December 2012 archive

Small Things With Great Love

This has been a confusing weekend. An emotional one. In the wake of Friday’s tragedy, I think many Americans are living in a mixed state of grief, pain, shock, anger and fear. As more stories emerge that give us a small glimpse into what unfolded for the children and teachers inside the school walls, each new detail has been like another shard of glass piercing our collective hearts.

Give a Little Bit

Never judge a book by it’s cover.

We all know the expression. The meaning is clear. A book which is beautifully bound, with a richly decorated exterior may be the one that grabs our attention. It may be the one we pick up and bring over to the cash register to buy.

Only to come home and find that the pages inside are hollow. The story and the characters are shallow and one dimensional. And you realize how much better off you might have been picking the other book that you had held in your hands for that short moment, but dismissed because it lacked the shinier, less sparkly cover.

I try not to judge my books that way. Most of my favorite books have nothing compelling on the cover. I have learned over the years how to follow my instincts in picking out what to read. Sometimes the barest of covers are the perfect hiding places for stories of substance.

Yet I somehow have not learned to do the same with people. While I pride myself on not being a very judgmental person, I still rely on first impressions too often.

It’s not so much about whether someone is pretty or not pretty. Glamorous or not.

I tend to look at how someone presents themselves and without realizing it, assign them to some non-formalized class system in my mind. Rich vs. poor. Privileged vs. unprivileged. Educated vs. uneducated. Easy life vs. tough life.

Over the years, I have learned that my first impressions are terribly… off. And that our covers don’t allow people to see a fraction of the many chapters that comprise our lives. I have mistaken shyness or reserve on a young woman as snobbery and elitism, only to now to now be able to count that woman is one of my best friends. I have mistaken over-friendliness as genuine warmth and friendship only to find a bitter coldness when it retreats.

I worked at a large technology company for many years. There was a young executive there who was a bit of a rock star. He was highly respected within the company and people knew his name. When I met him, he gave off an air of affluence to me and it was easy for me to compartmentalize him into those simplistic categories I mentioned above. It was clear to me that he must have grown up as a child of privilege. If not privilege, well… at least the middle class.

These are assumptions that are easy to make in the workplace and often times, we don’t know our colleagues well enough to go back more than the last few chapters. Rarely do we ask them to go back to earlier chapters and tell us how their story first started.

And so it just shows how much I know. And how faulty my impressions of people can be. Chris, the executive I mentioned, posted this story on Facebook the other day and I wanted to share it with the readers of Masala Chica.

In 1978, there was a family of 3 (single mom and two boys – 9 & 8) living in a small town in northern Arizona. Because of the grip that alcoholism had on the life of this family – the mother did not work and relied on family and the welfare system to care for her family. Often the money received from the government was used to feed her addiction – when you take money from an already tight budget to purchase alcohol – it makes a horrible situation simply unfathomable.

So here the family was on Christmas Eve – with the exception of a couple boxes of generic macaroni and cheese – there wasn’t anything else in the cupboard. There was no tree, no Christmas lights, not stockings hanging, no reading “Twas the Night Before Christmas”, no Christmas ham, no opening of a present before bed – just another night. The boys had learned throughout their life not to say anything or ask for anything because it would make their mother feel bad and that would only mean that the drinking would escalate and depression would often lead to much worse things. So the boys went to bed – with empty stomachs, empty dreams and an empty reality. That night the younger brother asked the older brother why Santa Claus wouldn’t visit them – the older brother did his best to comfort the younger brother and they finally went to sleep.

In normal homes, on Christmas morning the children are awake first thing in the morning often before the sun even rises to see what magic is ready for them underneath their Christmas tree. In this small trailer – these young boys slept on the floor because they had no beds and with the trailer being drafty and cold – they often slept in – huddled around an electric space heater. This Christmas morning, when they finally did get up – they walked out of their bedroom and something simply magical had taken place. In their small living room – there was a complete Christmas Tree – lights, decorations, tinsel, tree skirt, candy canes – the works. There were boxes wrapped with their names on it. There were stockings filled with treats and tooth brushes and combs and socks. They had clothes, shoes, coats. There were toy machine guns – you know the kind where you keep pulling the trigger to get the machine gun sound. The fridge and cupboards were full of food. There was two bicycles for the boys. Santa had indeed found this small family and had brought hope to a desperate reality. There was just a simple note that read – “Merry Christmas – Love Santa”. The reason that I know this story so well is that I was that older brother. To this day – I do not know who was responsible for this amazing gift of hope. But it did in fact change my life and has touched me every year as I think back.

