Monday, November 30, 2009

My Holiday Reading Wish List

With all my crazed rush with work this past year and a half, I must confess that I have indeed lagged behind on my reading. As with the way most resolutions usually go, my intentions to catch up on all my reading have tragically fallen by the wayside so far. It used to be that I almost always read a new book every two weeks, but not so in the recent past. That's such a shame considering the fact that I'm basically a literature aficionado who taught the great masters to both the undergraduate and graduate students back home. So it is with earnestness and a sincere hope of following up on my intentions that I have decided to pursue some serious reading this holiday season. Travel, parties, and the kid's birthday apart, here are the books I most wish to dig into.

As a lover of historical fiction, I've been dying to read Hilary Mantel's
Wolf Hall. I've been reading up all the reviews of the book with avid interest, ever since the novel won the prestigious Booker Prize. If a novel is fat in size and is set in the historical past, then it's delightful fodder for me, and I have no doubt that I will relish this novel about the time of the Tudors and willingly hobnob with the likes of the inimitable Henry VIII, the charismatic Thomas Cromwell, and the sultry Anne Boleyn in sixteenth century England. Palace intrigues are quite irresistible to me, which is why I embrace this genre so willingly. So that's 651 pages of sheer holiday pleasure that I look forward to!

Next on my list is a book of the same genre, Annabel Lyon's
The Golden Mean, in which she vividly captures the real-life teacher/student relationship between Aristotle and the 13-year-old son of King Philip of Macedon, who would soon grow up into Alexander the Great and conquer the world. My fascination for this book, which recently won the 2009 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, is that this is the writer's debut novel, her forte being short stories. Annabel Lyon teaches Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia, and better still, she lives in my neighborhood in New Westminster...what's not to like about reading her latest book, might I ask! Come Christmas, I am so looking forward to be transported back into the ancient court in Pella, the capital of Macedon!

I have always been gripped by the powerful story telling of Dan Brown, and having thoroughly enjoyed his earlier
Angels and Demons, and The Da Vinci Code, I'd love to read his latest, The Lost Symbol. Who could not have fallen in love with the suave, charismatic Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon! So it's perfectly understandable that I'd love to read about his latest exploits and try to get a sense of the ever so mysterious Freemasonry. I have a 16 day holiday break, and as ambitious as my reading wish list is, I'd be really happy if I could finish at least one of them. However, I intend buying all the three books and am determined to give them a go amid all the chaos of my angst-ridden everyday life!

Here's wishing myself some happy holiday reading!!!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Tickled Palates And Gastronomical Delights!!!

Reiterating the fact that I'm a diehard foodie who loves to cook and also appreciates relishing good food,my culinary skills were put to the test yesterday when my husband's colleagues came over for a dinner party. This had been a long pending invitation that coincided with my husband's birthday weekend, and so there I was, stepping up to the plate and debating how on earth I was going to cook South Indian food for 10 international guests.My mettle was sorely tested in this regard because I had to lay off the chilli powder one hundred percent, yet compensate for it by improvising with the spices - a daunting task indeed!

The next challenge was to cater to both the vegetarians and the non-vegetarians, and spread out the dishes to tickle their palates equally. I just couldn't delight the non-vegetarians alone(non-veg food being my specialty) and ignore the vegetarians altogether. Keeping everyone sated and deliriously happy was my goal for the evening. I also had to keep in mind that this was not merely a casual get-together, but rather more of a formal, multiple course dinner for guests who were expecting home-cooked food and nothing of the store-bought kind. This being a South Indian meal, it was only right for the hosts to serve the food to each guest, and not just let the guests help themselves from a buffet spread. And true to tradition, we had to extend the hospitality to clearing the plates and assorted dishes ourselves as well!

Let it be said that the dinner was a resounding success! I kind of surprised myself by improvising on the use of spices to make the dishes flavorful and delicious, and to my luck, all the twelve items I made turned out to be heavenly bites and were well-appreciated by one and all.The coconut rice was a big hit, as were the lemon rice and curd rice. The butter chicken was finished in no time since they went well with the chapathis and naan. The tandoori chicken and lemon fish were requested to be taken home by some, while the vegetarians loved the channa masala, mushroom gravy, and the pan roasted potatoes cooked with red onions in olive oil...all these to name a few. With the aperitifs, appetizers, and desserts, I was able to pull off a magnificent meal single-handedly!

While I patted myself on the back for having pleased the guests and the husband as well, I couldn't help but think of how much I missed India, where I wouldn't have had to so much as lift even my little finger to pull off such a thing! What with the cook and the maids and sundry help, I could've hosted a hundred such dinners with absolute ease! Sigh!!! That's the story of my life...I can't have the cake and eat it too!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Say 'No' To Cosmetic Surgery

( Am reproducing here a piece I wrote in the format of an academic essay for my writing class at the University of British Columbia on Dec.5, 2007, and which was published shortly thereafter in the Zoni Voice.)

