sensitive, acne prone oily skin. I re-heard the similar sales pitch about achieving a glow. In my case, she insisted that she had a product to help with my acne related redness. I politely excused myself saying "I'll think about it".

Walking back home I was suddenly stuck by the fairness obsessed society we lived in. The conversation between those ladies made me realise how beauty is looked at as being 'fair'.

It did not take me much time to notice everything else that was fairness related. the famous "Fair and Lovely" creme was not the monopoly in the market any more, I'd noticed on the trip to a hyper market to buy some groceries. The beauty isles were busting at seams with fairness soaps, lotions and even cleansers. Shah rukh Khan was advertising a fairness creme for men. Isha Deol was endorsing another creme that boasted of making the skin fairer in just six weeks. An unknown model was shown getting a better husband after using a particular fairness soap. And the fairness fever was not confined to the idiot box. People who visited us to see Aarti noticed her complexion before anything else. As I mom, I wanted people to see her as a happy baby. Not a fair one. I wanted them to see the dimple on her cheek or those shining eyes with lush lashes. Nada...her complexion gets the vote. Everywhere, everyone has a faint or a strong obsession with fairness. From my 11 year old cousin to the 75 yr old I knew - everyone is partial to fair skin.
the fairness mania that existed for ever in our society, suddenly manifested itself the moment I started noticing it. i wondered if the outsourcing of the female leads in telugu movies was fairness related as well. I wondered what Aishwarya Rai had more than the earthy and brown complected Rekha to walk away with the title of the better "Umrao Jaan". I was depressed to see the matrimonial ads that wanted a "fair" bride and the tan girls around me that had a complex due to their skin tone. So what does beauty boil down to? Having fair skin?? The most beautiful women I'd seen so far were not fair. They were beautiful without being necessarily fair. The radiance a warm smile generates is lost in the obsession for a lighter skin tone. The girl that is smart and sensible loses the chance to meet her prince charming because she is not fair?? What kind of a message is Shah rukh, the icon of millions giving to his blind fans? Does having a fairer skin promise you a better life partner or worse yet, a better life?
I hope the yonger generation gets to learn that true beauty is all about how are from the inside and nothing about how your skin looks on the outside.
Fairness according to me, is only a reflection of the melanin content under our skin. I am flabbergasted at what a big deal it is made out to be.
That being said, the prayer for being in a society that looks beyond the skin tone joins my prayer for world peace. Amen.