Three weeks ago today, I was surrounded by people — well-meaning aunties telling me to be strong, passing acquaintances, strangers who knew my name and who thought they knew my grief — when someone told me that my father passed away on one of the most auspicious days of the year. The sharod purnima, the fall full moon, and Laksmi Puja, a day devoted to the Hindu goddess of wealth and prosperity. It’s believed she visits special blessings upon those who worship her on this day, and that because of the closeness of the moon and the earth, you are also healed by the moon’s rays.
This past weekend, the New Jersey Romance Writers chapter hosted the 30th annual Put Your Heart in a Book Conference. It was fabulous as usual. The workshops were informative, the keynote speakers were inspirational, and the after-parties were boozy, just the way they should be. This year, me and Falguni both attended. I presented two workshops, one on Goal, Motivation and Conflict in the YA Novel and the second on Goal Setting for Writers. Falguni pointed and laughed and asked if I was tired yet. (Not really, but I bet she thought it!)
This conference experience got me thinking. I’ve been doing conferences since I was 19 years old. New Jersey’s conference was actually my first one. This marks the 10th year I’ve been going to writer conferences.
After 10, 15,20+ years, why do people keep coming back? The workshop topics may change slightly but after so long, you start hearing the same things over and over again. Which is why I’ve come up with a short list of reasons going to writing conferences is beneficial. Are you ready? Here we go.
1. You will always learn something new.
I don’t think that .gif really has anything to do with the point I’m trying to make, but hey, it’s Shah Rukh Khan so whatever. Anyway, yes! You’ll always learn something new. Whether it’s about the industry, about the types of books that are coming out these days, or about a different way to brand yourself as an author. Unless you just come to the conference to hang out in your hotel room, meeting people at lunch, going to a new workshop, or hanging out at the bar will expose you to different thoughts and ideas and you can’t help but pick something up in the process.
2. Conferences will give you the kick in the pants you may need.
If you’ve been feeling like you can’t get your act together, writing conferences generally produce this indescribable air of energy that will swallow you whole, chew you up and spit you out with more energy you’ve had in a while. By the end of the first night, you’ll either want to rush to get to your manuscript or start a completely different project. By the end of the conference, you’ll have a to-do list and enough drive to think you can climb mount Everest. Usually.
3. Network, network, network, network, network, network.
I know, these gifs are ridiculous but also a lot of fun, right? Anyway. Conferences give you the opportunity to meet old friends that you can only see at conference time. It also gives you the opportunity to meet new friends. Lastly, conferences are a perfect venue to meet with industry professionals. If you want an agent, an editor, or if you have both and want new ones, conferences give you that opening. If you want to start a group blog, meet local writers in your area, or just hang out with other writers with the same cultural background as you, conferences can give you the opening you need.
So ten years later, I’m still meeting new people, learning something, and getting that incredible writer’s high that I need to keep pushing forward. The NJRW conference was no different. It was an especially awesome experience because I was so glad that I was able to meet up with my Sari sister Falguni in the process.
Hope this short list helped! Happy conferencing, writers!
Last week I visited the nation’s capital. The last time I was there was a good two decades ago when I was a tourist visiting from India and not a decade old naturalized citizen, and when the world was a substantially different place (nowhere near as different as it had been years before that, though, as I learned on this visit. But more about that later). For one, back then I couldn’t have imagined there being an exhibit at the Smithsonian about Indian Americans and the history of their migration and assimilation into America. It was a time when being asked how my English was so good was a regular occurrence and being asked where India was wasn’t uncommon either. It was a time when being Indian in America sometimes felt a lot like being invisible.
So of course when I heard that there was now such an exhibit I went in search of it. Ironically enough, the exhibit, aptly named Beyond Bollywood, wasn’t easy to find. Much like the information it housed. After trudging in from the rain, my friend and I made our way to the second floor of the National Museum of Natural History where the website told us the retrospective was housed. After three rounds around the exhibit area searching in vain and finding not one sign for it on any map or signage, we broke down and asked for assistance. One of the kind staff members led us through several exhibit areas to the very back, past the museum shop and corridors almost as metaphorically complicated as finding your way around a foreign land and there we were, finally, outside the exhibit we sought.
