Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Book publication: 'r2i dreams'

I am proud and excited to announce the release of my book titled 'r2i dreams'.

It is a part autobiographical, part philosophical, sometimes funny and sometimes introspective book about the story of three immigrants struggling with their r2i (return to India) dream. r2i is a topic of constant discussion and debate among immigrant Indians and the book explores it through the lens of three parallel life stories. Realizing this book has been a rewarding journey with my co-conspirators Ramya and Subha. Here's hoping that these tales resonate with you too!

This flight of fancy was unexpected and uncharted and yet it has taken off for the horizon. What began as an organic project with the three of us bouncing ideas turned into a full fledged book during the course of a year. It has been tough work balancing with work and kids and other commitments and I am happy I could see it through. This topic in particular is a very common course of discussion among Indian immigrants and the book captures the essence of it.

Here's where you can get a copy for yourselves
In the US :
http://amzn.to/1rUmKCa
In India : http://bit.ly/1At99Rb

If you are on Facebook, please like this page and spread the word: https://www.facebook.com/r2idreams
 

Friday, September 05, 2014

A Study in Platitudes

Cliches. We all indulge in them. We all spot them and feel smug and reassured when we do. But sometimes the cliche is not what it seems and the story behind it belies its definition. 

Pleased to share my short story in this month's Spark magazine. Inspired by a very Indian cliche that I have seen in action in America. Hope you enjoy it.

http://www.sparkthemagazine.com/?p=7262 

A Study in Platitudes 

Jamuna ben realized that the laces of her shoes had come off. Shoes were an inconvenient truth of her old age. She didn’t like them, but couldn’t find anything more comfortable to walk around in. On a hot July day like this, with her family circling around her, there was no choice but to put on those green colored Nike shoes her grand-daughter had picked for her and soldier along. Her knees would give way after every hundred steps she walked and her eyes would scan for the nearest seat.

Ashit rolled his eyes when he saw his mother slow down. It was tough enough being a dedicated father. Being a model son was taxing him. He wasn’t sure why he had brought his mother out today. He knew she hated it. He knew he hated it. But he also knew that neither would admit it. The pilgrimage had to be done. He adjusted the fanny pack on his stomach, wiped the sweat of his brow and lugged his pot-bellied body forward. Today was going to be a long day.

Jalpa looked into the distance with a blank stare. Her gift for appreciating history was limited. But even she had heard all about the immigrants lining up at Ellis island, with the promise of a better life, with the promise of freedom, and the pursuit of happiness. Was she free? Happy? Growing up in the bylanes of Jamnagar, she had never thought of coming to America. The immigrant life was not of her choosing. Her husband too, was a suggestion her parents had forced her to accept. From the reticent bride of a man immigrating to the United States, she had grown to be her own self. With limited education and halting command over English, she had survived over two decades in the suburbs of New Jersey.

Their kids, Niti and Hiten, followed their parents at some distance. Neither was jumping up and down in excitement about this particular soiree. Niti adjusted the earphones on her iPod, letting the vagrant beats of the latest hip-hop star transport her away. She was fending off a fresh hurt from the morning. Jalpa and she had a fight over this trip – she insisted on Niti’s presence, which cued loud protests from her. Ashit’s word had prevailed in the end. Niti’s rebellion was like a cup that always managed to fill the brim but rarely spilled over. Her brother Hiten accompanied the group with the least degree of dissonance. At the tender age of nine, he had nothing to lose and everything to gain. Every exposure, every incident, every trip, every interaction was a welcome visitor in his palace of curiosities.

The group ground to a halt as Jamuna ben gave her troubled knee a rest. The sun was beaming down from the afternoon sky onto the courtyard in front of The Statue of Liberty. The pigeons held a conference in front of them, feeding off the grains scattered on the floor. It was a cue for the family.

