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 :
In India :
In Kindle store:

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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. 

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.