Our first greeting was a display of shoes on a shoe rack, a fairly accurate symbol of the entrance to most Indian homes. There was a nice big sign explaining this and yet a few of the other visitors, adorably eager, bent down to remove their shoes.
It was in this state of half amusement that I entered into the exhibition space, an old Raj Kapoor song piping in through speakers. Jina yahan marna yaahan, iske siva jaana kahan, he sang in Mukesh’s signature nostalgia-inducing voice. Here we live and here it is we’ll die. Where else would we go now? The lyrics, which I’m pretty sure refer to making the best of our lives here on earth, there in that space took on the form of an ode to migration and had me reaching for a tissue.
You see, I’ve always fancied being a first generation immigrant as somewhat cutting edge. Like a wayfarer, an adventurer, leaping into the great unknown, choosing to leave behind the comfort of home in search of a bigger life or at least one that I myself got to make from scratch. I’ve always thought of people as falling into two categories: the nomads, turtles who carry their homes on their back to wherever they go; and the landlords, trees, who are rooted in the earth. My brother, for instance, is a tree. He is so of his soil and hearth I cannot imagine him ever being uprooted. I, born to the very same parents, want to have bits of me scattered all over the world and bits of the world imbibed into every corner of me.
So here I was, at the very first display amused and marginally thrilled with myself, staring into a mirror flanked by pictures of mundane-enough Indian immigrant life and a sign asking quite simply, ‘Indian Americans. Who are we?’ I thought I knew the answer to that question. Just like the sign says, we “are as diverse as America itself” including “students, farmers, artists, cab drivers, businesspeople, and technology pioneers… Some trace their roots here to the late 1800s, arriving with other immigrants who came to build, and find, the American Dream. Others came in the 1960s, arriving at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, to join and shape a “new” America.”
It was the part about some of us tracing our roots back to the 1800s that stopped me in my tracks.
I had always assumed that Indians who migrated here in the sixties and seventies had been some of the earliest immigrants. And I am well aware of how different their immigration experience had been from mine given how different both countries were from their current avatars at the time and how vastly disparate in terms of culture when compared with each other. My father’s brother came here in the sixties and growing up I always thought of him and his family as a ghost of a presence in our lives, almost like lost relatives who might as well live on a different planet and visit every so many years. Over the almost twenty years that I’ve lived in America, I’ve spoken with my brother and my parents almost every day thanks to Whatsapp, Facebook and Skype. And our lives aren’t all that different from each others.
So, yes, my uncle’s immigration experience was very different from my own. One I always think of as much more isolating- more an amputation when compared to my far more painless transplantation.
But compare that with someone who made the passage a century before that.
Walking through the exhibit was like stepping through time and finding battles I was embarrassed to learn I didn’t even know had been fought on my behalf. Indians who worked the railroads in the late 1800s, farmers from Punjab, fleeing from British oppression, who worked alongside Chinese immigrants to support the nation’s industrial boom. The horrific attacks on Indian mill workers in Washington and California in the early 1900s to force them out and the lack of legal action and public outrage. The ban on the migration of Asian women so the men would not settle and procreate. The indefatigable fights for citizenship. A Sikh US Army combat veteran who was granted citizenship in 1920, only to have it revoked in 1923 because he wasn’t white. He continued to apply again and again until he was granted citizenship in 1936. A young woman who applied for citizenship and was denied it over and over again between the years 1910 and 1969. That’s a 60-year long battle.
And one that shattered all sorts of glass ceilings.
For me the retrospective was about learning about these pioneering struggles, but really it spans the century from those to the racial violence of the ‘Dotbusters’ in the 1980s and along the way visits the reality behind the stereotypes of the taxi drivers, the motel owners, the doctors and tech workers. It goes on to pay tribute to the contributions of Indian Americans to the arts, science, sports and politics in the wake of those early struggles that brought us to a place where you don’t have to be Indian American to be appalled by this cartoon that was published in the San Francisco Call.