They all naturally gravitated towards the only corner of the courtyard that was covered in shadow. The earth was cool and welcoming to the family in need. The collective trespasses of the day were to ready to take a break, spread their legs on the big mattress that Jalpa laid out and sate their hunger with the wholesome meal that this family would partake in.

In the wee hours of the morning, when all was quieter than usual in the eerily quiet suburb of Piscataway, New Jersey, Jalpa got up to make a sumptuous meal of theplas and alu sabzi for the hungry horde that would accompany her on the trip later that day.

They all sat around in a circle on the mattress. Jalpa took out a bunch of Ziploc bags, within which were theplasbunched in aluminum foil. The alu sabzi was neatly laid out in a bunch of plastic containers.  The pickle, soaked in oil, stained its container a deep blood orange. The spoons, forks, water and sweets were brought out, one after the other. They sat patiently, peering at the ground. A ritual steeped in habit was soon underway.

Jamuna ben took the food because she could have no other. Her constitution, attuned to seven decades of home cooked food had found no comfort in America. The only thing that worked for her diet, her diabetes and her didactic notions of eating, was what Jalpa would make for her. Ashit took the meal without question, taking it as a sign of his duty towards his mother, proxied through his wife. He would, while eating the theplas, eye the hot dog stand on the other side of the courtyard. The kids took an apathetic view of the whole business of eating. Their sensibilities were finely attuned to the switching of worlds. In one moment, Indian-American, and in the other, American-Indian. The ritual did not embarrass them, though the futility of it amused them. Why their rather rich family would not spend a hundred dollars on a meal but choose to engage in sitting around and eating this meal to the curious stares of strangers was something they had never fully understood.

And so the meal proceeded in slow harmony. Conversation found its way out in as the morsels of food disappeared. A smile here, a laugh there, a comment here, a question there. The family conversed, softly to begin with, loudly to end with. Oblivious to the heat, to the teeming masses that were building around, to the history of the immigrants that had once landed there, to their own story of displacement from their native lands.

When the meal was done and the trash was deposited and the hunger Gods sated, they got up and walked towards The Statue of Liberty. A Caucasian tourist with a pair of goggles and a rotund belly was handed a point and shoot camera.

The man stared at the screen at the back of the camera. Bit by bit, they filled it up. The grandmother in the center, Ashit and Jalpa behind her, the two kids flanking her sides. On an ordinary day, in the full capture of a glorious photography, in a very ordinary way, the Patel family came together, fulfilling yet another cliché.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Entrapment

Happy to share my publication this month in the Spark magazine. Their theme for the month was 'Freedom' and I have written a short story that deals with a father and a son as the father grapples with his notion of freedom while his son sees it differently.

http://www.sparkthemagazine.com/?p=7196


Entrapment



“Go to your room right now,” Akshay hollered. The voice reverberated through the living room. It wasn’t enough that his voice would have sent shivers down the spine of young Pinak. A table lamp conspired to elevate his profile to that of a towering giant across the wall. The boy cowered under the weight of his father’s anger. His eyes had a touch of defiance at the start of the argument, but he realised very soon that his insolence wasn’t going to get him too far. He shrunk in his place. Hands on the side, head bowed, he willed his legs to take him upto his room, but he was simply unable to move. It took Akshay’s loud reminder to shake him from his stupor.  The little legs rushed to the end of the hall and led him to his bed where he crashed like a meteor on earth.

Akshay stood in his place shaking with fury. His anger was half-directed at himself. The intransigence of the boy was not worth the rage directed at him. Yes, he had broken a vase in the living room, jumping off the sofas imagining himself to a superhero. But Akshay’s anger was fueled by his own frustration.  The stock of his company had plummeted that day, much like the vase his son had toppled over. The stock price had slipped to the edge over the past few days, fueled by rumours of a bad quarter of sales. Then the numbers came out, and it toppled over the precipice. Office looked like a war zone that morning. There were signs of panic all around. People leaning over their desks, phones cupping one ear. Handkerchiefs were out wiping beads of sweat that lined eyebrows even in air-conditioned rooms. Computer screens that usually ran the gamut from Facebook to Email to their actual work programs were busy tracking the downfall of the stock. The Titanic was sinking and no one had sounded the warning about the icebergs. The guardians on the watch should have said something, but they had decided to be silent. Akshay was one of them.

