Tuesday, September 15, 2015

New York

"The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding." - John Updike

After almost a decade of living in New York, I'm now being forced to leave my favorite city in the world because of a broken immigration system. I'm more American than Uncle Sam at this point - my accent, my speech patterns, my liberal millennial entitlement, my mannerisms, my dress sense, my completely inability to understand sarcasm, my unhealthy (and recently developed) obsession with bacon - but that counts for nothing when some idiot fresh off the boat with an engineering degree can land a job in rural Wisconsin. Who cares if he doesn't speak English, America needs workers to fuel the very fictional American dream! USA! USA! Do I sound bitter? Because I am.

Having lived in New York City for a much longer time than the average New Yorker (this is a very transient city: many people pass through here, but very few stay), I like to think of myself as a New Yorker. I know all the spots, I know where to go, I know the people to know. Everyone who moved to New York after me associates me as their initial tour guide, the girl who represented all things New York. The girl who always had a seat at Fashion Week, the girl who knew where the free rooftop movies were, the girl who understood the importance of sacred Sunday brunches, the girl who had the hookup for the cheapest Brazilian wax with the life coach/refugee Tibetan lady, the girl who scoffed at "famous" pizza joints and took you to the real foodie spots. New York has been a ridiculously large part of my identity. And now I have to leave it. I've tried to reconcile that with the fact that sometimes, New York can get a bit overwhelming. Having always been a city girl, I never understood the people who said it was too noisy or too crowded: this was just the life I'd always known. In fact, the suburbs and rural areas creep me out because of how un-noisy and un-crowded they are. Like, human habitation much? What does one do in New Hampshire when one desperately needs Ethiopian food at 3 AM? And where the hell is your neighbor's window?

Faced with the choice of living as an illegal immigrant when my student visa ran out (4 years at NYU undergrad and 2 years as a graduate student at Columbia, but fuck education right? Why should that count for anything?), or marrying my boyfriend of 8 months who very graciously offered to take me to city hall for a green card wedding so we could continue dating while he saved up for a ring, I decided to not follow the path of a mail order bride and graciously retreat to my "home" (even though the green card would have, in 3 years, resulted in a much-easier-to-travel-with American passport, see Travel Fury). But while I think back to my 8 years here, I have come to some conclusions.

I've realized that what makes New York great is not just New York. If you just considered the city with all its architecture and pop culture moments and music and events and food, it would seem very much like the cold place it really can be (The Onion: 8.4 million New Yorkers suddenly realize that New York is a horrible place to live): it's expensive, it's crowded, it smells, unless you have a sizeable trust fund, you really can't afford a decent apartment without 90% of your paycheck going towards rent, it's unsafe. But the people. Oh good lord, the people. They are incredible.

They are international and intelligent. They are fun-loving and existential. They are diverse and hilarious. They will go to Long Island to bungee jump with you, but they will also get drunk in shady anarchist bars in the Lower East Side and discuss politics. They will stand with you in line at a bar with bridge and tunnel people, but they will also go with you to the Met with your new European friends that you met later that night. They will be judgmental of your shoes but tolerant of your religious beliefs. They are productive, creative, inspiring members of this weird niche little New York society. New York can have it's strict social strata, but if you're a normal human being, you can come away with the most beautiful variety of friends, lovers, acquaintances, and, if you're lucky, family. New York is not really America: it is a hub. It's where people from around the world visit at least once in their life, and if they're lucky, get to live.

Its very specific systems have given rise to some spectacular cultural specifics: like how the same people who party all night thanks to the 24 hour New York City subway and get spontaneous tattoos at St Marks Place will bring their children to Central Park the next day in matching sailor outfits like the perfect 1950s nuclear family. Like how they'll fight to the death arguing over where you can get the best dollar pizza. Like they'll agree that Manhattan is too expensive a place to live but Brooklyn is far too much of a hipster haven to take seriously. That they'll realize that the best ethnic food is in Queens just a subway ride away but they'd rather not leave their borough on the weekends because ain't nobody got time for that and Netflix just started streaming a new original series like come on priorities bro. New York, therefore, is not really part of the United States: its its own little microcosm of a weird melting pot of culture and oxymorons. I wish I could sign up for that passport instead of an American one.

