Cell By Cell

Our home used to resound with music in the years 1994 to 2012. Some of the early notes were painful to the ears. I thought I’d die, cell by cell, from bombardment by bad notes.

There must be such a thing. There must be people who, sensing they have poor musical sense, go on learning music anyway. Cells must pop inside them—under an avalanche of bad phrasing—becoming goo.

I imagine a new diagnosis of sorts in medicine in which the doctor places a stethoscope on a man’s skin and says, in a mournful tone, “I’m afraid, Mister NoNotes, that you’ve contracted Immusicalia. You will die. Unless you stop singing or playing the trombone, of course.”

So you can see why, in the early years of parenting, I worried, I was suffocated with anxiety, in fact, that my children may not have inherited my musicality and that, instead, they might have acquired their father’s. But the girl and the boy became sensitive musicians with fine ears and nimble fingers. I was sad, however, when they decided that while the fine arts would never leave them, they would not pursue a professional life in arts performance.

This morning, I received a message from my son in Berlin. “Hey, I’ve rented a violin and I’m playing after such a long time. It’s so fun.”

I saw the message rather late today but ever since I read it, I’ve been feeling that my cells are holding hands inside of me. They’re putting their whole cells in and their whole cells out and their whole cells in and turning themselves around. They’re doing the hokey pokey and turning them cells around and that’s what it's all about.

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Who Was I?

A weekend could upend my idea of who I was. It could rock the premise on which I had built my social, professional and literary life as an Indian-American in California.

On Friday evening, someone dismissed, categorically, the quality and approach of an Indian-American magazine I respected and had worked for over the decades. “Why couldn’t the magazine hire better writers?” she asked.

On Saturday afternoon, some people in my writing group offered breathtaking analyses for a story penned by a talented member. I came unhinged. Should I appreciate the story? Or marvel at the succinct and lyrical analyses by fellow writers who had mastered both writing and analysis? How could I improve at both?

Later that evening, at a birthday party, a young Sikh gentleman sang Hindi melodies from the 50s through the 70s. For years, the tunes had pierced my ears and drenched my soul. I went to bed that night wondering if I should distance myself from such music. It weighed me down. It was another reminder that my parents had departed. It was proof that my father, the late but always punctual Daddykins, who read me and made three Xerox copies of every story I had ever published, had really, completely departed.

Early on Sunday, I was in Dublin for a prayer at the new home of a cousin’s son. The young man and his wife were just starting out in life. Their road was not yet locatable on GPS. I thought about my first home in San Jose’s Evergreen area. Our home had been built on new land cleared for starter homes. Now, after four moves and 32 years, I had dropped roots in an old neighborhood of heritage oaks, stately firs and meandering trails. We had raised two children into thinking, mature adults. Yet, in a matter of forty-eight hours, I felt lost, unanchored, somehow.

On Sunday evening, I rose to sing India’s national anthem in unison with 18000 others in this welcoming valley of dreams. Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister, was on his first official trip to the Silicon Valley. He was on a mission to enlist CEOs to realize his dream, Digital India, for connecting all the people of India.

Between the rising and falling strains of the anthem, I believe I heard another sound. The soundless swish of Kleenex on cheeks. The sound of sadness that all immigrants must hear in their hearts on some days. The ring of American careening. Of silent hyphens clattering to the floor.

Was I American? Was I Indian?

Who was I?

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Meditation On Strains

I'm working while strains of Meditation from Thais fill my sunroom. I'm thinking of my little girl who played it with feeling and finesse years ago. She'll be 24 the day after.

I wonder when I'll ever hear her play the violin again. And then I remind myself that we let our children learn art also for art's sake, not just as a means to a particular end but as a means to any number of means and ends. To seek the finest in art and thought; to hear nuance; to winnow virtuosity from mastery; to not always tow the line of a chorus; to appreciate the choice of one word over another; to reread passages of fine writing; to stop inside museums on an alone-day; to chase the core of people in friendships; to weep at a new song; to remember to be graceful but to never forget to be gracious; to create something of value; to listen and in the listening hear more than just words; to hunt, not for designer things, but for the design of great things; to see the apples through an open window; and to buy an Apple, always, always, always, even if it's called an iPad Maxi.