He knew the books, he knew the story, he knew where the holes in the ship were. He remembered that Thursday night meeting with his CEO. Sitting in that dimly lit cabin of his when everyone but the janitors had gone home, he had stood quietly like a school boy being reprimanded. “It’s ok. We can salvage it. Nothing is lost. Impressions are everything.” It was pep talk and admonishment rolled into one. It was a call to arms and a sleight of hand at the same time. He was goaded, cajoled, convinced, threatened and silenced at the same time. Akshay had waited all along for another voice to appear to contradict his boss. Something from within –  that little voice in the head, which would have told him that what he was doing was flat out incorrect. His job description had said nothing about having to cook up the books, but here he was, being asked to do exactly that.
He had bought into the mythology his bosses fed him. The invincibility of the market. The durability of appearances. The untouchability of the elites. He had always wondered what it would be like to be one of them. Being granted entry into the boys’ club. Here he was finally. A boy amongst men. Asked to give his share of the flesh. His entry fee.

He had brought his entire toolkit to this hatchet job he had been asked to do. The balance sheet was altered, the cash flow statement twisted and the income statement spruced up. Night after night he sat and figured out ways around the problem – keeping the company in the green and the investors in the dark. Papers were littered across the floor of his offices like discarded promises. It didn’t matter. This was it. He would do this one thing, this one time, and be on his way to a success story he had always imagined himself to be.

He stood in the living room, stooped under the weight of his thoughts. Bit by bit, he cleared up the floor, picking up the broken pieces of the vase, trying to steady his mind which was swirling in the maelstrom of thoughts.  When he felt satisfied at having cleaned up the mess that his son had made, he went to his room where the little boy was huddled under the blankets in complete darkness. Akshay stood at the door. The sounds of muffled sobs reached him over the constant hum of the fan.

He turned on the light, went and sat next to the bed, and put his hand on Pinak’s head, gently stroking it. Pinak turned around and buried his head into Akshay’s lap. Akshay decided to relieve the tension by telling his son a story.

“There was once a deer who loved him home in the forest so much. He played with his friends and basked in the sun. One day, a lion entered the forest. He terrorized all the animals. There was no one he spared. He would roam around the forest and pick his prey. No one was safe from him. The deer became worried. Would his turn come next? Would his home survive? He went to the lion’s cave one day. From a distance, he called him out and said, ‘Lion, I have an idea. I’ll make sure you have an animal to eat each day if you promise to leave me and my family alone.’”

“The lion didn’t care. His job would only become easier. He said yes. Then the deer started on his promise. Each day, he would lure an animal to the pond to drink some water. Rabbits, hyenas, mongooses. It didn’t matter. They came there and the lion, waiting in the shadows would pounce on them.”

“The deer felt relieved. He had saved his family. Saved all that was dear to him. He felt a little bad for his friends, but he thought to himself that it was a cost he was willing to pay.”

“Then one day, he called in a wolf to the pond. The wolf was smart. He had noticed that many animals were being eaten at the pond by the lion. He sensed a trap. That night, he went and hid outside the lion’s cave. The deer came there after a while and shouted into the distance, ‘O lion, tomorrow you shall have the wolf’, and then went away.”

“The wolf waited a while and had his own discussion with the lion. The next day, the deer went to the pond and waited. The wolf never showed. The lion came from behind the trees and jumped on the deer, eating him up. The wolf smiled in the distance at his own cleverness.”

“Did you understand the story Pinak?”

“Yes Daddy.”

“What did you learn from it?”

“I learnt that you should not betray your friends.”

“Good. Good,” said Akshay, patting his son’s head and looking into the distance. It wasn’t the moral he had in mind when he came up with the tale.

