My day in the District…

Some would say that I have a tendency to D.C. bash.  Some might be right. But, today I’m going to try to offer a fair and balanced view of our nation’s capitol. Here’s a day in the life, as told by my iphone3 photographs. #vintagetelecom

First, I tried to catch the train. D.C. has always been on the cutting edge when it comes to the metro. They’ll threaten your life if you drink your morning latte on your morning metro commute AND they always have those handy, dandy signs that tell you just when the next train is coming. Imagine my surprise when I reached the platform and found this: 
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I waited for a few minutes with the mob of people on the platform. Turns out that they were doing construction on the Virginia bound platform and trains in both directions were sharing the same track. Luckily, within just a few minutes the train came and the board changed. Mass confusion ensued:

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En route to Dupont Circle, which is on the infamous red line, I had the pleasure of taking a shuttle bus to try to get around Metro Center. Why around? Because, wmata decided to close its busiest station all weekend…IMG_0725

I eventually got off at Dupont Circle and had the pleasure of knowing that if I wanted to buy a pack of Newports at this gas station, I could actually take out $9 whole dollars to make the purchase. Who needs even numbers anyway? IMG_0711

I ate – guacamole – and drank – Diet Coke – at Lauriol Plaza. And honestly, I wish my iphone3 took better pics in the dark, because there were some fashionable folks coming in the door. And everyone knows that I don’t dole out fashion kudos easily. Alas, on the walk back to the train, I stumbled past an institution that I’d heard about in books and on cnn. Who knew that the German Marshall Fund was just blocks away from Dupont Circle? This is one of the perks of living in the epicenter of political power. You learn something new every day!IMG_0709

Since today was quite nice, I figured I’d roam around the city some more and soak in the sun. D.C.’s weather has been having serious mood swings lately. Just think, the temperature today was in the low 50s. Just Monday we had a snow day!
And the streets looked like this:
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Anyways, the snow is behind us, so there’s no better D.C. haunt on a Sunday than the flea market at Eastern Market! Today, I discovered that a Huffington Post Poll named this flea market the 2nd best in the world. I still can’t find the poll to determine which is first or first best or best – however you’d say that. This sign vaguely reminded me of that time that I was in the IGIA Airport and they had a sign that named the airport the 2nd best airline in blah blah blah… you should re-read the post to recollect. (This isn’t the HuffPo poll that this market is mentioned in as 2nd, but here is a recent HuffPo review of world flea markets, in case anybody is interested: http://huff.to/1fiDyXb) IMG_0713

I loved to see that vendors I love still have booths and are still doing well. I dropped by the BAMI booth and it was nice to see a friendly face. Though I didn’t buy any new soaps today, I’m now kinda regretting that decision. I also saw a few home decor must haves at Olde Good Things, but I’m often shocked by their sticker prices – especially at the Manhattan store – so I didn’t dare browse too seriously. Anyway, I did nab a whole gaggle of scented diffusers from CandlesbyGeeda.com! I was the lucky buyer-beneficiary of a scented oil that smells like man. Yes, people, man! I’m so excited I could do a dance. IMG_0715

I found two new booths that will become my new regulars. Well, maybe they’re just new to me, which isn’t saying much. But, I loooveeeddddd the goodies I bought from Was Paper. I’m going to tell you what I got, but please hold your horses. Don’t be copy cats and try to have a safari fridge theme in your house too. Get horses or elephant’s butts (yes, she has those too!) or anything else other than my beloved rhino. Consider this a warning…

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And just as I mustered the will power to walk past this sign and not give in…

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… i found Mirasa! The lovely woman at the booth was already packing up, but she didn’t seem in the least bit perturbed when I started digging through the bib box. I noticed her accent and was so enamored when she said she was from Bombay (only Bombay people call Mumbai Bombay. That’s an insider tip!). I LOVE Bombay! Turns out she came to the U.S. to study at F.I.T. and found her husband. I can relate, since I went to India to work and found my fiance. I told her that I got engaged in front of the Gateway of India in her hometown of Mumbai AND I went to college in NYC too! #smallworld

Honestly, after weeks of feeling disconnected and misunderstood in D.C., this conversation was a light in my lonely heart. It was lovely to find someone who also understood the craziness of the Delhi I left behind – its positives and its negatives. It was really cool to connect with a perfect stranger and to feel so familiar with her personality and her designs.