I would encourage all of us to take time this holiday season to help provide some hope to those that are less fortunate than ourselves. It is hard to give to adults who you know are going to most likely use the money to feed an addiction – but we all need to remember that the children that are in these families did not choose this lifestyle and they have no options; they are where they are because of the poor decisions of the adults who are responsible for them. Please take some time and find opportunities to provide for these children and families this holiday season. Whether you take a few cans of food from your cupboard for a food drive, take a name from an Angel tree to buy needed gifts (shoes, bedding, clothing, etc), whether you become a secret Santa for a child who is in foster care (where you provide these children with necessities, sleeping bags, a sleeping cot, clothing, etc) (remember that the families that take children in for foster care are not given money to provide gifts – so they are very limited in what they can do for these children as well), whether you take some time to actually adopt an entire family this holiday season – please do something. It will bring the spirit of the holidays into your home and hearts like no Christmas Story, Christmas Carol, Sleigh Ride or Holiday Party can.

****

I want to thank Chris for sharing this story.

I did not know Chris’s journey. I did not know the beginnings of his story. I see a successful man today and I am sad to say that I made some assumptions about what his life must have been like. Privileged. Easy.

That can’t be farther from the truth.

The roads we all took to get to here, wherever HERE is in our lives, are all vastly different. We can look at each other and assume we know enough of each others’ stories, because we have read the synopsis and the reviews on the covers of the books. But there are stories that often remain untold, chapters that have been overlooked.

I feel like there is a growing lack of empathy towards people who are enduring true financial challenges – challenges like how will I feed my kids tomorrow? It extends not just to the poor, but to the homeless, with the most apathy directed towards the individuals on welfare in America. In the minds of many, most of these people have made their own beds and they are generally somebody else. But sometimes, somebody else looks a lot like you. Somebody else looks like me. Your neighbor.

We all have the power to help co-author the chapters of the lives of others. Not just on Christmas, though if this is one time where you heart is open to giving in a year, consider opening it fully now.

Based on the letter Chris shared, I believe that the kindness he received that day helped give him hope. Helped a nine year old boy get through some really hard times. It was by far not the only thing, but it did help inspire him as he became the American success story that he is today.

Help change someone’s tomorrow.

And make tomorrow amazing.

No one has ever become poor by giving.” – Anne Frank










A Girl With a Book

My daughter, Shaila, has been reading a lot lately. She is reading earlier than I was as a kid, just halfway through Kindergarten. I don’t remember doing much reading until the first grade. Watching her explore words and sounds and hearing her stumble over sentences as she turns the pages of her books brings back vivid memories of finally breaking that impenetrable code. You start out unsure, your steps a little timid as you first start stringing vowels and consonants together. Pretty soon, you are running. Before you know it, flying.

Like magic. But better.

As she reads to me right now, I know she is in those early phases. She stops frequently and looks at me and says, “Mommy, am I doing good?” To which I reply with a proud nod and a small kiss on the forehead, sometimes too overcome with emotion to even say the words.

But I do that a lot too. “Wow! You’re doing so well!” I say, watching her trying to hide her proud smile so it becomes a little smirk instead. It reaches her eyes and I can see it. She takes a second to find her spot again before she moves forward. A little more confident this time.

These are exciting times for her. I can kind of tell that of my two kids, she is going to be the one who is going to find that incredible joy in learning. I think Nico will too, but I think he will define success with a different sort of metric – how many kids he made laugh that day or how well he can burp or fart on command.

The big things.

I am an incredibly lucky person. These are not things I take for granted in life. Throughout my life, I have been encouraged to learn, to push, to succeed, to learn from my falls, to beat the boys and to kick ass and take some names on the way there. My Indian parents may have been traditional in a lot of ways, but they never lead me to believe that there were boundaries around my mind. Around where it could take me.

What a gift?

Really.

I look at my daughter sometimes and wonder if and when she will understand the opportunities she has in this life. When she storms off from the kitchen yelling, “This is no fair. YOU are no fair!” because she didn’t get another piece of Starburst, I wonder if she knows how different life could be.

