Monday, September 23, 2013

"It's your fault"

A VERY powerful video about victim-blaming. Everyone MUST watch....

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Recipe: Pudina Rice (Mint rice)

One of my absolute favorite dishes is Pudina rice - and it is also one of Maya's favorites! It is very easy, quick and flavorful - perfect for a busy family! It is a very refreshing dish, and we ate it all Summer.

Madh Mama's Pudina Rice

Serves 4 people

- 2 large potatoes
- 1 sprig of mint
- 1/2 red onion
- 1 jalapeno / chilli
- 1 tbsp jeera (cumin)
- 2 cups of cooked rice *cook ahead of time and keep aside*

- large pot for boiling potatoes
- medium saute pan
-potato peeler
- small blender/food processor


(Wash the mint springs first and shake them a bit)

(Chop the onion in long pieces)

(Chop jalapeno & put it in the food blender)

(Pick off the mint leaves)

(Put the mint leaves in the blender)

(Keep aside a few mint leaves and a small handful of chopped onions)

(Peel the 2 potatoes)

(Chop potatoes into medium squares)

(Boil the potatoes)

(Load a few onions in the blender)


(Make sure to blend it to this consistency)

(Turn up pan to medium heat, put some oil, and saute the jeera for 20 seconds)

(Throw the onions into the saute pan)

(You can saute the onions at the same time the potatoes are boiling)

(When the potatoes are done boiling, drain it, throw the water out, heat oil and put back in the pan)

(Onions done)

(Let the cooked potatoes brown a bit and pour salt)

(Pour the onions into the potatoes' pan)


(Rip up the rest of the mint pieces and put it in the pan)


(Pour in the blended mint)


(Put two cups of cooked rice in the pan and stir)

(All done!)

Dee-lish! One of my absolute faves! Great for potlucks, and leftovers too.


Friday, September 20, 2013

Cease and desist

I'm writing this post as a formal instruction from the VPD to tell the cowardly racist person who wrote in to me yesterday and gave a death threat to my daughter - to STOP CONTACTING ME and to CEASE AND DESIST. 

Today I have spoken with both the VPD & the FBI. Yes, you got that right. I don't hesitate.

The police take harassments very seriously, and especially threats against a minor.

You are not anonymous. You are known to the police. I know your IP address and where you live.

And, most importantly, I'm not going anywhere. I'm not going to stop writing. I'm not going to live in fear. I'm going to continue on with my happy life & writing about it freely. So you'd better stop obsessing about our life and get your own.

This is your final warning. 


To all my wonderful dedicated readers, onwards and upwards - and back to our happy-go-lucky lives!


Thursday, September 19, 2013

The weekend from HELL!

(Sick with the stomach flu)

Any parent knows that when your child is sick, it is the most stressful thing ever. It's a HUGE ordeal.
Over the weekend, Maya was the sickest she has ever been; my husband and my parents were away on a business trip; and I still have my postpartum anemia (15 months later, can you believe it?) so my energy levels weren't great to begin with.

Husband-ji and my parents go on this business trip twice a year, and coincidentally the last 3 times they have gone, Maya has fell sick with colds, etc. I have dealt with it all by myself before - and I am capable of dealing with it on my own, although it is exhausting. But she was never this sick before, ever...

The day after they left, Maya got seriously, seriously sick...vomiting everywhere, diarrhea, high fever that was fluctuating, constant crying...I was in total emergency mode because she was never that sick before. It was the weekend and my doctor's office was closed; and I wasn't sure whether to take her to the hospital; but at the same time I was hardly in the position to take care of her needs. I didn't sleep for 3 days, I didn't eat for 12 hours at a time each day - all I was concerned about was her health. She was feeling so sick that all she wanted to do was have me hold her and never leave my side - which I in turn could hardly go to the bathroom, sleep, or eat myself. 

