Feminism

Letters to Myself: When I Have a Teenage Kid

When I was a kid, I used to write “Letters to Myself.” This may seem odd and no, I don’t have multiple personalities. I just wanted to make sure that as an adult, I didn’t forget about all the “horrible” things my parents did to to embarrass me while I lived under their roof. I figured if I could warn myself in the future and help prevent my children from suffering the same kind of embarrassment that I had been through, we could potentially break the cycle. Thus leading to less money spent on counseling sessions, which would be a win-win from any perspective, because even my parents would agree that we shouldn’t waste money. I didn’t start the letters until I was in middle school, but I think I covered my bases pretty well.

So without further ado, let me present you with the teenage Masala Chica’s list of parental “Dos” and “Don’ts.”

1)   Don’t wear saris when I pick my kids up from school. Try to be cool like the other moms and wear jeans.

Not wearing mom jeans = uncool!

These moms totally had it going on.

2)   Don’t send my kids to school with weird pickles on their sandwiches.

3)   Do learn how to make things like brownies and cupcakes. When it’s my kid’s birthday, make these things from scratch and don’t buy them in the plastic containers from Shop-Rite.

4)   Make interesting and exotic dinners, like Spaghetti and Meatballs or Fettucini Alfredo. Don’t serve rice and daal at every meal.

5)   Do not wear bindis. Do not wear anything resembling dots on my head.

6)   Do take my kids to fun places like Disneyland and Six Flags. Don’t wear saris. Wear cool jeans and shorts, like the other moms.

7)   Do let my daughter go to the mall on Friday nights to hang out with the rest of her friends.

8)   Do teach daughter about facial hair. And what to do with it. Teach her how to shave, wax, whatever. Don’t let her walk around feeling like a hairy gorilla.

9)   Do watch other movies with my kids other than Indian movies. Learn how to be comfortable with watching kissing scenes in front of my kids, like the other cool moms. Don’t make the kids leave the room if a kissing scene does take place.

10)  Don’t make my kid pray all the time. Pray less. Sometimes praying too much can give your kids a headache.

11)   Don’t yell at my kids if they say the word sex. Sex is not always dirty. Sometimes, sex is just a question on a form.

12)  Don’t take my kids out of school every year for a few weeks to see family in India.

My list of dos and don’ts was fairly black and white for me. Whatever my mother was doing was a “DON’T”. Whatever the other moms were doing was a “DO.” Apparently I had great respect for my friends’ mothers, their mom jeans and their ability to whip up a box of Duncan Hines baked goods at home.

I look back at this list and what’s clear is that I was obviously afraid of being different. I wanted, so very much, to be like the rest of my friends. I wasn’t thinking about how cool it was that my mom still embraced her culture so much. I wasn’t really thinking about how amazing it was to eat the sabzis and the curries my mother would make every night to go alongside the daal and rice.

So what if a few kids made fun of those differences? Buck up, I want to tell that kid now. Learn how to be different. Embrace those things. And for Pete’s sake, don’t worry so much about hairy legs. You will have a lifetime to worry about that.

Well, not really, if you get married.

In that case, you generally get most of the winter off.

Still, I want to tell that young girl that one day, she will be writing a post, much like this one, and will salivate at the thought of her mom’s homemade pickles on her sandwiches or eating her mother’s cooking that night. That it’s ok that her mom couldn’t shake and bake like her friends’ moms.

I will explain that she was comparing apples to oranges.

Or better yet, Apple pie to Ladoos.

My mom never had reason for me to question her cooking, especially when her samosas kick the Tri-State area’s ass.

I wish I could explain how precious it would be, that time when she is young. And how much it means to let her hold on to it for another day, another year. And if that means not letting her troll around a dingy mall so that she is less likely to get felt up by upperclassmen in the empty part of the parking lot over by J.C.Penney, so be it.

I would love to tell her how one day, those trips to India will teach her more than any textbook at home could. How those trips will inspire her to think beyond the world she lives in. To look beyond those walls and beyond the privilege she has been born into. How they will be the only way she would have had memories of her grandparents or cousins who are now gone. How maybe understanding the journey her parents took to get to the United States, might help her appreciate the ties they still cherish.

The customs they hope to keep alive.

I totally would back her up on the praying thing. Praying too much still gives me a headache.

But I would love to maybe give her a different point of view.

Maybe just a little perspective.

Namaste,

Kiran

 

My Teenage Dating Chronicles

I have a story to tell you guys. You might not believe it. But I swear, it’s all true. Every stinking word of it.

When I was younger, well…I wasn’t really a hit with the boys. I know. I KNOW. This is hard to believe since now I am so obviously ridiculously, ridiculously good looking and charming. But suspend your disbelief for just one minute, however hard that might be and go back in time with me.

When I hit my teens, I was awkward and shy. A bit pudgy, with braces and Jersey hair so big and so wide that it made Medusa look like she was a shampoo commercial model. Friends, it was bad.

But then things changed. The pounds fell off when I ran cross country. A teeny weeny eating disorder didn’t hurt either (another story, another day). The braces came off and I figured out (somewhat) how to work with the mop that God (yes, thank you for that God) gave me.

So around 16, I blossomed. Ok, maybe that’s too strong of a word. I wouldn’t say that I went through a case of the ugly duckling turning into a swan. Nothing that dramatic! But I was a more attractive duckling, which was progress and which helped confirm that a daily dietary supplement of my mother’s samosas was not conducive to weight loss.

I also got the whole facial hair thing under control. SCORE! This achievement involves a serious fist pull. You see, I’m Indian. And I have dark, coarse hair. And it sprouted on my face with a profound enthusiasm that I could not match, much less conquer alone. After a very unfortunate incident with a bottle of Nair when I was 13, I finally became a pro at using hot wax. No easy feat for a young teen with a small forest growing on her face.

So now, I no longer had a moustache that rivaled that of Mr. Kakos, my very Greek AP English teacher. Huge improvement folks.

And so all this happened. And I started hearing the word. Pretty. And people were using it to describe me. ME. Well, sometimes. Again, just roll with me here.

That's Me - 2nd row curly hair!

 

I’m in the second row – 1st on the left.

