Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Beautiful Concept

I just recently came across the Japanese concept of Wabi-sabi and it touched my heart and soul. The Japanese really do know their Zen! T he idea is so heartwarmingly beautiful and simple and true and pure. Of how beauty becomes so much more than looks. Wabi-sabi means that beauty is that which is “imperfect, impermanent and incomplete”. It means that beauty comes not from perfect looks, body or face but from the dents, bruises and wrinkles that come from a life lived truly and deeply. An idea that acknowledges that the thokars and dhakke of life mar us and scar us- only to make us even more beautiful.

It also encompasses the view that as objects age and accumulate more experiences in life, they become more precious. After all, we have so much more sentimental value in the stuff we own for longer. When translated, Wabi means simplicity and quietness and the uniqueness of each of us as we are: unadorned and natural and pure. Sabi translates into serenity that comes with age, along with evidence of its impermanence, wear and tear and repair. Therefore, Wabi-sabi is the aesthetic of beauty that comes from being imperfect. That comes from being human. That comes from being flawed.

Isn’t that a beautiful concept? Each of us carries both within and without, the battle scars of life. A life lived that was full of challenges and choices, dilemmas and difficulties, of parallel universes and parallel paths. A life which breaks your heart and tears your soul. An imperfect soul in an imperfect body in an imperfect universe. Yes, that is indeed what makes me beautiful. What makes all of us beautiful and blessed.

In our world imperfection means being less of a human being, not just less of a beauty. We are always striving towards unattainable ideals of beauty, perfection, work and life. In our world, carrying the scars of a painful life is not acceptable. Or at least, make sure they don’t show. The Japanese knew that Zen comes from acceptance and awareness. Of one’s flawed, human, hurting self. For through pain and joy and living comes experience. For hurting and healing happens all the time. The scars and scabs are proof of living with passion and love and sorrow and pain.

Yes, we are all living an imperfect life in an imperfect body. We are all living with incomplete joys and sorrows. Living a life that is ephemeral and transient. Living a life that sometimes leaves us doubled over in pain. Sometimes smiling in our sleep. Each experience that is lived outside is etched somewhere within our souls. There is the wear and tear and visible repair. This is us. This is Wabi-sabi. This is what makes us beautiful.

(Image source: http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/la/glassware-ceramic/all-day-wabi-sabi-mugs-at-viva-terra-040567)


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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Book Review: The Sari Shop Widow

  • Title: The Sari Shop Widow
  • Author: Shobhan Bantwal
  • ISBN: 9780758232021
  • Pages: 352
  • Publisher: Kensington
  • Genre: Multicultural, Romance

Review: Here is review no. 4 (I think, I’m losing count now) for the South Asian reading challenge. This is my third Shobhan Bantwal book, though the first one I’m reading in 2011. The other two I read were the “The Dowry Bride” and “The Forbidden Daughter”. From the titles of the books, one can perceive an obvious attempt to sell an ‘exotic’ India. These titles offer a vicarious viewing of quaint and exotic Indian culture, where things like dowry and arranged marriages still exist, indeed, thrive. I know that a lot of Americans are fascinated by the idea of arranged marriages (Omygod, really? And you never saw him before the wedding? Wow!), dowry, caste system etc. I do think that a lot of the Indian-American genre caters to this curiosity. I don’t mean to disparage the same, if I wrote a book I’d probably do the same. But it’s there nonetheless.

A lot of stuff in this genre therefore has in it various descriptions of Indian rites and rituals, Indian cultural norms, certain traditional ways of living and thinking. So does the Sari Shop Widow. It is quite an entertainingly written book, call it an Indian American romance with a dose of desi. It is a quick and fun read, with the mandatory happy ending. Also, unlike a lot of the more serious US-desi novels, this does not have any pretensions to depth or profundity. In the large number of US-desi books I’ve read, I’ve seen that a lot of them have undertones of melancholia or imminent despair. Some do tend to be heavy reading! This one is a fun romance novel, nothing more, nothing less. Of course, a desi romance novel. The heart of the book is the same eternal tale of the financially burdened damsel in distress being rescued by super rich knight in shining armor.

Our heroine is a thirty-seven year old widow, Anjali, born and raised in the US. After her husband’s untimely death, she moves back with her parents, and renovates their tired sari shop into a hep sari cum jewelry boutique. After a few years, due to financial mismanagement, the shop is facing severe problems. So enter rich uncle from Gujarat and his even richer young and dashing business partner from London. Our half-desi, half-gora hero. They all get together to reincarnate the shop as a super-fab shopping destination, with boutique+ fusion eatery+ jewelry shop+ beauty salon. It works great and in the process the hero and heroine fall in love. There are the obligatory problems at the end- his ex, her parents, etc. But love and faith conquers all and everybody lives happily ever after!

Altogether, the book is the equivalent of a desi masala movie set in the US. Light, entertaining, quick, good timepass. The perfect combination of Indian culture, pujas, faith, cultural divides, and fairy tales of love and romance and angels coming to the rescue. In fact, a lot like Kal ho na ho!

