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Thursday, May 25, 2017

The business of beauty: playing on our insecurities

I have found that people who try to make you insecure have an ulterior motive. Normal people don't go around putting down others. For example, my regular aesthetician says that I don't have any blackheads and we forego the painful procedure upon my request because it doesn't make much of a difference. Some days ago, my Vietnamese hairdresser was trying to convince that I need a special facial package to remove my blackheads. I had to say firmly,'No thanks. I have a regular aesthetician who takes care of me.'

Another day, a saleswoman of a luxury cosmetics and skin care brand said that I have to use an undereye cream because I am getting dark circles. I do get circles easily if I stay up late at night. Not my strong forte. I am a morning person now. But the primary reason was that I used a certain liquid liner with high-density pigment which gave a sharp line but was difficult to clean up even after using makeup remover wipes, cleansing milk, and face wash; leaving the sensitive eye area darker after each application. So I starting sporting a nude eye look instead. It goes well in Summer and I am out with the shades during daytime anyways.

So this brings me back to the topic again. Why do people try to play on your insecurities? What do they want to sell to you? What is it that they want to hide about yourselves that they distract you with your flaws? And to feel better about ourselves, we hide behind contoured cheeks. And then they comment' OMG! Why do you put so much makeup?'

I have realized that you can never make some people happy. They will always find something to complain about. And it has absolutely nothing to do with you. It is just their perspective. A friendly advice is quite different from a mocking tone. We are grown up enough to understand the difference.

We should avoid people who try to make us feel inferior. Our time can be spent well elsewhere. Maybe cooking something for our friends, or just talking to someone over the phone whom we really connect with. Sometimes, just doodling or reading a book. At least, we will learn something new.

We are often too polite to ask people to back off. But this builds resentment. I don't want you to be a snowflake who feels slighted by others too easily. It is just about managing your energy better and focusing on what really matters.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Spotlight: Lloyd Lacuesta

I was very inspired to hear the story of our MC last night. Lloyd Lacuesta was a long time South Bay Bureau Chief for KTVU Channel 2. He was awarded six Emmy awards and many other accolades during his broadcasting career which spanned 43 years. Some of his major stories included the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, the Oakland hills firestorm 1991, and the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado in 1999. Lloyd was the founder and the first elected national president of Asian American Journalist Association(AAJA).

He joked that Mexicans and Phillipinos shared the same colonial masters. Hence, similar surnames.

His father was a labor on a pineapple farm in Hawaii who had migrated from the Philippines. As a journalist, when Lloyd waited on the White House lawn to shout questions at the President, he thought to himself -not bad for a laborer's son!

His wife, Mona Lisa Yuchengco, is a filmmaker. Her father, Alfonso Yuchengco, was an Ambassador to China, Japan, and the United Nations and a prominent businessman in the Philippines who established a generous grant at the University of San Francisco to create the Maria Elena G. Yuchengco Philippine Studies Program.

Saturday, April 29, 2017


People say that childhood friends are the best. I agree that some of them have a special place in my heart, but I have been fortunate to have great friends in all the phases of my life.

S1 is my first best friend and my favorite cousin. I can still talk to her for hours without feeling judged. And I think she is one of those people who can never offend me no matter what she says. Love how she mothers me sometimes. 'Eat your food', 'sleep on time' etc. I tease her for it.

R and I shared the same crush in school and loved the same kind of music and books. We had long conversations and sleepovers, and I found depth in her quite rare for her age.

P took care of me when I had my first heartbreak. We went to the same school and the same college, but we had a different circle of friends. It wasn't until much later when I started a job and realized the value of a familiar face through what I believe were my 'years of struggle'. I was trying to find an identity, and she believed in me. She always believed in me.

I met S2 while doing my MBA. She was from a different university and a breath of fresh air. I took her to different socials with me, where she met her future husband. She still gives me credit for that, but I believe that they were destined to be together. They make a lovely family of four with a child and a dog. And every time I see their pics on Facebook, it fills me with great joy and pride.

