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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Honor

'Cross your legs; a lady doesn't sit like this!'
My mother told me when I was 10.
The first time I bled, she shamed me again
'It is a great life until it happens.'
Maybe she was worried about raising a daughter
Unstained, untouched, unseen by pervert eyes.

I was 19 when I was raped.
He thought 'No!' meant 'Yes!'
His male ego could not handle rejection.
He kept asking, ‘Why are you so dry?'
As if I was doing him great disservice
By being so uncooperative.

He came between my thighs.
And gloated, ‘That was good!'
Maybe it was short.
But it seemed like hours.

I saw the moon looking down at me
A witness to my shame.
'I thought we were friends!' I screamed at it later
'Why didn't you save me?'

The thing is- I could not save myself.
My honor is between my legs- I was taught.
And I believed it for a long time.

It took years of hidden guilt and shame,
Repressed memory and some therapy,
To come to terms that it wasn't my fault.

The shame should be for those who fail at proper courtship
Even animals respect the choices of their women.
To take away what is not rightfully yours is the shame.
There is no honor in it.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Midnight in Paris

They say Paris is magical at midnight. I walked out of my hotel to experience that. After an unpleasant smell of what appears to be an open toilet for a homeless guy, I walked up to Pont de Grenelle, a  bridge across the River Seine.

I half expected some revelers from the past to sweep me back in time, like they do in the movies,  for a night with some of the greatest minds of art and literature. Hemingway, Picasso, Stein, Monet, Hugo- it didn't matter which part of historical reality. I imagined an enlightening conversation that would give me the unified mantra of life. A few phrases that would help me through every ordeal I ever face.

Then I look around, a family of refugees in the park, young people laughing by the river bank. The Eiffel Tower lit up like a million fireflies are climbing up and down. After everything the city has seen in recent years - all the showmanship by the terrorists to frighten the people and the head of states into reaction has yielded nothing. Because life goes on.

I believe the mantra I was looking for is: Be alive.

The Eiffel Tower at Midnight. Every hour from 9 pm to 1 am at the strike of the hour, the Eiffel sparkles like diamonds for 5 mins as the lights change from a continuous glow to a dazzling glitter. The lights go out after 1 am.


At Le Moulin Rouge (The Red Mill)

It was a lavish extravaganza featuring pirates, an Indian princess, classic can-can dancers, circus clowns, miniature horses, a talking dog, a gorgeous woman dancing in water with pythons (my favorite act) and three specialty acts. We decided to go at the 11th hour and were not disappointed, even though I have seen several shows in Vegas.

 The Notre-Dame is a medieval gothic Catholic cathedral


The Louvre Pyramid

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A visit to Chihuly Garden and Glass, Seattle


In the heart of the Emerald City, Seattle, there is a glass art exhibition showcasing the life's work of Dale Chihuly. Born in the Pacific Northwest, Chihuly began experimenting with glass blowing in 1969 and later traveled to Venice to work at the Venini factory on the island of Murano. The world famous Murano glassmakers still lead the world in the art of glassblowing.

I first saw a glass museum on our way to Niagra Falls with my friends on a 4th July weekend, way back in 2008. Then, SG and I received two gorgeous Murano glass centerpieces in 2010, as a wedding gift from an Italian family friend. I have left it for safekeeping with my mother-in-law unless we find a nice spot to house them.

In 1976,  Chihuly had a head-on car accident in which he flew through the windshield, got severe cuts in the face and got blinded in the left eye leading to his loss of depth perception. Then in 1979, in a bodysurfing accident, he dislocated his right shoulder. Chihuly relinquished his gaffer position and let others work on his designs. He started to communicate his vision by drawing forms which became an important part of his self-expression. In an interview in 2006, he said,'Once I stepped back, I liked the view.'