And yet friends, though I bought the milkshakes to the yard with all these changes, nobody came a-knocking at my door. Sure, we had some Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, but other than that – nothing. My phone wasn’t ringing off the hook either.

I had guy friends who were great, but nobody was romantically interested in me. I use the word romantically loosely, because we were in high school and all I knew about romance, I learned from watching Guiding Light and Fred and Daphne’s obvious sexcapades on Scooby Doo.

Was it the knowledge that not so long ago, I slightly resembled a yeti? Was it the fact that any time someone did call me, my strict, Indian father would interrogate them relentlessly?

“How do you know her?” Um. School, Papa.

“What do you want to talk about?” Math. Like, duh.

“How many girls have you deflowered?” Ok. No he didn’t. But I am sure he wanted to.

I remember being in the cafeteria one day hanging out with a guy I had been friends with for a while who I had a huge crush on. For the sake of this story we will call him Don*, because a few friends from high school read my blog. He said something really sweet to me. Something absentmindedly and God I don’t remember what it was. I think it was something like “Oh Kiran, you’re so great” accompanied by an affectionate nudge on the shoulder.

I recognize now that you say things like this to lost puppies and sympathy crushes. You know, to people you know that like you, but who you don’t have feelings for.

At the time though, I wasn’t that cool. (I know, I told you to suspend your disbelief!). So I mustered up my courage and said, “Well, Don. You know I think you’re great too.” And I could have left it at that.

But no friends. I did not. I did NOT leave it at that. Instead, I added, “Like, yeah. Like, I like you.” Fucking idiot I was. When over 50% of your sentence uses the word like, you officially qualify as a moron.

This is when Don said to me, “Well, Kiran, I like you too.”

“Really?”

“But you know I can’t date you.”

“Why?” I asked, perplexed.

“Because of what you are.”

I paused for a second. Wow. Harsh!

“Wait. Because I’m smarter than you?”

The next thing I know, the bell rings and we are surrounded by friends and apparently the boys aren’t dating me because of my lack of milkshakes but because I’m smarter. Well, at least I knew what the problem was.

When I told my friends about what happened though, they saw things a little differently than me.

“Because of what you ARE?!!”

“Yeah. Because I’m smart.”

“No, Kiran. Because you’re Indian!” my friends informed me. Apparently he had been overheard talking about it with a friend and had been a bit more clear about my unsavory characteristics.

Oh. OH.

Every other brush with dating in high school ended disastrously. I wasn’t often in the running, but when I was, it was not usually very smooth sailing.

And you know, while it sucked that a guy didn’t like me because I was Indian, I kind of am still proud of my first response. Because that’s who I was. I was a smart little cookie. Sure, I had shitty taste in footballin’ men, but I had some balls to take a chance and tell someone I liked them. It took courage for me to do that. And sometimes having courage is a lot more important than getting to make out with the high school quarterback. That’s the story I’m sticking to anyway.

Stay tuned for more adventures in awkward, Indian teenage dating….

XOXO,

Kiran

Live from Lisbon, Portugal, where I should have been in bed a LONG time ago.

Under the Bleachers and Far Away

“When I grow up I want to be a slut,” said no girl. EVER.

Screen shot 2013-07-10 at 10.57.14 PM

The other night I was talking to an old friend about nothing and everything. We somehow ended up talking about a reality show, since everything in my life has about two degrees of separation from the Bravo Network. The subject moved to the storyline of one of the the women that appears on this show. I don’t know her, but she seems like a really sweet woman with an amazing personality, which says a lot for anyone represented on reality television. I think it’s fair to say that 80% of them DON’T seem like real “quality” people. Quite the opposite, even.

Anyway, I would guess that this woman is about 40 years old. I can’t say for sure, but she seems so nice, like she would give you the shirt off her own back.

Apparently, however, she has a reputation for not having a shirt on her back.

“Yeah, I heard she used to be a real slut in high school,” my friend mentioned casually. “My friend Rich went to high school with her. Apparently she used to have a reputation and used to go down on guys under the bleachers.”

Hmmm.

I thought about the woman in question. For the past few years, she has lived her life on television and allowed people to see her as a mother, a friend and a wife. This is reality television so take it for what it’s worth, but she seems kind, she seems loving and she seems like she works hard to have a good life.

But for whatever reason, to some people, she will be known always as the “girl who used to go down on guys under the bleachers.”

Over twenty years ago.

The whole conversation made me sad. I don’t know, nor do I care to know what choices this woman made about her sexuality when she was younger. I doubt they define her and I highly, HIGHLY  doubt that any male who participated in the activity is still remembered by anyone for whatever it was that he did under the bleachers with her.

Which takes me back to how I started this post. When I was a little kid and played dolls with my female friends, we talked about our dreams.

“When I grow up, I want to be a doctor.”

“When I grow up, I want to be an astronaut.”

“When I grow up, I want to get married and have two kids named Chanel and Coco.” (Ok, ok. Only once).

You know what I didn’t hear?

“When I grow up, I want to be a whore.”

“When I grow up, I want to be known as the girl who gives guys a good time.”

“Maybe if I work really hard I can become a pole dancer one day.”

No, these are not things that I hoped for as a young woman. I don’t remember any of my friends having those aspirations either.

The names that women are called for choices they make around their sexuality are brutal and meant to debase. We might not live in the day and age of a Scarlet Letter, but society shows a woman a huge double standard when it comes to her sexuality. It’s no wonder that the names women get called who are deemed as “too sexual”  carry such a stigma. They are meant to cause shame. They are meant to devalue her.

Which is why, as a woman, I make a conscious effort not to look at another woman as “a slut”, as “a whore”, or any of these other terms that get thrown around a little too comfortably and reduce a woman’s identity to the lowest common denominator. Society might be telling me to call her such a name.

I choose not to.

We’re playing on the same team here, sisters.

When I look back at high school and I look at the girls with a “reputation”, I see things a little differently now. They weren’t professional hookers at 16. They were lost and they were confused and they could have done with some light in their life.

To any girl I may have judged in high school because perhaps I’d “heard things about you,” I’d like to apologize. I look back at the young women you were and while we may not have always run in the same circles, I certainly judged you. I regret that and wish that instead, I had extended a hand in friendship and supported you.