She kept vomiting - all over me, all over the carpet - even then I tried to put her down to clean it up, she'd start crying and vomit again. So, the vomit just sat there for 3 days (I know, gross...TMI!) After she went to bed (IF she went to bed - some night she just kept crying, I literally could not leave her side - I would scrub it all off and pick it up, in the dark) One evening, she cried for 5 hours, and at 5:30am I was at my wit's end, sobbing myself because I didn't know what to do. I got dressed for the hospital but I was scared to go by myself, especially since when she's in a vulnerable state like that - she is easily frightened by strangers...she does not like strangers prodding her. But another reason why I felt I couldn't take her to the hospital was because I was feeling faint and was scared that I'd collapse while driving because I hadn't eaten in over 12 hours. I phoned my husband, parents, and auntie - nobody answered the phone. I was just beside myself in isolation, fear, and worry. I had no help. I didn't know what to do.

Finally, I ended up just staying in and just holding her, letting her sleep with me, giving her lots of fluids - doing whatever it is that comforted her. I didn't leave her side. And after 4 days of that, she is finally feeling better...but I am an absolute wreck. The doctor said she had a bad stomach flu and that is why she had such a bad fever / vomiting.

So basically, everything that I had been working on (focusing on taking care of myself/my health) went completely out the window, because I was in an absolute panic. When she finally shut her eyes, I would just sob...I was so terrified. I felt so alone.

I'm sure Maya will get sick over and over again, especially when she goes to school. But I need to have a support system in place to give me strength to get through those tough times. 

So, this whole ordeal brought up many issues for me...

The first was that I wished husband-ji would have immediately come back on the first day of her sickness. I should have been adamant about him coming back, but I brushed it off thinking that I could handle it, when I clearly couldn't. He wanted to come back on the first day, but he felt pressured by my parents to wait until the work was done (to please them) which in turn made me question his priorities. Ever the Indian son-in-law, he has a difficult time standing up to my parents or saying "no" at all. (Of course he has no problem doing this with his own He did end up coming back early, so at least I was able to catch up on my rest before he started work again.

The second was that I realized that as a parent and a primary caregiver, I need a support system. Not people who are physically helping me, but people who I feel are there for emotional support. A lot of the times, I am too considerate of others (to my own detriment). I didn't want to phone people at 5:30am because I didn't want to disturb their sleep, even though I was having a complete meltdown and I needed help. I was scared to ASK for help. I didn't want to bother anyone to ask if they could come with me to the hospital. When we got pregnant, I knew that I was going to be 100% responsible for my child, but I feel like I need to not feel guilty to ask people for help when I really need it - especially in emergencies like this one. If my parents/husband are all away again, I need to compile a list of phone numbers to call in case of emergency. So many people have offered to help me, but I just have a fear of saying "yes" because I don't want to be a bad mother.

The third, is that I wanted more emotional support from my parents. After years, I finally mustered up the courage to tell them that I need them to be more present with me, and to at least just phone me and reach out to me. Whether they give me the support I need from them, is up to them. They probably won't and I don't expect them to. But I needed to at least ASK.  And it's my fault too, for waiting all this time to even tell them that I require more support from them. I was just stagnated by the fear that they would be ambivalent or reject it. I know I can't change them. I knew how it was going to be when I had a child. I shouldn't expect support. I can handle it...or can I? 

At the same time, sometimes people don't love you the way you want/need them to. Sometimes they just can't. Maybe others may feel the same way about their parents - that they wanted something different than what they were able to give them. So it's up to ME to find my own support system, and as one of my readers said "be a mother to myself". Which I really am trying to figure out how to do. How do I do that without neglecting my daughter's needs? Just like my parents have no work/life balance, I have no balance either when it comes to taking care of myself (I'm almost repeating their behaviours in a different way) I'm so terrified of being selfish or neglecting my daughter and husband - I'm consumed by being a good mother and a wife - that for 15 months, my anemia has never been able to recover. It's all connected... And that needs to change. I can't go on functioning like this any longer. Life has been whispering this to me for a long take care of myself...and now it is yelling at me in all directions. All signs point to North. I know what I need to do. And I've started taking baby steps in the right direction.

I know it's probably impossible to expect to take care of myself while my daughter's sick and I was all alone. But I learned a few lessons from this whole ordeal... I need to ask for help more. Asking for help does not make me any less capable as a parent. Asking for help should not make me feel guilty or inconsiderate of others. Asking for help is a gift of self-love...


