Saturday, August 18, 2007

Heights I'll never reach

Some pictures from my afternoon in Jackson Heights, NY

I spent the afternoon in Jackson Heights, Queens, also known as Little India. It is a few blocks of Indian grocers, music stores, jewelry stores, restaurants, dvd/video stores, vendors selling kulfi (rich, creamy Indian ice cream) and paan (gross leaves filled with gross stuff that stain your mouth red that Indians like to eat as a breath freshener or something.... I ask why not chewing gum?) line the streets. Women in shilwar khameezes, saris, and various versions of Indian influenced Western dressed fill the sidewalks, stores and crosswalks. Men in kurtas, wearing kufis, open toe sandals (with eternally ashy feet!), Bryl cream or tayl (oil) styled in their hair, potbellies gently spilling over waistbands and belt loops. Some English mixed with Hindi, Urdu and other languages I didn't recognize peppered the air. Store windows laden with gold, glitter, sparkle, bling and gaudy triflings fought with the loud remix music thumping out of shotgun hallway stores hawking the latest masala hit
songs for my senses. Leering male eyes along with disapproving female pairs followed me on tarmac, in store and restaurant. My mom chafed at the leering eyes while I notice the disapproving ones; a reflex action ingrained after an adolescence spent as a black sheep.

I hadn't been to Jackson Heights in years, at least three, if not more. I was pleasantly surprised i remembered my way around. I was amazed at how many more desi folks seemed to be around- there were way less non brown folks walking around. The last time I had been to JH, many non desi folks filled the stores, sidewalks and restaurants. My mom & I spent the day enjoying our brownness; we ate lunch at our favorite Afghani kebab house, savoring the tandoori cooked, wonderfully spiced chunks of meat, drowned in my favorite thick spiced yogurt sauce. We visited a large Indian grocery store, full of vegetables native to the dishes I ate growing up, spices that fill my home, brands I recognized from India, even snacks I enjoyed while stuck on insanely long train rides were there. We went into this grocery primarily to pick up tubes of mendhi, the paste made from the henna plant, for a woman who would be doing "henna tattoos" on Uconn students during Welcome Week. We ended up buying some spices, veggies and snacks that our pantry was low on. I had to ask for help in finding some products in the aisle and felt that familiar sense of not being "Indian" enough. I knew what I needed but not how to ask for it in Hindi. The employees at the store looked at me like I was an interloper. I almost had to check my skin tone, but no use. I felt the need to pepper my conversation with mom with stories from India, or the Hindi words I knew for things.

It didn't help me feel anymore comfortable. It was like a movie where you follow the lost, hapless protagonist as she bumbles around a place she doesnt belong, offending the locals and not getting the hint. I bumped into large old Sikh men whose "excuse mes" didn't make it through my haze of insecurity and displacement. This continued throughout the day. On our visit to a clamorous corridor that served as a masala music store, I was treated like an idiot. This despite knowingly exactly what i wanted and an inquiry into local bhangra events. After being rude and short with me, as I left the guy tried to make a sale and offered me his bhangra titles. No thanks, ya jerk! We went into a fancy bridal boutique to check out the latest formal Indian clothes. Treated like crap again by another brown male shopkeeper, I had had just about enough of this. Everyone on the street was acting as if the dog spoke when I tried to ask them for service, as if i was the strangest thing they had come across. Me, with my non-accented English, full sentences and proper grasp on pronoun use and verb conjugation. We walked to the other side of Little India near the movie theater. We sat down in Jackson Heights Diner for a drink and were treated rudest of all. This waiter put my mom's chai down so abruptly and turned away so quickly that her tea spilled all over the saucer and the table. As we called to him to come back and clean up, he didn't even turn around. Bastard. No tip for him. (Don't go there if you're ever in the neighborhood! It's very hyped among the non-desi set, but as you can see, the service is HORRIBLE! Don't give them your business)

We went to Kebab King after to get some delicious chicken kebabs. There was a large enough mix of desis that I didn't feel singly different. As I was waiting in line for the bathroom, I realized that I'll never fit in. A year in India didn't help me relate to this Indian cultural experience closely tied to the Motherland. I can no sooner relate to the immigrants that populate this neighborhood as the Indian girls I met while in the country could relate to my independence or educational career. Different worlds, different lives. I have a bigger clue into what the Indian cultural experience is, knowing the brands of the products most used and most popular, the Indian business families, the Bollywood titles, even the tv shows everyone watches. I can understand enough basic Hindi to follow along a conversation or some tv shows. My life and ideals fly in the face of these cultural trappings though. I am Indian through my ethnic ancestry and my cultural upbringing, but that is not all I am.

