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Pappachan's Streetlight

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They say Pappachan had been a less severe man in his earlier years. Every now and then, a dwindling memory of his younger, more whimsical days cropped up in tea-shop conversations, recounted now more as myth than history. His perpetually furrowed eyebrows, now tinged white at its tips,…

My brother is a talented writer. He helped me write my first essay about, you guessed it, cats. I was 12-years-old. Head on over to his blog to read some of his work that includes stories gathered through travel and talk around India. “Pappachan’s Streetlight” is my favorite thus far. 

Distant Love and Loss

My boyfriend and I traveled to Chicago last weekend with two other friends for some time away from our little town of Muncie. I turned 24 on Monday, March 10th. I have always celebrated my birthday in another city because it conveniently falls during Spring Break. It’s a great practice for my nomadic soul - to be fed by the energy of a city to fuel another year of life.

I told my boyfriend that turning 24 was significant because I have spent about 12 years of my life away from my parents in different ways. I went to boarding school in another state in India since I was 13. I moved to the USA for college when I was 18. It has made me an independent, curious, adventurous and adaptable person but there are some disadvantages that come with distance. 

My family spends our time in two or three different time zones depending on the time of the year. Right now, my brother is in India, my parents are in Israel, and I am in the USA. I am so accustomed to this transitory lifestyle that the idea of picking one home, culture and language seems foreign to me.

My boyfriend and I have been dating for 3 years now. Throughout our relationship, we have learned how difficult it is to date across borders since my immediate family still lives in India. We just recently started Skyping with my parents but it is a learning experience for him.

Many of my personal relationships have developed into virtual ones because my family and friends are spread out across the world. While a majority of my boyfriend’s family and friends are concentrated in the surrounding states or at the very least, in the same country.

Staying in touch with people via Viber, Skype, Facebook, Instagram, Google Hangouts and Twitter seems natural and seamless to me. It isn’t as easy for him to relax and converse when on camera. 

When we get married, we have to decide which country we will live on. If we decide to stay in the USA, my parents and friends will continue to live on the other side of the world. Although I have spent half of my life away from my family, I miss them dearly every day.

Sometimes I tell my boyfriend that we need to hang out with more of my friends instead of only his but it’s a complex task since we have to coordinate virtual dates with different time zones. 

I could provide you with more examples to illustrate the challenges and beauty of our biracial and inter-national but take my word for it, it’s not easy but it is absolutely beautiful.

Love is a wonderful thing to talk about it, and it’s often easier to talk about how distance affects amorous relationships because it’s positive. You can say all the hardship is worth it because you have a happy ending with your Love.

I do need to talk about another aspect about living away from my immediate family. A few hours ago, I learned that my grandmother in Kerala passed away. I was supposed to write a paper but I decided I needed to spend some time writing instead.

I cannot describe how I feel right now. I do feel the loss however, I feel more distant.

I feel distant because I did not interact with my grandmother much because we lived so far away from each other. I feel distant because I cannot attend the funeral. I feel distant because the more time I spend in the USA, the less connected I feel to daily customs back home. I feel distant because I have always concealed my emotions from family members because I do not want them to worry when I am abroad.

I feel distant because I do not know her full name. I have always called her ammachi, which means “grandmother” in Malayalam. I feel distant because my parents are not in the country, and I am uncertain of how her funeral rites will be conducted without them. I feel distant because she died alone.

I have missed many engagements, weddings, birthdays but I have also missed many funerals. I do not know how to grief without the rest of them. Do I go to church during the funeral in Kerala? Do I cry in my room alone? Do I talk to the only member of my family in Muncie, my boyfriend, about her life? Do I simply continue with my life knowing that I chose this distance and I must now embrace it’s side effects? 

Our trip to Chicago reminded me why my boyfriend and I are great for each other. We both have adventurous and resilient spirits. In times of stress, we are calm and composed. We have had various ups and downs over the years, and our ability to comfort the other is so valuable to me.

I am extremely grateful for his patient ears when I tell long stories. I am also incredibly grateful to have found someone who will learn to love and grief loss from a distance.

I do not know how to say goodbye to a loved one without a funeral. It offers a closure that I must some how find without being family that suffered the same loss. 

This is the hardest part of living away from my family. I spend so little time with them, and I do not even get to be a part of their last day. C’est la vie et la mort. 

We got more than a foot of snow last night so it’s been a slow and cold day in Indiana again. I’ve spent most of my time in bed - working on HW and watching Hindi movies. 

Randy gave me a wonderful book a few years ago. It’s called Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer by Richard Rohr. 

I’m taking a break to read this book. Here’s a passage that stuck out to me because it demonstrates the value of person responsibility and reflection:

"As we observe our mental and emotional flow over a period of disciplined time, we recognize that we largely create our own experiences. I know this is embarrassing and some of us deny it, but it’s true. We have the power to decide what each moment means and how we will respond to it. We have power when we know we have the ability to respond freely. We can decide if we’re going to respond to something hatefully or lovingly. We can decide to attack or ask for the gift of forgiveness, or at least the gift of understanding."