I don't think Sinatra was exactly right: if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. Making it here requires a very particular set of skills (and sometimes a very severe lack of others), which will, more often than not, render you useless as a citizen of literally anywhere else. But most people, if they look in the right places and embrace this crazy wonderful city in its entirety, can make their time here amazing, unforgettable, and always carry it in their heart.

Monday, April 27, 2015

On Love

This year, my naive and sheltered self learned the difference between lust and love. 

Lust is infatuation. It's desperate, urgent, it demands immediate gratification, and gives you those butterflies in your stomach that you could mistake for love. All the songs make sense because you're happy, giddy. But it's momentary. 

Love is deeper. It builds slowly and then all at once. At first you're indifferent. Then slowly, the person you didn't think was particularly spectacular wows you: they care how you feel and are amazing in bed and cook you dinner at 3 AM just because. They say something thoughtless via text and, just because it annoyed you, show up on your doorstep with flowers and puppy dog eyes. They can't stop thinking about you and want to spend all their time with you (it's important to note here that you shouldn't be a drug to them. They still want to/should participate in their lives: work, friends, family still matter. They just find a way to include you in them. They still make you feel wanted). They support you as you support them. They care about your interests. They text you everyday. They talk about the future. They get jealous, but they respect your decisions. They think you look best without makeup. They value your opinion: when you go with them for a haircut or shopping, they want your help and advice. They could never even dream of hurting you. They want to show you off and randomly spin you around in an impromptu dance while strolling through Washington Square Park. They want to take you away for the weekend. They make you laugh. They yearn to understand you, to completely experience you. 

Love doesn't have to mean happily ever after, but it should mean someone who enriches your life, instead of making it more complicated. Love is when someone thinks you're beautiful, even when you've just woken up with sleepy eyes and morning breath and crazy hair. Love is when they share the most intimate and emotional experiences that have shaped them, whether positive or negative, with you, because they trust you completely. 

Love is passionate, it's kinky, it's intense. But love is also comfortable. It's lasting, easy. It makes you feel safe. It's healthy. 

Never confuse lust with love. The seemingly perfect person can make you think you love them, but speaking from personal experience, when you're in love, you'll know it. Dating in 2015 has left us bitter and cautious: we're told to follow rules and, at least initially, hide our true selves. But when it's the right person, none of that matters. You can be your actually complete crazy self and they'll be fascinated by you. Their idiosyncrasies will compliment yours. You'll be happy. You'll be built up to twice the person you were before. But most importantly, you'll just be.

I've found love, and I so desperately hope everyone reading this will. 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar

Tegan and Sara's curated badass playlist for International Women's Day 2015 - LOVING IT.

In honor of International Women's Day 2015, I think it's only fair we thank the media gods for the screen time they give empowered women. For every second Kim Kardashian is overlooked for Amal Alamuddin, womenkind everywhere has scored a huge win!

Kudos to Amy Poehler and Tina Fey (more feminist icons to love!) for calling out Hollywood! Hilars!

These are the women we aspire to be: the movers and the shakers who make a difference in the world, the badass bitches who kick ass and look great doing it, who are seriously so perfect they're post-human.

I was inspired to write this after watching House of Cards: Claire Underwood, while a fictional character, is every bit the woman I aspire to be. Intelligent, always immaculately dressed, poised, well spoken, ambitious. She's careful, deliberate, never reactionary. When someone hurts her, she doesn't react: she makes a plan, or moves on with her much more important life. She evaluates, she is cognizant, she is brilliant: the fact that she is powerful and always in control is, to me, the height of her femininity. Your time is valuable, and it can't be wasted worrying about things that you can't control or people who don't value you. I'm guilty of too often wearing my heart on my sleeve and being a giant goofball: while this has served me well socially (everyone loves me, duh, but I suppose it hasn't helped me in romance, the suave sophisticates I usually fall for appreciate the feminine mystique, not the girl making South Park jokes), it's time to become a bad bitch.