I am not against equality of human beings, I do not believe money, education or status makes you any better a person, I do not believe in having servants to do household chores, I do not believe that lighter skin is better or more beautiful, I do not believe in increased militarism or proving a country's growing international power by building a nuclear program, I do not believe in sectarian violence or discord. I do not believe in vapid pop culture that pushes messages of consumerism on its brainwashed, often impoverished citizens. I do not believe in patriarchy, or that my role as a woman is biologically determined. I do not believe in racism, colorism, sexism, classism or denying education to those who aren't in the highest social class. I hope these things do not take away from my Indian-ness. But after a lifetime of being cast out of whatever brown community I encounter because of my difference, after a year spent in the Motherland, I don't feel like my ideals have much of a place in this community. I know amongst the diaspora, there is room for the grass roots, ideals driven activism and lifestyles that some are working towards. It just feels like there isn't much.

Below is a link for a beautiful song that Juan sent me- its all about loving and missing the Patria, of Fatherland. The lyrics are translated in the clip, check it out. When I heard it, I felt an intense sadness that I don't have that connection to the Motherland. I do feel an intense love and patriotism towards my homeland, America, but it isn't an ethnic connection. Certainly not in a country that seems to constantly tell brown folks we don't belong, aren't wanted and are a security threat. Eff those folks. Enjoy the song. "Patria" by Ruben Blades and Robi Draco Rosa.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Bet on it, bet on it, bet on it.....

High School Musical 2 just premiered, and it's so much fun! If you haven't seen the first one, please do yourself a favor and watch it. The songs are fantastic and the cast sufficiently cute. The second one is cute, with some super catchy songs, but I could have done with more full cast numbers. All in all, it's cute, fun and sing along worthy. Can't wait to hear these songs for the next year. I'm ready for the next one, I dunno about anyone else...

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


Not to follow one morose and miserable entry with another a month later but here we are. I am officially anti-wedding. I have had a group of close girl friends for many years now, wonderful, considerate amazing accomplished women who i felt blessed to count as my inner circle. they have been here for me through thick and thin, supporting me, advising me, laughing and crying with me. in the many years we've been friends, we've grown up. We're now grown women with adult lives and responsibilities. During those years of growing up, we would discuss everything! All the potential for life that lay before us. We laughed, dreamt and discussed what might happen, always with a focus on our inevitable weddings. we always played a part in each other's fantasy weddings, helping plan, making toasts, selecting dresses, dancing together at the reception. Little did we know the reality of weddings that awaited us.

best friend #1 got engaged at chistmas, the very first of us to get a proposal, a ring and a ticket into unknown territory. Years of watching wedding shows on tv did nothing to prepare us for what was in store. We (myself and another best friend) were asked to be maid of honors at this joyous event. The wedding was a mere 7 months from the engagement and was to be a quasi destination wedding. I say quasi because her fiance is from the British Virgin Islands and wanted the wedding at his family's church. So not a destination wedding for him or anyone from his family, but certainly so for us and her family. Incredible stress and drama arose from every angle of this planning process. Any time we tried to ask questions or move the process along, we were shut down by a bride who had too much on her plate and didn't want to deal with the wedding. ( Case in point: The invitations didnt go out until 6 1/2 weeks before the wedding. ) We were up all hours of the night, trying to plan her bridal shower and bachelorette party, trying to keep her calm, prod and poke her relatives to get passports or look at tickets to come to the wedding. The flights were expensive, the dresses (they were ordered late, obviously) cost exorbiant amounts of money and crucial details like "where will we stay?" "who is dropping us off at the airport once you've left for your honeymoon?" "who is doing our make up the day of?" "do we need to get our nails/hair done before hand?" "how will we get food?" were not considered, let alone addressed. Despite our bang up amazing surprise bachelorette WEEKEND in Atlantic city, our bride seemed to become withdrawn and damn near entitled as the weekend progressed. Months of work and very little genuine thanks in return. Same (but worse) with the bridal shower. Not only was the bride not so appreciative, the guests were rude! I felt excluded at the party i planned and was hosting! Unbelievable. But that was not all. I had no idea that consenting to be a maid of honor meant consenting to servitude in its most noxious form. "Worked like a Hebrew slave" is a phrase i heard and thought during the week, even after the months of stress, shouldering the incredible costs of planning, drama with her family and friends..... At the end of it all, we didn't even get a shout out at the reception. We got attitude after the wedding for not scurrying along fast enough to grab her cathedral veil & train off the ground. Mayhbe I'm insensitive, maybe i just don't give a rat's ass after all this, but isnt that why the wrist loop is on the underside of the train? So that the bride can HOLD UP HER OWN DRESS?!?!?!

