Change With The Times

“Hair unclasped and cascading down their backs,” my aunt said to me. “But who am I to pass judgement?” My mother’s 78-year-old sister was talking about a recent betrothal at which most of the young south Indian girls had not worn their hair bunched up inside barrettes or braided or coiffed up in any way. 

I told my aunt that the times had changed. She chuckled and waved the stubby fingers of her right hand and continued to talk about the mores of the present day. My breath caught in my throat. Once again, after eleven years, my mother had waddled into the room from the land of the dead. She was looking askance at the trend of the times, pulling a face at girls who did not apply coconut oil in their hair anymore and, instead, used this vile fragrant syrup called “shampoo” which left their hair unprotected and all “paraparaaa” while seducing them with voluminous promises of fragrance and body.

“But who am I to say anything about today’s girls?” my aunt wondered, laughing, even as her deceased sister dissolved into the walls. Then she went on to tell me how, in the sixties, my grandmother had lamented to her husband that three of her married daughters had begun draping themselves in six-yard saris. 

“Why won’t they wear nine yards as per Brahmin custom?” my grandmother had asked. To that, her husband, a man who often fed scores of the poor in his outhouse (while flinging colorful epithets into the air when people of a certain community walked down his road) had only one thing to say: “You must change with the times for this is the modern way.”

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We're Even, My Bagel And I

One morning a few weeks ago, when I told my friend I was stepping out for a bagel, she sent me a quick missive: “That jalapeno bagel is not good for your waistline, dear."

Well, I did not have a “waistline” anymore than Phuket had a resort after the tsunami of 2004. I reminded my thoughtful friend about how, two years ago, the tidal waves of menopause had smashed into the curves at my waist, permanently upending my figure. Now, whenever I got into my skinnies, I saw overriding bulges that were always under strain at the waistline, causing a tectonic shift in other parts.

Despite the extensive damage, I try hard to not harbor insecurities. I continue to eat my favorite foods. This morning, I ventured out again for a toasted jalapeno bagel with jalapeno cream cheese. My bagel was pricey: 450 calories. After that I simply walked 4.5 miles, burning 450 calories.

Now, we’re even, my bagel and I.


This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for many things big and small.

I’m grateful for that 90s Torchiere halogen floor lamp under which I sit writing every day. I hate it and I want to upgrade. But the last time I said it to my husband, he barked at me. “Why do you always want to replace something that doesn’t need fixing and isn’t broken?”

I’m grateful for my 1999 Mercedes with its broken tail-lights and smashed fender. For a dozen years, it has complained, electronically, of a dysfunctional lamp. “It’s nothing important,” my husband said, the last time I asked him when he planned to have it fixed. “But the Germans are never wrong,” I said. “They don’t put in a part for no reason.” That lamp is like my spleen. Everyone says the spleen can go but I know I need my spleen because I feel resentful and crotchety sometimes. Thanks to the spleen, we have a word in English that means “a feeling of resentful anger.” Yes, I’m so thankful for my spleen.

I’m so grateful for my persimmon tree, my apple tree, my avocado tree, my pomegranate tree, my pineapple guava tree, my orange tree and my lemon tree. I haven’t partaken of one quarter of any of those fruits borne in my home but I must convey my gratitude on behalf of the squirrels. They cannot write and they would not know how to post a status on Facebook or know how to connect a Facebook post to a blog with short urls and links. It’s not a squirrel’s world except, of course, in my backyard and I’m forever thankful for that.

I’m thankful for my daily Quaker Oats Simply Granola cereal and my Quaker Instant Oatmeal Flavor Variety Pack. I’m so thankful for them because I have breakfast every morning and, thanks to Costco, we have two years’ worth of the same breakfast. And now, I’m afraid I feel a pre-seasonal afterglow: I’m feeling thankful that a quake in my neighborhood, of 8.8, may demolish all things Quaker in my kitchen cabinet.

Last of all, I’m thankful for companies like Blue Origin and SpaceX. The stuff about space makes no sense to me; there are so many problems here on earth that we have no solutions for. But I do see potential in it for a one-way ticket for the following individuals: Donald Trump, Salah Abdeslam and Jeff Bezos himself.

I’m thankful this Thanksgiving. Oh yes, I am.

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A Xerox At The Park

Through the course of a five-mile walk at Ortega Park with a friend, I was baffled by the demographics of the park. An all-Indian birthday party was in progress inside the gazebo at the center. A few minutes down, close to our walking path, eight boys kicked a ball on the green: Seven Mowglis in seven t-shirts and seven shorts and seven shoes and one ball.