The 'How Are You?'€™ Culture Clash

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

One of my closest friends from boarding school recommended Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. We’re going to read it together this year. We live so many miles apart (she lives in India and Nepal, and I live in Indiana) that a common activity will make the distance seem smaller. Here’s the first paragraph of the book:

"It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured. I realised, somehow, through the screaming in my mind, that even in that shackled, bloody helplessness, I was still free: free to hate the men who were torturing me, or to forgive them. It doesn’t sound like much, I know. But in the flinch and bite of the chain, when it’s all you’ve got, that freedom is a universe of possibility. And the choice you make, between hating and forgiving, can become the story of your life." 

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I watched a brief documentary by Paula Schargorodsky a few days ago. The filmmaker addresses relationships, happiness and society’s pressure to get married after a certain age.
I still wonder how my views about commitment have changed over the past three years. I still oscillate between two views - 1. commitment is absurd and 2. commitment is beautiful. I have lived a transitory life, and I always want to be a vagabond. It’s hard for your body and mind to travel when your heart is rooted in one place and person. R and I are still trying to figure out where and how we would live together when that time comes.
However, I am so grateful for R. Even in the my fiercest opposition to traditional concepts of marriage, motherhood and femininity; I am happy to be in love. 
The short film may lead you to similar or different conclusions. If you want to watch the full documentary, click here. 

I watched a brief documentary by Paula Schargorodsky a few days ago. The filmmaker addresses relationships, happiness and society’s pressure to get married after a certain age.

I still wonder how my views about commitment have changed over the past three years. I still oscillate between two views - 1. commitment is absurd and 2. commitment is beautiful. I have lived a transitory life, and I always want to be a vagabond. It’s hard for your body and mind to travel when your heart is rooted in one place and person. R and I are still trying to figure out where and how we would live together when that time comes.

However, I am so grateful for R. Even in the my fiercest opposition to traditional concepts of marriage, motherhood and femininity; I am happy to be in love. 

The short film may lead you to similar or different conclusions. If you want to watch the full documentary, click here. 

Excited for 2014. Happy New Year everyone!

Excited for 2014. Happy New Year everyone!

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2013, in books

2013 has been a year full of dramatic changes.

I got my first job after graduating college (Sep ‘12). I went home for a month to visit family after two years (Feb ‘13). I got my driving license in the US and bought a car (March ‘13). After my 6 month contract ended (April ‘13), I had a tough time finding another job for the remaining time on my OPT. I got accepted into Ball State with an assistantship (May ‘13). I ended up working at a call center until graduate school started (May - July ‘13).  I moved towns (Aug ‘13). I completed my first semester at Ball State with a 4.0 (December ‘13). I worked over Christmas break to save money towards my Spring semester bill (December ‘13).

I’ve definitely cried a few times from stress, but I’ve also learned that I have a great support system in various countries who believe and love me more than I love myself sometimes. It’s great to be 23, and surrounded by people - far and near - who continually teach me how to keep going. Perseverance has a more intimate meaning to me after a year full of ups and downs.

I have always loved reading, but I seem to have read quite a few books this year compared to prior years. I am guessing that I read more this year during turbulent times because words are such a wonderful escape into other worlds. As the list below shows, I traveled to India, Nigeria, Haiti and the Midwest of the USA through literature. *s indicate my favorite reads. I always intend to write longer reviews for each book but I’ll settle for stars this year :) 

» Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found by Suketu Mehta

» India Becoming by Akash Kapur

» *Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

» *Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff

» Mad Women by Jane Maas

» *Kissing Beyond the Lines by Diane Farr

» The Enemies of the Idea of India by Ramachandra Guha

» *Caucasia by Danzy Senna

» *The Last Jews of Kerala by Edna Fernandes

» *Farewell, Fred Voodoo: A Letter from Haiti by Amy Wilentz

I’m still reading Work and Other Sins by Charlie LeDuff. 

I am going to start 2014 with:

» Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

» Brothers Karamazov by Fydor Dostoevsky

I have also decided that it’s time to imagine and complete a project. I have a hard time executing ideas because there are so many wonderful ideas dancing in my mind. I hope to write a children’s book this year. I have stopped writing as much as I used to during my undergraduate years at Anderson. It’s going to be one of my resolutions this year - to imagine, to write, to create and to inspire. Writing will also be a good distraction from the demands of 12 credits this semester :) 

R and I have our usual NYE’s plans this year with our friends at the Exodus House. I’m going to bake red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. R’s mum gave me some recipes over Christmas, and I’m looking forward to trying them out one by one.

I hope you all have a wonderful New Year’s with family and friends. 2014 is the year to be free.