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The pickpocket

So, I have a thief. A internet thief who has been silently stealing my writings and pictures and marking them as their own - a pickpocket of sorts...

I came across this site by accident through my feed. I haven't been looking at my feed too much lately, but I caught this one entirely by coincidence. And when I clicked on the site, lo and behold...was my entire Madh Mama blog copied and pasted!!! The first post that came up was the picture of my MIL from my post: "Did I Westernize my Indian MIL?". I immediately felt protective. I felt like they had kidnapped my dear MIL and was holding her captive in some internet dungeon. The site was so amateur, I felt disgusted that our life was sprawled across this cheap imitation! That too, crowded with pesky ads of software they were trying to steal my posts to generate site traffic to make $. UGH! I could just smell the paisa all over this those random coins that fall out of people's pockets on the road.

What the heck... I'm not sure whether to be pissed off or flattered. Actually, I'm mostly pissed off that they were taking all the content of my blog without my permission. There's a law against that, ya know... I have a copyright! And I can totally track them down and unleash MY inner stalker! (If blogging doesn't work out, I could totally start an internet detective agency with my

So, that's exactly what I did. I contacted the site's server and provided them the links, and then they removed all the content they had stole within 2 hours, which was impressive. Maybe the internet ain't the "Wild West" I thought it was!

Dear internet vulture (or future internet vultures)...get your own damn writing!!! If you want to be a writer, than be one. Sit down at your computer, think, and type away....instead of save-click-publish. If you like one of my posts and want to reblog it, then ASK me and give me credit for it. There is only one true Alexandra Madhavan, a.k.a. Madh Mama. You do not have a beloved husband-ji with a perfectly trimmed moustache and cutie-pie Maya. You are an impostor and I am on to you!!!

That is all!


Monday, September 16, 2013

First Indian-American Miss America!

(Watching Miss America with Maya, Sunday evening)

Yes, confession guilty pleasure is watching the Miss America pageant (OMG...I know, I know) Yes, I'm a feminist who watches Miss America!!! I usually watch it and think blehhhhh....look at all those blonde girls with orange tanned skin and fake boobs...they all look the same! This year I watched it reluctantly (because I'm addicted, I cannot NOT watch it!) and was pleasantly surprised that there were so many interesting, relatable contestants this year. There was more diversity, more intelligence, and more sassy strong women (that's what I like to see!) Within the top 5 were three Asian Americans, and the runner-up was also Asian-American, Crystal Lee.

Miss America winner did a killer Bollywood fusion dance

My favorite contestant, Miss New York, Nina Davuluri - ended up winning the competition and is the first Indian-American to win Miss America! I was so proud. She was my favorite because she did a kick-ass Indian fusion dance routine which combined many different styles of Indian classical dance. I had never seen anything like it on a Miss America competition and everyone in the audience was blown away. I would guess that a lot of middle-America folks watch this pageant, and it was great to see Nina represent her Indian heritage with that dance - I'm sure many had not seen before. So, in a sense, it was like a cultural education for a lot of people who may not know anything about India / Indian culture. It was freakin' fabulous! Another thing I liked about her was her question & answer - she said the idea of "the girl next door is evolving as the diversity of America evolves" which I thought was a really important message. I don't know yet what parts of India her parents came from, but it said online she did some classical Indian dance training in Vijayawada, which is right near my MIL's city of Guntur, Andhra Pradesh.

Crowning Miss America

Another contestant I liked was Miss Kansas - who is a tattooed army sergeant. How badass is that? She also made the decision to not cover up her tattoos (tattoos in the pageant are a taboo) and flaunted them with pride. Just knowing that she's an army sergeant - a leader - who can also put on a ball gown and be feminine - was inspiring and breaking stereotypes on both ends.

I also really liked the runner-up Miss California, Crystal Lee who answered a tough question about Syria, and was very articulate and intelligent. She could have actually won based on her answer.