On a bench, an old man and woman sat in glum resignation to the soundless life of the American suburbia. As we trekked past, we nodded absently, all four of us—as all immigrants do in their adopted country—in silent acknowledgment of the truth that we were all xeroxed faces hailing from a land that produced high technology, high-calorie samosas and high SAT and GRE scores.

For a few cruel seconds, I felt like a migrant hoping to banish all the other migrating beasts to another savannah 10,000 light-years away.

I felt like the zebra at the head of the herd. No two ever had the same set of stripes. Yet they blended into the distant landscape, becoming one in the daze of heat and dust. I sensed the zebra’s frisson of discomfort: If and when the lion came, how would it tell one rear from the other? And, heavens, would there be enough grass for all? Plenty of Bermuda grass? Enough red grass? What about legume?

Further down the trail, I passed one more of my ilk. Right away, I sensed the mild panic leaking at the pores of the Cupertino species: Would there be enough fresh coriander and fenugreek at the farmer’s market the following Friday?

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Just A Cleaner

The people who clean our home pass through several houses in one very long day. On some days, when the teenage son is not in school, he too is part of the cleaning crew, busting cobwebs and dusting ledges. Jose and his wife chuckle and laugh and chatter in Spanish while they go about washing the sink, wiping the pendant lights and fluffing up our pillows. I watch them at work and I wonder whether my husband and I would laugh with each other all day if we were going about our duties together every day. 

Mostly, my husband and I are like Putin and Obama. Like the two leaders, we are remotely aware that we’re serving a common larger goal but like the two leaders, we’re busy polishing our knives towards smaller “side” agendas.  Sometimes I wonder if the cleaning couple that knows every nook and cranny of our home may be saying, in Spanish, that this Indian couple could use a summit like the G-20 to cleanse their lives. 

They never fail to ask after our children and now, after almost eight years of association, they know about the big issues that wrinkle our lives.  The scent of Palmolive and Pine tides away my  troubles, at least momentarily, and I do look forward to the mornings my housekeeping service arrives—even though I’ve noticed how I often find myself cleaning before the cleaners arrive.  

I still remember the time I texted the couple ten minutes after they had left our home. “Hey, you forgot to mop the sun room today,” I said, annoyed about their slip. “Do please do it next time, thanks!” Jose was back at my door in minutes. He did not like to be told he had missed a spot. He was as particular as I was about a job well done. I hated myself that morning.   

Today, while vacuuming our family room, Jose asked after my son in Europe. We talked about Paris and then we ended up talking about the attitudes of people towards immigrant communities. I told him that despite the issues around immigration, America remained one of the most welcoming and broadminded nations in the world. He agreed. But it was also a matter of perspective, he said. All Americans were not that fair-minded or accepting of others and it depended on where an immigrant was on the totem pole.

“Some of the houses that I visit,” he said. “People won’t even honor me with a greeting. They don’t treat me like a human being. For them, I’m just a cleaner.”

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The Spy Who Wows Me

I’ve been pondering my fascination with James Bond. No other gentleman has swept me away with his debonair ways—from my adolescence through the course of my 50-something years.  

There was Bond’s Connery avatar. He had dimples. Within a few minutes of hearing his voice, I was intoxicated. I liked Roger Moore too although by the time he played Bond in “For Your Eyes Only,” I felt he needed to retire and stay home—with his wife only.  

Even though Pierce Brosnan didn’t seem as surefooted and gritty as Connery, he seemed to know his way around Scotland Yard. And he did it with a certain Wall Street gravitas. I loved the way he dusted off his suit after chucking his irksome villain into a nasty printing press. I remember him looking at the audience, right after, and saying: “They'll print anything these days.” 

The only Bond I would never ever have shared even the smallest dinghy with was Timothy Dalton.  I felt Dalton was good enough merely to count change; he should have been recast as a secretary to Moneypenny. 

This brings me to our current Bond, Daniel Craig, who is, by far, the most athletic of them all. He leaves women wanting more and panting for more. He flies between imploding buildings in disturbingly tight Italian suits. The cameras seem to like his rear. I do too. 

When he veers into the Austrian wilderness in his latest hottest wheels, I’m there with him, my hand on his six-pack. When I watch him muck around with Q’s gadgets, once again, I’m to his right, forever his very own faithful “K.”   

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The i-Marriage

“Look at so-and-so,” I said to my husband the other day while talking about a married couple who must have been conjoined at birth. “They use “we” whenever they talk about their lives. They do everything together.”

The we-Couples I know always walk together. They are one entity with one head, four hands and four legs. While he cuts vegetables, she cooks. While she puts the dinner away, he loads the dishwasher. They take the garbage out together: she collects all the trash in the house; he rolls out the carts. They make grocery lists together. They hold hands at Safeway. And of course, while they do their taxes together every April, they also itemize the todos of every ordinary day, always watching that they don’t tax each other out. I hear only one note in their marriage: the harmonious "we" note.

