Monday, January 05, 2015

The Missing Amulet

A poem about a mystery in a family about a missing amulet. This publication was for the 'mystery/crime' theme of this month's Spark magazine.

Read on!

Original publication at

The Missing Amulet

“It’s missing, it’s missing,”
Rang out cries from the hall
“The amulet,” cried Grandpa
Wobbling, as if he might just fall

Soon, a posse was formed
Hands and eyes searching in earnest
The missing piece must be found
For our fragile Grandpa dearest

Hours passed in the tense household
And no sign of the amulet was seen
Grandpa finally uttered some words
“It’s stolen. This is a crime scene.”

The former governor must be right
For years of misanthropy he had witnessed
So what if everyone here was his kin
Trust was never high on his list

And so, his sons and their wives
And his daughters and their pets
And the domestic helpers one and two
Each found themselves beset

With alacrity, a room was set
For the questions to be asked in
And one by one, they filed
Into the mouth of the lion’s den

“Where did you see it last?
Did you ever touch it?
Why should I trust a word you say?
I know you had your eyes on it”

So the purported thieves
All sat through the inquisition
Red-faced, shamed, ignominiously tamed
They bore the brunt of the accusation

For they were now in the season
Of Grandpa’s growing senility
Of growing imagination
And decreasing cognitive ability

They laughed and they cried
At this regular charade
Can this amulet ever be found?
Frustrated, they silently played

It is true, it wasn’t the amulet
That was sought after
It was Grandpa’s faith
That was the crux of the matter

What price can an amulet get you?
A hundred in a pawn store?
But one good turn in the will from the old man
That, my friends, was worth a lot more

So, craftily they stole,
Not his amulet, but his trust
Building a case against the rest
Suggesting the kin’s gold lust

So the day passed into night
The mystery continued to confound
The old man’s wretched amulet
Was nowhere to be found

And one day Grandpa died
His last words, “I am so sad”
They gathered again, to hear his will
The sons, the daughters, good and bad

“To all of you who read this will
I have for you one quest
He who finds my amulet
Will get more than the rest”

They all sighed, spat and cursed
At the old man’s masterstroke
In senility, he found some revenge
They laughed before, now they were the joke

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Annus Moviebilis part II

I conducted an experiment in the year 2008. I wanted to keep a tab on the number of movies I watched through the year. I diligently noted every movie I saw. At the end of the year, a list was produced here.

It has been a while since and I wanted to see for myself if the passage of time, addition of another child to the family and the improved quality of television programming has had any change to the number. Additionally, I released my first book as well this year.

As was the case before, I am not going to drill down the list to analyze it more. However, here's the list of movies. The suspense of the score is revealed at the bottom of this list.

Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani
The internship
Krrish 3
World War Z
Bhaag Milkha Bhaag
Jack Reacher
American Psycho
Vanity Fair
Ek Thi Daayan
Ironman 3
Cloud Atlas
The Square
The Ninth Gate
Donnie Darko
Mickey Virus
Rock On
Once upon a time in Mumbai Dobaara
Pacific Rim
Man Of Steel
Hansee toh phasee
Gori Tere Pyaar Mein
The Europa Report
The Great Gatsby
Blue Jasmine
Dances with wolves
Shaadi ke side effects
The Family
12 years a slave
Fast and the furious 6
The Wolf of Wall Street
American Hustle
The Ides of March
X-Men: Days of future past
Thor: The dark world
Nowhere boy
The Dallas Buyer's Club
Dedh Ishqiya
Side Effects
The Breakfast Club
Pretty In Pink
St. Elmo's Fire
The Descendants
The Apartment
2 States
Catching Fire
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
The Lunchbox
Bobby Jasoos
Ek Villain
Captain Phillips
For a few dollars more
3 Days to Kill
Gulabi Gang
Holiday - a soldier is never off duty
The Woman in Black
The hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy
Humpty Sharma ki dulhaniya
The Edge of Tomorrow
The Hobbit: Battle of the five armies
Magic in the moonlight
The 100 foot journey


2008: 99
2014: 86

A drop, but not too drastic, considering everything that's going on. Clearly, I am still quite the movie-phile.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Mumbai Musings from a non-resident Indian

(Published first on Medium)

I spent the first two decades of my life in the bustling, ever-changing metropolis of Mumbai before I left it for the disturbing calm of College Station, Texas. As my years in the United States piled on, my physical and metaphorical distance from my city of dreams grew on. Now, I straddle two different worlds. The place where I live — the lush green Pacific Northwest and the place which I still ambiguously call home — the crazy, crowded, lively Mumbai.