He thought of another deer who might be slaughtered some day for the compromises he made. That deer was trapped under the weight of his own dreams, trapped under the notion that he needed to do what was required to provide the best for his family, trapped under the belief that a small sacrifice had to be made to keep big ambitions alive. He wondered if, the deer in the story, in his last moments, would have finally felt free. An escape from the trap of his own making.

Monday, August 04, 2014

A Ten Year Soliloquy

Ten years to this day, I started this space. This blog. Back then, it was a great medium to get your thoughts out on the web. A great way to connect with strangers who had an opinion on topics that mattered to you. Great way to stumble upon other people who were on a similar attempt at self-discovery. For me, it was simply a chance to write my work down. My poems, short stories, ruminations on cricket, movies, the whole gamut.

Today this space finishes ten years. 387 posts, nearly 80000 page views and 3000 comments have made their way here during that time. Over the years, this blog has landed me several collateral benefits. I have gotten to know people whom I would normally not have crossed paths with. Today, they are friends who live across the globe, blog sporadically, but are people whom I am in touch with. I am very thankful for them. Some of them have stopped coming to this space but now know me personally. The shape of our interactions has changed. I have taken my writing to the next level by finding outlets to get published in. The constant practice I got on the blog helped me reach that point.

Over time, blogging as I knew it back then has died. With Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr and other platforms taking prominence, combined with reduced attention spans, the personal blog of the kind this space has been, has limited possibilities. If I had started this blog today, it would die an early death.

I don't know how long this will continue to persist. I might keep posting to it, but it may be writing to void since the interactions with readers have reduced quite a bit. It is ok. I am one of the readers and I am not in a hurry to leave. Some day, my children will read this and get a glimpse into how their old man thought and wrote for a decade or more of his life.

Happy birthday dear blog! You have given me good company. Hope you stay around for some more.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Monsoon In Mumbai

Home is the first rains in Mumbai.

The violence of the raindrops
Erasing summer’s fetid relics,

Where arms outstretched, we welcomed
The Rain God to his own abode

Where our paper boats floated
Before sinking in the puddles

We giggled in their misery
Assured of a dry, safe haven

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Conversations

Pleased to share my contribution to this month's Spark magazine. Their theme for the month was 'Conversations' and I have written three byte-sized stories that revolve around conversations and end (hopefully) unexpectedly.
Some of it was experimental for me but so please go easy with the criticism Read on.


Conversations

 The Last Banter

“Did you see the newspaper yesterday?”
“No, why?”
The two thin men sat on their haunches on the wooden platform, passing to each other a fast disappearing beedi.
“There has been a shortage of onion crop this year. The prices are going up.”
“First, they will take our jobs away, and now we can’t afford onions!”
“Oh well, at least we won’t need the onions to cry. Our tears will be real.”
A moment’s pause and they both broke into guffaws.
However, silence followed laughter as both sat reflecting on the misfortune that was about to befall them.
There had been a memo stuck with pins to the notice board. It went onto inform them that their division was overstaffed and that volume of the work did not justify the volume of the staff. Some people would be losing their jobs.
The news was accepted with a sense of inevitability. These two brothers, bonded by a common labour, could see the writing on the wall. The suspense though was overbearing. Would one of them lose their job? Or, would both? Will this be their last act of bravura? Would it be the last beedi they shared thus?
“Did you check it?”
“Yes, it’s tight. Everything is in order.”
The pride in their work was obvious in their demeanour. They believed that their work was a solemn duty.
The beedi was put out.
“It’s about time. He should be here.”
A bevy of men walked in through the door. The focus was one on a lean bespectacled man in the center. He walked with the grave air of a person lost in thought.
The two men saw him and wondered who the more condemned one was. With a careful leap, they got down from the gallows.

