the differences / on belonging

The differences.

Espresso over ice. A shoulder baring tank top. Echoing strings, mournful voice in my earbuds. And also. Arre, chup! Big eyes with a smile and scolding a tiny one for making a mistake. Telling him where lambu is.

And also. Hugging. Eating Prateek’s matki chi usal and licking fingers. Sitting with the office boys at lunch. Sitting without them.

Walking down the street holding hands. Staring at those walking down the street holding hands. Staring at girls with bared shoulders, bared knees, bared clavicles on the train. Being one. Trying to tease in lilting Hindi. PJs (Poor Jokes). Dividing a table veg / nonveg, and sitting in the middle.

Talking about UX decisions in Hindi. Switching between aap (formal) and tum (informal) repetitively with a single person. Turning up my American to speak on the phone with a British airline agent. Wonderful, thank you so much for your help. Hope you have a lovely rest of your day.

Measuring love with a language yardstick. Measuring love with food. Measuring love at all.

Using a minimizing, all-encompassing waha (over there) for the entire US and summarizing it in sentences. Waha pe toh log aise hi hain… // over there people are just like… Softening spoken English, na’s and kya’s.

I don’t belong. I do belong. I am here. I am there. I am both. Where do I come home? Where do I come back to?

It blends.

There isn’t Indian. There isn’t American. There isn’t person of color. There isn’t straight. There is a person. With experiences. There is walking down the street and being stepped aside for, because of the cost of this backpack and these pants and this lighter dark skin. There is walking down the street and being stared at. There is walking down the street and fearing stares. There is walking down the street and buying an expensive noodle salad. There is walking down the darkened street and fearing a car that follows. There is walking down the street and smiling at the guard who before was staring at your clothing and now is nodding like an uncle with recognition, because in the daytime he sits at the school next door and in the nighttime he sleeps on the building grounds. There is thank you. There is a smile. There is nodding sideways. There is nodding vertically.

It is.

Go further. There is no stitching it all together to make a culture pixel quilt of a personality. There is what exists, with each combination of people. Laughing, crying, being, hugging. There is no chameleon. There is one. There is me.


mother and daughter

A quiet wave is crashing in this piece of the world.

Mother and Daughter sit and stare silently into the fluttering, cottony cafe. Daughter exudes carelessness, Mother feigns it. Mother folds her hands, not sure where to put them in this quiet, clean, expensive world. Daughter is clearly bored with it. Neither wants to be here, mother nor daughter, but they should right? They should be enjoying themselves. This is where people come to enjoy themselves.

Mother’s drink arrives and she tries to give it to Daughter, like so many other things. Daughter doesn’t WANT it, mom. Mother relents, carefully sucks the strawberry up the straw, a strange sensation. Was there a time when another straw meant a day out, a walk along the sea face, buying a juice as a young fresh-faced Daughter?

Mother tries to give again.

Daughter gazes out. Rejects the drink, places it firmly back. I don’t. Want it. But that’s not the point, Daughter. Daughter will not see.

Mother’s insistence is drowned out by a persistent mechanical dinging. Daughter disappears into an imaginary world – it is as though Mother isn’t even there. Mother sits, with her hands folded. Mother leans, peeking at the imaginary world — where is Daughter going? Daughter glances sideways. Mother leans back. Mother sits with her hands folded again. Quiet. Accepting.

Epilogue: This is a piece of the story, and not the whole one. There is more to mother, there is more to daughter.

it is ok

Dear Shalaka,

Sometimes, it is enough that you left the house today, even if it was after 5 pm, dragging your feet, feeling the weight of the day wasted in the center of your chest and hunger blooming in your stomach. It is enough that you stepped outside, to let the smoky sun shine directly on your head, and the sticky sea breeze play with your hair. It is enough that you walked steadily on capable feet through the shaded streets gathering eggs and bread and onions and tomatoes and kadhipata, and wandered into a store in search of soap without plastic wrapping, and nervously into a wine shop, even though you were sure they would turn you away.

It is ok to pat yourself on the back for stopping at the chaat stall that still serves on stainless steel plates and costs 70 less rupees than the big one down the street, and it is ok to feel guilty when you think that’s small change.

It’s wonderful that you said yes to opening your home to food creation and a distant cousin you just barely met, and it’s a small wonder that when you invited multiple folks that you know varying degrees of well, and they all couldn’t make it, you felt entirely fine about it. It’s ok that you bought candles that were overpriced (just this once, ok), because you knew that you craved their soft light today. It’s ok that you spent all weekend thinking “I should write about something” but avoided it as a chore. It’s ok that you spent the money you spent (though lets re-evaluate how much of a need this fancy chocolate is, another day).