I know she doesn’t. And to a certain extent, I don’t think she will ever get it. I don’t know how many of us really get it. I have seen how different my own life could be in my own world travels. I know how startlingly different my own opportunities could have been. If I had been born into another family, another religion, another country or another government. Despite these things, I often find myself not contemplating how lucky I am, but focusing instead on all the areas my life is lacking.

The other night at dinner, I was talking to John about a young woman who I find myself thinking about a lot lately. Malala Yousafzai. I found myself losing sight of where I was and forgetting that Shaila could spell for a minute.

“I mean, can you believe it? Taking on the T-A-L-I-B-A-N like that? She was only 11! She must have been so S-C-A-R-E-D. 11! Knowing that the T-A-L-I-B-A-N wanted her D-E-A-D,” I marveled at John.

“Mommy, who is dead?” Shaila asked.

John looked at me and shook his head. I guess now that she can spell, this isn’t table talk anymore.

But I wanted to answer Shaila. Because as I watch Shaila learn every day, I think more and more about what a young woman like Malala means in this world.

I think about her heart, I think about her recovery, I think about her bravery.

And I pray for her. And her family.

Malala looks a LOT like my niece, Haley, in this picture. My niece is 16. She loves the band One Direction. She is surrounded by friends and is a badass Volleyball player. She is a sensitive soul, and she is a good kid. A strong kid. I know she will do well in this life.

Her life is very different from Malala’s. As was mine. As will be my daughter’s.

When Malala was 11 years old, she started writing a blog where she exposed her views on living under Taliban rule and actively spoke about promoting education for girls in countries under Taliban rule. She was encouraged by her father to do this for BBC Urdu after another girl backed out. The girl’s family was rightfully scared of what the Taliban might do if they learned her identity.

Malala agreed to take on the task, the burden, the duty. Eleven years old. In Pakistan. This was in 2009.

Between 2009 and 2011, Malala stopped hiding her identity. She became a much more prominent activist and she, along with her father, spoke loudly against terrorism, knowing full well the potential for consequences. Death threats abounded. The Taliban made no secret that the girl was considered a threat to their view of Islam.

On her way home from school one day in 2012, Malala was shot in the head by the Taliban. The gunman boarded her bus and asked for her by name. When he shot her, he left her for dead. The bullet went through her head, neck and ended at her shoulder. Had he known she was not dead, he surely would have shot her several more times.

This man. This man with a gun. Shooting an unarmed fourteen year old girl. Sometimes I wonder what has happened to this man. I wonder if he is able to sleep at night. But then I realize that after his mistake, the Taliban probably did not let him regret his misstep for long.

People the world over know Malala’s story. Most of you know Malala’s story. But for those of you who don’t, know this. In another show of this amazing girl’s strength, she managed to live. To survive.

How?

I don’t know all the details of her surgery, but her doctors were able to save her. I don’t know how, but I DO know that she was meant to live. That she has more chapters to write. This girl, who had the audacity to uphold her right to an education in the face of the Taliban and survive. She is not done yet.

And it’s in moments like this that I feel an overwhelming sense of clarity. I don’t always know how he works or why, but I do believe in God.

I believe in God when I see him clearly through the god like actions of his children.

This child.

Malala.

**

“Mommy? MOMMY?!”

I look up and Shaila is looking at me. We are still at dinner. My thoughts have wandered.

“Who is dead, Mommy? D-E-A-D. That spells dead,” she looks at me, no longer eating. I look over at John. He shakes his head. She is only five.

“Nobody, honey. I didn’t spell d-e-a-d. It was something else,” I say, changing the topic, while she looks on confused, both sad that she didn’t spell a word right while knowing that I am not being honest with her. And I am such a liar, such a fraud for saying this to her.

Shaila is five. Only six years younger than Malala was when she started this incredible journey.

Shaila is five years old, but she deserves the truth. My answer to my daughter is riddled with untruth. Malala may NOT be dead. Thank goodness she is not dead. But it’s not “nobody” that is dead. Many like her have been killed. Many like her will continue to die and live in fear if our children are not taught to embrace what they have. To recognize what children around this world are fighting for.

Dying for.

Tonight, Shaila will want to read me a story. Maybe it will be Cinderella. Maybe it will be The Little Mermaid.

