Friday, December 19, 2008

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

This was the scene as I picked up my youngest from school today. I love this time of year.

Happy holidays, everyone. Warmest wishes to you and yours, and may 2009 bring us all closer to our most cherished dreams.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hair's to Freedom

I'm bringing this entry on over from my now defunct LJ blog so that it can be here with the rest of its friends ;). If you want to see the comments thread for that post, go here; there are some cool responses. Anyway . . .

This weekend, I was interviewed for a magazine article. Nothing to do with my book, or even writing, for that matter. The topic of the hour was body image. This is a topic I could go on and on and ON about (and have, on several occasions), but I'll refrain just this once :D. Before the interview, all sorts of thoughts went through my head about what I might talk about -- will I do the usual issue of weight and body size/shape? Would I go to the more familiar topic of areas of my body I've waged war with? Or would I go into the skin shade territory? So many areas to cover (no pun intended), not enough interview time . . .

So, when the lovely interviewer called me, we had a fantastic, lively, friendly discussion. It was fun and hilarious. We were about forty-five minutes through when I realized all I'd talked about was my hair. My hair. Not the usual trilogy: butt, boobs, belly. Not flab, sag, and lumps. Hair. And not body hair, either.

I had no idea what a huge issue hair has been all through my life. But as I talked to Ms. Lovely Interviewer, I realized that as a Sikh girl-child, then young woman, so many battles over control and power in my house were fought around the territory of my hair. I was not allowed to cut it, there were certain hairstyles I could not wear, and there was just so much IMPORTANCE placed on what I did or did not do with my hair.

As a little girl, I thought cutting my hair would be the answer to all my problems. I thought not being allowed to cut it was what kept me apart from the "rest" of the world. It was what kept me from connecting. And that was something I so very much longed for. Later, as I began to question things, I wanted to know why the religion allowed my father and brothers to cut their hair, but not me or my mother. Obviously, the religion intends both men and women to keep long hair, but in mah house this was not the case. That's a whole other post, though :D.

Also interesting was just how much the interviewer and I could relate on the hair topic. She happened to be African-American and went through many different periods in her life where she struggled with the "Natural or straightened?" question. Her hair was a site where many inner and outer battles were fought, too.

I thought about movies where, whenever someone wanted to change their identity, or get a fresh start in life, the first thing they did was cut off their hair. Even with makeovers on popular daytime talk shows, the biggest way to make a difference in one's appearance (thereby, in one's life?) is to change the color/cut/style of their hair.

Through my conversation with Ms. Interviewer, it hit me that whenever I wanted things to change in my life, whenever I felt smothered, or not in control of my destiny, I went to a salon. And later, I bought a good pair of scissors and clippers and took matters into my own hands. Doing what I wanted with my own hair felt like a kind of freedom. It was a defiance and a breaking and a challenge. "This is mine," was the message. And it got across alright. Found its way straight into a whole heap of punishment when I lived at home.

Ms. Interviewer said she had a site like that now, too--where she thought that if only such and such were different, her whole life would somehow be better. We wondered if this was something others experienced in terms of body image. I had a friend who, whenever she wanted to feel pampered or taken care of, she'd go to a salon and have them wash her hair. That's it--nothing else--just a wash.

I also marveled at the fact I could meet another woman from any other racial, social, economic, or political category, and we could easily have identical body image schtuff. The article I was being interviewed for will include the experiences of seven or eight women from all walks of life and is set to hit the stands soon. Will keep you posted.

In the meantime, I'd love to know what your experience has been with body image. Has it even been an issue? If so, where did it center around? Where are you at with it now?

Monday, December 15, 2008

What I Learned Last Weekend

What I learned this past weekend is this:

there are people who wait for success to bring them joy. And then there are people who allow joy to bring them success.

It was an epiphany-ish moment for me because the first part of that sentence so accurately describes two people I love very much. They've been waiting for this thing called "success" for most of their lives. And you know what? They're still waiting. For some reason, Success has never come calling. Every time they think they're close, it slithers out of their grasp. It's a shape-changer, that Success.

And then I meet these people on the road of Life. These people who are just honestly alive and happy in almost any given situation. They exude a kind of warmth and generosity and . . . honesty. And people gravitate toward them. People want to be around them, want to do things for them.

These people are living their success now, reveling in each and every moment that rolls their way.

I'm trying hard to become more like them and less like the first part of that sentence. I challenge you to do the same for the rest of today, maybe even the rest of this week.