My recent heartbreak [See post: Tinderella] has me kicking myself for ever losing myself in a mere man. I have jumped from a plane, I have traveled the world, I have spheres of influence that most people only dream of, I have accomplished so much in such little time: how truly idiotic of me to let one man allow me to question my self worth. As women, we are capable of amazing things: so often we're blinded to our full potential with distractions. Capitalistic society (which I, as an avid online shopper, wholeheartedly embrace) has us preoccupied with things that don't matter: Boys, Makeup, Cat videos. There is such a constant deluge of of what we "should" be that we completely lose track of what we "could" be.

I call on women everywhere to take a moment, a day, a week, and do some heavy introspection. Figure out who you are, and who you want to be. When the façades and the baubles slip away, who are you really? Then work towards it. No excuses. Be sincerely, unapologetically you, let your freak flag fly. Don't let anyone make you question yourself or your choices. But remember to do good and be strategic. Selfish is not bad. In the words of the Nerdfighters: DFTBA (Don't forget to be awesome).

We can change the world. If we stop bumbling around with secondary distractions, we can be like those women that inspire us. The women that kept their eyes on the prize and didn't let anyone tell them they were any less than they were.

Who runs the world? Girls.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

On Making A Difference

It is, in no small terms, immensely inspiring to see genuine happiness where there was only pain. We humans are capable of terrible things, but when we do good, we are capable of greatness. {Photo Credit: Charity: Water}

I can be quite elitist at times. I'm not proud of this, but I've been known to judge several books by their cover. And by "cover",  I mean rigidly defined, vehemently post-colonial social ideals" of what someone should be doing.

Which is ridiculous. As an educated, cultured, well-travelled, reasonably aware citizen of the world, I shouldn't subscribe to these preconceived notions of what makes a person "successful". And I don't, not eventually. But first impressions are reflex reactions to our conditioning, and therein lies my initial shallow understanding of the world in any given social scenario.

Which is why people who truly know me are surprised that I've worked mostly with the international organization/non-profit sector. Obviously I'm a fan of nice things, so why would I willingly subject myself to a line of work that has notoriously low salaries? Is it it a case of the "poor little privileged girl wanting to save the world so she can get glamor shots for instagram and feel smug"?

In a word, no.

If you have at least a double digit IQ and have taken a look around, you've probably noticed that the world has gone to shit. There are romantic concepts of science ("this beautiful planet is our only home") and socio-culture ("there are so many religions and languages to cherish in the world") and art ("the earth without art is just eh") that inspire temporary action, and while these are beautiful to ponder whilst staring out a rainy window and potentially superimpose on a sweeping landscape backdrop to use as a Facebook cover photo, they often remain ambiguous. They are, for most of us, banished to cultural capital and dinner party conversation.

Practically, economically, realistically speaking, thinking in these grand romantic gestures that lead to no action is pointless. We like to think we're working towards social good, but most of us are just punching in a timecard. We buy in to parody campaigns like Kony 2012 and truly believe that wearing a t-shirt or a plastic bracelet is the same as making a difference. Call us slacktivists, but the current socio-political structure encourages this over concrete action. It's so much easier to text a number and donate $5 to relief efforts in Haiti than it is drop our carefully curated lives and physically go help rebuild.

Which is why I'd like to actually do something. There is, of course, that selfish part of me that realizes, as an adult, that sometimes the only way to feel whole is to step outside oneself and donate ones time to others. In a world where shallow pursuits of makeup and reality television and shopping can take over completely, I'd like to look back on my life and know that I worked towards making the world a better place, instead of subscribing to complacence like most of society. There are people in positions of much less privilege than I have had, and I want to give them my hand, not because of some weird civilizing savior complex, but because we humans are all we have. I'd like to make contact with a woman who's been the victim of sexual violence in a conflict zone and just hold her hand and talk to her. Not as a relief worker on a case, but as a fellow female. So we can both take a moment from the harshness of the situation and just relish our humanity and realize our owed basic dignity and respect.

I'm not as young as I once was. I understand the naiveté in statements such as "I want to save the world." But I'd like to leave it a little less shitty than I found it.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Travel Fury

I love to travel. It's seriously the only thing that truly excites me and keeps me optimistic. At any given moment, there is so much of the world I have yet to see, and the diversity and beauty of that fact alone inspires me every day.

