Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Reunion Tour

March 28 - April 5 Los Angeles, CALIFORNIA

April 6 - 8 Moab, UTAH

April 10 - 12 Chicago, ILLINOIS

April 13 - 17 Pittsburgh, PENNSYLVANIA

April 18 Philadelphia, PENNSYLVANIA

April 19 - 22 New York, NEW YORK

Monday, March 26, 2007

Coming Soon to a Town Near You

I’ve been in India for seven months. I’m leaving Wednesday.

It’s time.

It’s not that I’m tired of India. I mean, I am, a little. I’m tired of the heat and the traffic. I’m tired of bugs. I’m tired of salespeople shadowing me when I shop and restaurants that take reservations for 6:30 but don’t open until 7. I’m really tired of rice.

But minor annoyances aren’t the reason I’m leaving. I’m heading back to the U.S. because there’s stuff I wanna do there. I came to India because there was stuff I wanted to do here. I did that stuff. I learned more than I planned on learning. I took more than I’d hoped to take. I found teachers and friends and both in one.

I’ve scratched off everything on the India to-do list. Travel: check. Unwind: check. Find self: check. Buy bangles: check.

(If you didn’t know already, I’m an obsessive list maker, a trait I owe to my mom. I’ve juggled as many as a dozen lists at a time. Here’s a partial list of ‘em: shopping list; errand list; to-do list at the office; to-do list at home; and lists of gift ideas, movies to watch, books to read, places to visit and yoga poses to practice. I’ve been known to kick off slumber parties with: “Ladies, I’m making a list of all the topics we need to cover.”)

Here’s what I want to do when I get back to the States. I want to keep the “I’d rathers” at bay. As much as possible, I want to be where I’d rather be. I want to spend the bulk of my days doing things I care about, things that interest me, things that challenge me, things that maybe help a person or two. I don’t know if I can do that. I mean, a girl needs health insurance, not to mention the occasional hot stone massage. But I’m going to try. I have some ideas.

I miss America. I’ve never been a patriot, but, dang, it’s a mighty fine place to live. It’s a Choose Your Own Adventure life. India, I love you, but your codes of conduct – family honor and whatnot – don’t sit well. You’re too quick to cast out. Too unforgiving.

I miss mundane things like clothes dryers, pillow-top mattresses, sidewalks and lettuce. I miss sushi and sake and anonymity. I miss hugging and that cheek-kiss thing they do in New York. (There’s not much touching in India, except between male buddies.) I miss stretch fabrics.

I’m looking forward to getting off the plane at LAX, where Heather will be waiting. I’m going to give her a long hug. I’m going to turn on the fancy seat warmers in her fancy car, roll down the windows and breath clean-ish air. I’m going to prance around town in tank top and shades, and nobody will notice me. I’ll reap one of the greatest rewards of seeing the world: seeing my world with fresh eyes. I’ll drink tap water because I can. I’ll visit my friends and my tax accountant (big money, Larry, BIG MONEY). I’ll eat salad!

After about a week, I’ll get behind the wheel of my gold Buick and drive across the country. I’ll take in the national parks and the Wal-Marts; the truck stops and Tommy Hilfiger outlets; several dozen McDonald’s arches and twice that many Starbucks seals. I’ve told some friends along the way to leave a light on for me.

So much has changed since I left in August. One friend got married, and another got divorced. Two friends got pregnant, a third got into grad school, and a few got new jobs. One had a baby girl; one had a heart attack and died. I want to be there for the next batch.

I’ll post some photos and my U.S. tour calendar in the coming weeks. Thank you for reading. A bigger thank you for writing. See ya soon.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A Very Special Entry: Revenge of the Native

(Chitty and I spent the last days of February in a remote village on the Arabian Sea, in her home state of Karnataka. It was a perfect beach vacation, as evidenced by the fact that I came home with clean underwear. We spent our days in pajamas and bathing suits, honing our Sudoku skills, spooning pearly meat from just-picked coconuts and … well, that’s about it. I thought I’d let her tell it. What follows is this blog’s first guest entry.)