I recently came to India with my wife and two sons (6 & 2) on one more of my bi-annual sojourns to meet friends, family and my city. I decided to capture my musings as I spent my time here — in essence, capturing, what every NRI experiences when they come back home. Here’s hoping some of this resonates with you.

1. I sit on the sofa on a warm November day and sip hot coffee made by my mother while reading an actual newspaper as the breeze of the fan ruffles its pages. When I come home, an old deep frozen way of life is thawed into being.

2. The ominous threat ‘Winter is coming’ doesn’t scare people of the Kingdom of Mumbai. Winter never comes to Mumbai.
(update written at the end of another 95 F day)

3. When I come to India, I carry jetlag and Seattle with me. Jetlag takes a while to get over, but Seattle leaves the system in two days. The niceties and laidback attitude are of no use the third time you get cut in line or take five minutes to cross the road.

4. The importance of home delivery and ironed clothes in a Mumbai (Indian) household can’t be stated enough

5. I am an Andheri boy to the core, but when it comes to architectural beauty, the boundary can be drawn at Bandra. Suburbs north of that have the aesthetic beauty of Lego blocks arranged by a one year old.

6. No India trip is complete without your child asking you to stop the car because of an ‘emergency’ and you temporarily relieving yourself (pun intended) of your civic consciousness.

7. The American constitution is better than the Indian constitution. No, not the legal document. I am talking about the gastrointestinal system. My American born kids hold on a lot better to good health here than I do.

8. Squishing a mosquito buzzing near you with a swift clap of the hands is an instinct you never lose even when you lose practice. Mosquito Ninjas never forget their trade. Like biking or swimming.

9. My Starbucks name in India is ‘Parth’. Bart, Mark and John are waiting in Seattle.

10. In deference to all my Parsi friends, I try to keep a straight face every time I pass Horniman circle. Hard to stifle a giggle with a name like that.

11. Your parents will have a trusted steel cupboard, most likely made by Godrej, in their house. It will almost be as old as you, very dear to them,and its groan and shriek while opening is part of its charm. Over the years, amidst its layers, a history of your family builds up. A sedimentation of memories.

12. The domestic air traveler in India is a quirky beast. Among his or her traits, the following stand out
- Jumping over each other to get into the plane. Because, you know, how can one trust seat numbers?
- Getting up to use the restroom as the plane is landing. Because, you know, instructions vinstructions
- Unlocking the seat belt the moment all four wheels have touched down. Because, you know, no one can restrain an Indian a moment longer than necessary.

13. Once upon a time, there were analog meters in auto-rickshaws. The numbers would tick, and at the end of your ride, you’d be staring at 1.80 or 3.30. The rickshaw driver would swing his head and stare into the open, as if computing the number in his head. Then he’d say Rs. 55. Your mind would be alert at the prospect of being tricked, but you were too smart to ask for a rate card. So you’d apply your own computation and then pay up or fight. The new meters tell me exactly what I need to pay. I miss the drama.

14. Parenting principles are often turned around their head in India. After having drilled ‘Wait your turn’ into my children’s heads, I found myself telling them to ‘Don’t wait, just push ahead’. Without that, they’d be standing at the top of the slide for a long time without ever coming down.

15. There is no haircut better than a $1.50 haircut (including tips). Eavesdropping on interesting conversation, listening to radio or watching an old Hindi movie playing on TV, and getting a head massage is all part of the package. The only instruction ever given: ‘Chota kaatna’ (cut it short)

16. With the last ten seconds left for the traffic light to go green, auto rickshaw drivers start a vrooming routine that mirrors F1 drivers at the start of a race. All this to achieve a high speed of 10kmph.