Question / Answer - Top 5 contestants

When I told husband-ji that an Indian-American girl had won, he was proud and hopeful. He said, then maybe Maya will win Miss Canada one day...and she can do a Bharat natyam dance to win it...

It's definitely possible! What an inspiration...


What do you think, dear readers? Who was your favorite contestant? Are you glad that Nina won?


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Weekly wisdom

-Dr. Wayne Dyer


Saturday, September 14, 2013

The verdict

So, as many have heard this week - the four remaining accused from the Delhi gang rape were sentenced to death by hanging the other day. 

I have mixed feelings about it, to say the least. I definitely believe that "the punishment should fit the crime", but then I remember that "the juvenile" only got 3 years when he was the most brutal of attackers. So, he basically got a "get out of jail free card" without his face even being unmasked, just because he was a few years younger than what the law sees as an adult.

Yes, they are sentenced to death - and yes, this will send a strong message to future rapists who are trolling the streets for their victims. Hopefully they will think twice before committing such an act (hopefully...)

BUT...I just wonder...killing these guys won't solve the fact that "gang-raping" is clearly a new trend in India. Hanging these guys won't solve the reasons WHY they did it. Why a fruit-vendor, a gym attendant, a bus cleaner, an unemployed man - all got together on a bus and decided that they were going to brutalize a girl who they deemed "not respectable". Why did they do this? Is it because they hate women? Is it because they think women are inferior? Is it because when some groups of men get together they feed the feed to assert their masculine power (sexual violence) as to mimic some sadistic pissing contest? I feel like a team of psychologists needs to visit them and really get to the bottom of WHY they did this - that society can take the steps to fix certain mindsets, like male entitlement, for example...or whatever it is that made these men think that they can do this.

And how do we know that these men never committed any prior offenses? Considering the brutality of the crime, and the way they lured the girl with the bus, destroyed evidence by cleaning the bus (not to mention attempting to run the girl over) - I doubt it was a first-time gig for any of them. The Mumbai gang-rapists had victimised 10 women within the 6 months before the Shakti Mills attack, and none were reported until the photojournalist was brave enough to report it.

Two of the rapists were brothers which makes me wonder what kind of home they were raised in. What kind of behaviour did they see in their natal home or out in their society where they felt they could do something like this? Where is their conscience?

And then, the idiot defense lawyer said, "Why don't people first control their daughters? I'd burn my daughter alive if she was having premarital sex, roaming around with her boyfriend at night".

So, is that the reason why, then? Girls need to be "controlled" FIRST? Women should not step out of the house and be imprisoned like a household slave? Just because a girl goes to a movie with her friend, "she is having premarital sex" = "prostitute / dishonourable girl"? Just because she can't find an auto rickshaw, she is "roaming around at night"? Interesting how the girl is seen as guilty for walking outside (as if women are not allowed to go outside), yet NOTHING about the men who gang-raped her and ripped her intestines out. Nothing about "controlling" them, at all. Because, you know, men do not need to be controlled. It is all the evil woman's fault, right?

And that, I believe is the exact mentality of these rapists. And I believe it starts right in the natal home and witnessed behaviour in a society of inflated male entitlement.

A woman is a person. Forget calling her someone's mother / daughter / sister / friend / wife. She is an actual person who does not belong to anybody. That alone should be grounds for respect.


What are your thoughts, dear readers? How did you feel about the verdict? How do you think the ways society can change in their attitudes towards women?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The mirror

(Having a quiet moment to myself, Ganesh Chaturthi 2013)

Over the past few weeks, I've had a lot of revealing interactions with people who I've known for a long time. I say "revealing" because in my deep conversations with these people, I have learned more about them, and more about myself - at the same time.

It's funny when that happens, isn't it? When you think you know someone, you've got them all figured out...and they say something (or a series' of things) that make you change your mind about them. Suddenly, they become a deeper, more multi-faceted person than you would have ever thought. There's different sides to them, like a prism hanging in a window - sparkling when it catches the sun's rays.

I don't know what it is, but the past while, I've been really listening to the world. I feel like when I am talking to somebody, I feel so in tune with them that I can almost feel their heart beat. At the same time, I feel solid enough within to separate myself from any dramas that are going on around me.