Maybe if you been given a little more light and less judgement in your own life, you might not have mistaken love as one night of the quarterback’s affections.

I made my own mistakes later in life, I will admit. My college years were fueled by insecurity, pain and alcohol. I don’t really want to know what names I might have been called. I do know that my sorority named me “Most Likely to Hook up at a Mixer” which wasn’t even fair because I didn’t even go to mixers.

I don’t think that those years define me, but they certainly play a role in shaping who I am today. The sum of my parts are not comprised by my best days alone. They include my mistakes and my weaknesses, which I believe I continue to learn from.

I hope one day I can watch my Bravo television in peace, with my glass of wine in my hand, the kids tucked into bed and the dishes miraculously done. Where I can watch a woman act like a moron on national television while she drinks too much chardonnay, flips over a table and pulls her friend’s hair weave in a cat fight.

Just doing what they do on any given Tuesday.

Just don’t tell me what she did under the bleachers 20 years ago. I don’t care.

And neither should you.

XO.

Kiran

Simply Om

Dear Friends,

For a while, I’ve been talking about starting a yoga inspired jewelry company called Simply Om. I’ve had the idea for a long time – I kept thinking it was interesting how many people did yoga and didn’t know what the word “Namaste” meant.

I’ve written this before, so bear with me if you’ve seen it already.

Namaste, loosely translated, means the divine in me sees and honors the divine in you.

I sat on the idea for a while. Wouldn’t it be great to bring this concept, the idea behind namaste, to people in some way? Maybe, through fashion? Not just that, but in a way that was empowering, that was authentic, that gave back to those in need in some way.

As you can tell, I had pretty lofty dreams.

But then, it got even more complicated.

As I started figuring out how I was going to source this journey, I began to realize that it wasn’t just about selling something with a message. It was about ensuring the creation of what I was selling had a message too. I realized that the manufacturing of jewelry often has a not so beautiful side of it, to put it mildly. A side where child labor, unfair wages and unsafe working conditions can be really prevalent.

“Well, that sucks,” I thought. I was starting to realize there was nothing “simple” about creating Simply Om at all. The word “Om” in Sanskrit is associated to consciousness. Where was the consciousness in potentially knowing this jewelry was from a sweatshop somewhere in Bangladesh or Thailand?

And so I started doing research and just a whole lot of digging around fair trade into the early hours of the morning. And what I discovered is that there are amazing brands that are emerging in this world that are trying to help people in hugely oppressed situations, both economically and sometimes, socially.

Often, these two things go hand in hand.

Most of these brands are working directly with women to empower them. While they all have different missions – at the heart of it is the belief that if you empower a woman and give her a future, by training her and giving her an opportunity to sustain herself in an otherwise bleak situation, she will not have to beg. She will not have to turn to prostitution to feed her children. She can take care of herself with the right healthcare access and give her children the opportunity to thrive.

When I ask you to check Simply Om out and spread the word, it is not about pity for these people. It is because I love what they have created, with all of my heart. And I will do what I can to help spread the word, because I do believe that there are ways we can shop NOW that can pave the way for enormous social change.

People say you can’t change the world.

I disagree.  Simply Om is a product of the collective belief that we CAN.

The jewelry is a link to these women and their lives. The pieces made in Ethiopia out of recycled gun casings by HIV positive women whose only option might be to beg. These pieces are beyond words when you see them and wear them. They are stunning. But I think what’s more stunning is knowing what they mean. The many colorful, bright and bold pieces we carry made by women in Uganda out of 100% recycled paper. They signify the importance of sustainability – not just for our planet, but our fellow humans who are full of talent and hope, but often without opportunity.

This is just the beginning. I have a lot more site to build, a lot more awareness I’d like to create and a lot more jewelry design teams & brands I’d like to partner with.

In the meantime, thank you helping me get here. If you could help spread this message and hit share, I would be so grateful.

Namaste,

Kiran

P.S. Here are some pictures which can all be found on the site. But just in case you miss them…

hedieh and hana small

The bracelet and necklace above are a combination of silver and gold beads made out of recycled gun casings. They are so intricately made and are fabulous.

rowena face on acai

This beautiful necklace and bracelet wrap comes in lots of bright colors for the summer. They are made in Ecuador with Acai berries from the rainforest, and gold beads.

Hedieh blue dress acai necklace and bracelet edits

Acai Berries and Pambil Seeds – all from the Rainforest. Because of the high demand of these beads and seeds, they are actually creating a greater effort to preserve the rainforest.

 

heather in steel

 This bib necklace is made out of Tagua Seeds from the rainforest and have been dyed to make amazing statement pieces in all sorts of colors.

P.P.S.  Some of you have asked who these gorgeous women are – the first is Hedieh – she is my incredibly talented hairstylist. She is in pictures 1 & 3. In picture 4 is Heather, our Au Pair from Wales. You might know her as the girl who talks to dead people. And the lovely redhead is Rowena, Heather’s friend who was visiting from Wales.

So, yes. All the models on the site are friends. Yes. I have good looking friends. Not intentionally in an Abercrombie kind of way, but I am fortunate they, along with their nice cheekbones, have supported me!

Why Don’t We Just Chill?

I don’t have many friends who are models or on television. I do have a handful of friends who I sometimes get a get the opportunity to see unexpectedly, like when I’m waiting for a route canal and open a magazine at the Dentist’s office. This never becomes dull – I get excited every time. I still think it’s cool when we see our friend Craig peddle pretzels in commercials on television or notice my friend Sang’s cousin, Gene, on the Tempur-pedic brochure at the mattress store. In fact, I am pretty sure the reason we bought a Temper-pedic bed was because Cousin Gene looked like he was having so much fun on it. In a PG kind of way, of course.

The other person I see from time to time is my friend, Jennifer.

THIS is Jennifer.

Screen shot 2013-05-28 at 4.44.41 PM

Every once in a while I’ll open a magazine and see that beautiful face smiling back. Every time, it’s a wonderful surprise.

Jennifer and I met almost 12 years ago when were being whored out for charity.

Ok, well, not exactly. We were in a “Buy a Date” auction to raise money for Multiple Sclerosis. So, not “technically” whored out, but yeah. Pretty much.