I might have entered with no idea what to expect from the barely marked exhibit tucked away at the very back of the museum, but I left feeling pretty confident that inaccessibility and a circuitous path would not stop those who had the will from finding their way there. And I sincerely hope that you will find your way there too if you can.
Beyond Bollywood will be at the National Museum of Natural History until August 16, 2015 after which I can only hope it will travel to other cities so more people can see it. More information at http://smithsonianapa.org/beyondbollywood/
Bollywood movies are known for three things primarily: the colorful costumes and dances, the over-the-top melodrama (as if a mere over-the-top drama wouldn’t be enough) and their limitless (and shameless) ability to churn out scripts that are atrocious remakes of Hollywood movies or adaptations of western literature.
This week (or was it last?) Anyway, two Bollywood films were released on October 2nd (Gandhi-jis birthday and lets just forget for a second HIS horror about the fact that HE freed us from the clutches of western subjugation only so we could adopt western influence with greedy, grasping arms within decades of India’s Independence!) But thats another topic for discussion.
In this post, I contemplate if it’s worth rearranging my life for 3 to 4 hours (per movie) and make the trips to the theatre in the coming week.
Starring gorgeous Hrithik Roshan’s abs and gorgeous Katrina Kaif’s fake suntanned skin, plus the regular order of eye-popping global locations, gravity-defying stunts and a story that might do better as slapstick comedy. Bang Bang is also a bad adaptation of a not-so-great Hollywood movie, Knight and Day. Be that as it may, I could be convinced to ignore the love-is-a-Stockholm-Syndrome premise of the movie and watch it just for the apparent movie-screen watchable gorgeousness of the lead actors. Most Bollywood movies do not inspire thinking. They inspire gushing (and headaches but whatever.)
Now for adaptation #2
This is Vishal Bhardwaj’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Already, this movie option is looking up. Why? One, because it’s an adaptation of one of the greatest tragedies written by one of the greatest playwrights of this world. Plus, Bhardwaj has already redeemed his directorial and screenwriting “chutzpah” with Maqbool (think Macbeth) and Omkara (think Othello) and quite brilliantly. I loved both those movies.
What Bhardwaj seems to have done with Haider is take this great and complicated work – Hamlet – place it in the great and complicated world of a 1990s Kashmir. This was a time when Kashmir was in serious turmoil. To side with India or Pakistan? To sympathize with Muslims or Hindus? To be loyal or turn traitor? To sit tight or join the fight?
Get it? To be or not to be, that is the question! (Hamlet)
The movie has garnered acclaim and criticism alike. While the core plotline of Hamlet seems to have remained brilliantly intact in Haider, where Haider (played by Shahid Kapur) returns to Kashmir to find his father missing in action and his mother cohabiting with his uncle in a world gone to shit (something rotten in Denmark!), the thematic plot has been totally Bollywoodized. It seems with success (from what I’m reading of the reviews.) The only glitch (if you can call it that) is the pacing of the movie, which tends to drag. But so does the real Hamlet.
So, there you have it, Readers. 2 Bollywoodized movies to choose from. If you have seen them or end up seeing them, I’d love to know what you think. Or let me know what you think, regardless.
Ciao for now! I’ll see you when I see you!
I attended my first Kriti Festival, a South Asian Literary Festival in Chicago, and all I can say is Wow. Here’s a picture that encapsulates everything I loved about the experience — beautiful diversity, amazing creativity and the joy of sisterhood.
Sometimes you go through life not really knowing what you’re missing, what you need. Since pursuing a career in writing I have attended several writing conferences (fiction and non-fiction). But none of them was Kriti.
Kriti is a Sanskrit word that means “creation.” Well, Kriti Fest recreated me. It was amazing to see all the creativity — dance, song, words, photographs, often melded together into beautiful work. While we were all South Asian, we had so many different experiences and voices. One of the panels discussed the authenticity of the South Asian voice. At this conference, we had Muslim love stories, Rajasthani fiction with the rhythm of Kathak dance, Srilankan civil war fiction, South Asian themed erotic speculative fiction, a YA set in Saudi Arabia written by a Canadian desi and so much more. At first I thought my djinn and dragon stories would be totally out of place, but no. Both my stories and myself fit right into all that vibrant creativity. I realized there is no “one” voice and every story has a right to exist.