Not only did I learn more about these individuals, but I feel like something has shifted ever so slightly inside me too, and it makes all the difference. I feel like I've revealed to myself - my SELF. Maybe it is the point in time where I'm finally meeting my true self. There is a calmness that I feel. A connectedness. And at the same time, I feel as solid as the eye of a storm. Whatever is going on around me, I feel solid. 

Is this what it feels like? Is this what it feels finally meet oneself? It feels like I've been walking towards a mirror all these years, with my reflection slowly coming into sight...and now I'm standing right in front of myself and the reflection is clear. I'm standing in front of my self and smiling. She's different than I thought she would be, she's better than I thought she would be...

I'm meeting my self...


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Things to talk about before getting married

(Committed to compromise! Our wedding day, 2011)

My favorite of husband-ji's cousin-sisters is looking for a match to get married this year. It will be the traditional arranged marriage. I'm beyond nervous for her but as a vadina (elder brother's wife in Telugu) I have to be supportive and pray for the absolute best.

With arranged marriages, people usually have their requirements, such as: astrological match, good job, Masters degree, caste, religion, shared interests, etc. but I think there are many more questions that are crucial to find out which can determine compatibility and also the person's character. Some, you may be able to ask openly, and others, you can just observe. But you also have to know the flip side: what are your requirements in a marriage? What are your fundamental beliefs about how you can function as a couple? What are the values based on your character?

Points of discussion

Who is the first priority after marriage? Is it the spouse, or the parents, or the (future) children? (Sometimes in certain situations you do have to side with one or the other in family dramas) Also, which family takes priority (only one spouse's parents, or both sets of parents equally?) If you ever have to relocate for work etc, will your spouse join you or live separately? (good indication of where the priority is)

The involvement of inlaws / individual independence
How will your inlaws fit into your daily life? (Will your MIL help with cooking or will she give advice on career?) (Will they visit every day or every month?) (Where will they stay when they get elderly?) A great indication of a person's independence is their decision making skills - who do they consult before making important life decisions - career, kids, finances? How often do they consult people (if at all) and how much does the spouse get influenced (dependent vs independent)?

Expectations / roles after matrimony
What do they picture life after marriage to be like (go with the flow or idealized ideas of man/wife roles)? How much will each spouse help around the house (division of work - cooking, cleaning, laundry, caring for children)? Are there any expectations of the individual "changing" after marriage (eg. career girl to housewife)? Does the spouse have certain ideas about how the other spouse should be spending their free time (judgements/control)?

Adaptability / adjusting to changing priorities
Sometimes you can agree to something (eg. like living in a joint family) and decide later that you're not up for it. How adaptable will your spouse be to your needs? How tolerant will they be to your needs? Will they be able to be open to changing priorities and be sensible about it? This relates back to communication and priorities. Is one particular spouse the only one who has to "adjust"? Are they willing to have a "team mentality"? Are they tolerant for other viewpoints or do they always think they're right?

Love / affection
How is affection expressed (words vs gestures) and is it expressed in front of others (eg. family)? Does one spouse have to do all efforts of affection? How does the spouse show their appreciation for you?

What is their communication style (talking, listening, writing)? How do they express their needs or do you have to specifically ask? Can you talk openly about uncomfortable/hard topics? How do they argue (do they fight fairly or throw personal attacks? - you can observe this by how they fight with family/friends)

Individual ambitions / passions
Why did they choose their particular career? What attracted them to it? What are they passionate about in life (what is their purpose on Earth)? How supportive is the spouse of your individual passions? Does the spouse respect your passions or are they deemed unimportant/unworthy?

How is the money spent (materialistic items or long-lasting investments)? How much freedom do you have with your own personal finances? What say do you have in the couple's joint finances (equal say or somebody is managing the money)? Will you keep separate or joint accounts? Does it bother the spouse if the other spouse is earning more (competition)?

What will you absolutely NOT tolerate in a marriage (disrespect, shouting, physical violence, lack of communication, different religious beliefs)? This helps with compromise if you know exactly what the other person will NOT tolerate.