But before she reads me that story tonight, I think that there is another one that maybe she should hear first. It starts out like this:

“Once upon a time, there was a girl.  A girl with a book.”

 

If you want to help further the cause of education for ALL of the children of this world, consider voting for Malala for Time’s Person of the Year award, which will be announced on Friday, December 14th. You can vote here.

Also, if you believe in this cause and the advancement of standing with these girls, these young women, consider liking this Facebook page and Blog – #Girlwithabook. The founders of this site have done an amazing job of bringing awareness to this cause and creating a community of people passionate about ending the battle.

The battle against our world’s children.

Literacy is not a luxury, it is a right and a responsibility. If our world is to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century we must harness the energy and creativity of all our citizens.” – U.S. President Bill Clinton, International Literacy Day 09/08/1994

 








My First Movie

When I was 6 years old, my parents thought it would be a great idea to bring me to the movie theater to watch this movie they knew I was absolutely dying to see.

Gandhi.

Yeah, I know. 3+ hours of Bollywood song and dance that would leave any kid tapping their toes and wanting to dance in the aisles.

Well, not exactly. But I am pretty sure that’s what they lead me to believe.

You rock, Ma and Papa. Really.

If you’ve seen the movie, you know that it starts with Ben Kingsley, an amazingly convincing Gandhi, being shot three times at point blank. At the time, I had no real idea of who this bald, little Indian man was, but I knew that I felt incredibly sad. There was something about his eyes that I will always remember, and no matter what roles Kingsley plays – a part of me will never be able to see past him as anything other than Gandhi.

Ben Kingsley

On Loyalty

This post is a departure from my normal shit. Sometimes I need to get serious. Curses have been kept to a minimum (don’t worry, I will still find a way to insert them). Oh and hoo hoo = vagina. Enjoy.

When our son, Nico, was born, John’s best friend, Craig, and his family bought Nico several gifts the day we returned home from the hospital. One of those gifts was a beautiful, plush blue dog blanket that looked so lush I wanted to rub it against my own cheek and fall asleep. What can I say? I was tired. Pushing a baby out of your hoo hoo can be exhausting.

I thought it would be bad form to steal one of Nico’s first gifts, especially since he was only three days old. Let him develop his motor skills first, I reasoned, so he at least has a fighting chance of defending his belongings.

The truth is, we were incredibly touched by the gift. Craig’s own son had the same blanket since he was a baby. He and that blanket were inseparable. In a moment of creative inspiration, his son called the blanket “Blue Dog.” Craig’s son and Blue Dog went everywhere together. Blue Dog slowly became worn down and in a cruel twist of fate, was decapitated. Realizing that a headless Dog might be somewhat disturbing to their child, his parents quickly bought a new Blue Dog to replace the old one.

But as you probably know, nothing could replace the original Blue Dog.

Nico quickly became attached to his blanket. So inspired by the name our friends had used, we decided to keep the tradition alive and dubbed him Blue Dog as well. At night we would hear Nico gurgling to the dog nonsensically, chattering away about the things that are generally on a child’s mind. When we would check on him, we would find the blanket nestled in his arms. If we ever tried to take it away, Nico would hold onto it, not letting it go even in his sleep.

Nico and Blue Dog in happier times

Knocking, but Nobody Answers

This is a hard post to write. It’s about something that has bothered me for a while. It’s been in my head, but I haven’t unlocked the door on my thoughts to fully get the words out here until now. I get upset every time I go there. My heart hurts, I get a little achy, my throat gets choked up and the tears well up in my eyes. OH. FUCK. I’m losing it already. See what you made me do? Now I have boogers all over me. I never cry pretty. Where are the damn tissues?

How I Broke My Facebook Rules – Rule #9

“You’re doing it again,” John said accusingly when he got home from work on Friday night.

“Doing what again?” I asked.

“You’re getting into political debates on Facebook.” Oh, shit.

“Are you spying on me?” Marriages are built on trust, buddy.

THIS is exactly why I try to hide everything I do from him so we don’t lose that. Keeping a marriage alive is hard work, no shit.

“I can see it every time you responded to that stupid thread. When are you going to learn?” Um, NEVER.