Bombay has a booming design scene for fashion, housewares, art and more. In fact, since I haven’t been to Helsinki yet, I’d argue that it’s one of the best places to find innovative contemporary design. Alas, underneath a string of baby bibs and onesies, I found that Delhi wasn’t so far away and D.C. might not be so bad after all.

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I pressed on and tried to avoid the rest of the tempting vendors…

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I navigated my way back to the metro…

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I made it back on to the train and decided to stop at Chinatown for a peak around…

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…but it was reaching the doggie’s walking time, so I headed back to the far, far, away land that is Northern Virginia. I left D.C. behind somewhere in the wmata space after Foggy Bottom, before Rosslyn and underneath the Potomac river.

THE END.

54 Books beyond Bombay

Stack-Of-Books-BigThe year before last, I could only manage to read 48 books. Not even one book a week! #epicfailforanerd But this year, I was determined that I would finally read 52 books and Nikki would not beat me this time. Once again, I set her in my sights and she – clearly – didn’t even know it. Surely, I’d blow her book goals right out of the water. Right?

Wrong! Once again, Nikki is not even thinking about me! While I went above and beyond, tallying 54 books this year, she’s off dressing up her daughter as a lion and going on African safaris. Sometimes, she and her husband even stage a safari in their backyard and pose their costumed daughter as the lion cub that they’re spotting in the wild. I mean, it’s pretty darn cute. And creative.  Damn you Nikki! I can’t win with you…

Alas, in 2013 I spent most of my time researching Indian culture and folklore, so a lot of last year’s books were academic in nature and/or Indian in authorship. Not all, but most. So, without further ado or more Nikki acclaim, here are my top 5 books of 2013:

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Maximum City Bombay Lost and Found is my favorite book of last year. And the irony here is that it was the very first book I read. So, it was downhill from there. But, talk about dissecting a city from its inside out! This book is a literary feat. It is a page turner that’s true to the city it preaches to know. There’s drama and sex and love and violence – all representative of a city that’s meant so much to me. I can’t recommend this book enough for those of us who have been to and enjoyed today’s Mumbai.

shantaramShantaram is Maximum City’s whorish twin sister, in book terms of course. It’s the tale of an escaped convict from Australia making his way in the Mumbai underworld. It speaks of the Nigerians and Afghanis. Drug dealers in plain sight at Cafe Mondegar. And foreigners with fake passports and friends in rat infested slums. The author claims the story is all fiction, but it’s rumored to be a memoir. I can’t imagine how anyone could make up 963 pages of this stuff without some serious life experience for inspiration.

 

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The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is the unsung story of Black motherhood – its efforts and short comings. The stories touched me on a personal level, as I felt familiar with the post-Great Migration characters and the inner city family drama. I don’t say that lightly though, because in my opinion contemporary Black protagonists often come off as overdramatized caricatures or underwhelmingly kitsch. Let’s be honest, we’re living in Tyler Perry’s wake. These historically accurate representations through Ayana Mathis’ words are long overdue, however.

 

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The Lonely Londoners is a short and easy read, but rich with texture and spirited characters. I came across it when researching the Indian Diaspora in literature. I read it not really expecting what I found. The author explores the recent immigrant experience in London, but not only from the Indian perspective. In fact, it’s primary characters are Caribbean immigrants. Like Mathis’ depiction, Sam Selvon gives short snippets of just how hard life can be for people who are trying really hard to make a dollar out of fifteen cents. Its characters are in a silent struggle, not in vocal rebellion. This read left me with a softer heart.

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Faces in the Water is where magical realism meets the unfortunate reality of female infanticide in contemporary India. The premise is that a little boy spends a summer at his family’s ancestral farm and discovers the water well that supplies the home. In it, he sees faces – female faces. More than one. You’d have to read the book to figure out who these girls are and how he resolves knowing how they got there. I loved this book not just because it tackles an issue that most people won’t even acknowledge, but it highlights that it’s not a practice that only occurs among the poor. And, more importantly, it empowers a male character – a young boy – to take action against injustice, to be a women’s rights activist, to be a better man than his own father.