The music system in my son’s room is blaring. I pause at my workstation to listen, mentally blocking out the background chorus booming out of the speakers and focusing on the lyrics instead. “Hey Mama, I wanna scream so loud for you, cuz I’m so proud of you / Let me tell you what I’m about to do, Hey Mama / … See, you’re unbreakable, unmistakable / Highly capable,… / A livin’ legend too, … Hey Mama….” I recognize the famous rapper – Kanye West – and yes, he is singing about his beloved mother, Dr. Donda West. My blood runs cold when it sinks in that just one week ago this day, Dr. West, who was the former Chair of the Chicago State University’s English Department, died from complications after cosmetic surgery, a tummy tuck she’d had the previous day.

Zoom back a couple of years and I’m sure you would remember reading about Nigeria’s first lady, Stella Obasanjo, who died after undergoing cosmetic surgery in Spain, or the year before of Olivia Goldsmith, the 54-year-old best-selling author of The First Wives Club, who died under anesthesia while having a chin tuck. So much for celebrity deaths and the quest for beauty and perfection under the surgeon’s knife! Who bemoans the countless other non-entities who meet a similar fate every single day? I’m sure you know the answer and also realize I’m not talking about those who undergo corrective surgeries for deformities or birth defects. We live in a period of ubiquitous cosmetic surgery – lunchtime laser treatments, botox gift cards, and facelifts at the mall – a sad reflection of the times indeed! The common man, woman and teenager are being nipped, tucked and botoxed day in and day out, so much so they have a cavalier attitude towards it. Cosmetic surgery ought to be decried because its perils and pitfalls are many, in terms of complications, cost, and the psychological fallout it leads to.

First of all, I say ‘No’ to cosmetic surgery because in their foolish craving for perfection, people are blind to the dangers of going under the knife and never, for a moment, pause to consider the complications that might ensue. Reality TV shows such as Extreme Makeover, The Swan, I Want a Famous Face, Skin Deep, Dr.90210 and so on, add to the hype surrounding cosmetic procedures. Impressionable teenagers and desperate, aging adults who watch these shows are hoodwinked into thinking that the metamorphosis into a ravishing beauty with a perfect body is quite easy, painless and free of problems. Think again, I categorically say! Liposuction, breast augmentation, rhinoplasty (reshaping of the nose), facelift, tummy tuck, butt lift, laser treatment, fat transfer, brow lift, lower eye lift, and all the slew of procedures glamourized by the media carry grave risks such as infection, blood clots that move to the lungs or brain, damage to nerves and vital organs, scarring, and severe loss of fluids causing shock and death, to name a few. Some scrupulous surgeons require all their patients get medical clearance from their doctors before surgery, but alas, not everyone operates on an ethical, moral basis. The older the patient, health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease add to the risks, and addictions such as alcoholism, smoking, and drug use exacerbate the problems. The complications increase significantly when the surgeons are not board- certified and do not operate in a licensed facility. Beauty and perfection – at what risk?

The horror stories following cosmetic surgery are countless and endless. Despite the risks, beauty overhauls are the norm of the day. Our obsession with our appearance and our skewed perception of beauty have spawned a society that is quite oblivious to the dangers underlying cosmetic procedures. It is no longer a surprise that parents give breast implants as high school graduation gifts for teenage girls or pay for procedures to reshape their sons’ noses. Should we ignore the perils of cosmetic surgery and knowingly subject ourselves to risk and danger, or should we be responsible human beings who value and embrace life with utmost care and happiness, and not go traipsing after the elusive so-called standards of beauty? You be the judge.

The second reason I decry cosmetic surgery is because of the huge cost it involves. The upsurge in beauty treatments over the years clearly shows that they are no longer just for the rich, famous and powerful who sculpt and hone their bodies on whim or as per their fancy, be it an Oprah Winfrey, whose weight waxes and wanes periodically under the watchful eye of her personal trainer, or a Janet Jackson who flaunts her abs in a photo shoot before the release of her latest album, or a Heidi Klum who struts the catwalk in Milan and Paris just two weeks after childbirth. Some celebrities eschew cosmetic surgery, while others openly embrace it. Who could ever forget the image of Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian leader, who attended the summit of world leaders, his head wrapped in a bandanna after the hair transplant he’d had? Or who couldn’t believe the rapid weight loss of the morbidly obese Star Jones of TV’s The View, after gastric by-pass surgery? Be it these procedures, or much simpler ones leading to Britney Spears’ plumped up lips or Ashlee Simpson’s modified nose, every one of them is within the reach of the common man and woman today. I am not exaggerating when I say that the middle class now has easy and excessive access to cosmetic procedures through financial loans doled out by credit card companies solely for this purpose, a burgeoning and thriving industry today. It is no wonder then that the number of total cosmetic procedures has risen dramatically in the past decade, by a staggering 446 percent, according to statistical reports. These procedures are not cheap, let me add, and put the middle class under great financial strain in the long run.  