Perhaps it was the auto rickshaw driver who delivered ice cream, fruit juice and other emergency supplies. Perhaps it was the personal cooks who served tender-coconut water as I struggled to capture that perfect shot of palm trees, empty beach and my feet. Maybe it was the thrill of dodging suicidal fish when we ventured out for our late-afternoon dips.

It's hard to pinpoint what made that week so special.

No tourists, no hawkers. No one lurking with a camera when the hammocks dropped us on our asses.

It was a week at an uncle's beachside house two kilometers from Kota, a village near Udupi, a town outside ... well, this could take a while. Suffice to say, we were at a beach near Kota, whose only claim to fame is a Kannada novelist and playwright it produced two generations ago.

Until we came to town.

The hordes of giggling children who discovered Anna as she made her way down the beach to the fisher-folk sorting through the early morning catch will probably struggle, decades from now, for words to describe the vision of her.

That was the only time we ventured away from the house in our seven days there.

Yes, I was with her on that trip to buy the fish, with our Man Friday, Rehman, trailing 20 paces behind. The children of Kota may never remember me, or Rehman, who stepped up to rescue us when it was time to haggle. But that tunnel vision is a common problem here, as Anna's earlier trips have shown. I can’t tell you the number of times I've been ruthlessly edged out of camera frames and elbowed out of the way as my countrymen clamored to ask Anna that burning question: “Which country?'”

Perhaps that's really why this vacation will always be memorable. You see, there was this one sweet, brief, fleeting moment – The Revenge of the Native – when the housekeepers, done with their morning chores, sidled up to me as I sat wrestling with yet another Sudoku. They were staring, befuddled, at Anna, as they were wont to do.

“Her hair, is it always that color? It'd be so pretty ... if only it was black.''

Chitty: 1 Hammock: 7

Anna's fan club

coconut cutter

Anyone for a drink?

Sunday, March 11, 2007


Chitra squealed and swiped at her chest. The tiny fish leaped back into the ocean in a flash of silver.

“Did you just get felt up by a fish?”

We hadn’t noticed them before, but now we spotted them all around us: schools of pinkie-sized fish skipping there … and there … and there. We guarded our cleavage with our hands when they came near.

“Who needs fishing nets when you’ve got boobs like those?” I said.

“Come to mommy,” she crooned.

The real fishermen

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Meditation and Martinis

Yesterday was my birthday. No, really, like my actual birthday. It was also the first day of a two-week yoga course I’m taking at the KYM. The course requires rising before the sun, so I wasn’t my usual party-all-night self.

OK, OK, I wasn’t my usual party-until-11ish self.

But it was a swell birthday, made sweller by watermelon martinis and sangria, and capped by a conga line of waiters bearing chocolate mousse.

Saturday, March 03, 2007


The bug wasn’t particularly vile-looking. It had a hybrid quality: part cockroach, part ladybug. The woman sitting next to me this morning trapped it with her travel mug.

We were at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, seated on autumn-colored carpets, waiting for a lecture by TKV Desikachar. Every Saturday, if I’m not traveling, I head to the school to hear its founder talk about yoga. His audience is a Benetton ad, a congregation of lithe yoga students from far-flung countries. In this crowd, a bug can take liberties. “Squish” is a dirty word. On the scale of criminality, it’s somewhere between sweetening your tea with Splenda and snacking on foie gras.

Her containment strategy satisfied me. I was glad it was her mug and not mine.

Several minutes passed, and then I saw this Prius of a bug on my bag. It was crawling quickly and too close for comfort. If we hadn’t parked our shoes outside, I might have reached for one. Instead, I put my Yoga Sutra book in its path. The bug climbed aboard.

I tapped the book on the floor and readied the cup. The bug hung on. Tap tap tap. Still, it clung. TAP TAP TAP.

