Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Obviously, it is a very complex term. Families have overwhelming abilities to generate emotions, comfort, confusion and unwavering love. The most entertaining aspects about modern reality shows are fights and conflicts with spouses, children and siblings (The Kardashian's show, I'm embarrassed to know, thrives on such occasions). Jerry Springer's show about the worst kinds of betrayal and secrets between families is still on the air. Why is it so interesting or familiar to watch feuding families? Why is it normal to have to work so hard to get along with one's family? Unfortunately, family trouble seems to be the norm in modern American society.

Mine has generally been an exception. My family consists of a close-knit amalgamation of personalities, professions, interests and problems. We have lawyers, PhDs, businessmen, pharmacists, scientists, and entrepreneurs in our family. Needless to say, we don't always understand each other - but we love unconditionally as much as we can. We are extremely close and have had, historically, few problems among us. When I say family, I mean more than my immediate family of mom, dad, brother and me. My "family" includes all of my cousins, aunts, uncles, sisters-in-law, and nieces (and soon-to-be nephews). My male cousins are my brothers and I call them as such. We share our worries, defeats, successes and love of drinking (well, most of us). Many of us would vacation together or spend the summers in each others homes. And, as adults, we text, call, chat, and email constantly (again - well, most of us). I believe, as adults, we have generated a healthy admiration and respect for our differences.

Having grow up in this kind of environment, I thoroughly enjoy seeing my family. I find it foreign to think that others cringe at the thought of family dinners and Christmas parties, knowing that this of course happens often. Only in the last few years, when friends have commented on how fortunate I am to have such a tight-knit family, have I come to understand the rarity of a strong family. I'm lucky to think that coming together in times of difficulty is a natural thing. This week, some of my family members were faced with devastating news even though so many of them had worked very hard to prevent it. In that moment, the rest of my family members sent letters, flowers, missed calls, emails, texts and prayers without consulting their calendars or work deadlines. And while the recipients are grateful for this outpouring, it seems to me that this response should be expected by anyone.

I know that there are people who don't have a choice regarding their family situation (parents who've abandoned them or relatives who abuse things), but what of the ones that do? What about the cousins that you don't speak to because they don't live in your town or the aunts you don't visit because you never knew them in your youth? And, what about the relatives you had minor tiffs with (such as - who was Grandma X's favorite) Is it more important to be right than to be supported by loved ones? Why is it that pride often trumps togetherness? I know too many people who have not spoken to their mothers or fathers for 15+ years. And while they may very well have just cause for that - all I can think is - Seriously? What can that much distance possibly prove? What a monumental loss. I'm not asking people to forgive inflicted pain, turn towards mean people or overcome great abuse. I'm just saying that instead of being indifferent towards your distant relatives (who are otherwise pretty normal), take the time to extend a "How the hell are you these days?" once in a while. If they are anything like my family, it's totally worth it.

Any fun family stories to share?

Thursday, January 20, 2011


I began watching House MD a long time after it became popular in 2005. At first, I viewed it as just another medical drama and I really wasn't ready to think about a hospital without McSteamy. I happened to catch one of the episodes late in 2006 and now, I'm a convert. Dr. Gregory House is an abrasive, verbally witty, and rudely charismatic doctor in the department of Diagnostics. He too often collides with his team and too often dismisses the Dean of Medicine (his eventual love interest). I love House because of his verbal intelligence - he has the sharpest tongue in the business.

My favorite episode is "Three Stories" in which House tests the diagnostic caliber of med students by introducing them to three separate cases. A farmer, volleyball player and male golfer (who House initially envisions as Carmen Electra) are all experiencing various kinds of leg pain. As the students deduce the symptoms and attempt to diagnose the injuries, House's team reveals that the golfer is actually House himself. The episode makes the strongest claim for critics who state that House is yet another reincarnation of Sherlock Holmes. House and Holmes rely on their intellectual and logical reasoning skills, are addicted to narcotics, and hardly show emotion for their clients. Their names are quite related (as types of residences) and House's apt number is 221B (the same as Holmes' street address). Both men have a psuedo-friend figure and are intellectually superior to those around them.