Social life / Work-Life balance
Do they prefer to spend time with friends one-on-one, in groups; or do they prefer to only spend time with family? How often do they socialize? Is the spouse included in the social life or do they keep them separate? Are friends more important than family? What kind of work/life balance do they function best in? Do they enjoy having a social life outside of work, or do they just keep to themselves?

- family reputation (not exactly a reflection of the individual - I was born into my family by chance, I didn't pick them)
- good looks (Looks can fade; good looks don't cover an ugly heart)
- vegetarian vs non-vegetarian (we function just fine, if not better than average)
- job (what if they get fired??? Or get health problems and they can't work?)
- academic standing (not a reflection of intelligence about life or ability to be a good spouse)
- your interests don't ALL have to match (a few is good, but many interests are an individual thing)

***Just because somebody is a good-looking rich intelligent person does not mean that they are going to be a kind and respectful life partner ***

Regardless, getting married (arranged or love marriage) is a leap of don't know what will happen. You just have to jump in with ALL your soul, be able to compromise, make efforts & hope for the best!

Click HERE to read my best marriage advice.


What do you think, dear readers? What should you find out to determine a life partner's compatibility before you tie the knot?


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Discovering a collective Indian identity

(Sunset over Munnar, 2006)

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be Indian, and the collective Indian identity. 

I think this is because of two reasons. The first, is that I'm waiting for my PIO to arrive and wondering about how I will feel when I see my picture on a legal document that says "Person of Indian Origin". The second, is that through my blog, I've interacted with so many other Whindian couples / other Indians, who have so much in common with many of the topics that I write about.

Who would have thought? When I started talking about THE family, and THE culture, I always tried to make sure to point out that certain customs are distinctly South Indian, or Tamil / Telugu, or Iyengar Brahmin, or specific to our family, etc. I even have the header on my blog (to the right) that says Tamil Iyengar so that everybody knows. 

In Vancouver, we've often felt left out of everything over the years, as many of the Indian community is Sikh and keeps to themselves, and the South Indians are few and far between. If there are any South Indians here, they usually are the cookie-cutter software engineers / IT professionals, and in turn judge us for being different - my husband for dressing different, for working in fashion and not being the "good Brahmin boy: doctor or engineer" (as if those are the only career options); or us being an intercultural couple (as if that makes him less of an Indian).

I assumed that when I started writing about OUR culture, that the only people who would be able to relate to it would be other South Indians.

Lo and behold...I've had so many interactions with other Indians / other Whindian couples who are not even from the same region or religion, who can deeply relate to many of the Indian customs that I talk about. In fact, I have so many Punjabi Sikh readers - who would have thought? The northernmost point of India, people with a completely different religion, who I used to think were the polar opposite of South Indians in so many ways...these folks can relate to me? They can relate??? I was shocked, but at the same time I felt happy. I felt the connection to them too, for the very first time. I thought...we are not so different, after all...We all drink the same chai from Munnar, after all...!

India is an incredibly divided country. Sometimes I wonder how it can survive as a nation with SO much diversity. Not just between regions and languages, but also because of the differences between modern urban India vs rural traditional India; not to mention the endless inequalities. At times, it seems that the nation is so disconnected from each other. Hindi is the national language, but many Tamilians refuse to speak it or learn it. Not just differences within the regions, but also in the rampant inequalities in the social system....if you go to one house from another it sometimes feels as though you're shifting planets. A lot of foreigners don't realize how diverse it is until they travel throughout it. It would literally be the equivalent of if Europe was one country - with all the different languages and regions.

Lately, with having so many open interactions with other Indians / Whindians (who may feel more comfortable revealing things to me through the anonymity of the internet), I'm starting to realize that there IS a distinct Indian identity. An identity that wraps up the entire nation and all of it's children, and embraces it with it's warmth. The true mother...that is Mother India. 