But the most surprising friendship of all is probably S3. The first time we met through mutual friends, I thought she was quiet. Far from it. She is loud and crazy and makes me laugh. I took forward to our little adventures together, and every time I cook something nice, I think of her. She is very generous with her compliments and her happiness after a satisfying meal shows on her face. I cherish that.

I don't think life would be as beautiful without them.
You know who you are. I love you guys. I can't say it enough.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Guest post :Tryst with Life

I feel very privileged to publish a guest post by my friend and classmate from Holy Cross, Dora. When I first pitched the idea, she shied away saying that she couldn't possibly write anything good. I insisted that each one of us has a unique set of experiences that make us who we are. People connect to your words as long as those are real. I wasn't wrong. She wrote this beautiful piece about her father who passed away suddenly last July. For a glimpse into the pure love of our parents and her bittersweet reminiscences, read on: 

“Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday, Happy birthday to you!” That’s how Baba used to wish me at the stroke of the midnight hour on my birthday. I so wish to have recorded that moment, only if I knew I would never get to hear that again! I always believed that life is unpredictable, but Baba’s sudden demise surely made me see life with a new perspective! It’s almost a year now since Baba left us. I can still feel a void inside me, an emptiness which I do not want to share with anyone. That’s something I own, something which I want to carry along, maybe for my entire life.

Baba was never good with expressions, something I must have inherited from him. He never hugged me and said, “Love you Shona”. I always used to feel that difference when I saw fathers lovingly hugging their daughters around, expressing their love in various possible ways. It took me years to realize that it’s difficult to define love and its varied expressions; I now feel love watches over, love takes no time off, love is a sentinel, forever watching those in its care. I still remember the day, back in 2007, when Baba got admitted for the first time. We were supposed to go out shopping, and Baba promised to gift me a new smartphone; a new craze I had induced from my hostel! I had just enrolled for my post-graduation in Jaipur and was in Kolkata on a break. He got diagnosed with COPD, a chronic lung disease along with Tachycardia, a heart ailment. When I went to see him, he was resting on the ICU bed. I could sense that he was in pain, so I thought of not disturbing him and quietly sat beside him. The moment he opened his eyes and saw me, he said: “Go and buy your phone, why are you here!” With teary eyes, I rushed out to Ma “How can he say that? He is so sick !” Ma hugged me and said, “Don’t worry, he will be fine.” Many admissions followed in the coming years, but he always used to be back home hale and hearty. The same thing I expected this time too! So when Ma told me last June that Baba has been admitted for a general checkup, “Don’t worry he will be fine” is what I told myself.

“Benuda has been diagnosed with a rare bone cancer, there is nothing much we can do” Mamaji said. I walked out of the consultant room and stood still. It was the first time I realized what it was to feel insanely helpless! I rushed to his bedside, tears gushing out of my eyes I stood still staring at his restless unconscious body. Every time I called him, he looked at me like a stranger. I was infuriated; the fact that I could not do much for him, could not relate his weakness and back pain with something as grave as cancer, could not give him the luxuries that he deserved, could not express my gratitude for all that he did for me. No amount of regret could give me back the moments lost, and I stood there silently hoping that he knew how much he meant to me! At that very moment all I could pray for was to speak with him for one last time; to ask his forgiveness for all my mistakes, to hug him and thank him for whatever he did for me, and to tell him a million times that I love him!

Exactly a month post his diagnosis I lost dad to cancer. It was a painful battle with no positive consequence. The memories still haunt me at night and keep me awake; that feeling that I will never get to see him again, hear him again, and feel him around me is suffocating. I still wait for his call and long to hear his voice; 'Babu' he used to call me fondly. But I know that’s never going to happen, and I am slowly learning to live with it, be at peace with it.

Seeing Baba's struggle, I have learned a valuable lesson; life truly is unpredictable, but it’s beautiful in its own ways. I feel truly blessed being alive, yes alive! I now feel that’s the biggest blessing that I could have ever asked for. Can't thank God enough for keeping me healthy, giving me the opportunity to enjoy the small moments that matter; thankful for letting me see, smell, touch, walk, eat, laugh, cry, love, hug, sleep, dance; the list includes all such very basic moments which we tend to ignore in our daily life. That’s what matters, don’t you think? Can we enjoy any of our luxuries if we are not well, can we enjoy the simple pleasures of life if we are not healthy, and will the daily worries that disturbs us matter if we are chronically unwell? No! Right?