But there's a problem with traveling. Specifically, with traveling with a shitty passport.

Don't get me wrong, I love being Indian. My heritage, my language, and my culture, as I've mentioned so many times before, are very important to me. But my passport is a pain in my ass.

Any time I have/want to go anywhere, I have to plan at least 3 months in advance. I have to get together financial documents, fill out a million forms, pay countless fees, go for embassy interviews, all to get one shitty little tourist visa stamp. I've been lucky enough to be able to afford the time, money and energy it takes to do all this. I've thus far traveled to over 20 countries and all the continents except South America and Antarctica (although they're next on my list! World domination here I come!). But the whole process can get very disheartening.

As an Indian citizen, I'm treated like a criminal. I am subjected to background checks and financial scrutiny, all to determine if I can visit a country better off than mine (one most likely having been built on the backs of my forefathers and the natural wealth of my country) for a week. Meanwhile, all ol' Joe the Plumber with his high school diploma and his NASCAR cap has to do is leave his trailer park and remember not to accidentally pack any guns in his plastic luggage. I'm sorry if that sounds elitist, but I'm angry at the system, and I would value myself as, at least, his equal.

There have been countless situations where I haven't been able to do things "like everyone else". Perhaps I have been spoiled by exposure to America, where I have lived for almost a decade: all my friends from North America, Europe and down under can take off at a moment's notice, financial issues notwithstanding, while I have to be the one that waves them off at the airport. When I was a sophomore in college, some friends and I decided we wanted to go on a cruise for spring break (because Myrtle Beach was for bros): everything was almost finalized when I found out that the cruise would be pausing in Mexico. I, as an Indian passport-holder,  would require a Mexican visa to disembark. Even if I didn't disembark, I would need a visa to board the ship. Obviously, with Spring Break in a week, I couldn't go. I was resigned to sitting in my darkened dorm room, listening to death metal, looking at photos of my tan and happy friends on Facebook, hating my life. More recently, my friend sprung on me that she and her boyfriend wanted to take a road trip to Quebec, and would love for me to join. I, obviously, could not enter the great white north without a Canadian visa. Which would require a whole other headache of forms and fees while all my American friend had to do was pack appropriately warm winter clothes.

It also doesn't help when I watch amazing travel vlogs on YouTube (my very public passion. Please hire me, YouTube, I know more about you and than even you do, I'm sure of it!) - such as Ben Brown, watch his stuff, he has such wonderful mastery of cinematography, music and aesthetics - and I am reminded that British citizens (or citizens of any western, developed country, really) can just book a ticket a leave. It infuriates me and taints what should be an otherwise wonderful and enlightening experience. I am embittered and I hate that.

When I do actually manage to wade through the bureaucratic red tape that is the tourist visa process, my little blue passport ensures that I am regarded suspiciously. On a quick flight from Copenhagen to London, I was asked for identification. Not looking like all the other blonde Nordic gods around me, I obviously already stuck out like a sore thumb. When I produced my passport, I was asked, rather more brusquely than the angelic blonde child before me, for my UK visa. I, being the planner from the developing world, had it. But the experience annoyed me nonetheless. When my passport was stolen in London (hilarious fool saw the blue and heard my accent and probably thought I was American), I got a new one fairly quickly (shout out to contacts at the Indian High Commission), but I had to wait 2 weeks for a US visa appointment. There was an earlier one in Belfast, but obviously, I couldn't fly there without a flipping UK visa, which was in my stolen passport. My friend's well meaning British roommate kindly pointed out that now that I had my passport, couldn't I at least fly back to New York and figure things out then? At least I'd be back "home". It took everything I had not to laugh a bitter guffaw in his privileged face. Sorry, that was mean, he's a nice guy. But I was pissed.

Why is the world less open to those of us who were merely born in the developing world? Do we hunger for knowledge and experiences any less than the average Western 24 year old? I realize the issues of immigration make this topic heavily debatable, but I also understand that the system needs to be completely overhauled. It really is bullshit. And racist (yes, I went there).

Shouldn't the fact that you colonized my country allow me some leeway in visiting yours? Why am I held accountable for my country? Why should I feel like a traitor to my citizenship for wanting to travel with ease?