17. You look around the house and find little pieces of yourself left around like breadcrumbs. It is a fallacy to think that you have come back home. The truth is, you never really left.

This is in continuation with the topic I touched upon in my book ‘r2i Dreams’, which is an exploration of the return to India topic from the perspective of three immigrants. As any NRI going back to India will attest, each trip brings upon a flood of memories and a shift of perspective. Hope you enjoyed the musings.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Book review: r2i dreams

My book r2i dreams got a generous and detailed review in the Spark magazine. If you haven't yet picked up the book, here's hoping that the review prompts you to read it.


An Interview

My 50th publication (Yes, I keep count!) turned out to be a very very special one - my first interview. The folks at Spark were kind enough to interview me and I was intrepid enough to answer their questions.

As they say, the first interview is always a special one. You are not reprimanded for putting your foot in your mouth.

Read on.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

In Defense of Parents

Everyone writes about children. No one writes about parents.
Are you a parent? A hassled, frazzled, under-pressure human being? A self-admonishing, self-doubting, sincere gem of a person? My latest publication in the Spark magazine is written for you (and it should be a first in a long series). Read on.

In Defense of Parents

Childhood is the simplest time of life. To maintain the stakes of balance, parenting ends up being tough. And yet these parents, these gentle martyrs are never written about. Songs are written about the happy days of childhood. ‘Woh kaagaz ki kashti, woh baarish ka paani’ (That paper boat, those puddles of rain). Children make the best of candidates for stories. They are perfect and even when they are not, their imperfection is endearing. So, no, I am not here to celebrate children and childhood. I am here to celebrate parenthood.

Raising children has never been easy, right from the time of the Neanderthals. Imagine having to worry about your toddler rolling off the rock or warning your young kids to be wary of scary strangers and large beasts. The passage of millennia hasn’t made the task any easier.  Look at the current generation. It is a confused gaggle of parents who are told that every good idea that they have about parenting is not quite right.

If you are too attentive, you are indulging and spoiling the kids. If you aren’t present in your child’s life every waking moment, you aren’t participating enough. If they watch too much TV, you are inhibiting their development. But if they aren’t watching too much TV, hey, we are back to being all too present in their lives all the time. Your life has to be a living will and testament to the little monsters you have produced. But wait. The single reason we are bringing up a generation of self-indulgent is that we are spending too much time on them. There are helicopter parents. There are iPad parents. There are over-the-shoulder parents. There are working-on-weekend parents. There are treat-them-with-kid-gloves parents. There are let-them-run-wild parents. It is as if a parent can’t be a parent without a worrying adjective assigned to them. This group is under perennial pressure and judgment. To add to it, with many migrating away from their homes for their careers, they have no village left to help them raise a child. That leaves them little choice but to figure out this whole parenting skill by themselves. Most of them fly blind. Parenting by intuition. And trepidation. For these parents, I would like to offer moral support and some simple life lessons.

The 35000-foot view

Parenting is a duty towards society. You have been dealt a cocktail of genes from the human gene pool and a position in the societal structure with resources to go with it. Using this deadly combination, your task is to produce a progeny that will further the cause of the human race. Your parents did their bit to give you a chance in the pecking order of haves and have-nots. Your job is to do the same.

Why this rather large context to position this problem in? Well, for starters, it will make you feel good that all those sleepless nights and patient afternoons are not for nothing. You are on a mission that will ensure the continuity of the human race. That is no less than any blockbuster Hollywood makes where a bunch of people save the earth from annihilation. You are and your spouse are heroes of your own movie.