I am trying to learn the art to simplify life; focusing on the small moments, and ignoring the agonies that will not matter five years down the line. It’s not easy and needs a lot of retrospection and practice, but it’s really worth a try.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

যোদ্ধা রাজকণ্যা (The Warrior Princess)

Recently, I purchased a copy of Thakurmar Jhuli again and I was surprised to discover the gender bias ingrained in the stories. The stereotypical rivalry between the queens, the princesses valued only for their beauty, the prince going out on adventures. I thought it was time my next generation had a different story. So, you may call it Pishimar Jhuli instead of Thakurmar Jhuli. In all fairness, Thakurmar Jhuli was first published in 1907 and the stories precede that. I’d like to think that there has been a significance change in the Bengali society since then and most of you are ready for a new hero. A hero irrespective of gender, a hero by the virtue of their personality traits and not for their pulchritude. I hope that both adults and children will enjoy this tale. Let me know what you think!

P.S. This story is NOT a criticism of current Bengali society. The author's note is merely a forethought about the scope and necessity of a retelling of our fairytales.

সম্প্রতি, আমি ঠাকুরমার ঝুলির এক কপি কিনেছি এবং গল্পগুলোতে কিছু লিঙ্গ-পক্ষপাতমূলক বদ্ধমূল ধারণা দেখে বিস্মিত হয়েছি। রাণীদের মধ্যে গতানুগতিক দ্বন্দ্ব, রাজকুমারীদের শুধুমাত্র তাদের সৌন্দর্যের জন্য মূল্যায়ন আর শুধুমাত্র রাজকুমারদেরই কাজ বুঝি দুঃসাহসিক অভিযানে বেরোনো? আমার মনে হয় আমাদের পরবর্তী প্রজন্মের জন্য একটা আলাদা রকমের গল্প লেখার সময় হয়েছে। তুমি এটাকে "ঠাকুরমার ঝুলি" না বলে "পিসিমার ঝুলি" বলতে পারো। সত্যি বলতে কি ঠাকুরমার ঝুলি তো ১৯০৭ সালে প্রথম প্রকাশিত হয়েছিল এবং গল্প গুলো তারও আগের । আমার মনে হয় তখন থেকে বাঙালি সমাজে অনেক তাৎপর্যপূর্ণ পরিবর্তন হয়েছে এবং তোমাদের অধিকাংশই এক নতুন নায়কের জন্য প্রস্তুত; এমন নায়ক যে লিঙ্গ নির্বিশেষে, তার ব্যক্তিত্বের বৈশিষ্ট্যে, শক্তি ও কর্মদক্ষতার জন্য নায়ক, সৌন্দর্য্যের জন্য নয়। আমি আশা করি প্রাপ্তবয়স্ক ও শিশুরা সবাই এই কাহিনী উপভোগ করবে। এ সম্পর্কে তোমার মতামত অবশ্যই জানিও !

যোদ্ধা রাজকণ্যা 

এক দেশে এক রাজা ছিল।তার দুই রাণী - সুয়ো রাণী আর দুয়ো রাণী। রাজার কোন ছেলেপুলে ছিল না বলে রাজার মনে খুব দুঃখ ছিল। একদিন তিনি খবর পেলেন যে পাশের জঙ্গলে এক মুনি এসে বিশ্রাম করছেন। তার কাছে রাজা-প্রজা সব সমান। যে তাকে তুষ্ট করতে পারবে তাকে বুক ভরে আশীর্বাদ দেবেন, আর যার ওপর রুষ্ট হবেন তার সাত বংশকে অভিশাপ দেবেন।  রাজা একদিন গিয়ে সেখানে নিজেই উপস্থিত হলেন।  গিয়ে দেখলেন ভুসো কালি মাখা, মাথায় জটা, বিদঘুটে একটা লোক গাছতলায় বসে ধ্যান করছে । আসে পাশে ছড়িয়ে ছিটিয়ে কিছু লোক তার জন্যে অপেক্ষা করছে। মুনি একে একে সবার নাম নিচ্ছেন আর তারা উঠে গিয়ে তার বেদির সামনে উপস্থিত হচ্ছে, তখন তিনি কারোর গাল টিপে, কারোর চুল টেনে কি সব বলছেন। 

রাজার পালা এলে, রাজা ভক্তি ভোরে হাত জোর করে গাছতলায় পৌঁছুলেন। মুনি বললেন- 'হুম! সন্তান চাই? নে, এই ফলটা দুই রাণীকে ভাগ করে খাইয়ে দিবি। মনে রাখবি, সমান ভাগ হয় যেন!'