It is tragic that many people fail to realize that the complications arising from cosmetic procedures require further corrective surgeries at a great cost. For example, a teenage girl receiving breast implants may combat subsequent infection and hardening of the breasts and may have to undergo corrective surgery or replacement of the implants. Those who availed of the augmentation on the installment plan offered by the cosmetic surgeons or the credit card companies are often unable to pay for the corrective surgery since they are still paying for the initial procedure. Despite such financial setbacks and possible ruin, the number of cosmetic procedures is skyrocketing annually. It doesn’t require a rocket scientist to study the figures and costs of the procedures. Reports show that Canadians have spent half a billion dollars on cosmetic surgery last year alone. Our neighbors south of the border are no different, having had 11.5 million surgical procedures in 2006, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. All this in our part of the globe! Consider the entire planet, and what an astronomical sum that would amount to! Wouldn’t this world be a better place to live in if we used all that money to combat poverty, prevent global warming, protect the environment, and improve the quality of life of all humanity? Why chase the mirage of perfection, my friends, and beauty at what cost? Give it a thought!

The third reason why one should stay away from cosmetic surgery is because of the eventual psychological fallout one experiences after having unrealistic expectations from the surgery. The media-driven frenzy in quest for the beautiful face and the perfect body builds up false hopes and high expectations in the individual, so much so that one is almost always disappointed by the results of the procedure. Though proponents of cosmetic surgery argue that people certainly achieve improvements in body shape and enjoy a better quality of life post surgery, it cannot be denied that in many cases the outcomes are poor, unhappy and disappointing. Surgeons have hordes of patients who are dissatisfied with the surgery and request repeat procedures – what better an example could there possibly be than Michael Jackson who gradually morphed into the ‘bogeyman’ after repeated surgeries? Documented research also shows that many patients experience depression and adjustment problems after surgery. Besides, the inexorable passage of time changes the body over the years, cosmetic surgery or not, and even if one feels a temporary high after surgery, the feeling is definitely bound to deteriorate as one ages.

Granted that cosmetic surgery is undeniably a powerful juggernaut of an industry in modern society and an ever-growing pop cultural phenomenon that warps our mind and twists our values, don’t you think it is high time we came to our senses and stopped going under the surgeon’s knife to fix every perceived flaw in our bodies? Let us embrace ourselves, be proud of who we are and how we are, and redirect our energy towards positive goals. Cosmetic surgery is dangerous due to the risks it poses, not worth it because of the cost it entails, and condemnable for all its negative psychological impact. Think logically and rationally and say “No’ to cosmetic surgery!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Over-indulgent Parents And Modern Day Excesses!

As revelations go, to my utter horror, I have come to realize that maybe the husband and I are over-indulgent parents! I understand that all parents indulge their children, but I use the prefix "over" here to qualify that adjective just an extra bit. I look around us and find we're being no different from all our friends, but why then the nagging feeling that we're succumbing to all the excesses of modern day parenthood? I have always wanted to focus on the emotional health and wellbeing of the kid and thought that was of paramount importance in preparing him for life. Compassion, empathy, and understanding of others' plight ought to be priorities in his life, or so I thought. So when and how did all the material excesses creep in, I ask myself.

As for myself, I was raised by my parents in a manner that erred on the side of a sort of disciplinarianism and puritanism combined. My siblings and I had a daily dose of religion, no nonsense rules, and tough love. For our birthdays, all we got were a new set of clothes, a special meal, and always a book for a gift. No parties, no Barbie dolls, nothing fancy that I can remember. Nevertheless, my parents were never egregiously severe authoritarians, negating their children's right to express an opinion. We were all raised on values that we still hold dear, our lives characterized by clear boundaries and clear sanctions. I do look back on my childhood with fondness and nostalgia to this day, so why and when did I start equating my child's happiness with gifts, gadgets and gizmos galore?!?

My North American friends have bought their sixteen year olds Volvos and BMWs for their birthdays, and parents plan months ahead for their children's birthdays and host these elaborate shindigs complete with a coordinated theme, catered food, and gift bags loaded with goodies. I know parents who rent an entire theatre, video games arcade or bowling alley to entertain their kids' friends and classmates, and richer ones give away iPods in their kids' goodie bags. Though the husband and I have never given in to such excesses, at times we do feel that we have this mistaken notion of giving "reasonable" gifts to the kid as a sop to our consciences, both of us being working parents at that. So it goes that the kid got his first mobile phone when he was eight, and his very own debit card when he was ten. The justification for the former was that he took a 10 minute walk back from school and crossed a 2 minute wooded stretch, and so needed it for safety's sake. As for the latter, the husband said he needed to teach the kid financial responsibility (yeah, right!).