Now, I have been to many desi parties and programs. Usually, I have gone mostly for the food while the aunties talked over my head. Well, there was food here — lots of good food. Kriti organizer Mary Anne Mohanraj pulled together a feast for us. The food was awesome, but the conversation…oh, the conversation! Putting so many creative minds together in one room is like an explosion of ideas and inspiration.
As creatives, we are all about inspiration. It’s what allows ideas to flourish and new works to happen, it is what creates connection.
But one of the best parts of Kriti was about being able to just share without stopping to explain or provide footnotes to people. People who understood and accepted me and my individual desi experience and my particular brand of crazy creativity with open arms. So I went to Kriti nervous because I knew only one person — my Sari Sister Sonali Dev, but returned with an amazing and supportive tribe of creative friends. Thanks to Mary Anne, Neha, and everyone who made Kriti happen. You made a big difference.
Today’s is going to be a very self-indulgent nostalgic post about life and other important things…:)
September has been special to me even before I got The Call that changed my life two years ago. As weird as it sounds, yes, I celebrated my Calliversary a few days ago and have now had 4 books out and my 5th will be out in November.
So when September rolls around every year, I take stock of what I have accomplished writing wise along with where I’m in my life. As it turns out, today I’m celebrating my (a significant number J) birthday and looking back on how I set out years ago.
Without tooting my own horn too much, you could have said I had promise.
A lot of self-realizations followed over the years, some nice and some not nice, and I’m very disappointed and regretful about some things I have and not done.
Hindsight is a hard bitch, isn’t she?
But on the other hand, it seems not doing these things led me to another path…
I saw this quote on Sunday in a store with a picture of Marilyn Monroe that said, “I’d have never got here if I had followed all the rules.”
And I thought, YES!! Some of the paths I did choose or didn’t were mutually exclusive from their alternatives.
So every year, I work on minimizing my regrets and disappointments (I still have many) and try to look forward to what I want to accomplish by the next time my next birthday rolls around and this time I thought I would share some from it…
- Be conscious of what I have ever day
- Strive to be better than myself in every area
- Be Present in whatever I do.
So come on, tell me, how do you celebrate birthdays? Do you look back and have regrets? Or are you more hung up on the number that just passed?
It’s here! It’s here! It’s here!! (Tossing high heel confetti!)
I wrote a book. It’s called Priya in Heels. There’s lots of saris, quirky jokes, and a few sexy scenes that’ll make you swoon. So ladies, put on your sexiest heels. Gentlemen, rock that awesome plaid. And prepare to fall in love.
A new adult title from Entangled’s Embrace imprint…
Love doesn’t conquer all…does it?
Priyanka Patel is the epitome of an obedient daughter. She’s finishing up her medical residency at one of Houston’s busiest emergency departments, and has agreed—albeit reluctantly—to marry the man her family has chosen for her. The only thing that can derail the “perfect” life laid out before her is the sexy musician down the hall who wants into her life…and into her bed.
Tyler O’Connor has been infatuated with Priya since she treated his sprained ankle in the ER, and after saving her from a brutal attack, he can’t get her out of his head. When Priya puts her family’s wishes before their relationship, agreeing to an arranged marriage with another man, Tyler is devastated.
But love is fierce and unreasonable and clashes with the carefully sculpted life her parents want for her. Is going after her heart such a big deal, or will it truly unravel Priya’s world?