Parenting can be a sport

Oh, and a parenting is a sport. A highly competitive one. This, I am sure you have realized by now. You aren’t just raising a child.  You are raising a child better than your friends are. Than your cousins are. Than your neighbours are. And certainly better than all those parents of pesky classmates of your child. This is where confidence comes in handy. There are no right or wrong answers to parenting. There are no firsts and lasts in a child’s growth. Take the example of when a child walks or when a child talks. It is easy to get stressed about the fact that every single kid your child’s age has begun walking and talking sooner than yours. As they grow older, it will be about how well they can read. Or solve Legos. Or build robots. And you look at your child with a mixture of pity, accusation, denial. And a plea for redemption. You sit through all those ‘Little Einstein’ DVDs with them when they are young. The least they could do is solve string theory before someone’s else child does. Oh wait, redemption arrives. No one else’s child does either. They are all going to cap off somewhere or the other. Trust me. Those ‘high-achieving’ parents? They will feel crushed too, sooner or later. It is a no-win game.

What’s in a name?

Picking a name is a tough ask of parents. Imagine the consequences of a name that a child will come to regret. The results can be so damning that Jhumpa Lahiri wrote an entire book about it. To aid with that process, parents turn to the most reliable of resources. The internet. The algorithm is tried and tested. Take a tour of all the websites that suggest names for babies. If you are in a foreign country, run those names by the some locals to make sure the pronunciations are butchered like goats on Bakri Eid. These are all good things. The masses can’t be wrong. But this approach has had one unintended side effect. As I look around today, I see a lot of Arnav, Aarav, Arya, Arhan, Aarush, Aditya, so on and so forth. It is as if parents looked at the alphabet and forgot that there are letters beyond A. So, here’s a little tip: start from ‘Z’. Starting with Zoya and Zeeshan on the list and working down to Aswath. It will leave you with a higher chance of having a name for your child that starts with a letter higher up the alphabet chain and have a name that he or she doesn’t share with ten others around him or her.

Well, you turned out ok

Your parents will   start giving you a ton of good-natured advice when they turn into grandparents. They have earned the right. They brought you up in one piece. Somehow, you turned out ok. What they omit to tell you is that they were as clueless as parents are you are right now. Despite that, this ramshackle of a personality that you are, with all its deficiencies and inefficiencies, has made it good in this world. Whenever you feel lost in this morass of parenting and wonder how it is going to turn out, take a deep breath and tell yourself ‘I turned out ok. My kids will too.’

When you next see your kids, hold them, assure them and relish the blessing that they are. You’ll rise and fall in your own estimation as well as that of your kids as you try to deal with this imperfect science. These little bits of information here are mere crumbs of advice for this difficult job. Trust your instinct to tell you the right thing. For everything else, there’s the internet.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Chakraview: AID India Quiz 2014

I had the pleasure of conducting an India Quiz with two fellow quizzers, Nandini and Suchir for AID. This is an annual event that my quizzing group, Seattle Area Quizzers conducts for AID, an NGO that drives a lot of good projects in India. Small contribution to a greater cause.

The questions are shared here for your enjoyment. Go ahead. Give it a spin.

Chakraview: India Quiz 2014 

Sunday, October 05, 2014

That Little Blue Car

What is your dream car? A Bentley, a Beetle, a BMW or a Bugati? In this non-fiction piece in this month's Spark magazine themed 'Desire', I talk about my dream car from a time when dreams were simpler. Read on about which one and why! The answer might surprise you

That Little Blue Car | Spark

That Little Blue Car

What is a car? Is it just a vehicle on four wheels or is it a disguise for something larger? An ambition, an aspiration, a dream, a desire? Cars have continued to infuse passion and devotion amidst the believers over years. The car lover waxes eloquent about the purring of the engine, the thrill of its acceleration, the union of the man with the machine, the aesthetic joy that the contours of a vehicle bring. It is often a reflection of the owner. A status symbol, an extension of self.

Now that I have laid out a philosophical treatise on cars, let me tell you a story. This is a story of a man and a car and that little desire in a small crevice of his heart. It is a true story. It is my story.