Jennifer moved out to Los Angeles about 7 years ago. We’ve stayed in touch, mainly so I can tell her how excited I am every time I see her in a magazine or on T.V. (“Hey, that’s my friend Jenni! I KNOW her!”). I love her perspective on racial identity, feminism and just, you know.

Being awesome.

I wanted Jennifer to share something with you today. She is on an amazing journey – one that she is documenting to share with women everyone.

Check it out.

I don’t remember exactly how Kiran and I got roped into the “Buy a Date” auction.  I do remember that some blonde chick convinced us it was for a good cause so we agreed to do it.   Now that really I think about it, I agreed to do a lot of crazy things in my mid-twenties.

Wearing a red strapless gown and a “Hello My Name Is” sticky badge with a number instead of my name, I watched as The Ballroom filled with people. I was seriously regretting my charitable contribution.

“What the hell was I thinking?  I can’t do this.”

Thank goodness for Kiran. Looking completely amazing in her black slinky dress, she oozed the confidence I longed for.  She gave a quick pep talk and I was almost convinced I’d survive the evening. We made a pit stop at the bar for a couple shots.  Now, I’m ready.

“Let’s do this.”

As I watched Kiran sashay her way across the stage, I admired her fearlessness; it gave me the courage to attempt to do the same for my turn on stage.

Honestly, after the MC announced my name, I don’t remember one second of my time on stage.  The only reason I know I came out from behind the curtain, didn’t trip over the hem of my dress and fall flat on my face is because someone gave me a picture a couple weeks later.  Yes, an actual Kodak piece of paper.  The photo showed me, with a real smile not the terrified one I imagined, standing tall center stage.

I’m so thankful to have a friend like Kiran. Her beautiful spirit has inspired me in more ways than she probably knows.  She’s a thoughtful, supportive friend and a loving, hard working mother who dares to share her authentic self, which is one of the boldest things anyone can do.

I am honored by her invitation to contribute on Masala Chica.  Here goes nothing:

After ending yet another relationship, shortly before my 35th birthday, I had a serious freak-out moment.  Actually it was more than a moment.  It was like a panic month…or three.

Talking to my therapist about marriage, babies and all the grown up stuff people do, I felt behind, like time was running out.

You know that scene in When Harry Met Sally where Sally is in her bathrobe crying and saying, “And I’m gonna be 40…Someday.”  Well, that blubbering chick might as well have been me.  Forty was five years away, but looming.

The cold hard truth:  My biological clock was ticking, ticking so loud that everyone around me could hear it.  I had to figure out a way to slow it down.

After weeks of research and soul-searching, I decided to freeze my eggs.

Recently having its “experimental” label lifted, egg freezing is technically known as oocyte cryopreservation.  It’s a break-through technology where a woman’s eggs are extracted, stored and frozen indefinitely.

Unlike men, a woman’s fertility begins to decrease significantly after the age of 35.  In other words, as a woman ages so do her eggs.  Women over 40 have a two out of five chance for a successful pregnancy.

You know what I find the most fascinating about this information?  I didn’t learn it until I was 35!

Women spend the majority of their lives practicing pregnancy prevention.  It’s just what we’re taught.  No one talks about FERTILITY until they’re the position where it has drastically diminished.  So the question becomes – how do we get women to start the fertility conversation sooner?

To get and keep the conversation going, I decided to share my egg freezing journey in a documentary film titled Chill. The goal of the film is to empower and inform women about the reproductive options science and technology have made available today.  Unlike our mothers and grandmothers, we are no longer strictly limited by the time frames of nature.

I know egg freezing isn’t for everyone, but it’s important for women to know it’s an option.  I chose to do it because I didn’t want to feel pressured to find a partner just so I could have a family. I also wanted to preserve my chance to have biological children.  By freezing my eggs, I’ve extended that possibility.

There have been some notable changes since my eggos went into the freezer.  First, I learned more about fertility in the last year and a half than I have in my entire life…Did you know our ovaries have follicles?  Yeah, well, I didn’t until about a year ago.

Seriously, most of the changes I’ve noticed are emotional.  I no longer feel rushed to choose a partner.  Most of all, I have less anxiety about what the future holds for me when it comes to family.  I’m so grateful to have taken this journey and I look forward to sharing it with you through Chill.

To read more about my egg freezing experience, check out the Chill blog at www.chillthedocumentary.com.  If you’re interested in spreading the word and supporting the film, check out our Indiegogo Campaign. Thank you!

I am glad I got to bring you Jenni today. I think it’s amazing that she is documenting her experience to help other women who might be going through this as well. Help her voice get a little louder and the documentary get more support by sharing this.

Love,

Kiran

Simply Slammed

I know that things may seem quiet around these parts. And while the blog may seem quieter than usual, things have been anything but quiet around me. Being committed to my full time job and family leaves little time during my waking hours for much except at night and into the wee hours of the morning.

My head, my thoughts, my words, my inspirations are running at a million miles an hour as I’m working on launching a business which I explained a while ago is a dream of mine, called Simply Om. This has confused some who look at it at the surface level.

“Um, so Kiran. You’ve been dreaming your whole life about opening an Etsy shop?”

Technically, no. Although I think Etsy does rock.

Simply Om is another road in my journey. I knew I needed to do it when I started this blog a few years ago. I knew it wouldn’t be easy and there were times I thought, well maybe it’s not my journey to take. Especially when I realized how “not easy” it really would be. But dreams are rarely “easy.” I guess I just wanted to explain a little bit about where this dream comes from.

I also know that to many of you who read Masala Chica, I’m just a girl who likes Les Miserables perhaps a little too passionately or an Indian-American who has a few funny/irreverent stories to tell about straddling two cultures. But those things, along with other glimpses you have had into me through my writing, probably make Simply Om not so much of a stretch, but an extension of what you know of me.

I feel like I have enjoyed sharing a lot of myself with you on this blog. In turn, your responses, letters, comments and stores have been a big inspiration for this adventure.

Given how wonderful you all are and all that, I may as well let you in on (bore you) a little bit more than I have.

A big part of Simply Om is not just about jewelry, clothes, India, yoga or fashion. It’s about creating awareness, which I want to explain. Note: If you don’t understand, just nod and say, “OM” and smile. That will make me feel better. You might even be able to relate to what I am about to describe.