What's starting to emerge for me is a collective Indian identity that is as diverse as it is similar. There are so many Indian mannerisms that are distinctly an Indian mentality. There are so many ways of thinking that are distinctly an Indian psychology. And me, having traveled so much all over the world from birth, having so many friends from different cultures - I do notice how deeply the culture runs. Culture trumps religion, language, and region all the time. That is why many Indian families would be more comfortable with an Indian DIL than a non-Indian. That is why so many Indians are more comfortable making other desi friends; or going for Indian food (whether it is Tandoori or Dosa) nearly every time they want to go out to eat. If Indians didn't have such a distinct culture, then we would not be one of the rarest mixes within our Intercultural-couples community. That is why I have so many readers of my blog who are not even South Indian, but can relate to the stories I tell about MY experiences within the Indian culture. As for me, I like to know the cultural mannerisms not only out of curiosity, but it explains so much about the way husband-ji acts in certain situations. Why he has road rage (have you seen Indian streets? No patience!). Why he has a difficult time saying sorry ("No need of saying sorry to close family members" = too formal). Why he is so ambivalent about things (What to do, da?) Why his masculinity is directly connected to having a job and being "the provider" (as many men are in a patriarchal society). Why he won't ever raise his voice to my parents even when he's angry (respect to elders).

If you get to know the Indian culture, on a deeper level, you will notice many patterns and parallels even within India's different regions. "Atithi Devo Bhava" for example, is practiced all the way from Punjab to Kanyakumari. Indian food and mealtime is a HUGE centralized/integral part of Indian culture, more so I find than any other culture (even much stronger even than other Asian cultures). The presence of religion & superstition is also a big part of daily lives (even if you are an atheist, there is not even an atheist box to check on many government forms). There is a social hierarchy in terms of age (respect to elders), caste, community, gender, financial standing. The family as a whole is valued above the individual, and don't even get my started on the family dynamics - they are soooo complicated. Marriage, Birth and Death are huge parts of life, with rituals and traditions marking the passage to each phase...there are even rituals when you're going out the door for work!  Festivals (no matter the religion) are a huge part of life within Mother India. The process of naming a child is a very important ritual. Performing arts, such as music (from Bollywood pop to Carnatic classical music), dance (Banghra to Bharat Natyam), films (Bollywood, Tollywood, Kollywood) is a very beloved celebratory part of Indian culture (much more than the West). The dreaded Indian MIL is notorious - for a reason! And don't get me started on that freakin' head wobble (my beloved head wobble which I've happily adopted as my sporadic daily dance move!)

If you would have said anything about India's identity to me a few years ago, I would have said, "Oh don't be ridiculous...the North is completely different than the South, and so on" (and sometimes I'm still guilty of saying that). But now, I'm beginning the process of linking all the parallels. I guess you could call it my journey to understand India - discovering my second homeland, my Indian family and people, a part of my husband, and half of my daughter. Not just South India, but ALL of India. And the more I talk to other blended families like us, the more I realize how similar we all are. There is this collective Indian identity that is emerging for me - no matter the region, no matter the religion. I'm understanding what it is to "be Indian", not just what it is to be South Indian, or be the "wife of an Indian". What is it to just "be"...

Maybe this is the final evolution in the typical "foreigner" digestion of India - as Sharell says, the cycle goes: honeymoon, frustration, acceptance. Even though I may always be seen as a "lifetime foreigner", I will always have that puzzle piece in my multi-layered heart that is the of a soul of an Indian (past life, maybe?) Although it seems to outsiders that I try so hard to understand the culture, there are a lot of things about it that come naturally to me. From the outside it may look like I'm out of place, but deep inside there is the calmness that I have found my place. And although I'm drawn to India, Indians are also drawn to first Indian friend was a girl in my school who wanted to be friends with me because I had a Ganesh lunchbox filled with samosas. She said it was a sign that we were meant to be friends. There is something familiar about me to Indians; and there is something familiar to Indians about me. 

In my thirst for knowledge for my second homeland, I think I have finally realized that despite my dichotomous relationship with India - to just "be". To just embrace my Mother India as she has embraced me. The answer has been inside me all along, no need of so many books or questions - or even to try to comprehend. To just "be"...

(Ahobilam, 2006)

***A special thank you to one of my readers who inspired this***

Monday, September 9, 2013

Ganesh Chaturthi

~Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha ~

(Ganesh in our home)

My most favorite Hindu God is Ganesh, and today is his birthday!