Glass Forest
Organic forms created by letting glass down from a ladder

Mille Fiori (a thousand flowers)
Inspired by Chihuly's mother's garden
Mille Fiori, in Italian, also refers to a type of honey gathered from several flowers

Growing up in Tacoma, Washington, Chihuly often beachcombed and found Japanese fishing net floats along the beaches of Puget Sound. The Ikebana and Float Boats were inspired by this childhood experience.  In the mid-1990s, he was in Finland when he threw his glass forms into the local river near the glass factory there.

One day, Dale woke up and said that he wanted to hang glass chandeliers in his favorite city, Venice. He had seen a chandelier in Barcelona in a low lying ceiling. It inspired him to make the chandelier series.

Similar to a floppy bowl I made in BAGI, these art pieces are clouds of bright color

A reflection of the Seattle Space Needle on a glass ball in the garden

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Letter from a Leaf

I attended a writing workshop yesterday at The Arsenal by Lita Kurth, the co-founder of Flash Fiction Forum, San Jose. We did several exercises, one of which was to pen down either an autobiography of a leaf or a letter from a leaf. I chose the later. I would like to share the first draft with you.
Dear Ma,

It has been a while since I last saw you. After the gardener had pruned some of our sisters with his gigantic shears, we lay on the ground for hours in the scorching heat. Some of us crumbled and gave up. But Tessa and I kept hoping for a spot of rain.

A young woman with purple hair picked us up and took us home. She put us on her writing desk and started sketching details of our anatomy. Occasionally, she touched or smelled us. We were delighted to be there.

But soon her art project ended, and she threw Tessa away. I did not see her after that. The woman put me in one of her notebooks, and now I live across one of the poems she wrote about love. One day, I saw her weep. Her tear drops fell on a few lines of my neighboring poem and smudged a few words. When she closed the notebook, I got a black stain. But I don't mind. I had seen the woman when she was most vulnerable, and I think it is a privilege.

Don't worry about me. I'm living beyond the lifespan of my other siblings who fell to the ground the day we were pruned. Sometimes, it makes me feel guilty. But I think you'll be happy to know that I survived.

Your loving daughter,
Gina

Saturday, June 24, 2017

He drew windows everywhere

A poem by Roberto Juarroz, an Argentine poet famous for his 'Poesía vertical' (Vertical poetry)

He drew windows everywhere. 
On walls too high,
on walls too low,
on blunt walls, in corners,
on air and even on roofs. 

He drew windows as if drawing birds. 
On the floor, on nights,
on glances tangibly deaf,
on death's outskirts,
on tombs, trees. 

He drew windows even on doors. 
But he never drew a door. 
He didn't want to enter or leave. 
He knew one can't. 

He only wanted to see: to see. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Of Language and Accents

People pick up accents from where they live and work. When people accuse you of faking an accent, they probably think that you are doing it on purpose and struggling behind it. But expressions and phrases can make their way into your vocabulary organically. It depends on the amount of interaction with the locals.

We were taught British pronunciation and spellings in school. But now, I need subtitles to understand thick British accents on TV. The nature of language is fluid. What was once yours can become foreign one day. Though Hannah Arendt once said in her famous interview: 'What remains? The language remains.' What happens to those who do not have the opportunity to continue learning their mother tongue? I see a lot of children born in the US conversing exclusively in  American English. Some might feel it is a cultural betrayal.

But I want to tell them- the kids are growing up in a different environment. Their teachers, friends, family friends speak a common language. If they choose to converse in American English, let them. If some day they feel the need to learn about their roots, they will. Of course, some people make sure the kids are exposed to their mother tongue. Since Hindi, Bengali, or Tamil is not taught in schools here, it means extra coaching. I admire the tenacity. But is it really essential to love your mother tongue first? Learn of course, but love? What if someone can converse better in a different language? I love reading Bengali literature, but that doesn't mean I have to treat the first language I learned in school (English) differently All are mediums to express my thoughts. And no matter how many words I use in what language, I never feel it is complete.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Humans of Silicon Valley: JP

Have you ever stopped to think that beyond the visible spectrum of our universe, lie millions and millions of other galaxies, more vibrant and warm than the one we live in? Maybe there is an alien life more intelligent than ours. However, as Calvin (Bill Watterson) would say: The surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that it has never tried to contact us. But what if through a magical portal you could reach another life like yours but equally different?