On the other hand, we, my husband and I, are the i-Couple. I leave notes for my husband on some mornings like this. “You’ll get your tea after you empty the dishwasher which has been waiting since Alexander The Great crossed the Hindu Kush Mountains into India.” Sometimes I leave a red rose by the note. I’m sweet and all.

These days, when we drive places, the GPS lady comes between us. He listens to her. Note that in a we-Marriage, the GPS lady is one of a threesome, directing the couple towards the perfect union of their souls. In my marriage, the GPS lady seems to have a different angle on everything. She has Occupied the third vertex of our love triangle.

It follows that my husband and I do not walk together. The last time, my man got ready to walk, right about the time I set out for my walk, I warned him. “You know, I won’t talk when I walk,” I said. “I’ll be busy with Michael Krasny or Ira Glass or Salman Rushdie.” So he plugged his device into his ears and marched on ahead. I picked my podcast. I turned right in the direction of De Anza Boulevard. He turned left towards Scotland Road.

Our singular marriage has most relevance in bed. By midnight, my husband may be found in his natural habitat, huddled inside the double layers of comforters, finger pulsating over his phone. I lie down by his side, my iPhone in hand. We are in an i-Marriage.

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Bitter Sweetener

So, once again, today, at Starbucks, my husband told me that I could not get a coffee cake or a marble cake slice along with my cappuccino. I don’t take well to being told I cannot do something. He did the same thing at Peet’s the other evening.

This afternoon, he gave me an Orange Alert even before we queued up behind a couple of others at Starbucks.“And you don’t need to eat all that,” he said, in his grim airline counter voice, pointing to the cakes. “You know you just had a big meal at the wedding an hour ago.”

“But there was no dessert.”

“No. There was burfi.”

“But that was big. Too big.” My husband doesn’t get it. I cannot eat burfis the size of South Dakota along with lunch.

“And, in any case, I wanted something sweeter,” I said. “And smaller.”

“There was that kheer.”

“That was before. Long before lunch.”

By now, it was our turn at the counter and the Starbucks lady seemed to be enjoying our bickering. “I’d like a small cappuccino,” I said, turning to the woman.

All of a sudden, I felt the inner glow of all the women who had gone before me. I heard the strident cry of Rani of Jhansi asking me to fight for my craving. I heard the slam of Kannagi’s anklet on the stone floor. I heeded Betty Freidan’s whisper: “The real enemy is women's denigration of themselves.” Then there were the words of Gloria Steinem in my ears: “Once we begin to ask [questions], there's no turning back.”

While the Starbucks clerk stood in front of me nonplussed, I broke into a crazy laugh. “You know what? I do want that coffee cake—the slice, not the other kind that looks like a muffin—AND I want a small cappuccino, extra hot.”

And while I hurried away from the counter, my good man pulled out his wallet, his face churlish. He remained that way for a while afterward although he knew that I knew that a giggle hovered at the edge of his lip.

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The Senior Moment

The girl at the movie counter blinked when I asked her if I'd get two tickets at the cheaper, matinee price. I couldn't believe the price she quoted. I'm only at the movies to see Daniel Craig's nipples and six-pack. That's about every two years.

"$10.49 for a ticket?" I asked of the girl. "Is that the going price for movies these days?"

"Oh yes, that's the price of a regular ticket," she said, "Unless..." Her voice petered out as she looked to my right.

My husband had appeared by my side at that prescient moment. The next thing she said gave me hope for a future full of exciting discounts. "Unless of course one of you is a senior. 60 and above."

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Glossing Over Floss

“And, mind you, today does not count!” my dentist said, with a wicked laugh, while I lay, my mouth open, dying to tell her I did floss once last month. But she had me pinned down like Gulliver in Lilliput by the force of her dental LED light, an aspirator, a pick axe, a hose, a mouth vacuum, a brushing head and reams of dental floss.

I hate floss. All the dental floss on earth needs immediate recycling as follows: 
As total Colgate ribbons to hold up Donald Trump’s Hair before Trumpgate; 
as waxed hand loom saris redolent of raspberry mint gum; 
as mummyfying thread to glide ISIS members (and their members) into Egypt’s valley of the kings; 
as parachutes to blow helicopter parents out of reach; 
as sails for cruise boats aiming for the Arctic.

At the very least, floss needs a decent burial as well as an epitaph on a marble headstone, preferably filled in gold by a dentist: 
“Buried here is floss. It’s cutting edge is gross.
Among the things humans must lack, Is a fishline for plaque.”

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