Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Flor and Snow

Once upon a time, Prince Flor fell in love with Princess Snow.

One day, they met in his room, with a lotus bed topped with a leafy canopy, sitting quietly in a forest where his powers ensured that the flowers always bloomed and the leaves always changed colour.

“You bring out in me a softness, my dear prince,” said the golden-haired princess with eyes the color of the setting sky. “But most importantly, you love me as I am.”

“And you, my dear princess, bring me strength, inspire in me a power I never had,” replied the blue-skinned prince. He wrapped his lanky arm around his princess.  “But yes, I love that you love me the way I am. Would you please marry me?”

“Yes,” replied the princess. “Promise me we’ll never change, and I’m yours forever.”

As was custom, the two went to the court of the king and queen of love to be married in the presence of all other kings and queens in the land, and their families. There’s had always been a world of precarious balance, and all the rulers needed to approve of all unions to ensure the balance would never disturbed.

The red-haired king and queen of love had the final vote, though, and after all the monarchs had risen in their seats to express their approval. They exchanged a look of concern.  “Are you sure?” asked the queen. “You belong to different world, and this marriage won’t be easy.”

The princess took a long look at her prince and replied, “But we know each other now, and we love each other the way we are. Not to mention, we both deserve someone who will be our companion till the end of time, because look at us! Look at what we’ve made of ourselves!”

The king nodded. “Yes. It appears the two of you will be successful contributors to the natural order.
The king and queen turned to each other, and deliberated in whispers for a few minutes. Then, they finally faced their court and said, “Fine. We bless your union. May you flourish together on your destined path.”

Prince Flor and Princess Snow retreated to their palace on the foothills, somewhere between the icy chill of the higher peaks and the lush greens of the fertile plains. They worked all day, helping their parents oversee the realms below. But things changed one day, when Princess Flor came to their living room and looked out of their window to see their flowers lacking in colour. She found her prince in his study, and asked, “The roses don’t look very red.”

He smiled, but the corners of his mouth wouldn’t rise high enough. “Mankind can be rough on my family.”

“I’ve heard,” said Princess Snow. “But what can I say, you just have to stand strong.”

Prince Flor furrowed his brow. “Believe me, I am trying.”

“If you want, I could freeze half the land.” The princess shrugged.

“That’s not what I want. I want mankind to flourish and appreciate my family’s work.”

“Well, a little bit of chill never hurt anyone.”

Prince Flor didn’t say anything, but a short wall came up between them, growing taller by the day. It wasn’t as if they were changing. They were merely becoming more of who they were.
Prince Flor’s instinct was to always nurture, and he went to dozens of meetings with the prince of humanity to reach a solution to his problems. But both princes were losing, but at the same time didn’t want to punish the lower realm for their hurt. It just wasn’t in their nature.

“You said I brought you strength,” said Princess Snow. Their bedroom was slowly growing colder, a thin sheet of ice spreading through the ceiling. “Sometimes, one nedds the strength to deliever justice. Unfortunately, justice isn’t always sweet for everyone.”

“But I cannot be like you,” replied Prince Flor. “I believe in letting things grow, not thwarting them by force.”

“Well, I believe things need to end in order to begin again. That’s my role. And yes, I use force, but force is necessary.”

Prince Flor got out off their marital bed and started walking away. “I think I’ll sleep on the couch today.”

“You can’t. It’s freezing there. I was lying on it this afternoon and I was angry with you-“

“I’ll bring it back to its natural state,” said Prince Flor. “Because that’s what I do. God! I would love a bit of appreciation around here.”

The strong, icy princess had had enough. The next morning she went to the king and queen of love.

“We need to break up,” she said. “It’s just not working out.”

The queen raised her eyebrows. “You are married. You can’t just break up.”

“But you can reverse the union, annul it!”

“But we won’t. Because there is still love between the two of you. We can feel it in our bones, because that’s what we are good at,” said the kind. He leaned back on his red throne, his face set in lines of determination.

“But we don’t love each other for who we are anymore. We want each other to change. Doesn’t that mean we have failed? Because I know I’m one hell of a woman and I don’t need to tailor myself to the needs of any man.”

The king and queen were speechless for a second and then burst out laughing. The princess through her hands up in the air, exasperated. “Is this a game or something?” she shrieked.

“Young girl, everyone needs to change and that’s how love wins out in the end,” said the queen.

“What?” said the Princess.

The king nodded at his wife. “We don’t mean you need to change your very being. That’s not love. But you must learn to link yourself to your beloved, and feel him in your very heart as if he’s part of you. You don’t have to tailor anything, but you have to be receptive to growth, which in its own way, is change.”

The princess was confused. But she knew she couldn’t change their minds. She went home, unsure of what to do, and found her husband in their garden. Their vegetable patch would soon die off. Princess Snow watched the cabbages growing brown and wrinkled, the spinach in their last stage of life. She looked at Prince Flor. And for the first time, she was defeated. She hadn’t been able to freeze his heart and instead he had melted hers by just standing strong and unmoving, and wasn’t that what she, the heir to all that was chilly and cold, was known for?

She looked up at the sky and lifted her arms in the air, using her powers to freeze the realm in town, channeling her uncle, the king of time, to freeze the heavenly clocks and not just the air. Prince Flor felt the change. He turned around to see his wife working her magic.

“I want to know what you were going through,” said Prince Flor. “I love you as you are, but we will grow together.”

They went to their room and the Prince told her everything. “I just don’t know what to do,” he said. 
“I want mankind to grow, but I’m not sure they will be able to once my family loses its powers. I have given a lot to the earth, but what did I get in return? I have been cut and slashed and burnt, and yes, I can take a hit, but now it’s just too much.”