I love Indian culture! My dad has a Ravi Shankar album I listen to when I get high. When I was a little kid growing up in America, there was little to no knowledge of Eastern philosophy and culture in mainstream American culture. Short of what people knew because they had an uncle who had done some backpacking in Nepal or had been to Woodstock, there was very little about Indian culture that the Americans I knew understood. And like a game of telephone, what was known could quickly be re-interpreted or changed around.

Just as an example, did you know that the swastika is originally an Indian symbol? The word, “swastika” comes from Sanskrit and literally means,  “to be good.” When you break down the word, it is formed of tiny, beautiful messages:

“SV” means “good” or “auspicious.”

“asti” means “to be.”

The swastika is used in almost every Hindu ceremony and has nothing to do with celebrating the atrocities of the Holocaust. The Nazi party literally took the symbol, reversed it, and put it back up on its flag. I remember on our wedding day, during the Hindu ceremony, John’s dad saw the swastika on the priest’s books and didn’t know what that was about. He tapped John on the shoulder in the middle of the ceremony.

“Son….”

“Yeah, dad?”

“Is Kiran’s family Anti-Semitic?”

“Huh?”

“I’m just saying, Son. Not sure what you’re walking into on this one, ” and he pointed to the swastika.

My poor father-in-law, wondering if his son had married into an Indian Skinhead family.

Ah. Memories.

I sometimes wonder if Hitler knew what he was doing, taking a symbol that meant so much to so many people, most of them hovering on the “wrong” side of tan, and sullying its meaning by making it synonymous with hatred, death, genocide, intolerance and white supremacy.

Knowing what a monster Hitler was, it was probably his way of getting in an extra jab at lots of brown people around the world. He seemed big on destroying the spirit of many, many beautiful things and people.

I look at that lesson, however and think about how easily things of beauty and light can be changed into something completely misunderstood if people aren’t taught about it.

People say “namaste” a lot but don’t know what it means. I kind of want to help change that. Growing up, I would often say, “Namaste,” to relatives without really thinking about what I was saying. It’s similar to how I ask and and answer the question, “How are you?” Rarely taking the time to thoughtfully answer or give the party on the other side of my question a chance to really, really answer. I think I use the word, “Namaste” almost carelessly.

After all, it’s just a word.

And it is.

But it isn’t.

It’s so much more.

As I got have gotten older and started to learn more about its meaning and the different interpretations of it, I have found it to be such an unappreciated word.

“The divine in me sees the divine in you.”

“In you I see the divine.”

“The spirit in me recognizes the spirit in you.”

At the end of a yoga class I will be the first to say, “Namaste” to my instructor. I try to think about the divine spark in me or her, in you and the man in the corner who takes this yoga class as he is handling a life that makes him feel anything but divine these days.

But I am usually thinking about if I have time to grab a latte. What will be for dinner. I am still slightly annoyed at the lady who almost ran me off the road just before the class.

I am not saying that those things aren’t important (ok. maybe I am, me with my huge first world problems).

I just think that believing in that spark can be really grounding and inspiring. There is something beyond the blood, the cells, the organs and the matter within all of us. It’s a soul, it’s an energy, it’s a spirit that needs nourishment.

Namaste. Say it.

It’s big, guys.

People are still scared of what they don’t know.

And it makes them say really weird things.

In San Diego and some other school districts in the country, there is a huge controversy about children doing yoga in the schools. The programs have been instituted to help children relax, learn how to breathe and learn how to stretch. However, the storm that has resulted from this is somewhat shocking to me. Many people look at the program to encourage yoga for children as an attempt to brainwash or indoctrinate Eastern religion.

I am scratching my head a little bit.

They’re teaching children how to meditate and how to look within for peace and for comfort,” one of the parents against this told The New York Times. “They’re using this as a tool for many things beyond just stretching.

I was so taken aback by this statement that I said something about it on Twitter and Facebook. Those responses surprised me too.

I don’t do that stuff. I find my peace through God, not within myself. Kids should find peace in the Church, not in their minds. Oh, and I do Pilates to stretch instead.

Um. Okay.

We live in a world where we are looking at more guns as the solution to many of our problems. We have a mental health crisis in this country and children dealing with unprecedented anxiety levels further heightened by our kids being constantly connected through social media.  Suicide is one of the top 4 causes of death for American youth aged 5 – 14. It’s in the top three for youth aged 15 – 24. Bullying, cutting, eating disorders, drug and substance abuse are things most American children are very aware of, if not personally touched by, by their early teens.

Is helping our kids find internal peace really so scary?

Is learning to breathe and maybe love and accept yourself (a little more than you already might) a bad thing?

If you think those things are “taboo,” or “against God” in some way, can you please explain why?

I used to think this was a rhetorical question, but now I am realizing that it’s not at all.

**************

Yes, Simply Om will start out as a jewelry company. A jewelry company inspired by yoga and tenets of ancient Sanskrit texts that need to have a place in this very chaotic world that has forgotten how to breathe sometimes. Yes, I also know that this is a bit of a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

What can I say? “Hello, pot. Would you like some Fair & Lovely?

I will learn how to breathe again. But every step I take to get this company off the ground gets me closer to a steady state of breathing.

I can really breathe now.

Follow up posts I hope to share with you this week….

1) Why you don’t have to look good doing The Downward Dog to be divine.

2) A behind the scenes look at the first Simply Om photo shoot which involved freezing our butts off, tripping over lots of deer poop and having a not very om’ed out lady in a golf cart yelling at us.

Yeah, that was simply crazy, but fun. Complicatedly fun, even.

3) The ultimate vision for how Simply Om will work with and empower women in India.

Maybe? Maybe even around the world.

Dream big or stay home and reheat a frozen samosa. That’s kind of my philosophy on this, anyway.

Thank you, friends. Thanks for the letters, the support, the well wishes, the many questions and the constant encouragement that I can do this thing.

Can’t wait for you to be a part of it too.