Women's Work is Done

I was going to post about what I learned this weekend -- which is actually fabulous, so please remind me to post about it soon. However, I was stopped short as I read the list of messages on one of the various listservs I belong to.

Among the various back-and-forth political jabs, recommendations for sari blouse taylors, and eyebrow-threading salons, there was a link to a very interesting BBC article. It was about forced marriages in the U.K. Apparently, in Britain there is a law in place that makes it an offense to make one's daughter marry against her will. I am both stunned and not at all stunned that such a law must exist. And that it is, primarily, put in effect for the South Asian community. Seriously, WTF??

My second novel, JAZZ IN LOVE, deals in part with the issue of arranged marriage. The character is clearly hip and modern and savvy, but her parents believe in arranged marriage. A situation millions of South Asian girls find themselves in.

I always hesitate when mentioning the AM aspect of my novel to folks because I'm afraid the response (as it has been once or twice) is going to be: [Groan] Not another Indian-American writing about arranged marriage! Can't we write about anything else?

And then there are stories like the one in the above link.

These things are happening today. The woman in the BBC article is thirty-three. Not sixteen or nineteen or even twenty-five. Clearly, girls and women are still being bartered and sold under the guise of various "traditions." The more we write about these issues, challenging them and perhaps making young people pause and contemplate, the better, IMO. And, clearly, we have a long way to go when the wishes of an independent, thirty-three-year-old doctor mean nothing in the eyes of her parents. When they feel completely justified and entitled to deceive her into booking a trip to India, then forcibly marrying her to someone they think she ought to be with.

I've decided I'm fine with the groans and the, "Not another Indian-American writing about..." comments. Those come from folks who maybe think the work has already been done and it's time to move on. Because, y'know, arranged marriage has been going on for thousands of years--in most cases to the detriment of women, so a dozen or so books on the subject should do it, right?

And then we have the Dogs and Women Not Allowed post on Ultra Violet. But that, of course, is for another day . . . ;)


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Race and YA

Here is a link to a post I recently did as a guest contributor to

Alicia Valdes-Rodriguez also did a guest post for Racialicious about race and gender as themes in Stephanie Meyer's TWILIGHT series. She compares J.K. Rowling's HARRY POTTER, which she says is more "left" and progressive, with Meyer's books which are more right wing and religious. Interesting read -- the comments are worth a look, too.

Also, a Call for Submissions from two Assistant Professors who are doing an anthology of YA literature from "International and marginalized countries." They're working with Words Without Borders, the publisher that put out LITERARY VOICES FROM THE "AXIS OF EVIL": WRITING FROM IRAN, IRAQ, NORTH KOREA, AND OTHER ENEMY NATIONS. If you're interested in learning more, please contact Kjersti VanSlyke-Briggs at, or

In other news: rainy and dreary here. Hope it's sunny and bright (and preferably warm) where you are!


Monday, December 8, 2008


My mother still uses the terms "light-skinned" and "beautiful" interchangeably. Even in spite of numerous discussions, arguments, and debates with me about how problematic this is, especially when she's talking to her darker-skinned daughter (me) :D. She did this just last week, in fact.

I think about this -- my mother's deep seated belief that light skin equals beauty, and at how strongly she clings to this belief. How important it is for her to hang on to this. And I think about how, when I was growing up, she was of course the most beautiful woman in the world to me. And that, then, I never understood where her light skin might have factored into my beauty equation.

It took me years to undo that equation. All the while, she stood solidly by me when my uncles and father thought I should be "handled" more firmly, else I might get a taste of freedom and be "hard to control." It was because of her that I became outspoken, feisty, challenging . . . proving in a way, that my uncles and my father were right.

And maybe because of this support, I was able to rescue myself from the demolition of the "beauty myth" that was so much a part of my growing up years.

Now when I visit home, I watch my mom do my father's and grown brother's laundry. She cooks for them, sweeps up behind them. All with her arthritic knees freezing in place when she stands in one place for too long. While her hands and fingers go numb from years of working on assembly lines. I tell her they're grown men -- I'm pretty sure they can figure out the art of Operating the Washing Machine. She sighs, agrees with me, then goes to turn on the stove for their dinner.

I read somewhere recently that part of our job in our own personal evolution is to birth our own savior. Metaphorically, of course. That we are the only ones who can "birth" the part of ourselves that can save us from ourselves.