Ok, so I’m busted. I knew exactly what he meant when he said, “that stupid thread.” After talking a good game in the post I wrote called Facebook Rules, the one where I expertly explain how to successfully navigate the muddy waters of Facebook without losing your mind (and your sanity), I have reverted back to old habits. As always, I am great at doling out the advice, but am not so good about following it myself.

The rule I primarily broke was, Rule #9 – Don’t get all political up in my Facebook grill, yo.

Now the premise of Rule #9 is that it’s important to not encourage or engage in aggressive behavior by writing inflammatory posts or comments regarding political parties and beliefs, etc. There is an implied aspect to Rule #9 as well, that if someone writes something which you find offensive, to walk away from it. That no good can come of it.

I know these things. I have written a primer on it. Yet, like a moth to a flame, a fraternity boy to a drunk sorority girl, Rihanna to Chris Brown – I get pulled towards these posts. Before I know it my fingers are click-clacking away at the keyboard and my jaw is clenched. I’m on fire. On a mission.

A mission to what, I do not know.

So what happened in that thread? I am going to simplify this as much as possible. A Facebook friend who does not support health care reform in the United States and openly opposes “Obamacare” posted some inflammatory things about it. Now, I don’t care if he opposes or believes in health care reform. What drew me to his post were two things.

1) The post was not true

2) He kept calling President Obama, “Hussein.” Which IS Obama’s middle name. But he repeatedly pointed it out – “Hey, from now on I am going to call him Hussein.” or “Watch me now – I can call him Hussein walking backwards!” or “Look, NO hands this time – Hussein!!!”

I didn’t want to add fuel to the fire so I just commented (politely, of course) with a link that explained what he was saying had been fabricated. He responded with another point, which again was not factual, so I once again sent him (yes, calmly. Gosh people) some links from respected news sources (Forbes.com is respected, right?), explaining how those points were NOT true either.

He then grudgingly acknowledged that what he shared was NOT true. However, his dislike for the plan and for the President justified why he felt comfortable sharing the link. He would not delete it because at the end of the day he still hates “Hussein” and liberals and his false post is therefore justified.

And then I said….

Well. Here’s the thing.

I know what I said. But I want to hear what you think I SHOULD have said.

Now, I don’t know care where you stand politically or on the policy in question. It’s not about who you voted for or why. Policy, Shmolicy.

Let’s pretend for a moment that NONE of that matters. Party lines don’t matter. Heck, maybe you are not even American as it seems many more of Masala Chica’s readers seem to be popping up around the globe.

Let go of all prejudices and political affiliations.

Breathe.

In and out.

Did you breathe? Seriously, I need you to be all Zen and shit when you comment.

How do you feel when people pass along fiction as fact? Especially knowingly? Do you think it’s different than when someone spreads misinformation because they haven’t done their research? In this day and age, is it acceptable to not do your homework with all of the information we have at our fingertips?

If fiction IS shared  to strengthen your OWN beliefs, do you support it? Do you see it as a necessity to push towards the greater goal of accomplishing what you believe in?

AND last, but certainly not least,

What do YOU hear when someone calls the President of the United States “Hussein”? 

If these questions sound simple, I ask you to still answer. I don’t think they are that simple but then again, I think my parents dropped me on my head a few times too many when I was a kid, so that’s not the best indicator.








Moving on Up? Or Laterally?

Oh – you don’t think I can? Oh because I never have matching socks? hmm. You are right. But can i STILL have a cape? I would really like a cape? Bueller? Mmmm, Bueller?

Not quite sure yet. What I do know is that if you “follow” Masala Chica through the wordpress.com “Follow” functionality, the nifty button that I used to look at with nary a glance and you still want to follow? Well – if you want to continue to follow the blog – can you manually add http://masalachica.com to your reader or subscribe through the feeds.

They say you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. Hells, yeah. I miss you guys. Come back! I got this snazzy new site – seriously pimped it out hardcore – and nobody is showing up. It’s like having a party and sitting around and eating all the cake by yourself because nobody came. Then you go home and drink more because you feel fat which makes you feel fatter.

Nothing good comes of it except swollen ankles and a hangover in the morning.

Sad visual, right? Yeah, no shit.

Don’t make me have fat ankles. That’s just cruel.

Remember. YOU can change the world. Or just give me an ego boost. Which one is easier?

That’s what I thought.

Have a great weekend, peeps.

Kiran, OUT.