That was when he held out his arm to her, and she saw the lines on it, skin ripped open and then healing but not all the way, flesh that now threatened to burst open. She held his hand and kissed his palms, and a tear slipped from her eyes.

It started with their bedroom. The frost subsided. Then, time started moving again. Slowly, the upper reaches of the heavenly mountains became warmer. Princess Snow couldn’t stop crying.

Her tears had a way of manifesting themselves in the realm below, as the glaciers began to melt. The cities mankind had so painstakingly built, taking from the gifts bestowed by Prince Flor and his friends, started drowning.

Mankind was taken aback. What had they done? What could be done now? They weren’t sure, but it started by planting a tree.

“What did you do?” said Prince Flor. “I feel…warmer.”

“I don’t know,” said Princess Snow. “I just listened to you, and I couldn’t help it.”
Prince Flor sighed. “Thank you for understanding. I have a feeling everything will be fine now.”

“Indeed,” said the king of love, miles away from the couple but still experiencing their reconnection, still on his throne with a glass of wine. He raised his glass in a toast, and said, “To the power of love.”

His wife nodded once and raised her glass to his. “And to the power of change. May they always coexist for the sake of every realm in the universe.”

Monday, November 27, 2017

Most People Have Jobs

Jordan Peterson is a famous professor of psychology and clinical psychologist. By Western standards, he is a conservative. He is known for advocating traditional gender norms and insisting there are, in fact, only two genders. Although I don't agree with a lot of things he says (no, Mr. Peterson, not all women are attracted to dangerous men, although we do collectively apologize for the phenomenon that is Fifty Shades of Grey), I must say there's something he said in a podcast that caught my attention in a positive way.
He said that before we go on to debate whether the right to have a career should be socially limited by gender, race or class, we must first acknowledge that most people don't have careers. They have jobs. Careers and jobs are very different things. The whole point of something being a job is that you're being paid to do work that you wouldn't do unless you were paid. I write this blog without any financial benefit because it's my interest. I go to architecture school in hopes of securing a job. I'm sure you can find the distinction in your own life as well. Therefore, Peterson argues, this glorification of having "careers" must be stopped as it is selling the wrong idea to people.

Children are taught that a) everybody has something they're good at and b)if you work hard enough, you can achieve anything. These lessons are taught in the context of informing their professional lives. However - and remember we're all either already parents or have a chance of being one some day - are we completely misleading the future generation? Are we feeding them dreams of something that does not exist? Because if you're an adult and you're reading this, how did following your dreams and going after what you want work out for you? I'm guessing not so great, unless you are very lucky. This is not because you didn't try hard enough or because other people are out to get you, it's because all sanity in the world depends on the rigged system in which there will always be more people dying to be actors than to be accountants, accompanied by there always being greater need for accountants than actors. It is economics in its purest forms. There are a lot of bright, talented people out there but unfortunately, there isn't a need for that many of them working professionally, which is why our dreams might not come true unless we are in the top 1% or something. You could be in the top 5%, which would practically make you a genius in your chosen field, and still not be equipped for astounding professional success in your field.

But let's be honest. We all knew this, right? That's why people go for the next best option to actually making a career out of their passion : going after the most socially valued positions. If you sat for the IIT entrance exams, you know what I am talking about. I find it hard to believe that every year, millions of students aged 17-18 all have the dream to become engineers because it is downright ridiculous for so many people to want the same thing. Yet, the two years preceding the exams, at least for me, were about being surrounded by classmates who truly believed that becoming an engineer was their calling in life. I remember thinking that if there truly is an existence of Gods and they are all fighting for supremacy, at least in India, Lord Bishwakarma had clearly won, inspiring more people than any other Hindu God chilling in the five-star abode of heaven. Same goes for top management positions as well, which is even more laughable when all those who were dying to become engineers just four years ago can't think of any valid career option that can be accomplished without going to management school. None of this has anything to do with passion, or dreams or even ability for that matter. It is about vying for positions achievable on limited means that offer the highest amount of social capital and you're doing it out of pure interest. Sure, there are some people who really do love their professions, but I think it's fair to admit that's a minority. 

The thing is that even the privileged 1% who do make their dreams come true aren't necessarily exempt from the frustrations of doing things they don't want to do. What we are not aught in school that most people we see to be financially secure (or rich) are not only the products of high salaries but of the decision to suitably invest those salaries, and trust me, most people don't enjoy the headache of buying and selling shares and property. Secondly, even the super successful aren't exempt. Just look at famous actors Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan. Shah Rukh trained to be an actor with one of the most prestigous theatre companies in the country, and from what I hear, was pretty bad at academics during his time at Jamia. But now, he has to invest in a cricket team to stay rich and act in movies like Happy New Year (in spite of being capable of doing a Chak De India every year) just to keep the connections that would enable him to get better jobs. Even Aamir Khan, with his big words on cinema and society, has to watch Katrina Kaif do an acrobatic striptease in Dhoom 3 from time to time. This is all because even successful people are not bigger than the market they serve, and once again, we are back to simple economics. Perhaps there are people who change the world altogether, but they come maybe around once or twice in a generation, and I don't care how awesome you are, it would be arrogant to think you're one of them without substantial proof.