Beyond getting mistreated, being unappreciated, feeling like outsiders and not getting fed enough, the worst part of this entire occasion has been the feeling of losing best friend #1 completely. she so completely left her family, friends and old life behind to cleave to her new husband, life and family of her own that it feels as though she's gone forever. Her new priority and duty in life, according to her Baptist wedding vows, is her husband. And since West Indian cultural traditions expound that a wife should never air her husband's or her marriage's dirty laundry to anyone, the chances she'll confide in us, or me, are slim to none. So we've been outmoded, out manuevered and made obsolete. During her relationship with her now-husband, she retreated from her friendships with us and spent almost all of her time with him. My hope for her time or attention now that she has firmly entered married life is slim to none.

Losing one best friend to the married life isn't so bad, right? That's only one out of a few really good friends i've been blessed with. I'll miss her, but at least i've got others. Or so I thought.

best friend #2 got engaged at the same time! Right before Christmas, 2006. Cept i didn't know. in fact, she didn't tell me until i returned from india and finished school FIVE MONTHS later. Hurt and a little dejected that i wasn't able to celebrate this momentus occasion with my best friend, i was even more hut by her brush off when i asked, beqildered, why she would wait, not tell me for so many months and then ultimately tell me in such an offhand way! Given that we've been best friends since we were 16 (8, almost 9 years for those counting)and had spoken numerous times of each others' involvement in our wedding plans, I expected to be asked to be part of the wedding party. Honestly, considering how bitter a taste my maid of honor experience left me with, I think even wanting to attend another wedding is good on my part. I love my friend so much that not only do i want to attend, I want to help! So months pass, and I assume she is merely waiting for the craziness with friend #1's wedding to die down before she asks. My dumbass is even thinking she might make me a maid of honor! How wrong I was. Today, as I caught up with her face to face for the first time in an entire YEAR, she casually mentioned how she hasnt even found dresses for "the girls" yet. It was at that moment that my insides crumpled and I realized that not only was she not going to ask me to be her maid of honor, she wasn't going to have me in her wedding at all. I feel pathetic for caring so much, but i was so hurt and sad i wanted to cry. This is my best friend! I have to find out this way that she doesnt consider me so in return? It hurt so much! It was like being dumped, cut from the varsity team, having my pumpkin smashed on halloween, having my puppy run over and being told that well, I'm just not that important or special. For eight years (almost 9) this friend has been an important part of my life, one of the most important people, period. We never had the chance to go to high school or college together, our friends were always different, but we were always tight. Or so i thought. The most painful thing about it was that it seemed to come out of left field! I had no idea we weren't as close anymore :( I spent my year abroad in india, sent postcards, emails, even tried calling from there, but with no response. My friends are one of the greatest priorities in my life and i do my best to keep up with them, to help them, to stay in touch with them, support them, see them. It hurts when it isnt returned, and when it seems that after everything, our friendship just doesnt mean that much.

In short, weddings suck. They have taken two of my best friends from considerate caring women who love me back and turned them into bridezillas who emotionally smack me around and then leave me for something better. i could really title this "i hate weddings!" or "i welcome some of my close friends to get married and be nice to me along the way, while we retain our fabulous friendships even with all the marriage mayhem."