Wisdom on Valentine’s Day

As a teenager I had a pretty unstable relationship with Valentine’s Day. I hurtled between warm fuzzies and stubborn indifference with a fervor befitting someone who ended up spending her days spinning 300 page love sagas in search of the meaning of romance, if not love. (Are they the same thing? There I go again, but I’ll save that for a less romantic day).

As an adult who has been in a mostly delightful marriage for over two decades my relationship with Valentine’s Day hurtles between amused cynicism and smug satisfaction with the fervor of one privileged  enough to afford both those emotions.541511_10150669246248710_979287015_n

As a mother of teenagers my relationship with the day has become one of wise observer, worry wart, dispenser of barely tolerated advice, dispenser of the sound ‘aww’, even provider of a shoulder for the inevitable disillusionment. As all things, Valentines Day through your children’s eyes is at once more adorable and more irking than it ever was as a first hand experience.

Cut to that ‘unstable relationship with the day’ thing. Yes, I know it’s just a day , but it is a day when enough animated hearts are thrown at me in text messages and on social media to make me wistful. A few years ago my mother even grumbled at me for not calling her to wish her a Happy Valentine’s Day, proving that it’s a day to put our love on display because everyone needs a display of love ever so often.

See, I do get wistful and that makes me dispense advice or go back and dig up advice I dispensed a few years ago. Which by the way I think was wise enough to re-dispense this year.  So, on this fourteenth day of February, here are my seven rules for keeping the love so you can pull it out when it needs displaying.

One. Set aside time. Life is a monstrous time suck. And we’re all going to die. In the crazy race to fit all our living into that space before dying, it’s pretty darned easy to speed past the loving. Don’t. Watch a movie every Friday. Play a board game (unless your spouse, like mine, refers to them as bored games). Make fondue. But do something mindless together without multitasking.

Two. Find something in common. And then hold on to it for dear life. Cherish it and nurture it as if it were the last jasmine plant left on the planet. Even if it’s a tiny thing like the same comedian who makes you laugh, or the same political outrage that pisses you off. Between Aziz Ansari and Fox News, we can go from being amused and livid at each other to being amused and livid at something else. And it’s restful.

Three. Find something that’s yours alone. Marriage (or any lifelong commitment) is constant contact with one person. A life that lines up point to point is like trying to run a three-legged race with all four legs tied together. This is why women have girlfriends. This is why writers write (okay, this and because they’re crazy). This is why you encourage your husband to go play poker with his buddies. Get out of each other’s face every once in a while. It’s healthy.

Four. Share your burdens. I tried for years to keep my stresses about my writing to myself, the nail-biting every time a query went out. The heartbreak of the rejections. He isn’t a writer. He won’t understand, I told myself. I was right. He isn’t a writer, but hard as it is for us writers to comprehend, non-writers feel things too. And when we share of our private world, we let our partners in. Plus, when you stuff handfuls of chocolate chips into your mouth while slinking about in the same smelly sweatshirt you’ve worn all week, at least he knows not to say something stupid. Help him out.

Five. Hold hands. Go even further than that. Grab other body parts every once in a while. And, for heaven’s sake, put your heart in it.

Six. Yell at each other. But not for too long. Even more than the wonderful things you must say to each other, it’s the awful angry shit that can cement you. Not because it tells you how well you chose, but because it tells you what your relationship can withstand. And that’s gold.

Seven. Have crushes on other people. Celebrities are great for this, Romance heroes are fantastic too. But don’t ever be unfaithful. Even more importantly, don’t ever be disloyal.

And with that I leave you to your candy hearts and roses and I wish upon you a valentine who pushes your buttons and rings your bells and lifts you up when not just life but the inevitable, unforgiving hand of gravity drags you down.