The truth is that we use our jobs to make ourselves look good, and judge others for their job. But ask any grown-up who has been in the workforce for thirty years or so and they'll tell you that jobs, even the most socially lauded of them, aren't all they're cracked up to be. Calling them "careers" is glorifying them and in spite of claims to the contrary, fueling a society where a people are valued mostly by the work they do and not by who they are, a culture where mere teenagers are pitted against each other to determine who is the "best." Wouldn't we be better off just admitting that jobs are what we do to make money in a legal, non-harming way, so that we have the luxury to pursue the relaxation offered by our passions?

I'll be honest, I have often be accused of having a very bleak outlook of life. However, recently, a close friend of mine asked me how I could stay unchanging and have a general idea of what I want. I was obviously flattered by the question, and here is my answer : I don't consider myself to be good enough to get exactly what I want. That is my starting point in any matter. I started writing stories as a very young child. I put up my own play when I was ten and wrote more than fifty emails selling my book to literary agents worldwide when I was twelve. My play was horrible and I still have the rejection letters from the agents. These experiences had a profound effect on me. Firstly, I realized I wasn't good enough just because I felt I was better than X.Y. and Z, which was disappointing at them time. But the reason I am one of those rare adults who is still doggedly pursuing their childhood dream is because with the disappointment and depression, there was a sense of pride in knowing that while other kids my age were thinking of becoming something someday, I was already producing written works, and I felt that if there was one thing that could one day help me achieve my dream, it would not be my superior literary talent (frankly, I don't even consider myself an avarage literary talent), but the fact that I was I was constantly producing something. And once again, it was production and not intention that put me at an advantage, because, well, that's just how economics works. But this is about more than economics. This is about how I choose to live my life.

Look around you. There are so many people who say they want to become something, but how much of that is transformed into action? This can most notably be observed in the recent phenomenon of a large number of young people wanting to have businesses in tech. How many boys who want to have startups are already looking for investors? Or coding a part of their program? 

Now, I am nowhere implying any sense of superiority. I am, quite evidently, average at best, and if I wasn't, I would have already had my dream so there's no logical reason for me to assume I am better than anyone else. But as I finish this post, I realize that I started writing about one thing and ended up writing about something completely different. This is because words like "dreams" and "jobs" and "careers" have now been so jumbled up that we are constantly trying to figure out what we want, which is the biggest handicap of our generation and what is keeping up from being proactive. We are not clear about who we are and what we want, reluctant to admit that the work we do isn't what we like to do or to confess our true notions of how important our work, on an individual level, really is. It is making us wait too long, hope for a career than may not exist for us, and encouraging in us a false sense of I-can-achieve-whatever-I-want. So perhaps it's time we take a step back and look at our jobs for what they really are, and give people a chance even if they don't have real careers as we define the term.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Of Women and Work

Before I start with the post, I want to tell you why I decided to write about this in the first place.

For the past few days, I have been watching videos about what the right path is for women. Is it a career? Is it motherhood? Or is it both, in which case, are we asking for more than we can handle? I'm new to America, and out here, it seems that ideologies are inflexible, and what women should or shouldn't do is a core principle defining every ideology. Evidently, there is a lot of gender politics, and I admit that not all of it is against women. Some of it is against men as well, and it's not like men aren't burdened with expectations as well. I mean, we'd be lying if we said a stay-at-home dad is shamed less than a woman whose priority is her career.

I'm not going to go over what feminists and anti-feminists and conservatives and liberals and blah blah blah. It seems to me that ideology is politics, and I'm not going to make decisions regarding my life based on politics. I only want to talk about what view I have about how I should live my life, and people are free to disagree.

I have been mocked for the fact that I love children and the idea of motherhood. In my college years, I felt like I was the only girl openly admitting to feeling that family is one of the most important things in my life, while most other girls went on and on about how career should be the only focus at least the next decade. On several accounts, I felt like my beliefs were a joke, open to ridicule because they sounded more conservative, and debunking conservative viewpoints makes you a champion of progress, doesn't it? Never mind that a man saying he doesn't need a woman is called sexist and a woman saying she doesn't need a man is called a feminist by the liberal media, because we're all about equality here, right? Never mind the fact that this constant criticism and abandonment of traditional female roles shames and trivializes all that was done by our female ancestors and reduces their contributions to nothing simply because they weren't warriors or kinds, because if a woman wants to have a family, she's just conforming, isn't she?

The part that disturbed me the most was the fact that most of the ridicule towards my view on life came from other girls, not boys, and that's embarrassing not only because I thought we agreed that after years of oppression it's time for girls to stick up for one another, but also because these girls weren't really doing better with their careers than I was. I did reasonably well in my college career, and whether or not I wanted to devote my whole life to a career was not something I could be judged by as we were all in exactly the same point in our professional lives, and it was like they could claim some kind of social superiority just for an ideology they have, not for actions and results.

And to be honest, this is just disturbing:

So here's my take on all the "feminists" who are busy making fun of "housewives" and "girlie girls" or whatever - FEMINIST IS NOT A PROFESSION. You're not making things any better for your gender just by believing in equality, because what does belief really amount to anyways? Actions, on the other hand, amount to a lot, and a woman who wakes up at five in the morning prepares food for her whole family, gets her children ready for school, gets her husband (or wife) a cup of tea, manages the resources of the household, supervises the more tedious household chores, and teaches her kids values, is doing a lot more than someone who just believes they're a feminist. Household work, whether done by a man or a woman, is, at the end of the day, work, and doesn't stop being it just because it's not paid for or credited. It doesn't come with health insurance or company retreats, and there aren't any paid vacations.  Yes, it's true that there are housewives who don't work very hard, but that's just as common as women who don't work very hard at the workplace, so stop devaluing the work that millions of women are doing when you're just a student and before you yourself have done any real work.