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"Sex and death are never far apart; a gun can also be called a gaadi. Shot lena could mean firing a gun or fucking. Girls, as well as drugs, generically, are maal - cargo - and charas is kala sona - black gold."

"Through the walls, they played antakshari, the game of Hindi film songs, where each person starts a song beginning with the syllable that the last one has ended on. The jail resounded with the full-throated voices of terrorists singing love songs."

"

Mehta, Suketu. 2004. “Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found.” Vintage Books: New York.

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You are in everything. 99 percent of Hollywood movies feature your faces. 99 percent of magazine covers are covered in you. The Emmy Awards and Oscars are almost entirely you. If you Google “beautiful people” the screen is covered in white faces. Black girls (and boys) are taught from birth that there is one version of beauty, and it is you. Many black girls go their entire lives thinking they are ugly, thinking they need to be lighter, straighter, whiter in order to have value. Everything that you see every day that reaffirms your whiteness; every commercial that has a nice white lady embodying the perfect “mom;” every magazine that has blue eyes and bone-straight hair; every Hollywood blockbuster that has a leading lady with skin never darker than Halle Berry… all of these things are reinforcements of your identity that you take for granted.

You may be fat. You may have hair that curls up at the ends. You may even have acne. But your face is everywhere. Your people are everywhere. What in your heart recoils when you see Black Girls Rock? What bone in your body sees empowerment for black girls and thinks “that’s not fair”? Where is your bitterness rooted? What do you think has been taken from you when women of color are uplifted?

All of the things you take for granted are what you’re protecting when you shout down Black Girls Rock: your whiteness, the system that upholds your face as the supreme standard of beauty, your place in the center of a culture that demands people of color remain hidden in the margins, present but only barely and never overshadowing the white hero/heroine. Your discomfort with black girls who rock tells me that you prefer the status quo: you prefer for black faces to remain hidden, you prefer for America’s heroes to have white faces, you prefer for black actresses to wear aprons and chains.

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Olivia Cole, Why I’m Not Here for #WhiteGirlsRock (via themaryd)

(via tumblemesoftly)

Notes: Bengali Harlem by Vivek Bald

I’m just publishing quotes from a book I’m reading to explore a potential research topic. 

"In 1900, the federal census recorded twelve men from "Hindoostan" living in New Orleans. All were members of the peddler network - men who had begun making trips through Ellis Island in the 1880s and the 1890s to peddle goods on the New Jersey seaside… The men were mostly in their midthirties to late forties and already had years of experience behind them selling Oriental goods to U.S. consumers. They had moved to St. Louis Street around 1895, two years before the creation of Storyville, when the block was part of an area consisting of boardinghouses, bars, clubs, brothels and low-rent residences. Here, the peddlers were within walking distance of three areas of the city that would have been crucial to their work: the French Market, where some of them sold from stalls; the commercial district along Canal Street, which offered crowds of tourists and middle-class window-shoppers; and the railway terminal on Rampart Street, which connected the Bengalis to points north, east, and west." (26-27).

"The travels of Bengali Muslim peddlers within and beyond the borders of the United States are all the more remarkable for the fact that they occurred at a time of increasing anti-immigrant and anti-Asian sentiment in the United States. The period between the 1880s and the 1910s - the years in which Hooghly’s traders established and expanded their operations in the United States - saw a rapid rise in immigration to the United States. Immigrants from all over the world were coming through New York, San Francisco, and other U.S. ports in numbers the country had never before experienced. It was also a period of rising xenophobia, directly largely at the poorest and least skilled of the workers who were coming to U.S. shores - from Chinese railroad workers to Sicilian peasants. Over these years, the U.S. government developed an ever-more selective regime of immigration laws that explicitly used criteria of class and race to turn immigrants away from the United States. This process began with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Alien Contract Labor Law of 1885 and continued with the 1917 Immigration Act, which, among other things, instituted the Asiatic Barred Zone, the provision that brought virtually all legal migration from Asia to a halt." (39-40)

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"You know, I tried not to think of this place. I tried to let it go. To leave it behind. But it always came back to me, in my dreams. I’d dream about these details, these objects and people and places I’d left behind, and I’d wake up crying. I used to close my eyes before bed and see your papa’s face, my mother’s face, hear the Supremes playing distantly in my ears. Origins sure are powerful and shit. You can’t shake them. I didn’t want to miss America, but the truth of the matter is, in India, I was more American than I’d ever been at home."

Propping herself up one elbow, she said, “It’s funny. When you leave your home and wander really far, you always think, “I want to go home.” But then you come home, and of course it’s not the same. You can’t live with it, you can’t live away from it. And it seems like from then on there’s always this yearning for some place that doesn’t exist. I felt that. Still do. I’m never completely at home anywhere. But it’s a good place to be, I think. It’s like floating. From up above, you can see everything at once. It’s the only way how.

"

Dot to Birdie when asked “Did you miss here at all?”

from “Caucasia” by Danzy Senna