Dangal— A Wrestler Flips Bollywood Narrative on its Head

It’s been interesting to witness the changing role of women in Bollywood in recent years. From the almost gruff and career focussed Piku, who takes her role as caretaker to her father as seriously as any son to the accomplished Ayesha in Dil Dhadakne Do, who is denied her legacy as scion to her father’s corporate empire, we’ve watched feminist issues addressed and skirted. Consequently there’s been a lot of discussion of feminism in Bollywood films. Even before I watched Dangal, Aamir Khan’s biopic about a wrestler who coaches his daughters to becoming olympic wrestlers, I had read a review that said the film only played at being a feminist film because it was an ode to one man’s ego. I paraphrase a bit here. I can’t quite remember what exactly the reviewer said but rarely have I found this to be more untrue of a film.

Dangal takes on gender issues in India as only a film about wrestling can. Head on. The fact that it’s based on real characters makes this head butting all the more relevant. Mahavir Singh Phogat is a wrestling champion who is above all else a wrestler. He breathes the sport, sees all the world around him through the lens of his sport. It is how he walks and talks and carries out his relationships, as a wrestler. Within this framework of character rests the fact that he was unable to bring his country a medal in international competition. He carries this failure heavily and puts all the weight of redemption into the dream that he will train his son— when he has one— to achieve what he couldn’t and win wrestling gold for India.

His wife births four daughters.

This fact is bemoaned loudly and publicly, giving face to the age old belief that the birth of daughters is somehow disappointing. “I love my daughters. Don’t get me wrong,” he says to his wife, giving voice to the centuries-old gender bias. Fathers don’t not love their daughters, they do, but daughters can’t do what sons do. The metaphor is as subtle and painful as a kick to the gut of every girl who has witnessed this belief in one of its million veiled forms.

But then his two adolescent daughters beat up some boys who call them names, and the boys’ parents come to his home to report their displeasure. Here now magic happens. The wrestler, not the father, asks the girls how they beat the living daylights out of these boys. The wrestler’s eyes light up as the girls demonstrate their technique and their excitement in using their strength. The wrestler recognizes ability. All the father does is refuse to allow the gender-bias that should have been ingrained in him to get in the way. He sees ability and goes batshit on polishing that diamond. Despite all he has been taught to believe, he sees a child’s talent as a child’s talent, not a son’s or a daughter’s.

This is what makes him worthy of having a biopic made about his life. This and the fact that once he’s made up his mind, he doesn’t let all of society’s combined and considerable pressure dissuade him from this new and radical belief- that girls can be wrestlers, that daughters can fulfill your unfulfilled dreams.

Feminism doesn’t say all girls must be able to beat up boys any more than it says a boy who can’t be a wrestling champion is somehow less of a boy. The point in a just and equanimous society is to honor ability and choice. If a girl wants to wrestle, and shows a talent for it, thrusting her into a life of child birthing and nurturing cannot be acceptable just because society deems it so. Therein lies patriarchy and it steals from men as much as it steals from women. This same mindset relegates boys who take no joy in sports into struggling with them and brands them as lesser for not conforming.

Had Mahavir Singh Phogat not been able to see talent past gender, he might have tried to push his nephew, the adorable narrator of the film, into a sport he had no talent or ability for, bringing nothing but failure and shame upon him. Instead, he sees his daughters as individuals capable of reaching their potential, a fact that is brought to the girls’ attention by their friend— a girl who is being married off at fourteen, because no one has taken the time to see her as an individual worth anything more than her societal role.

Yes, there is a measure of ego in a parent using his children to fulfill his dreams. But find me a successful athlete or artist who did not at some point feel pushed too hard by a parent, guardian, or coach for whom their success became personal, and I’ll find you ten who did. What is far more rare is a father who believes in his daughters enough to push them like the sons he never had, because suddenly one day he realizes the two are no different and he follows that epiphany right to international gold.

A CHANGE OF HEART Blog Tour

My third book A Change Of Heart releases on September 27th — that’s tomorrow! And it’s my husband’s birthday, which I am taking as my own little lucky charm.

If you want to read the entire first chapter, please sign up for my newsletter and it’s all yours.