Also, if the pursuit of a career really is about equality, a woman shouldn't have to choose it over a family because men don't have to choose between the two. If you're a modern woman under the impression that you're somehow becoming superior by rejecting traditional female roles, try to remember that men aren't being asked to reject traditional male roles to become worth something. And just so you know, making fun of motherhood doesn't make you modern anyways. It makes you just as judgemental as the people criticizing working women, just in a reverse way.

That being said, I never agreed to being a stay-at-home mom, either, and it bothers me that I am being made to choose. At this point, one may ask, "If you believe in the power of traditionally female roles so much, then why are you not okay with being limited to them?" The answer is simple.

Even if I do become a mother, and do choose to become a stay-at-home mother at that, there's always the fact that my children will grow up fast and one day, won't need me as much. Therefore, even if I am completely fulfilled by motherhood, my work will lessen with time till finally, in old age, I will be the one dependent on my children. This is the reason that I have a desire to be something aside from a wife and mother. I want access to a socially contributing community apart from the people at home, and for that, I need to work. And yes, motherhood is a gift given to humanity, but I won't glorify it so much as to say that a woman's worth comes only from that. If that were the case, women would lose their value the minute they weren't at the prime age for having children anymore, and I am not okay with that. I don't want to have a shelf life, and I don't want to ever become obsolete. Also, if I get a good job, fair and square, why should I let it go? In today's economic climate, it's uncertain who will or will not stay employed and for how long. It is quite possible that my partner loses his job due to company cuts or whatever and if I work, I will be serving my family by being the breadwinner for that period of time.

For the rest of my life, I'm going to balance between family and work, and I am okay if I have to stay home for a while to start a family because technically, I stayed out of the home for a long time to start a career too. I hope companies will understand this and allow up to ten years of gap in employment for women who have families, and I will accept it if the sabbatical means I have to start from one or two loser rungs in the ladder as long as I'm not expected to start back up from the very beginning. But most importantly, I'm not going to judge and shame women who are not like me, because let's be honest, the whole family versus career debate is complicated for them! If you are not like me and only want a career, that's great. If you only want a family and are willing to be completely devoted to that role, then that's great too. Whatever works for you is fine. But if you're young like me, I think the best thing to do would be to think all life decisions through before buying into any particular ideology, no matter how traditional or progressive, because women have been dealing with social shackles for centuries, and being confined by ideology is, at the end of the day, it is only by keeping our options open that we become truly liberated.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Raj and His White Girlfriends

I recently came across this Buzzfeed video about why Asian men aren't considered attractive by Western society:

Don't be fooled by the provocative thumbnail. The video is actually filmed in an discussion format, with fully dressed men talking about some serious issues of race and discrimination. I would suggest you watch the video, but if you decide not to, here's the summary - four representatives of the Asian community voice their concerns about Asian men being emasculated, infantilized and disrespected by Western media, perpetuating the myth that Asian men are unattractive. Of course, there are male Asian celebrities who are considered very attractive, but it feels unfair to name genetically-blessed celebrities in this argument because there's always going to be some attractive people in every community, but if that community has negative stereotypes associated with it, these people will be considered the exception. Also, the discussion is about average guys of all races. I mean, think about it. Nobody says, "White men are so not attractive," with someone replying, "That's not true. Just look at Tom Cruise." In fact, the reply will most likely come in the form of collective raised eyebrows doubting the naysayer's sanity. Lastly, it is important to understand that even though this may feel like a trivial concern at first glance, the impression you form of someone based on their race is, at the end of the day, a manifestation of racial discrimination, and is likely to seep into other, more important matters. For example, Americans are less likely to accept an Asian president as they are often portrayed and perceived as less "manly" than their counterparts in other races, and people would think they're better suited for Silicon Valley than the White House.

I agree with most of the things they say in the video. To be honest, it riled me up.

But then I started thinking about it more, and there was something disturbing happening here, in my opinion.

On of the most famous Asian characters in recent times is Raj Koothrapalli. For a second here I'll ignore the ridiculous surname. When I was in high school, some of my friends picked up on how Raj got the fewest lines because he couldn't talk in front of women (which is just taking a stereotype too far), and is the only character to not have a long-term girlfriend even in the eleventh season. He's portrayed as having feminine characters, and there's nothing wrong with that, except for the fact that Hollywood reserves these roles for gay and Asian men. So, yeah, there's a lot of things that are wrong with how Raj has been characterized, and it's all pretty racist.

There's one thing that always bothered me, though, and I am sorry to say that I have, in fact, noticed this characteristic in a lot of Asian men.

Still from an episode in which Raj invites all his ex-girlfriends to talk while Howard takes notes

While Raj may not be very attractive to most white women he encounters, the real issue here is that Raj himself seems to only want to date white women. He's at a university. You could find hundreds of Asian women at most good universities in America, women who wouldn't look at his Asian-ness as a negative. He probably didn't go mute around all the girls back home, right? Is it just a nervous tic for attractive women, which in this case seems to imply mostly white women? I often feel infuriated by the way Raj talks about his life back in India, as if coming to America was all that matters, as if his education prior to the part he is pursuing in America was worthless (even though that education gets thousands of Asians to prestigous universities around the world every year). I will openly admit that I actually kind of hate Raj as a character, which is why I find it difficult to sympathize with him.