I don't know why I love Ganesh so much - I was always drawn to him in particular out of all the Hindu deities. In a way, he speaks to me like a kindred spirit. I was actually fascinated by him from when I was a little girl, and then I just happened to marry a Hindu man (coincidence? I think not!) Now, whenever we go back to India, I like to collect idols of him and give them to friends and family, as well as for our house. I'm just waiting for the chance to celebrate this festival in India itself which would be absolutely amazing.

For those of you who don't know, Ganesh is the elephant God who is prayed to for removing obstacles, success, triumphs over adversity, new beginnings, and wisdom. You'll notice that during a religious ceremony, he will usually be prayed to first before starting anything. Even during a Bharat Natyam performance, he is prayed to by honouring him at the beginning of the dance.

The legend of Ganesh is that the goddess Parvati (who is seen as his mother) created him to guard the door and protect her while she took her daily baths. Shiva (Parvati's husband) returned and Ganesh wouldn't let him in. Shiva got mad and called his followers to destroy Ganesh, and one-by-one Ganesh defeated them all. He wanted to protect his mother at all costs. Even Indra (the king of the Gods) tried to defeat him but he didn't stand a chance. Ganesh was too strong. Shiva then cut off his head and Parvati totally flipped out. She vowed to destroy the universe unless Ganesh was brought back to life. The trinity searched the world for a head and came across an elephant - thus, Ganesh became the elephant-headed God.

Ganesh is not just celebrated in Hinduism, as he is also popular in Jainism and Buddhism as well. He is one of the most loved Gods all across India. His iconography is hugely depicted in Indian Art, in both paintings and sculptures. I did a series' of paintings on him 4 years ago and during that process I learned the meaning behind his symbolic iconography.

Ganesh symbolism

- large elephant head: wisdom
- large ears: good listener to his devotees
- elephant trunk: ability to know between good and evil
- one broken tusk: sacrifice of growing wisdom
- snake on shoulder: rising kundalini
- conch shell: call of prayer
- lotus flower: symbol of greater spiritual rebirths
- sweets in hand: sweetness of rewards
- goad: towards enlightenment
- ax/sword: cuts attachment
- trident: the power of love, wisdom and action
- upraised hand: protection and sanctuary for devotees
- large round stomach: universe
- mice at feet: ability of Ganesh to reach everywhere

In our house, we have a Ganesh near the front of our door, and we also have an idol that faces South East towards the rising sun. During our wedding, we also had our Ganesh at the entranceway. When I researched more about him online, I noticed that he is also the patron of writing, which I was so happy to find out about considering I'm so passionate about my writing! In fact, 2 of his idols watch over me from my favorite writing spot!

(Ganesh at our wedding entranceway)

The Ganesh Chaturthi festival is celebrated annually in early Autumn and it lasts for ten days. Idols are usually immersed in water on a specific day (usually an odd-numbered day) depending on the family traditions. There are huge street festivals with giant hand-painted Ganesh idols (by giant, I mean some are as tall as buildings!) It is a very jolly, happy festival, and a lot of people celebrate it out on the streets which gives it "the more the merrier" feel.

Today is a great day to honour Ganesh and say a prayer to him to remove any obstacle that you are facing and for greater wisdom in your life. Say a prayer or chant to his idol and offer him some sweets, fruits or flowers. You can also submerge his idol in water or light a diya (candle or ghee lamp) for him.

~Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha ~


Readers, are you familiar with Ganesh? How do you celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi in your homes?

Wishing all my wonderful readers a Happy Ganesh Chaturthi!!!!!


Saturday, September 7, 2013

Venice by iPhone

One of my favorite ways to discover a place is to photograph it, and even looking back at the pictures, I always observe / understand more and more of it...

Back in May, we traveled to Venice and I was so overwhelmed with the baby/motherhood that I could only take pictures with my iPhone...and the pictures turned out quite beautifully! Looks like my photography BFA came in really handy after all!

Here is a glimpse of Venice from my iPhone...

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