[Incidentally, if you're not Indian, but share my passport woes, you can check out this nifty tool to figure out which countries you'll need a visa for: http://www.visamapper.com/. Awesome sauce.]

Monday, August 26, 2013

On Being A Closet Wallflower


"And so being young and dipped in folly,
I fell in love with melancholy" - Edgar Allan Poe

The main problem with being a loner in a city of 8.5 million people is that you're never alone. There's always people to meet, things to do, places to go. And there's Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, always always tracking you, whether you want them to or not. Your life is social, public. Being a hermit, being alone with your thoughts is so much easier in the burbs.

So here I come out. I am a wallflower. I like to stare pensively out of rainy windows and write depressing ruminations and listen to irrelevant folk music and contemplate my mistakes and the universe in general. If left untouched, I can realistically not leave my apartment for weeks. All I need is a pen and a piece of paper and good music.

But people always creep in. I'm a pretty likeable person. I just dislike socializing. But because I'm a likeable person, people don't always understand that. So I'm taken so events, concerts, birthdays, nights out, bars, movies, parks. And all the while, I'm missing my bed and my depressing music and my thoughts.

My first instinct at social occasions is to just sit in a corner quietly. Silences are only uncomfortable when the other person feels the need to make inane small talk. There's this socialized part of me that struggles with the ingrained: "They'll think you're weird!" it whispers. Do something, be something, talk talk talk! So I talk. And I do. And I meet and I sing and I dance, all the while dreaming of inactivity. I don't seek out socialization, and this sometimes upsets people who have known me for a while but not long enough to understand me. They claim I don't like them, I don't want to hang out, I'm angry. But I'm not. I'm just most at peace when I'm by myself. Incessant chattering blocks out the important questions you should be asking yourself as a 23 year old. "What am I doing with my life", I think, is more important than "Where shall we go tonight to get wasted?"

The most frustrating part of being a secret loner is when you finally open up to the people you have known long enough to show your true self to, they disagree. "You're not a loner! You're the most social person I know!" they exclaim. They don't understand that it's a façade to fit into society.

I'm not depressed, I'm not weird (no more than the rest of us). I have dreams and hopes and ambitions and friends and talents and favorite jokes. I just like thinking my thoughts more than I like talking my talks.

The only actual downside that I can see is dying alone. It's very hard to meet someone when you're so inside your own head. And when you do, it's even harder to picture them as an actual deep person (although, granted, they're often not very deep) when all you see is this social being following all the rights cues and talking about the weather. This is why it's so much easier to fall in love online, or with characters in a niche TV show, because you know the person before you meet them. You know all their idiosyncrasies and reactions and expressions and background and life. You understand them before you judge them. Real life is so much more impatient.

When did it become wrong to give greater weight to thoughts? When did shallow interaction become more relevant than occasional powerful action?

At least I know myself and love myself and understand myself. And at least music exists to pull me back, for when my thoughts become too powerful.

As far as I can tell, there really are plenty of perks of being a wallflower (Sorry Mr. Chbosky, I reference your book from way back in the day, and not the silly Hollywood interpretation).

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Making "Indianness" Cool Again!

"Will this make the coolest profile photo or what?"

Something's been bugging me for quite a while now. Growing up in what used to be oh-so-politically-incorrectly called "the third world", I always tried to dissociate myself from my country. Obviously, educational biases tried to encourage my "Indianness", and my high school force fed us a "Hindi week" and a mandatory Indian dress code for large gatherings, but all this didn't really get me where it counted. I never thought it was cool.

So I experimented with Anglophilia, and then immediately felt bad for wanting to buy anything with the Union Jack on it (even though it's oh so pretty!), because the British were "the colonizers", and really, was I that much of an insecure traitor?