“Priya in Heels is an exquisite mix of culture, romance, and humor all brought together by two characters you can’t help but love from the get-go. It’s a must read!” ~NYT Bestselling Author Anna Banks
“Sweet and sexy with a dash of spice.” ~USA Today Bestselling Author Nicola Marsh
“Chemistry jumps off the pages in this sexy-fun tale of family, “firsts,” and doing anything for true love. I swooned over Ty right along with Pree!” ~USA Today Bestselling Author Ophelia London
“A moving story about a girl at a crossroads between her Indian culture and what’s expected of her, and the American boy who’s stolen her heart.” ~USA Today Bestselling Author Cindi Madsen
“A thoroughly entertaining romance that deftly captures the enduring conflict between conservative Indian traditions and contemporary American culture.” ~Shobhan Bantwal, Award-Winning Author of the Dowry Bride
Want to know more about Priya, Tyler, the writing process, getting published, the Indian diaspora, etc.? Maybe win some cool stuff, like a Kindle? Check out my website for all the places I’ll be in the next couple of weeks. Everything kicks off with tonight’s Facebook release party where over a dozen authors will be hanging out, chatting with readers, and giving away lots of prizes. Also, there’s a release week special happening, so grab it now!
I’m so excited to share Priya’s story with you!
Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox premiered in May of 2013 at the Cannes Film Festival, quickly becoming an audience darling and receiving critical raves. Touted as a quiet movie, an epistolary love story and a warm and lovely film, it stars Irrfan Khan (whom you may know from In Treatment and Life of Pi), theatre actress Nimrat Kaur and Nawazuddin Siddiqui* (Gangs of Wasseypur, Kahaani). I have no idea why it took me so long to see it! And if you enjoy an achingly sweet story where the romantic tension builds at a perfect pace and the character interaction is rooted in sincerity, you need to see it, too!
The central conceit of The Lunchbox involves, as you might guess, a lunchbox — a tiffin or a dabba — and what happens when a neglected young wife’s delicious dishes are unwittingly delivered to a lonely aging bachelor instead of her husband. (Sidebar: Mumbai’s dabbawallahs and their mind-boggingly efficient lunch delivery service is famous.) Ila and Saajan become offbeat, honest pen pals and, through their notes, learn to take a larger look at their respective lives.
It was bound to happen. One of us sari sisters was going to write a snarky post about Indian weddings. Well, here it is. Snark and all.
Last week I had the good fortune (read: snark) of attending two weddings in 72 hours. One was an American wedding in which I was a bridesmaid, and the other was an Indian wedding in which my mother’s best friend’s daughter was getting married. Both weddings were beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but there were a few differences to say the least. I’ve taken the liberty of pointing out these differences that non-Indians may not be aware of.
1. How many parties equal a wedding?
The American wedding has a rehearsal, rehearsal dinner, ceremony and reception.
The Indian wedding has an engagement party, sangeet (ladies’ singing night), mehndi (where the bride gets henna on her hands), a pooja (a prayer service in which the bride is blessed by her family members), baraat (in which the groom and his family come dancing up to the door of the house to claim the bride), ceremony (which is two hours long at the minimum), and reception in addition to a bunch of cultural requirements in between that may or may not apply depending on the region and religious sect you come from.
2. Good LORD, the people!
The American wedding I went to had a tasteful party of 80-90 guests at the ceremony and reception.
The Indian wedding had upwards of 600 people. For real.
3. The food is always different, yo.
The American wedding had a choice between fish, beef, chicken or vegetarian. The service was table-side.
The Indian wedding had a buffet room. No joke.
4. Music rocks the house.
The American wedding had a fun band with singers.
The Indian wedding had a well-known DJ with 2 hot Indian dudes playing dhol, or Punjabi drums.
5. How late does this thing go?
The American wedding ended around midnight and I was safely tucked in my bed at 12:30.
The Indian wedding ended around 1 or 2 and I spent another hour and a half prying off the dry mascara on my eyelashes.
(Like hell I’m going to show you a picture of that.)
In all honesty? One wedding wasn’t necessarily better than the other. It was just…different. I had fun at both events. One was a lot more reserved and refined. The other? Well, let’s just say that most of the people my parents’ age were getting drunk and letting loose on the dance floor. Indian weddings are loud and noisy but, hey, sometimes that’s just what the doctor ordered.
So no more weddings for me for a while. Even though I was actually a part of the American wedding as a bridesmaid, the Indian wedding is what wore me out. Why? Well because no one parties like the Desis party. And by Desi I mean Indian.
That’s it for my snarky blog post about weddings. Until next time. Toodles!