I had the good fortune of meeting JP recently. A 40-year-old French-American with a little twinkle in his eyes. He lives in Bay Area with his husband and two kittens-Princess and Alien. He plays the harpsichord, loves Baroque music, and works in the software industry. He dropped out of high school when he was 17, taught himself to code in BASIC, Pascal, x86 assembly,  c, and c++. One of the reasons he moved from France was that it was easier to get a job in the US without a formal degree. But even in the liberal bosom of Silicon Valley, there are some impediments to overcome, for example, in companies where you need higher education to become a direct hire and enter the tier system of designation and salaries.

When I told him that I love my job because I have all the creative freedom I need, he lamented that the software industry is not what it used to be and engineers are having less and less to do with the creative process while the managers make the decisions about what needs to be done and how. He wants to change fields but he has already invested so many years in IT security, and it is not always that easy. He will probably have to take a pay cut too.

Though he was born in the US, he grew up in a village in France with a population of about 5000. He biked to school through the woods. His father was a Particle Physicist who worked for the government.

I asked him, ' Don't you feel suffocated in this jungle of concrete?'

‘I don't live in this jungle,’ he said with a sheepish smile.

'Of course, I forget, you live in the hills!' I laughed.

Then he shared an interesting anecdote about how his next-door neighbor had to dig his own well because the Santa Clara County line ends just at his place. He talked about the renovations he made to his place recently and advised me against investing in properties in Florida and putting too many eggs in one basket. ‘There are several cost disadvantages to investing in different locations too,' he explained.

He married in 2013 after the US Supreme Court (in a 5-4 decision in the United States v. Windsor) declared that part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which defined marriage solely as a legal union between a man and a woman was unconstitutional.

He told me how he fought with the DMV in 2008 to get his vanity plate 'HIV POZ'. When he first applied, his request was rejected. At that time, the story caught the attention of some local news agencies. 'My three minutes of fame,' he joked. A DMV spokesperson had said that a team of personnel reviews vanity plates and determines whether submissions are inappropriate or offensive, from degrading sexual terms to negative references.

JP said, 'I don’t think it’s something you need to hide from or be ashamed of. I wanted to break the stigma associated with it. HIV negative means that the test conducted did not show the presence of HIV virus or any kind of antibodies. However, receiving a single negative test result is not confirmation that the individual does not currently have HIV, as tests have various window periods and need to be repeated for confirmation over time depending on one's sexual history.

All types of HIV tests have a window period, which varies from 1 to 12 weeks. 3% of HIV infections still show up negative on the most common screening test, the antibody test, after 12 weeks. This means even if you go get tested today, a negative result doesn't prove you are actually currently negative. It means you were negative as of 1 to 12 weeks ago with 97% confidence. The test can only confirm if you are currently positive, but cannot conclusively prove if you are currently negative.'

He sent me links to his blog, the treatments available, and advice for sexually active gay men.

‘How do you people react to the vanity plate on the streets?’, I asked.

Most people react positively, he said. ‘Some throw high fives on the freeway, a lot of people take pictures that I can see in my mirror. Many pedestrians on the street take pics too, but there are also assholes who cut me off for no reason.’ Then he shared a thread on an online forum which had an excerpt from a news article featuring his case and  some comments like:

‘And, of course, he drive's a Prius. Not only do we have to fear being run off the road by a Prius now we have to fear HIV POZ Priuses as well!’ 
‘Hope he is never in an accident that requires on scene medical assistance.’ 
‘Way to set yourself up for a hate crime, bro. There's being open, and then there's painting a target on yourself.’ 
‘If your car gets rear-ended by the aids Prius, is it gay too now?’

I don't think it bothers him anymore. He lives a very private life and keeps to himself. And tries to educate people who are willing to listen.

(With permission)