So what's the next best thing (because obviously, Europe and Europeans are the coolest. God forbid I find anyone of a darker hue to be as awesome)? France! France was beautiful, French was beautiful, the French were beautiful, la cuisine was beautiful; what's not to love? And last, but certainly not least, they never colonized India. Not for a significant enough time for any grudges, anyway. But after a while, no matter how many French films I watched (subtitled of course. Learning a language is so much harder than learning a few key phrases and mastering pronunciation. Merci pour le whiskey gratuit, mon nouveau ami, Pierre!). But then I found out, as one usually does in this cold, harsh world, that the Francophones were not very accepting of those that were different. It had nothing to do with the horror tales of racism and exclusion I'd heard from generations past. It was more about a common understanding of French slang, French popular culture, French mannerisms. If you hadn't grown up French, you couldn't just fake it. You were either cool enough to pull off a Picasso-esque Brittany striped shirt and a beret, or you weren't. Paris for example, was excruciating conversationally. No real friends were made, le sigh.

Naturally, I moved on to embrace Americanization, because, really, how could you not in this Pepsi-loving, McDonalds' guzzling world? They were so much more inclusive (on the outside). And even though, essentially, America is the brunt of many of the world's jokes (nobody tell them, they still think they're the coolest, and that World War II actually started in 1941, the silly dears!), it has shaped the global mindset so completely and subtly, whether it's through film and television or music and fashion. I am a little bit embarrassed to say that I am 100% a product of that after school education. All of my popular culture references are American. I begrudgingly admit, with my head hanging in shame, to being a masala hot dog (Indian on the outside, American on the inside. I made that term up. Woot).

South Park creators' "Team American: World Police" is so in-your-face, it's brilliant social commentary. And for those who take it at face value, congratulations on marrying your sister.

So why did I ignore the most obvious kind of patriotism, i.e. that towards my own nationality? Because I'm pretty sure I welled up in history class when I was taught about those who fought in the war of independence. And I'm quite positive that the origins of vedic brahmanism and the introduction of sufism and every other religion in South Asia excites me. And my passport, my delicious, unassuming little dark blue book with the worst photo of me imaginable, that I carry everywhere, in all my travels, is my pride and joy [update, life experience has made me less fond of it: post "Travel Fury"]. What then was my reason for shirking my own country when it came to the "cool" factor?

I have absolutely no idea. This requires more research, but I do know that we need to make India cool again. Not since the 1970s, when the government was still Non-Aligned and pro-socialism, and my parents were wearing bellbottoms and smoking pot, has Indianness been something to be proud of abroad. All the tradition and history and diversity means nothing when you're out in the first world. Either you're white, or you're "exotic", and in the case of the latter, you will be treated with a greater degree of reverence and understanding which can distance you from the colloquia. Being treated better is a terrible anti-equalizer. It's like when that one rich kid came to school in a Bentley. Nobody will truly associate with you on the level of a peer if they can't relate to you, and if they have to treat you special.

I call upon the rest of my generation that hasn't abandoned our homeland to study abroad in colder, whiter climes. Youth of India, make us cool again. Without using bastardized versions of Indian culture that has been "cleaned up" for the western context. Dhanyavaad and namaste.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


Photo Credit: Little Black Book Delhi

A lot of people see India as the third world, a developing country of a billion people. They see it as noisy, colorful, diverse, loud, chaotic, unsafe, dirty. It is all those things. But to me, it is much more.

It's a place of refuge. It's where everybody knows my name (old school 80s sitcom reference anyone?). It's the informality of a joined struggle, where every stranger is addressed in the familiar "brother"(bhai)  or "sister" (behen) or "uncle" and "aunty" (if you're too old to be bhai or behen). Pretentions exist, more so in the capital and my home, New Delhi, but are laughed at. Sarcasm is understood. Culture is respected. Everything is familiar and strange at once.

Delhi is home. And I miss it.

In the chaos of this world, India is the one thing that makes complete sense to me in its confusion.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


The world seems more palatable at night. In the darkness, the world is quiet; asleep. The voices of 7 billion people crying for food and shelter and attention are silent, if only briefly.

She can only get anything done at night. For once, the voices in her head are allowed to venture out, without fear of being confused with outside noise. When everyone else is asleep, her loneliness becomes deliberate, empowering; socially acceptable. She is a child again, talented, unafraid, unique.

She blinks, and it is day once again. Sunlight streams through her window, bringing with it the voices of the 7 billion people, awakened by their needs, their constant wanting. She is overwhelmed and unimpressed at the same time. Her mind allows her one final song as she rubs the sleep from her eyes and prepares to dull herself with another day.