Conversion

“What’s your name?”
The tone of the question had all the marking of a rough interrogation.
“Pinocchio.”
“How old are you?”
“Sixteen.”
“Where are you from?”
“Italy.”
“Pinocchio is a strange name. Are you a real boy or a wooden puppet?”
The sentence was delivered in a derisory tone and laughter was heard across the room.
“I suppose you just need to see whether my nose grows when I lie.”
The laughter died out in the hall. People nervously shifted in their seats. The answer was unexpected. It was mean. It was anything but what they had expected out of Pinocchio.
“That’s a little rude, don’t you think?” the tone softened a bit. “Never mind. Let’s continue.”
“Solve this riddle for me. A man is on an airplane with his wife and child. The plane catches fire and they have only one parachute between them. What would they do?”
“How old is the child?”
“Three.”
“That means that its chances of survival by itself are fairly remote. In that case, I would say that the woman should jump leaving the man and the child behind.”
“Why is that?”
“Logically, the survival of the species is dependent more on women than it is on men.”
“But couldn’t the woman take a chance and carry the child along?”
“Perhaps, but the probability of survival would reduce too much to make that viable.”
Heads shook in the room. The project file was shut down with a large thump. The subject should no signs of empathy humans are capable of. Their only currency was logic. The plan to humanize subject CRN-11 was going nowhere. A hundred years had gone by since the Turing Test was passed. What Alan Turing didn’t know is that even when he asked “Can Machines think?” he couldn’t have imagined that the only thinking they would ever be capable of was being logical.

Perfection

Prasoon was fascinated by the ten avatars of Vishnu. There was a comic book on ‘Dashavatar’ (ten avatars of Vishnu), an animated movie on it, photos and idols of most of the avatars in the wood-crafted temple next to the kitchen, and at least one or two names in the extended family named after them.
Prasoon’s ten-year-old mind wrapped itself around the many possibilities that Vishnu had to offer as a superhero. His parents were happy that in the era of the Ironman and Superman and all other forms of men and women doing super-deeds, their son was found peering over his Hindu mythology book at quiet moments on a sleepy Sunday. What they were not prepared for was the many questions his enthrallment would bring about.
“Papa?” he asked his father, who was hidden behind the sports pages of the newspaper.
“Vishnu is very powerful, right?”
“Yes.”
“And he can take many forms at the same time?”
“Yes.”
“Can he take any form he wants?”
“Yes, he can.” said his father, a tinge of irritation building up.
“Does he always fight against evil?”
“Yes, yes, we have spoken about this many times before, Prasoon!”
“But he is always good, right? So why does he fight against himself?”
The paper was folded down and a face with a quizzical look peered at the boy.
“What do you mean?”
“In the book it says that when Rama goes to marry Sita, Parshurama comes and is very angry with him. He challenges Rama to string his bow which he claims is as powerful as the one Rama has broken. When Rama strings it, he says that an arrow has to be fired and he aims it at Parshurama. Doesn’t that mean that he is fighting against himself?”
“Why do you say he is fighting against himself?”
“Papa, you forgot? Rama is an avatar of Vishnu. Parshurama is also an avatar of Vishnu. Doesn’t that mean he is fighting himself?”
“You have a point here, Prasoon!”
After a pause, the father added “Rama was a really good man. Maybe even better than Parshurama, and he needed to prove that point. Set that standard.”
And the explanation expanded some more. “It is not that Parshurama was bad, but Rama was perfect. Not all of us can be perfect all the time like Rama. We may be more like Parshurama. Sometimes we make good choices and sometimes we don’t.”
“Are you saying that we may make mistakes and it is ok to fail?”
“Yes. You know, Rama didn’t punish Parshurama. He let him go.”
“Oh!”
Prasoon rushed into his room and came back with a sheet of paper, handing it gingerly to his father.
“Papa, can you please sign this? You are my Rama,” he said with a sheepish smile, as his father pored over the red lines in his son’s report card.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Fleeting Image Of A House

Mine was an Indian home:
Blessed by a multitude of Gods,
Drenched in incense
and deliberation