If you’d like a sneak peak there’s an excerpt on The Happily Ever After USA TODAY blog...

achangeofheartblogtourFor the next week I will be on blog tour with interviews, excerpts, and reviews. You can win copies of A Bollywood Affair and The Bollywood Bride by following along.

September 26 – The Silver DaggerScriptorium – Excerpt

September 26- Book Street – Review  & Excerpt

September 27 – Bookish Devices – Review & Author Q&A

September 27 – Books, Dreams, Life – Review & Excerpt

September 28 – Whispering Stories – Excerpt

September  28  – With Love For Books – Review & Author Q&A

September 29 – LivingLife With Joy – Author & Character Q&A

September 30 – Authors and Readers Book Corner – Excerpt

September 30 – All About Romance– Review & Excerpt

October 4 – Reading Reality – Review

October 5 – Somewhere Lost in Books – Review, Author Q&A & Excerpt

October 6 – Brooke Blogs – Excerpt

October 7- Book Lover in Florida – Excerpt

October 7- Deluged With Books Café – Review & Excerpt

October 10 – Chick Lit Plus – Review

Thanks so much!

Food, Love and Memories of Eid

I’m going to be that person who says “my BFF in middle school was muslim” – but this post isn’t about extrapolating one person to a culture. It is, naturally, about food.

This friend lived in an old muslim neighborhood in Mumbai, right by a mosque in a crumbling timber building with china mosaic floors and carved cathedral ceilings, in a lane crammed with food shops that doused her home perpetually in fresh smells of kabab’s, yeasty naan, and syrupy gulab jamun. Her grandfather, Nanajaan, sat in a teakwood and wicker easy chair in the main hall, a brass spittoon by his side, his silver beard and kohl lined eyes intimidating enough to curb our giggles as we tried to sneak past without waking him as he dozed.

Every Eid, when we visited, he stopped us in our tracks and in his gravelly stern-kind voice wished us Eid Mubarak and stuck a ten rupee note in our hands as “eidee.” Naturally, we learned to appreciate the fact that Eid did not happen only once a year. Then he called to his daughters-in-law – “Make sure the children are fed.”

And fed we were. A feast of lamb biryani with apricots and almonds, beef kababs, and kofta currys so rich we had to crawl to the desserts – saffron sprinkled vermicelli pudding, nutty date cakes, and flaky fried dough dunked in every manner of sugar.

There’s a happiness in that kind of fullness, a joy in that kind of festivity, a peace in the food coma that follows. A wonderful sense of being pampered and belonging when a friend’s mother forces that last jalebi on your plate and you think you’re gong to explode, but you don’t care. You can’t in the face of that perfect crunch of a jalebi before it melts on your tongue and turns every inch of you into your tastebuds.

Anytime I hear Eid mentioned, I miss that old house, that old grandfather, my friend, her gorgeous mother. I’ve lost them to time. But the embrace of their love and the joy of sharing in their celebrations lives on untainted in my cravings for those flavors and for that unique heart-over-belly fullness.

Eid Mubarak to all who celebrate. But to all those who do and don’t, may you find yourself some biryani and vermicelli pudding. And I mean that in the most metaphorical sense.

dearborn

Catching Myself In The Act

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/shes-91-but-she-feels-15-heres-her-secret/

I watched this video this morning and then again this afternoon and learned something about myself.

The first time I watched it I thought Mrs. Lewis was adorable. In that “Aww, I love old people” sort of way. Because I really do. I think of my grandparents ever single day and miss them terribly. Watching an old couple walking hand-in-hand draws a happy sigh from the deepest part of my heart.

But then one of my college professors posted this video with a note about how Flossie Lewis had taught her daughter writing, and about how she had been her daughter’s inspiration to write.

Oh, a Writing Teacher! Suddenly, I didn’t see her as a Sweet Old Lady, but as a writer and a scholar. Suddenly, things she said weren’t adorable, but wise in a whole different way. Suddenly, her use of the term ‘sly little bit of verse’ meant something else entirely.