It’s wonderful how joyous it felt to ride the train again and see human patterns floating in the sky as kites, celebrating this day of transition as the earth turns its face back towards the sun. Well done on slowly assembling your kitchen, kudos for the slow meals you have been steadily making all week. We never thought you’d be living alone with quiet gratitude for any length of time, but here you are.

Do write those notes you mean to write to people you mean to tell you are thinking of them. Do search for places to have to be on weekends, places where you can take a break from thinking of yourself. Do sit up straighter. There is still time. But I hope you can sit still sometimes like this without the weight of your own expectations. It is ok today to take in: food, people, wine, time. It is ok that you did not better the world today. I hope you try again tomorrow.

making a home

I’ve decided to make my home here, for now.

Or at least, I’ve docusigned the electronic contract, imported enough Pilot G-2’s to last more than a few months and joined Flat/Flatmates Khar/Bandra/Santacruz on Facebook.

I’ve gone to public events sure to attract young, hip people, wearing my ‘I’m cool’ hoop earrings that make me walk taller, paired with my friendly-open-but-definitely-not-needy-just-really-nice smile.

I’ve started sleeping in a room where I can choose the temperature, tried to start living outside of internalized expectations.

I’ve spent consecutive weekends in the city and joined more arts and culture mailing lists than I can remember, in a fit of needing the company of peers. I’ve taken (more) endless pictures of train travel and tested the taste limits of Vile Parle East with my bared shoulders or fitted t-shirts or unpadded bra. I’ve moved from disdain of coffee shops to seeking them as quiet solitary refuge.

I’ve made a line item budget to plan my finances, and I’ve eaten an average vada-pav-a-day in the name of science/training my bowels but really in the name of fried gold for 12 rupees. I’ve amassed a stash of cash and switched to a full size wallet, catching and losing 2 rupee coins daily. I’ve returned to the same medical store twice in one week, and bought paints at a stationary shop. I’ve started Hindi lessons / meine Hindi ki tuitions shuru ki hain.

I’ve read prose on solitude, I’ve tried to learn to breathe when my eyes well up in public — at my brothers’ college app essay, at a photo of my sleepy person’s face, at the overwhelming feeling of uncertainty before going to interview strangers in broken-but-mending Hindi, at wearing the ‘wrong’ thing and attracting attention from the ‘wrong’ people with my ‘wrong’ body in my ‘wrong’ solitude.

I’ve googled devnagri tattoos and laughed at myself, finding myself on white girl Pinterest. I’ve told a group of strangers that I’m not sure where home is, but it smells like an udbati burning and looks like grey cool skies, vacuumed caarpets, and sounds like shastriya sangeet. But it also feels like the hugs of a few young adults out in the worlds of Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Salatiga, Palo Alto, Toronto, Vancouver, and so many more.

I’ve face-timed Liam. A lot. And hoped it wasn’t too much. We’ve made the best-laid plans and aren’t prepared if they fall through.

I’ve walked down Nehru road on my way to the train station, grumbling about expectations in my life and walked right past a lady sifting trash on a Sunday, so she can be paid. I’ve lost and found fire for my work. I’ve learned a new Sanskrit word that captures self-love and self-actualization. I’ve promised and renegaded on a family tree project for days. I’ve craved silence. I’ve felt out of place, young, naive, sure of myself, wise, and capable.

For now, I’ve decided to make it all home.

code switching and sweat

Last week I moved to Mumbai. Maybe ‘moved’ is too dramatic a term – last week, I came to Mumbai with the intention of staying for 3 months, maybe more.

Some things I have learned since then:

  1. The air in monsoon is thicker than water; my nostrils are having trouble catching up.
  2. Humidity and productivity don’t match.
  3. There are no words to describe the relief of air conditioning.
  4. UberPool and rickshaws can cost the same.
  5. My Hin-glish is passable but not convincing.
  6. Want to feel privileged? Walk around Mumbai.
  7. Want to feel privileged? Be from an upper-middle-class highest-caste Marathi family. It is eye-opening to be in this country, under this administration, more aware of the political currents of the world than ever. My family are the WASPs of India: politically moderate, culturally conservative, privileged by generations of post-graduate education, in the religious majority, light-eyed, and light-skinned (oops missed that boat 💁🏾). We skeptically and hopefully watch Prime Minister Modi, a right-wing pro-market and pro-privatization politician in the interest of ‘something different’. But if he fucks up, our lives won’t really change too much.
  8. Much of my viewpoint of Indian culture, society and politics have been filtered through the above viewpoint.
  9. I don’t yet know what to do with my now even stronger privilege guilt.
  10. The local (aka train) isn’t as bad as everyone says, except when it is. If you stand near the door of the train, the crowd will carry you out. Elbows are thrown but only on the train to Virar because it only comes once in a blue moon (so far). Really, it’s not that bad. Don’t let my family scare you.
  11. The women’s railway car is a blessing. I will not ride in the other car.
  12. However, the fear of Indian misogyny is stronger than its’ presence (so far).
  13. Hanging out the door of a train is (a) not as scary as it sounds, and (b) just as filmy as it sounds, and (c) a crucial sweat drier, and (d) quite fun, but (e) I only dared to do it as I slowly pulled in to small-town India.
  14. Yes the food is good. The home food is better.
  15. Being cooked for is amazing. Feeling obliged to parental figures is not.
  16. Living 12.5 hours and many countries away from a partner is hard.
  17. ^Sharing that is weird, but I’m working on vulnerability.
  18. I am still the sweatiest person I know, even in a country full of brown people.
  19. I can and will alter my English accent to suit the company. I can’t and won’t guess how convincing my Indian accent is.
  20. In the morning, I wake in a 50 year old flat in a room without air conditioning. I take a bath out of a bucket, and put powder on my body, talking only in Marathi with my family. There is decades of urban dirt in the crevices, no matter how much they are scrubbed. Then I will take the women’s car, pressed full of bodies, into a hipper, younger, cleaner part of town. I will sit in air-conditioned cafes with the city’s elite, order black coffee, talk in American English, take calls and fill in spreadsheets, and be called ma’am. Then I’ll go home and eat (and love) simple Marathi food, fail to explain to my family why I go to cafes during the day if I’m here to work, and then I will sleep under a roaring fan, mosquitos buzzing lazily above. Code switching has never been so real.
  21. Spirits are low and spirits are high.
  22. I feel like months have passed since LA.
  23. Week 2 here I come.

i went to new year’s mass

The world is so painfully human, today and everyday.

In Vienna, in Stephansdom with spidering lanes extending all around, rising spirals and imposing walls, a grand organ sounds. Young, old, tired, fresh, swathed in mink and in polyester, breathing incense, sitting, rising, crossing themselves in cold quiet peace.

The man in white talks of Aleppo, of Syria whole, Paris, Brussels, Berlin in soothing tones while cities and people all over the world burn.

Shuffling in unison, everyone follows the known patterns. Sit, stand, kneel, cross, repeat. Pay. Turn and kiss your lover. Turn and shake hands with your neighbor, given them a kind smile. Wish ‘Gott’s bright and dark and historically tinged love upon them in the new year. Take in the sweeping symmetry, the colored glass and excruciating detail of the cathedral completed by human fingers 857 years ago. Let the grand swell of the organ that sings with seemingly a hundred voices fill your chest with hope and joy.

In the back of the hall, a small-statured family of squirming and joyous heads tries to love and revere and quiet their brood all at once. The smallest pink curly one toddles out of her father’s grasp and locks eyes with an elder man. He sits in slicked leather stretching down his curved back. She grins, showing tic tac teeth and reaches for him. He reaches back. Old and new, young and tired, past and future join hands in anonymous love.

The world burns. We are small, but we send smoke and fumes into the ether. Our religions and beliefs are as human as our size, relative to the sun, to the the solar system, the galaxy, the universe. We are small. We writhe in them, look right with suspicion, look left with blind care, spill each others’ blood, jostle one another, step on toes and arms and heads and backs to rise up the stairs to the world’s top floor, overlooking a view so small, so far away from the black and white contrast of life that it is calm. Unmoving. Beautiful. The world burns. Dancers fall in Istanbul, killed by men in Santa hats.

I sit in my quiet, warm shelter, drinking hot tea, eyes glazing over pixelated pictures of pain on my conflict mineralized processor.

Again, somewhere, a little girl and an old man join hands. Their power of warmth sends a glow to all who watch. And we step, her, him, I, you, into the new year.


morocco woman

Its International women’s day today. It may be another Facebook tag or silly reason to post a selfie, but I thought about it for half a second, and was kind of overwhelmed.

Its been a crazy semester ~ I’ve blinked and all of a sudden, I’ve been back for 3 months, I’ve been running the race and not even really realized it. (If all of life passes this quickly, no thank you!)

I would not be here, charging through it, without: the amazingly chill residents of the lil yellow haus, the foodship women scattered about the globe, my badass coworkers who do more in each day than most humans do in a week, the unbelievably intelligent women in Code the Change, the ones who plan impromptu desert excursions, the ones that create art spaces, the ones that write beautiful prose, the ones that exude empathy, the ones that invite me into their family’s small home space and call it ours, the ones that give me a passing arm squeeze as our only weekly interaction.

I am continuously inspired, awed, motivated, and held up by the ladies around me. I am continuously grateful for their continued presence in my life.

And today, just a little bit more.

(Photo taken in Essaoira, Morocco)