It's not just Raj. While Asian women have been historically sexualized and commodified by white men, Asian men have also been guilty of idolizing white women as the pinnacle of beauty and sophistication. This is especially true in Indian men. Indian society values "white" features (straight noses, high cheekbones, and most importantly, fair skin), and a lot of men are fascinated by white women, placing them higher than Indian women in terms of attractiveness. One might argue with me on this in the comments, but the sales of fairness creams and magazine covers featuring Indian actresses who've used plastic surgery to eliminate the Indian-ness of their features will speak in my defense.

Why is it that members of Asian media suddenly seem to mean more when they succeed in Hollywood? More importantly, do you think any white men would really care if Asian women didn't find them attractive?

At some point, I stop to question : Are we fighting for representation, or are we begging for approval from a politically more powerful and represented community, hoping that we'll be let into their elite club?

What we need is a thorough acceptance of our Asian-ness and the creation of a culture that caters to us. A community doesn't become powerful by seeking approval. It does so by sticking together, with the members building each other up instead of striving for ideals set by a different community. In order for people to see the attractiveness in us, we must first see the attractivenes in ourselves, and do so without changing our accents or the way we dress or how we naturally look.

And FYI, I'd be lucky to be able to date a lot of Asian men. But also, somebody like Raj Koothrapalli would need to be born again as a different person to be able to date an Asian woman like me, and I'm not even bragging here.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Some Shows I'm Currently Loving

It's the summer before I move abroad, the lull period before the next phase of my life. WIth very little to do and few obligations to fulfill, I've retreated to television land. Here are some shows I've been enjoying.

1. Finding Carter

A sixteen-year-old girl finds out that the woman who raised her is not her mother, but is, in fact, her kidnapper. Her real family, the one she was taken from at the age of three, lives just two hours away. Talk about an elevator pitch! I can't imagine hearing that premise in those two neat lines and not watching the show. But the best part is that the show goes beyond its premise, and delves into the lives of all its characters. Special shoutout to Maxlor, which is my name for the Taylor-Max ship, and I'm going to write Finding Carter fanfic soon. Too bad the show got canceled, which seems to be a going concern for a lot of great shows.

2. Bunheads

I read about Bunheads in Rainbow Rowell's Landline, in which the MC is an aspiring Amy Sherman-Palladino. I loved Gilmore Girls, but the revival left me a little disappointed, which is why I was skeptical about Bunhead. But guess what? I fell in love with Bunheads, more than Gilmore Girls, and I fell in love with Michelle more than Lorelai (sorry, Lorelai!). It inspired me so much that I started looking for ballet classes in the State College area, and even started writing a few short stories about ballet. Sherman-Palladino is definitely lucky with her leading ladies, and Boo, Ginny, Sasha and Mel were the friends I wished I had in high school. It has some spectacular dance routines and the small town charm that Gilmore Girls had, too. I just wish they'd given more time to mourning Hubbel, and to developing Mel. This show got canceled, too, with a lot left to explore. But Netflix gave us the Gilmore Girls revival, and so, I'm keeping my fingers crossed and hoping the same will be done for Bunheads.

3. Switched at Birth

This show is an 'issues' show, and there's never a time when it's not dealing with some serious problems teenagers and young adults face. But the thing is, it doesn;t feel like an issues show, which was my problem with another hit Freeform show, The Fosters. Also, a huge chunk of it is filmed in ASL, and it serves as bridge between the deaf and the hearing. I loved the alternative route Bay takes to become an artist, and Daphne's aspirations to become a doctor, and also that the show didn't end with neat happily ever afters. It felt like the journey would go on, and the sisters that were switched at birth would always be together.

4. Younger

I forty-year-old woman pretends to be a twenty-six-year old to land a job in the ageist publishing industry. That's another great elevator pitch, and a fresh new take on ageism. Sutton Foster (previously on Bunheads)  completely sells the idea that she's in her mid-twenties, and I guess if someone didn't know the story, they'd have no reason to suspect otherwise. Our favorite early 2000s star Hilary duff (of Lizzie McGuire fame) plays the best friend/co-worker. I know a lot of it will look down upon a show that's reminiscent of SATC, but the reality is, that this is a show about women, for women, and that doesn't make a show frivolous.

I'll be on the lookout for more shows to watch, but I really hope I don't come across more great shows that, in my opinion, got cancelled before their time. It really says a lot about how quality of entertainment has very little to do with its life span.

Are there any shows you like that got canceled? Let me know in the comments.

Monday, May 1, 2017

When Businesses Became Start Ups

These days, everyone wants a startup of their own.

Okay, so maybe that's too generalized. Not everyone wants a startup of their own. But a lot of millennials do.

Before further discussion, this is how Wikipedia defines startups:

startup company (startup or start-up) is an entrepreneurial venture which is typically a newly emerged, fast-growing business that aims to meet a marketplace need by developing or offering an innovative product, process or service. A startup is usually a company such as a small business, a partnership or an organization designed to rapidly develop a scalable business model.

Now, I don't mind start-ups, even though I don't have the inclination or ability to start one. My problem is with the fact that today, startups are being presented to us a solution to all our problems. In an age when all things Internet are the definition of cool and a generation whose heroes are Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk, startups have become the generational dream. You just start a business on the Internet, code like a boss to set up the site, and suddenly you're the next big thing and maybe you're helping people and decreasing unemployment. Startups peddle the hipster-y image in which offices are relaxed, bosses are cool and hey, every day is casual Saturday. It's hip, it's cool, it's fun and it makes money. Startups feel like the next big thing that's pull us out of....I don't even know what, and a lot of people are buying into this dream.

