July 29th, 2016
If Donald Trump wins it’s not time to emigrate, though tempting. But it’s also not time to live with the anger (at worst), and chronic anxiety (at best) that we’ve put up with this election season. It’s time to awaken (yes Bernie supporters) to the issues in our neighborhoods, communities and states where we can make a difference. Federal power is one avenue of influence in our lives. An important one. It appoints judges, holds veto power and deploys troops but we are still a democracy – in fact we are so much of a democracy that we’ve exposed fractures in our civil society without shame and exposed the powerlessness of once powerful institutions to do anything to reverse the trajectory of a tyrant in populist clothing. So whoever wins this election, we will be called to think anew about what democracy truly means to us.
I listened to President Obama ask us to see ourselves in each other and to stop demonizing each other. As I said “yes” to that in my heart I shook my head in disbelief as to how someone could support Trump. I went on to demonize him and my fellow citizens who support him. Obama said all Americans deserve equality, all Americans want a chance to live up to their potential. And I caught myself thinking “except them.” Language that could be used by people who will vote differently than me, about me.
What’s hard about this moment is that our fight is not just against a racist, or against fear at large; it’s a fight against the exact same binary, broad-brush thinking in ourselves that we accuse the other side of. E.O. Wilson the biologist said of the scientific community, “when there is evidence both for and against a belief, the result is not a lessening but a heightening of conviction on both sides.”
So how do we promote more understanding if we agree that without it we are weaker. I think we are not smart enough yet as a species to be effective in the face of abstraction. I believe it’s time to narrow our sphere of influence closer to our daily lives so we can feel empowered to act. This means sharpening our focus on the present moment, our reactions, our environments, and our interactions with people we come in most contact with, our neighbors, service providers, co-workers and friends.
The simmering id broke through to the surface in this election and we’ve got superego trying to quell it with ideals – this is how things should be. The layer that was missing was the one that negotiates these polar opposites. The layer of self-awareness and connection among our citizenry that promotes small acts of compassion and experiments in compromise. George Washington in his inaugural address called for a government that the people felt “affection” for. Great word – not pride in, not in awe of, affection. Affection isn’t mandated by policy or handed down to us by our leaders, it’s only possible when there’s emotional proximity between people so that we can in fact see our reflections in each other. This is the quality that must be strengthened and the place to start is where we live.
So go to the phones and get the vote out. But also start paying attention to your community, your block, your building, linger longer with your neighbors, make time for friends and for real conversation, in public spaces talk to strangers, if something irks you about your community, is there a way to come together with other residents to change it? Let’s get our heads out of our butts and re-prioritize. Delete the word “busy” from your vocabulary. Replace it with intentional activity. Obama has called for self-governance. And the first word in that is “self.”
June 15th, 2016
Eunice Christabel D’sa, née Pinto was born 103 years ago today. I called her Mummy. She was my grandmother but a two-year old doesn’t distinguish; the woman who raises you is your mother. I slept by her side everyday on a narrow cot till a month after my ninth birthday. As we fell asleep, I’d poke the wobbly mole on her belly, follow the soft maze of lines on the backs of her elbows or play with her spare, thin gold bangles. I don’t recall a single instance of her raising her voice at me. When I’d tell her this, she’d say “That’s not true. There was this one time. You were small and you spit out your food. I thought you were being rude. I had a comb in my hand and I gave you a light whack. It was the only time in my life. I looked down and saw there was a cardamom in your bite. Naturally you spit it out! I felt awful.”
She walked me to nursery school, then to the bus stop at the rail road tracks when elementary school started. She made all my birthday cakes from scratch; it took several baking pans to get the requisite parts for a train, a house, an animal. She sewed my special occasion dresses from bits of silk saris on an old Singer with a pedal you moved with your foot. She curated my playdates with great attention, the more cosmopolitan the family the better. I had friends who were Spanish, English, Japanese, brahmin, bengali, muslim and Mizo. Her confidantes ranged from her peers to those a quarter of her age and stayed that way her whole life. She perfected the art of listening and asking minute follow up questions. She could keep a conversation focused on the other for a long time. She’d remember meeting a friend of mine once and 10 years later say, “how is that friend of yours, the Egyptian one, what a beauty she was.” The more well read, well traveled, and observant of life a woman was, the more Mummy enjoyed her company.
She loved the perfume “Charlie” and “Laughing Cow cheese” which were requested from abroad whenever we visited. Wicked humor was highly prized too. She would make a gesture with her fingers of a twirled mustache behind the backs of particularly mustachioed men. She had a way of laughing where she didn’t make a sound but her whole body shook as she brought the back of her hand towards her mouth. One uncle of mine was notorious for such an acerbic wit he could make people cry and not out of joy. But with my grandmother, he was at his charming best and a faithful, favorite visitor for years. My grandmother loved the English language; she read a book a week and would do the crossword puzzle in pencil only because she’d erase it when she was done for my grandfather to have a turn. Her letters to me were a treasure trove of detail, the entire spread at a party described, an update on all family members. When we’d say goodbye at the airport every visit, she’d be fine and cool until the very, very last second when tears would instantly well up in her eyes, but stay contained.
My love for my grandmother was visceral and total. Before my husband and son, to borrow a line from Cheryl Strayed about her mother, “she was the love of my life.” Her wit was her rod, her grace her lasting effect. As I was getting ready to leave for America I said “these are your last few days to be nice to me.” She said “why not my last few days to be mean to you.” Years later my grandfather told me she’d told him if I moved to America it would kill her. I did and it didn’t; she thankfully lived a full and happy life for decades more. As I get older I think of how she managed her way through loss, how she held onto joy with a quiet ferocity. I wish I could still learn from her. I miss her listening sense and think of all the people and moments she’d find funny. My father described her once as a reed, slender, elegant, yielding flexibly to the elements, but unbreakable.