(Image source: http://www.shobhanbantwal.com/mediaKit.shtml)

Friday, May 13, 2011

If you’ve got it, flaunt it

This is the mantra that most Punjabis live by. In fact, most seem to believe that even if you haven’t got it, you still need to flaunt it. Lavish displays of everything- money, clothes, jewelry, cars, weddings, homes, vacations, food, looks and words- are what are essential to the average Punjabi. And by average Punjabi, I mean me.

Over time, I have realized the importance of flaunting in my culture (read extended family). When I was younger, I did not quite get this game of one-upmanship. The things I valued most were my books, my education, my skills etc. Not that I did not value clothes, as I said here, I always loved wearing good clothes. But they were never a matter of supreme importance. Now, I have come to the conclusion that despite all those “educational” qualifications, I have to flaunt a lot of other things. It’s got to be subtle (not very subtle, of course) but it’s got to be done! Because, then they don’t accord you the requisite degree of respect. It has to be done to maintain “status” in the eyes of the world.

Chetan Bhagat got it right when he said “Marble floors are to Punjabis what US degrees are to South Indians” (2 States, 2010). Yes, that is a good estimation of what is valued most in the respective cultures. Punjabis have this innate need to flaunt. And they do it with such panache. Insert stuff in normal everyday conversation. That subtly but surely shows how awesome they are and how much awesomer their lives are. In a recent conversation with a cousin, I asked him why he hadn’t yet added me on FB, despite my friend request. Answer: I don’t go to FB much, but I’ve just bought a new Blackberry so I will definitely do more FB’ing and then add you. (Blackberry is India’s iPhone).

Since I live in the US, it is very difficult for me to flaunt my super-fabulous lifestyle such that my extended family gets to know (not that such a lifestyle exists). I mean, they still don’t know I have a gorgeous 46” LCD television, while they are stuck with measly 32” ones. How do I tell them? Or that I eat the most fabulous foods from over the world? Or go on exotic vacations (which I don’t, but even a random beach in SFO looks good in pictures).

FB now provides a means to do this. Atleast now I can let my family know more about my fantabulous life. But given the miserable internet connections in India and the fact that most of them login to FB about once a month, this still does not help much. So talking on the phone is the best way. However, if I can get a word in edgewise. Once they stop talking about their new marble-inlaid flooring house, teak furniture, new diamond necklace and the grand party they are in right now. Or their new Blackberry.

Once, I called up an aunt to wish Diwali. And was inundated with descriptions of the fantabulous Diwali they celebrated, with the entire colony getting together to dance and make merry. Of the great “Chinese” food that was served in the party. Another call, to wish my cousin a happy birthday and asking what he was doing, resulted in a description of the private farm house he was partying in at the moment. A third call ended with another aunt discussing the relative merits of Italian vs. Indian marble for their new mansion (Duh! Of course Italian). Another one was about the fabulous Chocolate Chiffon cake at the birthday party (you think you get such stuff only in Amreeka!). Another was about my aunt’s favorite perfume : Poison, of course. And she could buy it anytime in her boondock town.

My family is a master at the art of flaunting without actually flaunting. It is an art well worth learning. I find it very difficult to do, but am on my way. I am getting to know how to do it while not appearing to care. After all, this blogpost was all about my super-fabulous super-rich family ;)

(Image source: http://www.cartoonstock.com/directory/i/if_you_ve_got_it_flaunt_it_gifts.asp)

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Dressing on the side

I find this phrase infinitely sophisticated and alluring. There is so much that can be deduced about a person if they take dressing on the side. Yes, I am totally alluding to Harry’s classifications (from When Harry met Sally). He classified women as three types, high maintenance, low maintenance and the worst kind- the high maintenance who thought they were low maintenance. Of course, Sally had her salad, food etc. with her specific choice of dressing and sauce on the side.

I have been fascinated by this phrase since I saw “The Mirror has Two Faces”, in which Barbra Streisand orders her salad with dressing on the side. At that time, I did not even know what dressing was, but it all sounded very smart and sophisticated to a rustic like me. Even more so, dressing on the side. Customizable food as a concept caught my fancy. I really liked the idea.

Over time, I grew up, came to the US and unconsciously developed my own quirks and whims. This was not something I thought about till I was ordering salad for lunch the other day. I got the spinach changed to baby greens, gorgonzola cheese to mozzarella, and ordered dressing on the side (which I did not use, making my own desi dressing on lemon juice, salt and pepper). That was the day I realized that I had indeed become ‘high maintenance’.

I usually don’t have coffee after late noon, so that it does not hinder my falling asleep. I buy jams, bread and cereals from one particular shop only since the others are not good enough. I only shop in my own clothes bags, and never use plastic. I only ever eat chocolate or coffee ice cream and refuse to touch any other sort. I hate orange juice. I drink only white wines and don’t like red varietals. I buy clothes from only two specific shops. I always drink water without ice. And of course, I customize my salad J.

Maybe the above doesn’t really make me high maintenance. I think I’m just somebody with very specific choices. Or maybe Harry was right!

(Image source: http://www.healthydivaeats.com/2011/03/chilis-night-and-pizzert.html)