“Asian American Perspectives” freshman composition class

For the first of two speaking events at Tufts University, I spoke to Professor Grace Talusan’s “Asian American Perspectives” freshman composition class about the writing process behind critical, analytical essays versus memoir writing. We also discussed how “everything is a text” (billboards, clothing, etc.) and in what contexts the skills we learn and hone in the university classroom are applicable to the “real world”. It was a pleasure talking about the writing process and meeting Professors Talusan’s diverse and engaged writing students.

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“Book Review: The Cultural Politics of an Indian Wedding”

Click here to read a review of “Bollywood Weddings” in Suhaag.

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“Love-infused friendship”

Click here to read “Love-infused friendship“, my V-Day personal essay in “The Washington Post” where I describe learning about love from watching my dad and his best friend of forty-plus years interact during a weekend visit to London.

http://onfaith.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/guestvoices/2011/02/love-infused_friendship.html

“Love-infused friendship”

While I feel lucky to have friendships approaching twenty years, I recently had the opportunity to observe and understand the nature of friendship from what seemed to me the most unlikely person: my father.

Whereas I liked to think that my parents visited London to see their daughter and son-in-law’s new home, it quickly became apparent that, for my dad, spending time with his best friend since college was equally as important. “Uncle,” as I was raised to call him, is both my dad’s doppelganger and antithesis. Whereas my dad’s daily reading comprises of personal finance magazines and stock prices, my uncle’s brain food is Aristotle and he regularly practices yoga.

In London, I witnessed the delight on my dad’s face when he surprised his best friend with a cake to celebrate his 65th birthday and recent retirement. I saw them pair off and admire the cars inside the Bentley show room, point at the luxury gloves while we window shopped in Burlington Arcade, view modern sculpture in the Haunch of Venison, and stroll through Covent Garden while their wives huddled and gossiped not more than a few feet behind. I took my cue and snapped candid shots of the four simply enjoying each other’s company. The January winter air was cool and the streets crowded, but I suddenly recognized the safe and secure bubble we create when we spend time with friends wherever in the world we are when we’re with them.

Perhaps the earliest predecessor of self-help bestseller “Chicken Soup for the Soul” and the recently-emerged yet already-omnipresent genre happiness studies, is Solomon, the King of Israel and son of David’s, collection of proverbs. The venerated author of “Wisdom Literature” left a bevy of life lessons that would aid generations in transcending petty and often-times self-destructive thoughts and patterns. Along with addressing the significance of keeping one’s integrity intact and reminding us of the fleeting nature of wealth, King Solomon’s most popular and oft-quoted proverb is “A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (17:17).

Yet, despite the bevy of stories describing often times life-saving alliances in the Bible (David’s with Saul’s son Jonathan; Peter and Paul, united by their love for Jesus), the Western world’s greatest source for culture and morality tales has not inspired the modern world an occasion to celebrate one of life’s most simple, ancient and emotionally-gratifying routes towards happiness: friendship.

Whereas romantic love is the only opportunity in most of our pedestrian lives for the possibility of ever glimpsing transcendence when in the throes of passion, friendship inspires the opposite. In passionate love, one is elated and senses are acute; in friendship, one immediately feels relaxed in the otherwise overly-stimulating modern world. Emotional tokens such as heart-shaped platinum charms, chocolate-heart lollipops, or a warm-weather getaway don’t have a place in friendship where the only reciprocity expected are time and empathy.

My father is no longer a young man. But while spending a week with his closest friend, my father’s face revived a quality of youth I’d never seen before or, more likely, carelessly overlooked. As a result of a heavily-air conditioned flight followed by arriving in London on a particularly frigid and rainy day in January, even by UK standards, my dad quickly developed a cold, as ubiquitous for travelers in England as “Deli Belly” in India or “Pharaoh’s Revenge” in Egypt. While guiding the four around central London, we stopped by Fortnum & Mason where my charges were enthralled with the store’s collection of international teas. After sniffing and commenting on various tea leaves on display, we realized we “lost” my Uncle who had disappeared into the abyss that is the UK’s greatest luxury-food store. Debating whether we should call his cell phone, Uncle suddenly emerged carrying an F&M shopping bag the same baby-blue hue that signals that best of what luxury has to offer in the states, Tiffany’s jewelry.

Like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat, Uncle presented my dad with a clear bag in which a stack of three perfectly-contoured pieces of ginger-infused fudge sat, tied with a golden bow. With the romantic flourish of a medieval knight, Uncle explained that the ginger has a homeopathic property that will cure my father’s cold. My mother, aunt and I responded with a cacophony of coughs, our way of suggesting to my dad that he share this medicinal gift with the rest of us. When the fake coughs and unabashed laughter finally subsided, I turned to my father and, in front of his wife of almost forty years, my aunt and uncle, explained, “Now, that, Dad is love.”

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“Bollywood Weddings” book review in “Hinduism Today”

Click here to read a review of “Bollywood Weddings” in the Jan/Feb/March ’11 edition of “Hinduism Today”.

http://www.bollywood-weddings.com

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“Thanksgiving en Suisse”

Click here to read to read my personal essay “Thanksgiving en Suisse” in the Washington Post’s “On Faith” column.

Thanksgiving en Suisse: Does love for family mean letting go?