March 30th, 2016
It’s hard to believe that more than two years after it was shot, my first film, “The Apartment” will have its festival debut at the Universe Multicultural Film Festival in Palos Verdes this Saturday, April 2nd!
I am so proud of all the talent and hard work that went into this film including memorable performances by Rajit Kapur, Tanmay Dhanania and Deergha Sahni, masterful editing by Jason Jones and beautiful cinematography by Neel Bhupathi and Dulip Kumar. Big thanks also to my amazing family – my dad and sister who were producers and true partners in crime on this project and my husband Blake (a.k.a Luxxury) who scored the film!
November 2nd, 2015
I’ve kept a regular journal since the age of 12. I started writing to express myself (as opposed to writing for school) much earlier – my earliest recollection is 5. There are fragments of that early writing, notes, calendars, diaries somewhere. There is a box missing for sure from that period. While I will always run after what I’ve lost, I need to remind myself that I have enough right here with me to mine.
October 20th, 2015
Amy Schumer’s joke about Ferguson during her recent HBO Comedy Special was insensitive and in poor taste. Bill Keveney, staff writer for USA Today included it in his piece about the 5 most printable jokes from her set:
September 15th, 2015
Today is my mother’s birthday. She would have been 68.
She was 25 when she got married, 26 when she had me and 28 when she died. When I was 28, I’d just made a radical turn away from medicine, was a year into my first job, met my now husband on a drunken dance floor at 3 AM, and was laying down the tracks for a future as an entrepreneur. It was the beginning of my life as I know it.
Marina Dolores D’sa, born exactly a month after India’s independence in 1947, loved to read. She would read, sitting remarkably still for hours, my grandfather told me.
She was an activist with The Grail, an international women’s movement founded in the Netherlands in 1921 “committed to spiritual search, social transformation, ecological sustainability and the release of women’s creative energy throughout the world.” My oldest doll is from the Netherlands. Astonishingly blond with marbled blue eyes and eyelids that close with an exciting click when you tilt her over. I was told it was from a Dutch lady friend of my mother’s. I never made the connection.
She didn’t wear makeup. Her sister-in law forced her to wear a touch of lipstick minutes before she walked down the aisle. She told her, walk slowly. My mother raced and arrived at the altar ahead of what the music was paced for.
She sang California Dreaming on All India Radio. I’d actually move to California from New York in 2000 and feel at home instantly. Many years later, on a visit to Mangalore, where she was born, I’d see the palm trees and the warm coastline and think, of course, it’s Los Angeles.
She loved Joan Baez.
When she spoke in public, she was surprisingly comfortable and articulate. It seemed to come out of nowhere, my grandmother noted, I suspect because of a certain reserve in her private life.
She was searching for something larger than herself. From her letters to her best friend, I recognize a restlessness, an indecision that springs from the irreconcilable differences between principles and practicality.
She was accepted at Cornell but never attended. The college within Cornell was called Home Economics then. I graduated from the college of Human Ecology, its modern day incarnation.
I don’t attribute much of myself to my mother. It would be aspirational at best, guesswork at worst. But for some reason I sense we shared an almost personal degree of indignation about social injustice, a vexing tendency to vacillate fueled by a love-hate relationship with over-thinking, an attraction to the romantic, in people, in ideas, in places, a desire to document the times and the community we live in in the hopes of playing a small part in shaping history.
It’s a tall order to fulfill when life ends at 28 but the fact is her legacy continues in the lives of the women she helped through The Grail, in the memories of those who loved and admired her, in the work of her daughter and in the nature and destiny of her grandson, who I’m certain has the shape of her eyes. Not the eyelids. The round of the brown part of her eyes. I can’t link it to anyone else living.
July 25th, 2015
Nina Simone, Sandra Bland And…
Young, gifted and black
I’m none of those things but Sandra was
Nina was, Nina’s daughter who Nina beat was.
Nina had big lips. The kind you picture
puffed up after a fist to the mouth.
A mouth is where words come out of.
The mouth is what holds a cigarette
she refuses to put out.
Jeff tells me to relieve tension in this technique called rolfing, they
put a finger in your mouth and press on
your jaw hard from the inside.
You only need to do this once in your life.
In the hot, cracked seconds
when the color wheel lands exactly on the right spot
on the blend of blood and blue, her mouth
the surge can’t contain his dumb instruments
you can step on the pipes that
transmit sound through the mouth.
anything to stop the sound a mouth makes.
To be young, gifted and black
glisten like flattened tar at noon
at night in a small room
where a mother holds her child against her chest
on a revolving black disc with dust
on a screen, royal, behind glass
Alabama’s gotten me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
in the dark of wonder
in the dark of forget
- Indu Subaiya
Los Feliz, July 25, 2015
November 23rd, 2014
June 4th, 2014
I just found this in my drafts, written probably on March 9th or 10th 2012. San Miguel de Allende is the most elegant usher across the threshold into 40. A place to experience beauty in all its forms – in the mingling of people from all walks of life, at all hours in the public square, to the glow of many cathedral domes and spires across the horizon, to the cuban band waiting for the church bells to stop ringing before resuming their number, to multiple mariachi bands singing away, not bothering they are one on top of each other.