It's time I tell you why I have a problem with this startup craze and bear with me here while I, a non-economist and non-sociologist, explain why the 'startup dream' is problematic. I guess that clarifies that I have an issue with the startup dream and not the basic idea of startups, or even the great startups that went on to make a difference in my life.

A few months ago, I met an old friend after having no contact with her for 8 years. During all the catching up conversations we kept running into the 'what are you planning to do with your life' topic. I explained to her that even though I haven't thought too seriously about it, having a small architecture firm of my own would be nice. She looked at me and said, "So,,,like a startup?" And I didn't know why she needed to bring the term into a discussion about good old fashioned architecture firm. Is that the term one would use for a new law firm or a medical practice? I am guessing not. So I assumed that the problem with her understanding lay either in her idea of a startup or her limited knowledge of service-providers and businesses that have been operating for decades in this world without the need for a special name.

See, I believe that we've been led to believe that startups are something new and different when in reality, they entrepreneurial ventures just like all the entrepreneurial ventures that came before. The basic idea is still to do business, right? B-U-S-I-N-E-S-S with a capital B. But that's not how startups are being presented to us. Instead, they are being presented to us as an alternative lifestyle, an alternative to cold hard business sometimes. Startups are more commonly associated with the tech space. From the outside, it looks like startups are all about coming up with creative concepts and coding and changing lives, but it's also about balance sheets and profit margins and customer acquisition costs and marketing budgets. But how many people actually think about all that while dreaming up their next-big-thing internet startup? How many times do the Gates' and Zuckerbergs and Musks of the world lay off on the all the philosophical speeches and talk about this aspect of their work?

Another problem with people' interpretation of a startup is that the term has become associated with youth, which means that everyone is in a hurry to start. In my observation what that has done is that it has limited people's ability to actually come up with ideas that will help people when implemented on the suggested platform. Any invention or business is about innovation. A semester of classes in Entrepreneurship has taught me that any kind of entrepreneurial activity is all about innovation. But the key to innovation is to observe the needs and difficulties of people around us, and coming up with a solution that can be implemented to reach and be accepted by a reasonably large target market. This can't happen if you've already decided to go the startup route or have had that dream for a long time, before coming up with an innovative idea. What that does is cause people to develop a cool product or idea, and then try to find a market for it, which (apart from a few exceptional case) is the backwards way of going about it. A lot of people take a few personal experiences and work on a startup around those experiences, without thinking about all the stakeholders.

If you're thinking about a startup, or have already started one. have you thought about the following things:

1. Who will be your direct competitors?
2. Who are all the stakeholders?
3. What is the target market?
4. Who could potentially be your investors?
5. Do you have any competitive advantages?
6. How big is the gap in the market that you are aspiring to fill?

Have you honestly answered these questions yet? Without cheating on the answers to convince yourself that your startup will work? If yes, good. You're probably on the right track. If no, think about these questions, be brutally honest while answering them and if you can't find the answers maybe you have a little bit more work to or maybe you don't like the business aspect of things, in which case you'll at the very least need a strategic partner who really is thinking about financial success.

Let's not ignore the fact that startups, more often than not, fail. It's a fact that can evade us is we're too focused on the success stories, but it's the most important fact to keep in mind. You can't let 'startup' be the keyword of your dream plan and then feel like a failure if it doesn't work out.

So that's my take on the startup craze. But I sincerely do hope that if 's your dream, I hope it works out, and a startup ends up being everything you thought it would be. If there are any stories you'd like to share, the comments section is open...

Monday, April 17, 2017

A Very Important, Very Open Letter To Grown Ups With Cell Phones

Dear Grown Ups,

If you're in the plus-40 age group you've probabaly looked at a teenager or young adult, rolled your eyes, and made a comment about 'today's generation'. You've probably also complained about how attached we are to our cell phones, and how we never look up from those screens, and how we have no appreciation for life outside of the virtual world.

Look, I'm a balanced person. I'm not a tech addict in the sense that you mean. I'm barely on social media and to me, the web and all the electronic gadgets which serve as its channels are merely creative and educational tools sometimes used for entertainment. (TBH, as an architecture student, entertainment is working on drawing on AutoCAD while a movie plays in the background or in a much smaller window). I don't count likes, I don't know what people are posting. I'm just a girl who uses technology because she is belong to her generation and has adapted to the world around her. I have a life outside of the web as well, but I often use my phone or laptop to support it. I exercise regularly and use Youtube for guidance and fitness, I read articles about topics that appeal to me, I discover movies and books from all over the world, and to me, my phone and laptop are tools that help me access so much more.

Recently, I asked one of my professors for a recommendation. He was busy and therefore couldn't get right back to me. A few weeks later, I texted him, saying I need the recommendation ASAP. And then, I went out with some friends for three hours. Just three hours.

Unfortunately, my professor called during those two hours. He called me thrice, with a gap of say ten minutes between calls. I missed these calls and called him back 3 hours later, when I was back home. His response was cold. I'll paraphrase what he said- How dare you not pick up my phone when I called? How dare you call back three hours later?

A similar incident happened a year ago. A friend of mine didn't have cell service for a while. His mother started calling his friends to check up on him and I didn't realize it because I was busy doing some very important paperwork at my university. When I called her back, she barely deigned to speak to me till I explained the entire situation to her like I had committed a huge crime.

Grown ups, go back to the time when you were our age. There were no cell phones back then. People managed. It wasn't just cell phones that were absent, it was also the expectation to be heard whenever we had something to say. You didn't expect to call someone at one o' clock in the afternoon and pick up just like that. We were mindful of the right time to call. And we respected that other people, no matter young or old, have their own schedules they need to attend to before catering to us.