2013 dud reads:

The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud: Where to begin? Maybe I’m just sad that this book is a book. It’s about a bunch of rich New Yorkers making asses of themselves and each other. It’s a New York reality – unfortunately – but the story doesn’t scream book worthy to me. And, I just found out that the author is a fellow alum of my high school, so I’m even more disappointed. The writing was convoluted and full of misplaced modifiers. If there’s one thing a Mustang can’t stand, it’s a misplaced modifier.

Arranged Love by Parul Mittal: Woe, the days of my life that I can’t get back! Maybe I need to have grown up on the Indian subcontinent to understand why this is supposed to be a love story, but this book is weird and lame. There are much better stories of arranged-come-love marriages. Read the Namesake and don’t waste your money or life minutes on this book!

Confession of a Buddhist Atheist by Stephen Batchelor: Some memoirs are just journal entries that people should later burn. This book is one. Buddhism isn’t a religion, so…. what’s this atheism schtick?  Hence, there are fundamental problems with this book and it’s premise. Sigh…

Websites We Love!

Unknown-4Not all websites are created equal. I talked to some people yesterday who told me that they spent weeks trying to get a passport in India, because the website only functioned for appointment scheduling from 5:59pm to 6:00pm. I am not making this up. Having a whack ass website can really kill interest in a product or service, and – frankly – having a great website can convince a consumer that poo-poo paste is foie gras. This is the nature of web-appeal, defined as the Babyface approach to internet usage (P.S. You can’t really snap your fingers with gloves on. P.P.S. *watch the video*).

Easy to use, giving loads of bang for their – mainly free – buck, here are five websites that have me wow-ed:

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Everybody knows I’m a http://www.mint.com slave, but now I’ve become just as addicted to award wallet. Every credit card, store, hotel, airline has some kind of reward program and, really, who can keep up? But these entities pray that you never keep up, so that the benefits expire and dissolve into thin air. You, my friend, have no reason to be a victim of reward expiration ever again. There is a rub though – the major airlines do not allow http://www.awardwallet.com to link to their sites, so you have to manually load your point balance and periodically update it. It’s a little bit of pain for a lot of free gain. It’s simple to add programs. And once you get everything loaded you’re more likely to keep track of your earnings rather than lament all the miles and hotel stays laying in wait in your spam.

Unknown-3Akanksha is a great a charity and social-service program based in the Mumbai-Pune area. Using a charitable teaching platform, college students or grads can volunteer to teach students in any particular field. Further, the organization raises funds though art projects and sales, corporate giving, charitable donation, and paid summer workshops. The stores to buy student produced merchandise are apparently just in the Mumbai area, but hopefully they’ll expand to other places and an online store (fingers crossed). Either way, the site is well-organized, easy to navigate, and clear to understand – a huge boon to donor confidence.

UnknownThis site is no hidden gem – it’s already been out there for a long, long time. Actually, it was about five years ago when I discovered it and thought “Urban Outfitters, the Salvation Army, and ebay had a web baby!” This site is a clearing house for hand-made and antique items. Selling is as cheap and easy as on ebay. And if you’re a buyer, you can practically find anything you could ever dream of. This year alone I bought custom rubber stamps, a Taj Mahal wall decal, and a bearded baby cap. And I’ve been eyeing a cast iron oven roaster pan. Who said being a hippie consumer was over rated?

flavorpill-logoI have to admit that I’m not in love with the email newsletters from http://www.flavorpill.com. That may have something to do with the fact that I signed up for four cities at once, and right now I don’t live in any of them (I bet you can’t guess which four!). Let’s just say it’s information overload about cool events I can’t go to. But, if http://www.meetup.com and Yelp are sites you already frequent, flavorpill.com is in the natural progression of your city search. They always have interesting event listings and off kilter articles about books and culture. Word to the wise, http://www.flavorpill.com’s culture blog is flavorwire.com. And http://www.flavorwire.com is where I learned that I’ve read two of the 15 books they say you should NOT read in your 20s. I already read one in high school and have another on my shelf right now – just ripe for the reading. Thirty is, in fact, NOT the new twenty.