Namaste,

Kiran

Sex and Candy – The 8 Rules of Engagement

I am as guilty of loving Disney princess movies as any pre-adolescent girl in my neighborhood. And I love sweet movies about unconventional romance, like Pretty Woman and Bend it Like Beckham. Boy meets girl, girl is feisty and cute and somehow doesn’t realize how beautiful she really is. Boy and girl fall in love, despite social differences (race, socio-economic status, religion). Those differences result in some kind of conflict which are ultimately saved by one overwhelming thing.

Love.

And when you go through life, you realize that love is complicated shit. It doesn’t work out as clearly as in the movies and there is no musical crescendo to notify you when you are kissing someone that this is the one. No laugh track when you accidentally bump heads reaching for a pen you dropped. No fairy godmother to dress you up in an outfit that’s just the right amount of pretty, classy and slutty to let him know what a goddess you are.

There are a few things I want my kids to know about love, and with it, sex. Some of it’s straightforward. Some of it’s not. But I want them to know the good, the bad and the ugly.

1. Love is a powerful thing

Yes, it makes you want to run through fields of flowers and change your Facebook status for the whole world to see. But when you love someone and they love you, there is a power that you both wield which could be used for both good and evil. When someone gives you his love, don’t throw it on the floor and stomp on it and break his heart. Similarly, know that when you allow yourself to love someone, that you are becoming vulnerable in a way that you might never understand till it happens.

So give yours wisely. Accept it from others gracefully.

2. It’s going to make you want to do the sexy time

Sometimes you think you’re in love. Or maybe you know you’re not in love but you know that you’re in something and you don’t know what to do with it. Before you go giving it up like free Dum Dums at the doctor’s office, ask yourself:

“Is this how I want to remember it?”

“Is this the person I want to remember it with?”

“Will I ever be able to tell my kids about my first time without lying?”

And I know these things are going to be hard to objectively answer, but humor me and try it before running out to Walgreen’s for a value pack of Durex.

3. Love in the time of Chlamydia

Giving a shout out to one of my favorite authors Gabriel Garcia Marquez on this one (HOLLA!). I am going to teach you about STD’s and you are going to listen. If you’re going to engage, do it wisely and know what’s out there. And if what I tell you scares the shit out of you and makes you want to wait, well, good.

I don’t care how “good it feels.” If someone asks you to do it without a condom because it feels good, you better get your ass out of there fast. Because this is not the first time she/he has uttered those words and you don’t want to catch that shit. It itches, leaves you all raw and makes everything hurt really bad down there.

What? How do I know that? Books. Here’s one about Cholera. Now, scoot.

4. You are too young to be a parent

I thought I was wise enough. Old enough. At 31, I thought I knew everything I needed to know. And I’m not saying there is a right age and there is a wrong age…

But I am saying that I prefer you wait until you are settled. Until after you have been in relationships with a few people. Until you have a means to support yourself, your child a family. I had all of that at 31 and still ended up in a state of shock for the next six years of my life. Sometimes I think I still am. I think it’s a permanent condition after you pop kids out of your vagina.

I will say that I prefer you to be married too. I do. I think that while marriage doesn’t ensure against separation, it does offer some stability that a child needs.

And let’s just say that for some reason (say, if you’re gay) marriage is not “legal” for you, just know that I will be fighting tooth and nail alongside you for that right. I hope by the time you are old enough, the Supreme Court has already made a historical decision that won’t allow that basic freedom be denied to anyone.

5. I don’t care who you love

Ok. Maybe I do a little bit. But let me be clear. When I was growing up, there were a lot of “no-nos” when it came to relationships. I don’t really have many. As I said above, I don’t care if you are gay. I don’t care if you fall in love with someone who is a different race, religion, or is rich/poor as sin. As long as I can serve dinner in paper plates when I want to and not have anybody judging me, then I’m ok.

Yes, avoid sociopaths. Murderers. Rapists. Racists.

I want you to fall in love with a person who respects you and your love and wants to hold a boombox over his head like John Cusack in Say Anything. When you find a love like that, don’t ever let it go. Which brings me to my next point.

6. When you love somebody, don’t set them free

Ok, that’s the dumbest shit I ever heard. And I know Maya Angelou says it and Sting sings it.  And as far as the whole caged bird thing, I don’t like birds as housepets, so I don’t really have a point of view on that.

When you love somebody, tie that person down. Don’t set them free so some other bitch can get her hands all over him.

Seriously, kid. Have I taught you nothing?

7. Don’t make decisions about love when drunk

Now, I am not saying I have done this. I prefer you just sip alcohol on very rare social occasions once you are older than 21. But let’s just say that hypothetically, you and your friends don’t eat that much one day and you decide to do shots of Shmirnoff and chase it down with Diet Pepsi (tastes great! less filling!) and you go to a party and you meet a really good looking person that night who holds your hair out of your face when all that cheap vodka comes back up and walks you home.

You do not love him/her. You appreciate him/her. And you can email when you are sober and offer to buy dinner to say thanks, but you don’t have to say I love you or offer any hoo-ha up. Why?

a) Because you are wasted

b) You smell like puke

c) You just need to get the fuck back in bed – RIGHT NOW

d) Didn’t I raise you better than that?

e) All of the above. Oh and drink some water before you go to bed. That’s better, dear.

8. I can tell you all of this but you will make your own mistakes

We all do. It’s part of growing up. It’s part of learning. Your father and I will always be here for you no matter what that mistake is. No matter how hard it might be.

I have hardly touched on anything when it comes to love in this post. All I ask is that you go forward with your eyes open, your mind somewhat clear and with the end goal of loving a wonderful, decent human being who will love you – the perfect parts and the not so perfect parts. Trust me, people who expect perfection are exhausting (another post, another day)!

Love,

Mom

Like My Gake?!

Most of you have probably seen this picture by now, which is making its rounds online. It’s a  young woman’s coming out letter to her parents. The young woman, Laurel  also leaves a cake for her family to sweeten the message.

The message reads:

Good morning parents,

I’m gay. I’ve wanted to tell you for a long time. I thought doing it this way would be a piece of cake. I hope you still love me. I mean, it’s hard not to love someone who baked you a cake.

All my friends know and still love me. Your acceptance would be the icing on the cake.

I hope you, much like this cake, are not in tiers.

I hope we can look back at this and say, “boy, this one really takes the cake.”