Suddenly, it was obvious that I had looked at her through a lens of preconceived notions. Something I hate to see other people do to me.

I know it isn’t easy, and maybe it isn’t entirely awful (okay, it is) but it really made me want to set aside my handy dandy lens. Maybe being patronizing is only a little bit better than being a bigot. They’re both ways to project your own reality onto unsuspecting, undeserving victims.

The next time I watch an old couple walk hand-in-hand, I’m going to tone down the warm fuzzies and try to see the people, not just a gooey promise of what I feel old age should be. And when I stop pre deciding, who knows what I’ll really see.

****

Flossie Lewis says she’s 91 years old and badly crippled. But just because her body is starting to go doesn’t mean her personality or character should. Taking walks, watching politics and writing a little bit of light verse help keep Lewis as optimistic now as she was at 15. Lewis gives her Brief But Spectacular take on growing old with grace.

Source: She’s 91 but she feels 15. Here’s her secret

What Parveen Taught Me

I found this article about Parveen Babi this morning and was struck by its melancholy air. Not that it wasn’t consistent with almost everything that’s ever been written about the actress in the past few decades.

For those of you unfamiliar with her, Parveen Babi was a huge Bollywood star in the 70s and 80s when I was growing up in India. Not only was she utterly beautiful but she was beautiful in a way that I’d never seen an actress be beautiful on the Indian screen before. Definitively sexy and unapologetically westernized but also a ‘good girl’ with cartloads of spunk. Maybe I was seeing what I wanted to see, but she had this entirely unique brand of self-possessed, non-needy attractiveness that seemed mildly amused at the fools men made of themselves over her.

Then through my teenage years she disappeared to America leaving behind a cloud of whispers about cults and general bohemian debauchery so alien in my sheltered middle-class world it multiplied her appeal into an elusive legend.

In 1994, I got to meet her when she interviewed me for an internship while I was in Architecture school. She had returned from America and started an Interior Design business. Her decade of absence had only thickened the smog of rumors that surrounded her. She’d gained weight and acquired an even heavier stigma of a paranoid schizophrenic diagnosis that was discussed unabashedly in the media by the very powerful men she’d had affairs with.

I remember my meeting with her in almost embarrassingly vivid detail. Maybe it was the fact that she was Parveen Babi, or maybe it was the surprise of how different she was from anything I could have expected.

She exuded a form of open hearted kindness that can only be described as active. Not only was she actively kind, she was almost impishly wry and sharply observant.

“Opulence and luxury are entirely different,” she said to me, wrinkling what had to be the most perfect nose I’d ever beheld. “Luxury is about comfort, layer upon layer of comfort. Everyone deserves comfort.”

I had very little interest in luxury or opulence at the time, my head filled with half formed ideologies of Form following Function and Design ameliorating life, etc. and I never did end up working for her.

But she was one of the first people who called me smart while making it sound like just another attribute that would sit there, if I didn’t do something with it.

Her home was covered from floor to ceiling with books, more books than I’d ever seen outside a library. Her mind, despite what people said about it being ill, was sharp as a whip and filled with not just information but understanding.

In those few hours, she gave me a glimpse of a woman who had lived a life so large, it expanded my own horizons in a flash. One of those moments when you reach out and touch the curtain that shields you in your little bubble and you become conscious of the great beyond.

I remember vibrating with energy for weeks after. I remember the amusement of my friends and family. “But hasn’t Paveen Babi gone crazy?” they asked, recognizing that I was a little star struck and needing to drag me back to earth as those closest to you feel the need to do.

“She’s actually quite brilliant,” I remember telling them, wanting so badly to share this tiny piece of truth I had discovered for myself. A lesson of a lifetime taught in less than two hours. To meet and know a person without preconceptions and prejudice is the greatest of gifts. And that thing they say about how people will remember you not by what you did but by how you made them feel. It’s absolutely true.