Unknown-2To bring out the inner linguist in you, I suggest you bookmark the BBC’s world news language service. I’ve never found a more useful website for getting your bi-lingual on! The BBC offers their world coverage in many different languages (and variations of languages). Now the trick is that you should have at least a basic understanding of the newly acquired language, as well as some basic knowledge of current events in the country/region being covered. Hence, you actually should read some articles in English before listening to (or reading) story in the language of your choice. So after your Rosetta Stone courses are done, give the BBC a whirl to see just how much you’ve retained!

Don’t take my word for it. Try these sites for yourself and tell me what you think. I’m not getting paid (or gaining rewards points) for getting you to test them out. But, if you like ’em I gain bragging rights and e-street cred – what more could a blogger ask for?

Inception

There are days when Asa wakes up and feels the sun on her face and the dusty breeze through her braids and forgets – for just a moment – that she’s living in Mumbai.  It’s not an easy thing for me to forget.  Living in Mumbai always means that there is a taste of sea salt and street grit in every bite of life.  Waking up with a craving for puri or a frankie from Colaba is often a reminder that gently nudges me awake in the morning.  Today, for a minute though, she was in that place of half sleep where she could see a vision of her brother and her cousin Trey on the steps of the house on Eastern Parkway.  It was just a glimpse of their profiles, from an odd, non-existent angle.  She swept by on her way to first Fridays and only glanced back at their faces before beginning her spritely stroll to her fictitious evening of acculturated fun.  It was balmy that night in her dream, like any other real summer night in Brooklyn.  Balmy is the perfect way to describe every day in Bombay.  The resemblance clings.

She is here working at an NGO that helps women from battered and abused situations.  Battered and abused often is a synonym for sexually abused and devastated.  Yet for the sake of propriety, some semblance of dignity in not knowing what everybody knows, we’ll say battered.  Some were married off to boys who took the dowry, banged the bride, and auctioned her off in Kamathipura on his way out of dodge.  These things happen, people say, and Asa thinks she could help.  Working at Safe Horizon had given her some sense of this purpose when she was home.  She has always longed to fulfill this feeling of actually helping someone become someone.  Not a new someone, not like the witness protection program, but someone actually worth a second chance at life.  “Someone who was genuinely a victim,” she’d justify to herself on those lonely sleepless nights in Khar West.

It’s a credo that expats like us understand.  Picking up and moving to the other side of the world to be someone new is something we understand.  Asa has a gift for explaining this to the Sangeetas and the Shivalis of the interiors of Maharastra and Bihar who somehow find themselves washed out on a filthy mattress on the floor of a hovel.  It’s like a nightmare out of Shantaram until Asa (and Kavita, the translator) comes along to go door to door asking if there are underage women there – working – who don’t want to be there – working.  She does the grunt work.  Her black conveys trust to their brown, when my white seems to convey pity.  Both are unintentional.

This started as an internship.  Actually, she was hoping to score something full-time at home, but the economy just isn’t booming like it used to.  Being a social worker at a community based organization really isn’t the best come up for a Binghamton grad, but native New Yorkers do have that on the rest of us.  They can afford to wait out the city, see what comes up, see if something sparks.  They have no fear of late rental fees and peanut butter sandwiches for dinner.  She worked at Safe Horizon for about 4 years and had only recently learned about the safe houses in the Bronx.  But nothing really came together for her as well as it did for the women she considered clients.  It felt so incongruent to see them rebuild their lives and for her to feel so stuck – financially, sure.  There’s also the fact that at 27 she couldn’t pretend that living at home was just a temporary state. I’m not sure how she came to find the job, but she came to town with just one bag and that was a year ago.

When I left the apartment this morning, she was just blinking awake and the sunlight was peaking through the curtains on the sea-facing window near her bed.  The fan was on low and her hair blocked only half her face from the sun.  She rubbed her exposed eyelid with the back of her hand like an infant whose immature vision only allowed the sight of fuzzy shapes.  She looked a bit lost in time and space, for just an instant, but she’ll soon be herself again.  She’s got to renew the lease with the Gangulis and buy a new lamp at Fab India today.  She’ll wake up soon and snap back into the Bombay she’s made for herself.  She’ll see the Sealink and remember that she’s got a big day ahead, and she’ll be glad she came – just for an instant.