There’s this Bollywood song (by the way, I could open pretty much any blog post with that line because truly there’s a Bollywood song for just about every situation) so anywho, there’s this Bollywood song from the movie Queen and it goes something like this:
We were in London last week and I swear that song would not stop playing in my head. So picture me staring up at the Big Ben, the London Eye at my back, letting myself slip into a passive aggressive form of the bhagra (think shoulders bouncing surreptitiously beneath a coat) while my kids searched the throngs of tourists for prospective (less mortifying) parents they could run away with.
And being that there is little else more entertaining to parents of teenagers than embarrassing them, my husband and I took every opportunity we could to turn our London trip into an odyssey of Bollywood nostalgia—a remarkably easy thing for a Bollywood buff to do in that remarkably beautiful city that the Mumbai Film Industry has paid homage to decade after decade with unrelenting post-colonial devotion. Firstly, which red blooded Bolly-phile could sit on the steps of Trafalgar Square and not imagine Amrish Puri in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge feeding the pigeons with that unforgettable baritone birdcall that was one part lecherous uncle calling to the neighborhood kids and one part pathos-filled immigrant beckoning those foreign pigeons who harken his homeland oh so poignantly.
To those of you not familiar with Bollywood films, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge is unarguably the most beloved romantic Hindi film of all time. So much so that it is referred to simply as ‘DDLJ,’ no exposition necessary. It’s the story of two kids of migrant parents raised in London on two sides of very, very, wide tracks that divide London into the Ferrari owning have-too-muches from the convenience store owning have-just-enoughs. It’s your classic, delicious romance between the rule abiding, know it all good girl, who is her dictatorial (pigeon feeding) father’s pride and joy, and the spoilt, Ferrari-driving, high school dropout bad boy, who is also his most undictatorial father’s pride and joy.
When our hero and heroine fall in love while backpacking across Europe with their besties there is absolutely no hope for them. Daddy #1 (of pigeon fame) has already promised his precious and thus far obedient daughter to his best friend’s son back home. Daddy #2 (of letting his dropout son drive a Ferrari fame) has sworn to never let his son go a moment without having every single thing his little heart desires. Hence, while Daddy#1 whisks our heroine away to the motherland to fulfill his promise, Daddy #2 goads the hero into hot pursuit. The rest of the movie involves our hero infiltrating the wedding home and winning the bride as his own by charming his way into the hearts of one and all.
Now I might sound like I’m mocking, but I promise you that the dimpled, lush haired, Shah Rukh Khan and the impish, just plain lush, Kajol sparked the kind of chemistry on the screen that ruined my entire generation of Indian girls for ever being satisfied with the ordinary day-to-day chemistry of our own pedestrian loves.
So, here we were in London, where such an epic love blossomed, pointing out landmarks—the cinema at Leicester square outside which Shah Rukh and Kajol first whizzed past each other totally unaware of their cosmic connection and the very world slid into slow motion around them at the impact, or King’s Cross station where they separate after having found such a love but not the words to admit it.
Yes, there was much sighing (from me) and much eye-rolling (from the teens), but what kind of Bollywood fan would I be if I didn’t return from London hopped up on some hundred proof DDLJ nostalgia. There was also a trip to Southall (thank you, book research), the Little India within London where films like Bend It Like Beckham, Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, and Patiala House were set. Patiala House, by the way, is a delightful little film about a Punjabi family coming to political power in a racially evolving London. I would have searched for the huge hacienda-style mansion in which the Singh family lived, but I was too distracted by the bazaar-style markets with glass bangles and gold rimmed chiffon and kebabs on food carts and the best Biryani I’ve ever eaten.
So, while Jeeves and Wooster thrive at the West End and the Kohinoor diamond glistens on its perch amid the crown jewels at the Tower of London, and Harry Potter and Jane Austen pilgrimages continue to shore up the world’s largest tourist destination (sixteen million tourists thus far this year, thank you very much) I propose a **London, Bollywood Style** tour. Because, really, doesn’t everyone deserve to be the gonging bell of the Big Ben every once in a while with all of London bopping to a Bollywood beat around them?