It gets batter.

Love,

Laurel

(Sorry for so many puns)

I posted this on my Facebook wall as soon as I saw it. Because I think it’s brilliant. It’s funny.

It’s vulnerable.

And I have wondered after posting this how Laurel’s parents received the message. What approach did they take when they heard the news?

And of course, how the cake tasted.

Approach One – Love it and Embrace Her for ALL of it.

It’s obvious from the letter that Laurel has a great sense of humor. I wonder if her parents were the ones who imparted Laurel with their humor and spirit. Did they laugh and throw their arms around her? Grab a slice of cake and tell her how proud they are of her, no matter what? And, how did she know they had been craving cake?

Approach Two – Greater Reservations – Need Time to Process

Or…. did they look at each other in shock, the father absentmindedly going through the normal routine of brewing the coffee while the  mother read the letter again, licking some frosting off  her finger. Did they take a slice of the cake to the table with their coffee before they sat down and held each others’ hands to talk about the message?

To talk about what all of it means.

That response would be okay too. Not everyone would be jumping up and down in the air about a declaration like this. Some parents need time to process this.

When did Laurel know?

How long has she been trying to tell them?

They might need time to figure out how this changes their expectations of things. To understand how they need to support their child.

To maybe even grieve a little.

Why grieve?

Because that mother may have had an idea since Laurel was born that she would have a traditional wedding. That she would have a traditional family. That she would one day be a grandparent to Laurel’s beautiful children from her husband.

And while some of those things can still happen, what she envisioned won’t ever align to what will play out in reality. So it’s important to acknowledge and understand that she might need that time.

Approach 3 – Don’t Accept

And maybe, just maybe. Did one of the parents look at the cake and throw it across the room while the other parent looked at the note and say, “You thought you would buy us a cake to tell us that you’re a goddamn lesbian? What the hell kind of message is that to give to your parents? With a Duncan Hines cake?”

And I am really hopeful that Laurel did not see that kind of reaction.

What Approach Would I Take?

So here’s where I am going. I don’t know what happened in Laurel’s house. I pray that her family is loving and supportive and will do everything they can to make sure she knows that their love for her does not changes.

If my kids left me that cake? I would probably cry. Tears of joy and love and happiness that they feel they have enough support from their parents to know that we will always love them. I would be ecstatic. Even if I don’t like cake. I would eat every calorie in that cake.

I have always said I will embrace my children, no matter what their sexuality is. Things I worry about as a mother are my children falling down the wrong path at some point in life. I worry not about the sex of the partner they choose – but the quality of partner that they choose. No matter what, I just want them to find love in the truest way with someone who loves them back as selflessly as I know my own kids will love.

There are so many things I want for my kids in this life, but ultimately, it’s their happiness that matters the most to me. Their fulfillment.

So I guess the question is, how would you respond if a child came out to you this way?

For now I am off to bed. But when I wake, let them eat cake!

Kiran

That’s What Makes You Beautiful

The past few months, my 5 year old daughter has spent an inordinate amount of time worrying about her appearance. Worrying about how to style her hair. Painstakingly picking out her outfits, trying to make them look as “girly” and as “dainty” as possible. This usually amounts to huge amounts of pink. Ruffles. It looks like Barbie puked on her when she tries to dress herself. She pushes her limits too, constantly asking to wear lipstick. Or hoping she can get a pair of shoes with heels.

I am not sure where Shaila gets it from. I certainly may have been a fashion plate at one point in my life (briefly. VERY briefly), but now I find myself  dressed in something I can kick around in all day. Yoga pants. Sweats. Comfy hoodies. Working from home has removed the desire to spend a lot of time styling my hair or putting on makeup. I do clean up pretty well when I want to, but it hasn’t been a focus of mine since she was born.

I’m not pretty, mommy,” she will say sometimes.

A few weeks ago, she said it again.

You are beautiful. Inside and out,” I told her, holding her close.

Kneeling on the floor to look her in the eyes, I asked, “Do you know what pretty means?” We have been through this before.

Being beautiful?” she asks. I can see why she might think that. It’s kind of a circular question. It’s one that I think most grown women and men haven’t yet figured out either, including myself. Especially when I question what I see in the mirror.

Pretty comes from inside. It’s how you love and how you open your heart and mind to other people. Pretty is being kind and compassionate. Pretty is about helping people when they are hurting.

She looked at me, not saying anything.

You ARE pretty, baby,” I said, kissing her on her forehead. “Remember those things and you will always be beautiful.

Still, I know the question and the insecurity will come again. I was proud of her when last week, she decided during a routine haircut that she wanted to cut her hair for Locks of Love, an organization that accepts hair (unprocessed) donations of a minimum of ten inches, to make wigs for children who have lost their hair to cancer or other diseases.

I almost hesitated when she said it. Shaila’s hair? Well, it’s the hair I had always wanted growing up. Heck, it’s the hair I wish I had now. She’s got the glossy, shiny locks that shampoo commercials are made of. She looked so certain though.

You sure?” I asked.

Yes, mommy,” she answered, resolutely. “My hair grows fast, mommy. Don’t worry.

I knew a few things that helped make up her mind:

1) Like any girl knows, change is sometimes fun. And necessary. Puts a little pep in your step.

2) I had explained the program to her a few times, asking her if she might want to donate. She never seemed to have the attention span to actually hear me out before running off to do something else, so I never thought she heard me.

I guess she did.

3) At the age of 5, she has already been exposed to cancer. She often still speaks about the little boy on our street, Declan, who died of cancer when he was shy of a year old. We have been to several fundraisers and she has seen children going through chemo and has asked questions about why they are bald.

I don’t remember if I knew what cancer was when I was 5. She does.

4) Last year, two days before the start of 2012, her beautiful cousin and our niece, Amanda, committed suicide. This year was the first anniversary of her death on December 30th.  The days leading up to New Years felt heavy, almost suffocating as I tried to keep a flood of memories of the pain last year at bay. This year, New Year’s was not a time to celebrate. It was a time to cry and remember and to say her name and honor her memory.

I must have spoken about her more than I realized. One thing I had told Shaila was how Amanda had donated her hair to Locks of Love – three separate times. And how she probably would have done it more had we still been blessed to have her.