I don't spend every waking minute with my phone. In some ways you'd agree that's a good thing. But not when I miss your call or am late in texting you back. How does that make sense? Am I supposed to keep an eye on my phone when I am at a social gathering? When I am walking across a busy intersection? When I'm studying? When I'm charging my phone?

I guess what I am trying to say is that no matter how accessible people become through technology, there will always be boundaries. There will always be the disappointment of calling someone only to have it ring on for a minute. It's nothing to take personally. If they call you back, they're not ignoring you or disrespecting you. They're probably just busy. I think the whole point of being connected through cell phones and all its services is that it enables us to schedule points in time when both parties are free. That's the way life gets easier.

SO next time you call up a kid and they don't answer back right away, don't mind so much. They're busy not being slaves to technology, just like you told them to be.

Yours sincerely,
A 23-year old normal person

P.S.: If they don't call you back, you have every right to mind. Hey, these youngsters can't just get away with everything, okay?

Thursday, February 16, 2017

We Are Not Special

I saw this TED talk today: 

In the beginning of her talk, Mariana talks about how, when she was a kid, she was bullied at her summer camp in Minnesota, America. Well, maybe 'bullied' isn't the right word. It's just that the other kids seemed to think she was different with a capital-D, and this difference not only made her stand out, but it also gave the other kids the right to have an opinion about her background and her accent. She had come from a land far, far away, at least in the eyes of the other summer campers, and to them, laughing at Mariana's broken English wasn't mean. It was the natural reaction.

It reminded me of my childhood. I am a Bengali girl who grew up in New Delhi, which doesn't sound very exotic in today's expatriate riddled world. But the thing is, that in my five- to thirteen-year old eyes, I was different. I was the kid who was having just a little bit more difficulty learning Hindi than all the other kids, especially when it came to learning the elementary school Hindi slang. My family didn't eat the same things everyone else's did, they didn't have the same folklore and anecdotes to share, my cousins lived far away. It was all small, harmless, but they were differences. Most of the time I had no issues with being different. We were prabashi Bangalis, Bengalis who live outside of West Bengal. But like the movie Piku, it's very true that you can take a Bengali out of Bengal but you can't take the Bengal out of the Bengali. We lived with one foot in our home state, and one foot in the state our address categorized as our home. 

There are a lot of Bengalis living in New Delhi. In fact, these days, in our cosmopolitan world, moving away to another state is the norm. But believe me when I say that it didn't feel like that to me back in the day. Most of my classmates were north Indians. There families belonged to Delhi, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, sometimes Rajasthan. There was one or two other Bengali and South Indians kids I knew, but we were clearly in the minority.

And we knew this because there were lots of times when my friends would ask me to speak Bengali for them like it was some kind of party trick. They commented on my diet, about how it must have only consisted of fish and sweets. Anything in my tiffin box that they couldn't instantly recognize was labeled Bengali dish. Some of the relatively meaner went ahead and told me that Kolkata (capital of West Bengal) was the dirtiest, most uncivilized place in the world. They talked about how I belonged to a place less developed than the city my parents had decided to move to, and to them, I would always be the outsider. These incidents were not an everyday occurence, but they happened often enough, I didn't understand it at the time, because India, by definition, is full of diversity. Every state is different, so how could it be that my origins were perceived as unusual, while my classmates were the norm?

I slowly came to realize that for a lot of kids in my school in Delhi, speaking Hindi at home was normal. Normal. A word tied so tightly to the word accepted. To them, what they were was the right cultural background, and everything else was alien. To  them, being North Indian was the default, and in this case, default is a strange word.

Maybe it didn't get to me, but a lot of my friends were affected by being singled out because of their 'different' cultural background. As adolescents, they all but abandoned their cultural heritage. They claimed not to know their own language, refused to speak anything but Hindi and English, downplayed their own festivals and traditions. They wanted to be cool, and being cool meant assimilating. Yes. It is possible to have to assimilate in your own country.

Then I went to Mumbai, and for a while, things seemed better. Seemed. My friends had their origins in many different states in India. But it soon became clear to me that the same perceptions existed, just in a different way. One day, my best friend overheard me talking to my mother in Bengali. We were on the phone, and I placed my hand on the receiver as I mumbled in Bengali a reply to some question my mother had asked. When I returned to my conversation with my best friend, she was evidently perturbed. She asked me what I had said to my mother, and at first seemed offended that I had chosen to speak a language she didn't speak. Then, it felt as if she was just uncomfortable. One part of my life that was different from hers didn't sit right with her, and she needed a few minutes to come to terms with the fact that I wasn't default.

Finally, I came to Kolkata for college. Yes, people here believe Bengali is the best language to have ever existed. And North Indians here seem to be a separate community, with its invisible walls separating it from the Bengali community. The North Indians maintain their culture, are never ashamed it. Yes, they learn our language, but not at the cost of slowly, over the course of one or two generations, forgetting their own. Perhaps I am biased. Since I'm in a city where my roots lie anyways, I can't feel the pressure of being different. But this is my observation, and I hope you bear with me on this one.

Sometimes I wonder if Hindi speaking states believe themselves to be the default, the ones that define normalcy. To them everything else is marginalized. As mean and judgmental as I sound, I think this is nobody's fault. How did my Bengali friends in Kolkata learn to speak Hindi? By watching Bollywood movies and Hindi television shows. That was mainstream entertainment. The kind of entertainment our grandparents liked could be found on the Regional Entertainment section of the set top box menu. Anything other than Hindi was 'regional'. Culturally, it feels a lot like being marginalized.