The birthday bashes stopped when the kid turned ten and we explained he was on his way to becoming a young man, and didn't need such frivolities anymore. He was fine with that, I should say. On the one hand, we sit and speak to the kid about the starving children in Africa, wanting to motivate his empathy and cultivate humane feelings in him, yet on the other hand, we give in when he wants the iPod Classic replaced with a Nano, and yet again the Nano with an iPod Touch. The same goes for the Playstation I, II, and III consoles, and need I mention the laptop and the LCD HD TV as well! It never occurs to us why we have to replace a gadget that is in perfect working condition. One week after the iPod Touch was bought, the iPhone was released in Vancouver, and the kid goes, " Man, if I had just waited one more week, I could've gotten the iPhone!" My response to that: " Excuse me! Why would we get a 12 year old an iPhone? Even Dad doesn't have one yet!"

Anyways, the justification for all our excesses is that the kid studies well. We have no excuse to deny him the things he asks for because he delivers when it comes to school work, but we always tell him that these are privileges that he has to earn and not things he can take for granted. We want to be good parents who have instilled values in the kid, and looking around us, we take satisfaction that indulgences, excesses and all, we still have managed to do a decent job so far as parents!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Strangers In Cyberspace? Not Anymore!

I was never into the social networking scene in any way whatsoever. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and My Space all seemed uncharted territory to me, until my students from over a period of 20 plus years and from all over the globe roped me into Facebook. I have now come as far as Status Updates, but PhotoTagging, FarmVille, and a whole host of assorted activities on Facebook are still alien to me. One major reason is that I simply do not have the time for such (trivial?) pursuits. However, what I have come to be excited about is the possibility of reconnecting with long lost classmates, students, and acquaintances from my past. One thing I never realized was that I could be on someone's Friends List, without either of us having any clue as to who exactly we were(!!!), which is the reason why I'm writing this blog.

Many months ago, I received a Friend Request from Hannah David Paramanandam. The name Hannah David was very familiar to me, because I had had an English Major student at Lady Doak College (India) by the same name in the late eighties. She was one of the smartest students I'd ever had, and I automatically assumed it was her. I didn't confirm right away that I knew her, because I wasn't too sure about the last name Paramanandam. There was no profile picture at that time for me to verify her identity. I sat on the request for a while, but then rationalized that it was probably the same Hannah David I had taught, that maybe she'd gotten married and taken on her husband's last name. So I finally confirmed that she was a friend. After that, no news from Hannah David at all, no attempt to contact me. That must have rung a bell. Usually, if it's a student from India, I receive a wall post or a message saying how excited the person is to reconnect with me, but in this case, absolute silence!

Anyways, Hannah and I were on each other's Friends list, and when I eventually saw her pictures, I knew it wasn't the same Hannah I knew from the English Department at Lady Doak College. Then, very naively, I assumed that maybe she'd been a student from some other department at LDC, and maybe that's why she'd invited me to be her friend. So there we were looking at each other's pictures, making the odd comment or two,"liking" each other's updates, etc., etc. The best thing about all this was my French Professor, Ms. Maida Gonsalvez (now Thomas) from my undergraduate days in India, found me on Hannah's Friends List and got in touch with me. I was truly thrilled about reconnecting with my teacher, continents away and years apart! And then Ms. Maida (that's how we used to call her, though it beats me why we never called her Ms. Gonsalvez!) asked me the question,"How do you know Hannah?" , to which I had no answer.

The pinnacle of it all came last week, a comment from Hannah with the query,"Are you from Madurai? Just curious." So it finally dawned on me that this wasn't a student from some other department at Lady Doak College, as I had assumed her to be. This poor girl had no clue as to who I was, but yet there we were, friends in cyberspace without really knowing each other! How did I get invited to be her friend in the first place, I have no idea! I've never heard of cyber-ghosts or paranormal occurrences in cyberspace before, so how did this all come to be?!? The whole thing seemed to border on the ludicrous, the ridiculous, and the insane, but the best thing ever was Ms. Maida having found me through Hannah, and through Ms. Maida, I've now gotten in touch with five of my classmates from my undergraduate days!

I do have a few more on my Friends list that I've confirmed as my friends, only because their names rang a bell, but there's been no contact from them. I'm now beginning to wonder if it's the same case as my cyber-friendship with Hannah David...probably I don't know them at all! Anyways, about Hannah David Paramanandam... Is she a stranger in cyberspace? Not anymore, I think!