I know that Shaila still thinks about Declan and Amanda a lot. At night as she says a prayer, she will often stop in the middle and say, “Mommy, can I pray for Declan and Amanda too, in Heaven?”

It makes me proud that she had them in her mind when she made her decision. Perhaps that’s a bit selfish of me, but her actions comforted and soothed a part of me that was aching that day.

Is it weird to say I felt like she knew that?

In the end, when it came to the actual cut, the stylist did a real hack job. I would have been better off cutting it myself. I wish I had stepped in more during the haircut, but I didn’t realize the woman was going to shape my child’s hair in the shape of a giant mushroom. But Shaila hasn’t complained or said anything. There are times where I have seen her look in the mirror and try to settle down her too short layers. But her hands drop away and she says, “That’s ok. My hair grows so fast. Right, mommy?

Yes, Shaila. And so are you.

I feel like we are making strides with explaining what the words “pretty” and “beauty” mean to our daughter. But I know it’s not just what we teach her at home, but the constant messages and images that she will be exposed to through mainstream culture and the things she will hear at school.

With the value our society places on physical beauty, it’s a challenge to help steer your children in the right direction. We all know the pull and the draw of external beauty, but it’s a fleeting and superficial thing. I kind of go back to that famous saying by Audrey Hepburn when I DO need to be inspired on how to explain beauty to Shaila.

For beautiful eyes, look for the goodness in others;

For beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness;

And for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone.

 

I hope she continues to be as beautiful as she is proving to be.

Namaste,

Kiran

Her Name Was Jyoti

Mourners at a candlelight vigil
Photo – latimes.com

A woman lies naked on the side of the road.

She is bleeding profusely. The flash of headlights rushing by barely registers and she can hear the screams from her friend, who seems to be asking for help. He sounds like a broken record. She vaguely remembers them beating him, and trying to call the police on her mobile phone. That was before they had snatched the phone from her hands and moved on to her.

Another pair of headlights goes by, even faster this this time, her friend’s shouts growing weaker. She knows his last pleas are ignored as she feels a layer of dirt and rocks kick off the tires of the passing vehicle and hit her tender skin in a light hailstorm of earth. She wanders in and out of consciousness, barely aware of time. The minutes seem like hours, the hours feel like days.

Yesterday feels like it was a lifetime ago.

She thinks of her family. She tries to find comfort in the things she loves. Her movies. Her friends. She and her friend were just coming back from seeing “The Life of Pi,” one of her favorite books. She won’t let her mind go back to what happened after that. Somewhere between when she boarded the bus and when they threw her and her friend out of the bus. She can’t think about what just happened to her and the men who did it to her. Each memory feels like another wound, another blow, another thrust.

Into nothingness.

The world goes black.

A woman lies naked on the side of the road.

She is struggling to breathe, not realizing that she is slowly dying. Inside she feels like she might be dead already. At one point, as the men handed her off from one to the other, she had stopped fighting. She could never win, physically, this she knew. She had heard the men encouraging each other, congratulating each other after each had their turn with her. She had felt their flesh and the the unyielding stabs of the metal stick they had violated her with.

She wanders in and out of blackness. Is this it? Is this how it ends? she thinks. I am someone’s sister. I am someone’s daughter. I am someone’s friend. I had thought that maybe one day, I would be someone’s wife. Someone’s mother. Someone’s grandmother.

I was not supposed to die like this, she thinks. Not like this. Not today. As someone’s nobody. That much she knows. That much they cannot take away from her. She knows she is worth more than this, that this is not her shame. 

A woman lies naked on the side of the road.

Her insides have been crushed by the iron rod that was ruthlessly thrust into her again and again and again. Several organs have been ruptured and damaged, which explains the flood of blood surrounding her,  surrounding her naked body. The police will finally come, though there is some confusion about how to get her to the hospital it seems, and discussion of whose jurisdiction this falls into. She can hear the sirens and her friend yelling, “Bachao! Bachao!” (Save us. Save us) and someone seems to finally have heard. She does not know that by the time she makes it to the hospital it will be too late. Two hours too late to prevent her death.

A woman lies naked on the side of the road.

Her name is Jyoti.

And it was NOT her day to die.

******************************

The media has been covering the brutal murder and rape that occurred in New Delhi last week and took the life of a 23 year old woman. The woman’s father has decided to come out and publicly announce to the world that he is not ashamed to tell the world his daughter’s name. He wants her to be known as more than the woman who was gang-raped and killed in New Delhi. He wants to give other rape victim’s the courage to step forward to reveal their identities and to not live in shame of the crimes committed against them, not BY them.

The woman’s name is Jyoti Singh Pandey. She was 23 years old.

This piece is a work of fiction. None of us will ever know Jyoti’s thoughts or the terror she went through on that night. It is a torment that no woman should ever bear. When the official death of this woman, this CHILD, was announced last week, not only did her family mourn. Strangers from around the world mourned and grieved with them.

They grieved for a nameless woman.

And now we grieve for a girl with a name. Below is an image of Jyoti’s father who came forward to announce that his daughter’s name should be known.

 

There is something about the look in his eyes that I feel has haunted me since I saw his face in the article by The Mirror yesterday. They speak of a grief in this world that no man or woman should have to bear. I pray for Jyoti’s family that they will find a way to honor her memory and that seeing Jyoti’s name will bring other victims forwards. I pray that her friend recovers and can live his life without being forever haunted by the horror of that night.

I pray that this tragedy sparks a revolution in this world. Let nobody shy away from railing against the injustice of these travesties.

Every rape victim on this earth is somebody’s everything.

It is little wonder that rape is one of the least-reported crimes. Perhaps it is the only crime in which the victim becomes the accused and, in reality, it is she who must prove her good reputation, her mental soundness, and her impeccable propriety.” – Freda Adler

In memory and honor of Jyoti Singh Pandey. R.I.P.

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MEET KIRAN

I'm Kiran, I'm a dreamer. A writer. A singer. A mother. An ugly crier. An Indian-American. Who loves Gandhi. My stories are full of truth that is sometimes hard for me to say out loud. This blog is where I overcome my fears and live (and love) out loud. Read More....

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