Maybe I love House because of his wit and book smarts. Maybe I love House because he has grown a bit more humble (and sensitive) in recent years (the Season 6 premiere episode of House in a psychiatric ward was simply spectacular!). I might even love House because he is an ass. But I definitely appreciate the literary history that keeps weaving through my everyday life. It is no secret that Sherlock Holmes is one of the most celebrated detectives of all time. To include references to Holmes, more than a 100 years after his introduction, speaks to the persistent power of literature so interwoven into modern society that it seems casual, almost cliche. In my dissertation on South Asian crime fiction, I find it difficult to leave Holmes out of any chapter - buy why would I want to? I know that in the modern age of digital this and electronic that, many people have stopped reading books beyond Harry Potter and the Twilight Series. There is no doubt that references to these texts will be made well into the next millennium. And I also know that if I wish to make a case for the return of reading - no one (except perhaps the wonderfully geeky English lit friends I have) will really hear me and understand the long-lasting benefits to immersing oneself in a book. So, I say this: READ - if only to understand your TV (and the amazing Gregory House) better. =o)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


I am sitting in my second to last college class this quarter. I teach an Interdisciplinary Writing Link for the English dept and my link is with Asian American Studies. Since my students are taking both courses, I come to the AAS class to find out what they are learning. The professor is a great speaker; he tells jokes and tries to engage his audience of 175 by asking questions. He knows how to pitch his voice to emphasize the important points in his lecture. And I can tell that sometimes, he enjoys teaching. I (sadly) never took the course in college because I was too busy failing Chemistry (why I ever thought I could take on the medical world, I'll never know - some screwed up form of idealism perhaps). I also never took Art History, Sociology, Anthropology or Political Science. I was definitely not well-rounded when I left UCLA. Now, as I finish my PhD this year, I keep thinking about how much more I wish I had learned.

The first day of classes (college or otherwise) were always my favorite. I would buy fresh notebooks and stock my backpack with sharpened pencils, sweet smelling erasers and sexy pens (and the perfect outfit of course). I would sit in the third of fourth row, crack the notebook open and slowly sketch the name of the course, B-i-o-l-o-g-y 103. Prof. Campbell. Spring 2000. And then I would wait, with my knees slightly shaking, for the learning to begin. Would this professor be a fair grader? Would I be able to keep up with the reading? Would I be bored? While the first two questions had multiple answers, the third was almost always a no, usually (Prof. Stuart's Literary Theory course was so uncontrollably boring that my friend and I would spend more time guessing which color sweater he would wear instead of paying attention to his lectures. He had nine of the same sweater, all in various shades of pastel. We went to class to see who won the bet). The over-achieving geek in me loved, truly lovely, school. Some subjects obviously came more easily than others, but I relished the thought of finding out something completely new. I liked being taken into an area of the world that was foreign to me.

I will miss sitting in lectures, breaking in new notebooks, roaming corridors of frenzied students, organizing notes with multi-colored pens, and hosting late night study sessions when I leave academia this year. I've spent the better part of my twenties in school and I have no regrets. When I see my relatives during the holidays, they continually ask, "when are you done?" (Note: I've rephrased the question to sound less judgmental here) Most of the time, I tell them, "this year for sure - you're coming to graduation right?" And while it is no secret that I am genuinely ready to be done with this program, sometimes the real answer is: never, I hope. I like being a student. After being in grad school for so long, I sometimes think that the only people who really understand me are my grad school friends. Only they know what it is like to be reaching the highest level of education and still feel completely inadequate in many ways. They can vouch for the unwavering fear one feels when approaching PhD exams. Only they know what it means to put seven years into something because you love it, even if no job exists for you on the other end. It seems clear to me that many of my non-academic friends and family members find me to be an oddball for doing a PhD in Literature (because, really, what can I do with that?). But being a perpetual student has taught me more about myself than anything else. And for that, I am unconscionably thankful. I know that I can always (and probably will) take courses in the future, but nothing will compare to my years of being a student. So, I'll go to Prof. Jung's AAS lecture as much as I can, because I can. And then, I'll gladly put on the hood.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


When I moved to Seattle, I knew absolutely no one. I did not have any family here and although I would make great friends in grad school and beyond, I missed many of the cultural rituals I had with my parents. I missed going to the beach and throwing colored powders on friends during Holi. I really hated when I couldn't tie a rakhi on my brother's hand for Rakshabandan. But missing Diwali and Indian new year was the worst experience.

Diwali is the festival of lights and it commemorates the return of Lord Ram (and his wife Sita and brother Lakshman) after 14 years of exile. The five-seven day celebration in October or November (depending on the Indian calendar) takes place all over India as people take holiday to spend time with family, set off firecrackers and make copious amounts of food. Diwali is like Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years all in one. My parents would wake me and my brother at 5am (we were NOT happy about this!) on Diwali and take us to the temple. The gods would be adorned with colors of all shapes and every food imaginable would be presented to them. Kachoris, samosas, rotis, dhoklas, and a thousand pounds of burfis and mitais - thank you lord! We would pray for a prosperous and successful year ahead and then, we would feast. My entire Los Angeles family would be there - friends, relatives, family-friends, etc. I loved the collectivity of the whole adventure - hundreds of people giving thanks, singing hymns, and bowing heads in moments of gratitude. I felt very safe in that crowded environment. One would think that this occasion merits smiles on every face. And this was the case for most people, but I cried every year. I cried because I was sorry that I yelled at my mother or got a B in Chemistry. I cried because I missed my grandparents who could not be with us. I cried because I was so unbelievably grateful that I had this moment to remind me of the treasures in my life. As I looked around the temple, all I could think was: How lucky am I?!