I was a teen growing up in Mumbai in the 1990s. Mumbai is a crazy metropolis today. It was a crazy metropolis then too. It was packed like a can of sardines, but the lid was safely on (unlike today, where the can seems to spill a little bit of its guts each day). One of the great things about the city was that you could get around without ever needing a vehicle that you owned. There was the great train service (even with its daily incidents of people getting run over or electrocuted). There were the ubiquitous auto-rickshaws with their square shaped mysterious meters and tariff sheets. And where the auto-rickshaw could not reach, you had the speedier big brother of the auto-rickshaws, the Padmini Premier taxis. Lastly, you had the BEST buses, the red behemoths of the road. BEST stood for Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport and I am sure the people of Mumbai were glad that they were allowed to travel along with all the electricity that was being transported in the buses. There was the single decker. There was the double decker. The stalling, sputtering, accelerating, exhilarating buses that every other vehicle driver feared. An elephant among the hyenas. When presented with such an interesting bouquet of options, the ordinary Mumbaikar would hardly miss the rose-shaped hole. Their own car. I was one of them.

To be precise, my father was one of them (since I had no buying power being a poor engineering student). In fact, my grandfather was one of them too. Two generations of my family had thrived in Mumbai without entering the realms of car ownership. From the vast clean environs of South Mumbai to the newly developed jungle of Andheri, they had journeyed across the length and breadth of the city without ever getting a car. Heck, they never even had a driver’s license.

So, there I was. The third generation. Dangerously opinionated. Mildly ambitious. Engineered for the future. The 90s kid. I must have traveled a hundred thousand kilometers on the streets of Mumbai, aided by the wonderful public transport system of the city. For the longest time, I was content in my state of being unattached. To not having a car, that is. If you looked around then, even in the richest city in India, you wouldn’t see the Ferraris and the Jaguars. But change was rampant in the exhaust-fumes laden air of India. In the just liberalized economy, cars of different sizes from different makers were trickling in. We had moved ahead of the exotic Impala and Contessa, the standard issue Premier Padmini and the Ambassador, the family friendly Maruti Omni and the ‘luxurious’ Maruti 1000.
But what truly captured by heart was that little Maruti. The Maruti 800. That little box that fit the roads of Mumbai, never threatening to graze its seams. That small angular hood, the trunk that ended just after it started, the tiny mechanical doors, all got an approving look from me. The pint-sized tires glided on the bumpy roads of the city in sweet motion and the honking in ‘F’ minor was a good fit in the general cacophony.  I was lucky that a good friend had one of these little marvels at his disposal. Many an evening was spent going around in this car listening to music that might not pass muster with me more than a decade later. We were whatever the equivalent of ‘cool’ was, then. There may have been other better looking, more efficient, luxurious vehicles on offer, but my mind was set on the Maruti 800.

When I look back at those times, I often wonder why it was that I chose a Maruti 800 of all cars. When you don’t have the resources or the wherewithal to acquire something beyond your means, your dreams come to your rescue and let you soar on the wings of fancy. But then this was India in the 90s and this was me. The country was waking up to a new reality but my dreams were firmly rooted in the Hindu rate of growth.

It was a state of mind then. A pragmatic desire. A dream I could wrap my head around. A Maurti 800. Dark blue in color. With a functioning air conditioner. And a sound system that would gleefully take my collection of audio cassettes. There would be the cloud covered night in Mumbai where the rain would not let you see beyond the first five feet. A Faiz ghazal sung by Ghulam Ali would waft through the music system while the wipers worked overtime to rid the windshield of the pouring rain. That Maruti would glide through the lanes adjoining the sea where the waves would work hard to be heard over the rain.

I decided that the first car I would buy would be a Maruti 800. Only if to realize a dream. But that would not happen.. I didn’t know back then that I would go on to live abroad a few years later and would finally buy my first car in 2003. Not an Indian product, but a German one. A Volkswagen Passat. A tank disguised as a car. I didn’t know I would buy my second car a few years later. This time, a Japanese one. A Lexus SUV. A gas guzzler not pretending to be anything other than that. Recently, I read somewhere that production of the Maruti 800 has been discontinued. That puts an end to that flight of fancy. Even if it were available now, buying it would perhaps be an impractical thing to do. Yes, practicality. That which fed the dream will now cull it.

In a parallel universe, though, there is still that little blue charming car I would own and drive. I would just add one more thing to it to fit in with my current reality. I would make it an automatic.