If you're having difficulty understanding this, consider this analogy. When you go to a bookstore like Starmark or Crossword, you'll note that Indian authors have a separate category for themselves in their own country. There work isn't just mystery or thriller or humor, it's characteristically defined as Indian, as if Indian is a genre and books written be international authors are the default. Tell me that doesn't seem strange to you.

What I'm talking about here is that no matter how diverse our country is, how much we know that we're all different and that's a good thing, we are still unable to break out of the convention of segregating cultures to mainstream and marginalized. It's engrained in us, and its what we pass on to our children. It serves to tell us that maybe bigotry is in all of us, in different degrees, and even if you don't publicly demean large groups of people, there's a chance you still haven't reached that stage where you can look at a person and see differences as the normal course of being. Now, like any under-researched blogger who is too under qualified to have a book deal, I don't really have a solution to this problem. Maybe a certain section will always be mainstream and all others just...enough to widen someone's eyes. But I do want to point out the situation as a problem till we're all so assimilated to whatever is the norm that there are no differences anymore, not even the differences that we celebrate. 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Why I'm Not Crazy About The Lovely Emma Watson

I care about the fact that I am a girl, something that is probably evident in my recent blog posts. I have always dealt with my sex as a fact and not a situation. I am equally privy to both the injustices as well as the special favours bestowed upon my gender. I don't make a guy carry my bag or insist upon a "ladies first" kind of treatment. When in need of assistance, I ask for help as a human being, not a female. I recognize when good things are said about me just because someone likes the way I look or dress, and those are the compliments I don't take seriously. However, I will never insist that physical appearance can't be a somewhat unfair advantage in a society that unfairly and harshly judges women for the way they look. I am grateful that, for the most part, once people get to know me, I am treated as an individual, without the label of 'girl' being the dominant determinant of how I am treated among friends.

Needless to say, I listen to what people say about women and feminism, even when I don't agree with what is being said. These days it seems like actress Emma Watson is the most popular feminist out there. Guess what? I am not too happy about that, something that I have no intention of hiding. My openness about my dissatisfaction with one of the so-called most beautiful women in the world has invited many accusations - that I just don't get it, that I am a femi Nazi, and worst of all, that I am jealous (because all girls are programmed to be jealous of other girls, right? And that's why all our magazines have pictures of, well, girls).

Today, I am here to explain my thoughts about this, and trust me, this is not some sentiment-based argument. I have tried to be logical here because, well, I believe that equality is fundamentally tied to logic. 

Here's a video which quite accurately talks about why Emma Watson is so popular:

I agree with most of the things that are said in the video. Here's the honest truth about Emma Watson, that she's not really praised for her acting skills (let's just admit that she is a mediocre actress), and most of the attention surrounding her has to do with her looks and charm and 'dignity'. But there are some issues at play here. For example, I can't see the same video ever being made about a man. Well, I don't know about you, but when we're praising men, we don't list the same character traits, do we? We talk about the great work they have done, how exceptionally talented they are in their chosen field, how their techniques make them stand apart from their contemporaries, the power they wield in society, the money they make, how they lead! But when we're talking about girls, we are much more likely to use words like 'charming,' 'dignified,' 'sweet,' 'soft-spoken,' and 'elegant.' Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with these personality traits and one must strive for them to the best of their abilities, but it appears to me that even today, women are meant to be put on a pedestal for their looks and 'pleasantness,' while the same isn't true for men. Not to mention the fact that some of these traits can be argued to be God-given and not exactly based on achievements.

I know I'm going on about the looks part a lot, so let me explain. Emma Watson is a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador, whatever that entails. And I looked through the list of goodwill ambassadors and I saw that it was full of good-looking women. I mean, I could start with how none of the  more popular ambassadors are men, which could be an issue, or how all of them are a able-bodied, relatively wealthy, and a certain kind of beautiful. And it feels to me that the job is less about being heard and more about being looked at. And I guess at some point, people started attacking feminists, using words like 'dyke' and 'lesbian' and 'butch'. I kid you not, there have been accusations that feminists are the way they are because they're not attractive enough and can't get men to like them. So I guess the whole point of the 'He For She' campaign was that, hey, we'll get every guy's dream girl to come and be a feminist so that people don't think that feminists are angry, butchy spinsters anymore. 

I can sympathize with this, but most actresses are sexualized, objectified ladies, and this isn't necessarily their fault, so I'm not blaming Watson here. They're paid to look good, to pose for magazine covers, to talk about how to achieve the perfect body for bikini season. Maybe it's the society's perception at fault here. Maybe it's the media. But the point is that feminists were fighting this. They were trying to put all kinds of women in the spotlight, and have all of them be valued equally. And I don't see that at play here.

Then there's the media manipulation. There was news a while back that Emma Watson was hiding feminit books on the subway for people to find, and when you read about something like this on BuzzFeed, it sounds adorable, but how much sense does it really make. I can't imagine any real woman ever doing this, and it seems like more of a good headline than anything else, coupled with a promotional opportunity for Watson herself.

It appears to me that the HeForShe campaign wasn't designed to promote feminism. It was designed to make feminism look prettier, to make feminism more media friendly, more male-friendly.

I love Emma Watson. I think she is absolutely gorgeous, and charming, and she seems like a really nice girl to get to know. And when she says she feels passionate about the feminist movement, I believe her. But her being chosen to be the face of the feminist movement and the campaign that she's now part of go on to show how far we still have to go when it comes to promoting equality between all sexes, and I think it's time we acknowledge that.