By Kavita Ramdya

The term “sibling rivalry” exists for a reason; it is a phenomenon that has plagued many families, small and large, since Cain slew Abel, jealous that God accepted his gift of animal sacrifices over Cain’s less-appealing produce. Of course, fratricide is a rare occurrence, but it is notable that sibling rivalry occurs early on in the Old Testament’s story of mankind’s origin.

There are many scientific theories for sibling rivalry: evolutionary biologists might propose that siblings compete for parental love and resources, Freudian psychologists suggest that sibling rivalry between brothers is a way to assert masculinity in the eyes of the mother, and chemists might say it’s due to the fluctuating hormones that young children and adolescents experience growing up. But in my reading I’ve never come across my problem: the problem of loving one’s sibling too much. Mine is a love that burdens me; while friends feel the lightness of not worrying about their siblings, what I interpret as borderline not caring, I carry the weight of wondering when my younger brother will e-mail or call. Inevitably, when he does it feels like what I imagine it is to win a medium-sized lottery: a happy surprise that causes an upsurge of euphoria followed by a quick, crash landing and a reality check. Plus, the lottery win, although a nice surprise that improves my quality life for a short time, is not enough to change my life forever. That would require much more.

Traditionally, the family–my parents, my brother and I, and our spouses–spend Thanksgiving Day at my Aunt Kathy’s house in Stonybrook, Long Island. She has a God-given talent for baking a corn casserole that inspires year-long wishful thinking which is only briefly satiated on Thanksgiving Day. My brother and I sit shamelessly on Aunt Kathy’s coach with half a plate of corn casserole crowding out the other tempting yet ordinary dishes (cranberry sauce, rolls, turkey meat, roti, daal – oh, yes, Aunt Kathy also serves Indian food to celebrate our family’s origin in the subcontinent).

For years Thanksgiving was and still remains my favorite holiday for many reasons: it is an opportunity for us to celebrate America’s position as a beacon of light for immigrants (my parents and their generation migrated from India), it has no religious connotations and it is without the risk of going into credit card debt. And, of course, there’s Aunt Kathy’s corn casserole.

Since moving to London, Thanksgiving has shifted in priorities for me: it is now an opportunity to see my brother, study him, talk to his wife and put on the appearance of seeming breezy and worry-free, unconcerned without being flippant, cool and easy without seeming uncaring. Although he is only eighteen months younger than me, whether due to my being a woman, developing the domineering psychology of an older sibling, pausing before leaping into having children of my own, or any number of reasons (hey, it could even be because I’m a Leo!), I watch and listen to him the way I imagine overly-concerned parents do their kids.

There is no one I am less gentle with than with my brother and it has always been that way. With him I don’t speak gingerly, beat around the bush or employ euphemisms to indirectly suggest what I’m thinking. That’s not to say that I am rude. I made a conscious decision early on to introduce him as my “younger” rather than “little” brother. I eagerly read scientific writing and reviews of scientific books so that I can learn something about his field, neuroscience. But, I admit, I am unforgiving when it comes to giving him advice. For example, before meeting his wife I risked making him uncomfortable by telling him to, unequivocally, always wear condoms. A devoted yogi, I once suggested he have a colon cleanse.

Although I haven’t done a Google or Amazon search yet, my guess is that there are few self-help books about learning how to love one’s sibling less, so I am on the road alone. Ironically, my husband is an only child, but I’ve always known that had he ever had a sibling he would probably be “worse” than me if being overly loving is ever a negative emotion. I’m willing to admit that it is.

That road means breaking the habit of calling every Sunday evening to check in on him. It means questioning whether he really needs to read the article about evolutionary psychology in the most recent Economist magazine. It means trusting that he will call or e-mail, that when we say “good-bye”, we will see each other again when he is ready. Although it used to bother me that our relationship, if we were to have one, would have to be on his terms, I’m slowly but surely getting used to it.

This Thanksgiving my husband and I are spending the holiday with brother and his wife in a more “exotic” location than Stony Brook: Lausanne, Switzerland, where they now live. Yesterday he e-mailed me with a request for almond butter, a hard-to-find “delicacy” in Switzerland. I responded to my brother’s request with an underly-cool, overly-enthusiastic “Done. I’ll bring as much as I can fit in my backpack!” and pressed send before quickly realizing that I had done it again: I fell into the trap of wanting to add value, provide, and express how badly I want to be involved in his life. Because, really, it’s not like the almond butter could be used for cooking a dish like my Aunt Kathy’s corn casserole. Thanksgiving in Stonybrook won’t ever be replicated en Suisse, but at least it means having the opportunity to love less.

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“Rutgers Professor Targets Fundamentalist Islam Using Poetry”

Click here to read a review of Dr. Rafey Habib’s recently-published book of poems, “Shades of Islam: Forms for a New Century” (Sep. 2010).

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Hindu Students Organization at Columbia University

On Tuesday the 28th of September, I gave a talk to Columbia University’s Hindu Students Organization. After indulging in some delicious spinach-naan bread, reading an excerpt from the book, explaining my research methodology and giving a brief summary of each chapter and some key findings, the event concluded with a Q&A session, perhaps the best I’ve ever had at the end of a BW event. Although “BW” is about love relationships and weddings, more than half of my audience was male and most of the questions were from the young men in the audience. I was really impressed by the audience’s inquisitiveness: questions ranged from asking about how caste and regional identity factored in choosing a spouse to inquiring about related areas of research that need to be explored. Thanks for Nina P. at the HSO for hosting me and Chaitanya M. for photographing the event.

http://www.bollywood-weddings.com

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