My wish is that in 2009, we all birth our own saviors.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Thoughts on Mumbai

Like most South Asians, I've been thinking a lot about the Mumbai blasts and I'd be a complete twit not to post some of my thoughts here.

In India, this attack has been called the "Indian 9/11." Through various listservs I'm on, I've had the chance to read about people's reactions and they vary greatly. Some are outraged, rightly so, and glad most of the perpetrators (all but one, I believe) were gunned down. Some are shocked and dismayed at the Indian government's slow (or lack of) response to the situation and the subsequent chaos that ensued on a political level.

All of this does, indeed, remind me of 9/11 here in the U.S. Bush's slow response to the crisis, then the "bomb everything to find weapons of mass destruction" brigade. The response of "kill them all" is a frightening one in what is supposed to be a civilized society. I understand the fury, the outrage, frustration, and pain behind this cry. But the actions we take after terror tactics is most important if we're to avoid further terror attacks. And no, I don't believe the answer is to "kill them all." Because, really, the terrorists who carry out the attacks are the foot soldiers, not the generals. The ones getting shot and killed during the terror attacks are not the ones giving out the orders or planning the attacks or carefully building ideologies. And so far, none of the masterminds behind these "terrorism" tactics have been caught and brought to justice.

Why would this be the case? After all the attacks over the years, why haven't any of the heads or leaders of these attacks been captured and brought to trial? I can't be the only one who's thinking this might be a good plan of action. And the terrorists -- are they really that much smarter than our elected officials and military leaders?

What's most remarkable are some of the comments I've read on South Asian listservs and blogs. The discussion invariably comes down to religion. Hindus throw out the fact that Hindus live in poverty in India, too, and Muslims don't really have it that bad, and "Look, Hindus aren't out there terrorizing innocent people!" Muslims condemn the attacks and throw out reminders that Islam is truly a religion about peace.

And we're back to square one.

Religion is supposed to help us connect with a larger life force. It is supposed to offer us guidelines and methods to live our lives fully and in harmony with those around us. Religion is supposed to teach us about ourselves and about Life.

What I am seeing is true spirituality being hijacked by a few who are crazed with power-mongering and greed. They are good planners, they are great manipulators. And they are empty and hungry, using other people's children to fulfill their missions. They are using a true desire in good folks -- the desire to connect with that larger life force and to receive guidance about themselves and Life -- to manipulate young, spiritually hungry people (mostly young men) into committing egregious acts.

And I'm not just talking about Muslim terrorists or Sikh terrorists or Irish terrorists. Terrorists come in all colors, backgrounds, and political affiliations because greed and power-hunger come in all colors, backgrounds, and political affiliations.

Long ago, there were huge, elaborate temples and churches built to honor the spirit. Many of these are still standing. They are some of the most stunning architecture and wondrous beauty created by humankind on this planet. Today, we do not build these structures to spirit. The temples constructed today are temples to consumerism. Is it any wonder that so many young men and women are desperate for something more real? Something that will nurture a spiritual emptiness created by a world that reveres materialism?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Tao of Panda

This past weekend, we rented Kung Fu Panda. It was a total blast, y'all. And, there were tons of cleverly disguised spiritual, zen-y nuggets of wisdom in it that I shall now share with you.

Here are the quotes that I totally ooh'ed and aaah'ed at:

"Nothing is impossible." Okay, this one may seem simple, but it's totally amazing when you see Oogway the turtle dropping those words of wisdom from his ancient, wrinkled old mouth, okay?

"One often meets [their] destiny on the road [they] take to avoid it." LOVE love love this.

"Your mind is like [the] water. When it is agitated, it becomes difficult to see. If you allow it to settle, the answer becomes clear." Deep.

"There are no accidents." This one, too, might seem deceptively simple. BUT. It totally applies to people who wonder "What if . . . ?" As in, "What if I had gone to college?," or "What if I hadn't had kids?," or "What if I had stayed with so-and-so . . . ?" If you believe there are no accidents, then where you are is exactly where you are supposed to be.

Just goes to show you that you never know what you're going to find when (while avoiding more pressing work that might help you fulfill your destiny) you sit down to watch an animated movie about a Panda who loves Kung Fu.

The mind-expanding nuggets of wisdom you might glean are totally no accident -- cuz they might make you go back to your work with a whole new perspective that helps you fulfill that destiny even better . . . ;).