I, on the other hand, will be glad all day long – until I come home for lunch to see her breeze past me to hustle out the door.  Braids in a bun, jeans under a kurti, she’s ready to face the hardest, oldest, baddest, whores, sluts, and prostitutes of Asia.  When she turns to look back at me over her left shoulder, she’s got a kulcha hanging between her teeth and her keys in her left hand.  The bread muzzles her words, so she speaks more with her chestnut eyes than her mouth. “See you later. Dinner, ok?” I nod, “sure,” but I’m lost in thought.

I’m struck by how busy she’s become being Bombay’s Michelle Pfeiffer or, better yet, the red light district’s Mother Theresa.  A year ago, she was just Asa James, a girl from Brooklyn, running away from Brooklyn.  Today, she isn’t that same person.  I couldn’t tell you who she is exactly, but she’s not that.  Come to think of it, she couldn’t tell you either. That much I know for sure.  She has no clue anymore.

We da besssss…

Best - Mumbai (2013)

The word ‘Best’ in Hindi – Devanagri Script

I went to Mumbai to fall in love. And I found love at its best.

I was ringing in a new year in a relatively new city, for reasons beyond flashy parties and beautiful sunsets.

There’s something about feeling worthy of greatness that brings greatness about. Something about feeling deserving of love that brings love about. And something about Christian talk radio that helps solidify all the awesome thoughts you (ahem: I) may have about yourself (ahem: myself). Shout out to Dr. David Anderson and Joel Osteen!

Yes, I was listening to an inspirational podcast when I set foot in Mumbai. But, whenever I set foot in Mumbai, I feel great. This time, in particular, I felt a pulse that I haven’t felt since I left New York. Mumbai is a city with a torrid past, a promising future, and an invigorating present. It, like New York, is electric.

Whatever it is you don’t like about Mumbai is a reflection of what you don’t like about yourself. (This is a fact.) And, I love Mumbai. So what does that say, exactly? I found myself feeling overwhelmingly deserving of everything the city has to offer. I loved the gritty women who just don’t give a damn what you think and the eerie presence of violence under the surface of fame. I loved what it lacked by way of high culture and what it exudes by way of inclusion. I found myself wondering what this overwhelming exuberance said about me. Feeling at home in its shops and cafes in Bandra and among its jewelers, galleries, and design shops in Colaba, should mean something about my future. It couldn’t just be a reflection or a remembrance of my New York City past.

Instead, Mumbai has been for me a choice to be where I breathe easy, a choice to be where I can have the sea and the skyscrapers. It has meant believing that I can have it all. It has meant finding that place and thriving there – not fighting against a current in an environment not meant for me. It has meant believing that I deserve it all, without compromise. And believing that the only kind of love I will accept is the kind that loves me when I am in this state – when I can (and when I do) almost get hit by a speeding scooter in front of Pali Village Cafe on my way to meet up with a friend in a flat I’ve never been to. Careless and reckless and passionate but divinely protected.

Love is such an uninhibited and adventurous spirit. Somehow its both illusory and ever-present. But, it is – surely – a result of individual choices made. It’s a choice to move past partition, past the riots following the Babri Masjid demolition, past the terrorist attacks, past everything that means that success is too far away to be real. Moving past pain and death, past lies told and atrocities committed by people who swore you allegiance. It is this fight under the surface. It is the gentle tremble of disquiet that is motivating. It is this constant agitation that makes you remember that you have worked for what you have – your view of this sunshine is not actually priceless. Your little sliver of Linking Road was fought for and won, so you best be worthy.

This trip to Mumbai made me feel just that – un-mistakeably worthy: in the right place, at the right time, and for a purpose. The pride of the place is contagious. You have to explain to yourself just how exactly it is that you found yourself hobnobbing, schmoozing and snickering amongst these lovely people.  Then someone points out that you are a member of this bunch, a card toting up and comer in a world that believes you should have your work and your wine on hawk covered balconies too. It is a city of balance for believers, and a venus fly trap for those who lack self-confidence.

Fortunately for me, this is where I find myself feeling like a princess – enamored and endearing, but demanding ‘what do you bring to the table?’

As I departed Chatrapati Shivaji Airport, I could have sworn that city answered, “You’re a stubborn hard ass, but I love you biotch! ”

I reclined in the emergency exit row, stretched my Michael Kors boots, and exhaled my exhaustion of fairytales.

Some of us aren’t looking to be saved.

I got what I came for.