As my first Diwali in Seattle approached, I realized how much I valued my past Diwali rituals. Knowing that I would miss the annual Patel temple run made me feel very empty. The temple was too far away in Seattle and none of my new friends celebrated the occasion. So, I decided to start a new tradition - I asked a few of my friends to join me at an Indian restaurant for dinner. Nine of us crowded around a small table at Cedar's Restaurant and toasted to a new Indian calendar year. As I looked around to see my friends devouring dishes like mango curry, paneer tikka masala and vindaloo, I felt the same communal satisfaction of celebrating Diwali with loved ones as I had in LA. And, I felt at home in Seattle for the first time. I love how young we all look in this picture!

This new Diwali ritual has turned into an annual Diwali dinner for me and my friends in Seattle. As some friends move away, others become part of the tradition. I look forward to it every year - more than my friends probably know. In our busy lives, I am very grateful that we all find time to gather and celebrate my heritage. I'm beginning to realize also that I genuinely respect rituals. I like looking forward to events, dinners, occasions that have generated such warm memories in the past. I like the comfort of repetition and safety of tradition (and repeating tasty bites of Himalayan Kofta isn't so bad either). I like knowing I have a history with peoples, places and holidays. Happy Diwali everyone and Sal Mubarak!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


It was the name Richards from Texas gave Elizabeth Gilbert when she was in India going through her "Eat, Pray, Love" adventures. He gave it to her because she ate a lot. And by that definition, I probably deserve the name too. It is no secret that I adore food and recently, I've really started cooking quite often - lots of daals, soups, stir frys and the occasional fruit cobbler. But cooking requires a constant supply of groceries and being car-less makes this chore quite tricky. While I don't look forward to the lugging of grocery bags through rain in Seattle, I do love being in a grocery store.

I walk in and the immediate hustle of hungry people hits me. On my left, electronic cash registers beep $3.49 for peaches and $2.19 for yogurt. On my right, the largest display of baked goods imaginable (why do you need to tempt me from the beginning?). I turn left and deposit bundles of apples, bananas and carrots into my cart. Then, some seasonal veggies - delicata squash and maybe some seriously yummy parsnips. I travel down every aisle, even though I make a detailed grocery list. Eggs, tomatoes, oatmeal, spinach, olive oil and broccoli please, with a little helping of whole grain bread and veggie bacon. Generally, I stick to the list but I allow myself one or two crazy, new or unfamiliar indulgences that seem exceptionally appetizing that day (today it was Pom pomegranate juice). I check out what other people are buying and see if its on sale. Sometimes, I mentally yell at my fellow shoppers - No, tall guy in the red shirt! Please don't do that to your digestive track!

I usually leave my cell phone at home when I go to the grocery store. I don't like to be disturbed when I compare the sugar content of pasta sauces. I like to take my time in the ethnic foods section - finding the right salsa for my mood is essential to a happy work week. Who knew that I would find banana flavored Honey Bunches of Oats cereal or Pumpkin Spice coffee creamer when I entered the store for everyday items like garlic and waffles? Do I *need* these items - not really. Will I get them anyway - probably. By the time I reach the last aisle, more than an hour has passed and my feet are a bit achy. Yet, I feel replenished, rejuvenated, and generally very excited about my purchases. I never buy gum at the counter.

I see grocery shopping as an opportunity - to try something new, to discover something unknown, and to generally inspire me to cook. Genuinely, I have a lot of fun doing it. Although, I would change a few things. In the United States, Americans are fortunate enough to have glorious stores filled with a large variety of produce, dairy items and meats. But, I agree with Raj Patel's Stuffed and Starved notion that imbalances in food varieties have created severe obesity in many parts of the world. My corner Safeway could stand to have curry leaves or the ivy gourd (tindora) once in a while. The produce section should be at least half of the store. Also, why do so many of these vegetables taste like all of the flavor has been sucked out of them by mean truck drivers? I rather eat seasonally than bite into a dry, watery peach. So, here is my message: Dear grocery story, Thank you for creating a nice shopping atmosphere, but can you please stop offering me the tasteless tomato and bring forth a less traveled veggy? Also, can you smell like apple pie once in a while?