রাজা ঘোড়া ছুটিয়ে রাজ্প্রাসাদ ফিরে গেলেন। আর সঙ্গে সঙ্গে অন্দরমহল গিয়ে দুই রাণীকে বললেন- এক্ষুনি এটা সমান ভাগ করে খাও!'

কিন্তু সুয়ো রাণী খুব হিংসুটে ছিল। সে ভাবলো-'দুয়ো আমার ছোট, আমার অধিকার বেশি!'
তাই সে ফলটার দু ভাগ করে বড় ভাগটা নিজে খেল আর দুয়ো রাণীকে ছোট ভাগটা দিল। 

কদিন পর রাণীদের ঘরে সন্তান হলো। সুয়ো রাণীর হল সূর্যের মত ফুটফুটে রাজপুত্র আর দুয়োরাণীর হলো চাঁদের মতো রাজকণ্যা । সবাই দেখে বলতে লাগলো রাজপুত্র কি সুন্দর রাজা হবে! আর রাজকণ্যার রূপের আঁচে সব জ্বলে যাবে!

কিন্তু রাজপুত্র বড় হয়ে ওর মার মতো হিংসুটে হয়ে উঠল। ও ভাবত বাবা খালি বোনকে ভালোবাসে। রাজকণ্যা  কিন্তু তার মার মতো সরল, মিশুকে আর মিষ্টি। দাদার পেটে যে এতো বিষ সে জানত না। 

রাজা দুই ছেলে মেয়েকে অস্ত্রশিক্ষা আর শাস্ত্রশিক্ষা দিতে লাগলেন। প্রজারা কেউ কেউ ভাবলো - বুড়ো রাজার ভীমরতি হয়েছে - মেয়ের হাতে কেউ অস্ত্র তুলে দেয় নাকি ? রাজা সেসব কানাঘুষোতে দৃকপাত করলেন না।

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Conversations #1

My uber driver just told me: Your perfume smells nice. You smell like fresh orange blossoms when they first open. I used to live in Florida and you remind me of the orange orchards.
I told him it is Tom Ford Jasmine Rouge and it does have top notes of Mandarin. I had to compliment him on his sharp sense of smell. He said that his friends call him a freak. My marketing brain was already thinking of a slogan for a perfume ad: Smell like a burst of freshly bloomed orange blossoms 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Why work?

Yesterday, I met a Vietnamese man named Cuong whose mother used to work at the historic Agnew Insane Asylum in Santa Clara. He said that most of the inmates were 'normal' people who acted insane so that they could live comfortably without working for it. It reminded me of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest where the central character, Randle McMurphy, faked mental illness to avoid hard labor in prison.

In those days, Agnews treated the mentally disturbed; housed the aged, vagrants and the helpless; and was a detention facility for “imbeciles, dotards, drunkards, simpletons, and fools.” (official version)

When it first opened in 1888, there were only 65 inmates, transferred from the Stockton Asylum- California's first psychiatric hospital. By 1906, the number had increased to 1,800.

Cuong said that it is unfair that the difference of rewards between those who work and those who don't is so little in this country. He asked me- why should I work so hard then if I can sit at home and draw welfare checks? I won't live comfortably, but I can get by.

Then he looked at me and said- You must earn a lot. But you must be paying a lot of taxes too. Wait till you have bought property here.

I told him that there is no pride in welfare checks if you didn't genuinely need them.  I believe that working hard for pennies is more respectable than being a freeloader. Also, when you start acting like an invalid, you run the risk of getting caught in your own lie and making it your life's reality.