My tapping turned my neighbor’s head at exactly the moment when the bug dropped to the floor. She saw the bug on the floor. She witnessed my last furious taps. The look of horror and disgust that crossed her face conveyed her conclusion: killer.

No, I wanted to say, I didn’t kill it. See, it’s here under your mug, alive and well. But by then, Mr. Desikachar’s lecture had started.

I missed his opening remarks. I was busy worrying about the stranger and what she thought of me. I was readying my post-lecture defense. When I finally tuned in, I realized he was talking about us: me, her, the bug. Mr. Desikachar was talking about distorted perception. Wrong seeing. In yoga philosophy, this wrong seeing is the fault of the mind. Our minds react, interpret, draw conclusions. A person with a clear mind – a yogic mind – draws the right ones. The rest of us, well, we just think we do.

I sat there smug. My neighbor – oh, humanity! – had misinterpreted what she’d seen. In Sanskrit, such misapprehension is called viparyaya, and the aim of yoga is to quash it. What did I care what this viparyaya-afflicted dame thought of me? I knew I wasn’t a bug killer.

Except that I am. I kill bugs all the time. The ant motels JJ sent guard the corners of my bedroom. I attack tick-like creatures and gauzy nests with fistfuls of toilet paper. I recently added a Rechargeable Mosquito-Hitting Swatter to my arsenal. It looks like a badminton racket and delivers death by electric shock. Sparks fly when swatter meets mosquito, and, I’ll admit, the crackle-pop gives me a thrill.

I am a killer of bugs. And sometimes I use Splenda. And I care what people think, so I do these things furtively. And, you know what, the bug died anyway. My neighbor lifted her cup at lecture’s end, and the cockroach/ladybug didn’t scamper. It wriggled a leg in that half-dead way. I like to think it ran out of air. In her cup.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Know What I Wish

“It’s almost your birthday,” Amanda said to me during one of our Skype chats. My birthday was 40 days away. I’ve trained my friends well. (See appendix for Anna-to-English dictionary of birthday terminology.)

A few days earlier, and partly because my birthday was coming up, I’d updated my Amazon “wish list.” I tossed in a bunch of yoga books, deleted the Cuisipro Donvier Electronic Yogurt Maker (because, really, who has time to make yogurt?) and moved a couple of must-haves to my shopping cart. And then it struck me: where to mail these must-haves? My default address was an apartment in California I’d vacated half a year earlier.

I looked at the other addresses in my Amazon account. There was the LA address of a company I no longer work for and the Brooklyn address of the pad I shared with Amanda and Sash. There were three Jersey addresses: the house I fixed up with Jason, the tiny apartment I lived in before that, and the hotel where my ex-employer put me up when I moved to the Garden State.

I’ve lived in more than a dozen cities. The addresses span three continents, eight U.S. states and Washington DC. It’s why I draw a blank every time someone asks, “Where are you from?”

I’ll never get tired of seeing the world. I think I’ll always travel. But these days, the first item on my wish list is a permanent address, a place to put the baubles I bring back.

A little while ago I found myself at Chennai’s Home Store, a giant furniture and housewares retailer à la Crate and Barrel. I didn’t need anything. I wandered through every department, caressing throw pillows, comparing kitchen gadgets, sniffing scented candles. Most of my belongings are stacked in a shed, stuffed in a car trunk or sitting in friends’ homes. I’m a home accents junkie without a home.

In the end, I changed my default address to my mom’s place in Pittsburgh. It’s the closest thing to home. It’s where I’ll head when I return to the States at the end of March. And, ahem, it’s where all birthday gifts should be sent.

“My birthday is coming up.” . . . . . It’s 6-8 weeks away.
“It’s almost my birthday.” . . . . . It’s 4-6 weeks away.
“What’d you get me?” . . . . . It’s 2-4 weeks away.
“It’s my birthday!” . . . . . It’s up to 2 weeks away.