Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
- Pay off high-interest debt before you start saving.
- Adjust your lifestyle to live on 60% (at the most 90%) of your monthly income. The rest...
- ...goes into a savings account and a retirement account.
- Pay your credit card balances in full every month.
- Maintain an emergency fund enough to cover at least 6 months worth of your usual living expenses.
- Sell or donate any personal items that you haven't used in 2 years.
- Remember that education is an investment, not a deductable expense, that yields dividends.
- Don't invest in something you don't understand.
- Buy a personal copy of and study Personal Finance for Dummies.
- Take a gander at the US government's 66 Ways to Save Money list and 102 Personal Finance Tips Your Professor Never Taught You.
In the end, always remember that money in itself is just a tool. It is the means to an end, not the end itself.
Monday, March 22, 2010
Ness Wadia, such a pretty face.
On the other hand, is it weird that when I searched for "Ness Wadia" on Google Images that 99% of the pictures that showed up had Preity Zinta with him? Only a handful were of him alone. Some pictures even only had her in it! That's gotta hurt if you're Ness and you're Googling yourself - dirty as Googling yourself may sound.
Saturday, March 20, 2010
I went all-out morphing Shahrukh Khan's face with the Perception Laboratory's Face Transformer.
L-R: child, teenager, himself, old
L-R: Black, himself, Asian, White
L-R: himself, female, ape, Manga
Anyone else think that Shahrukh Khan's female counterpart looks a lot like Julianna Margulies?
L-R: Khadija the Nubian Queen, the Man Who Needs To Cut His Hair and Stop Wearing Earrings, the Ejaz, the Asian, and the White Girl Who Looks Specifically British.
Now you too can play God at the Perception Laboratory's Face Transformer!
PS - now that I look at the filmstrip above, it's creepy to look at people who don't exist. What's creepier is that maybe these people have existed, do exist, or will exist at some point in time. I can't get over how alive these people look. I even think I've seen all of these people before. I feel like I'm in a Stephen King novel.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Saturday, March 13, 2010
The mention of the word 'ghulam', in any context, still sends panicky stabs of terror in my heart. The village women who worked in the mohalla neighbourhood - cooking and taking care of their employers' children - had somehow discovered that all children lived in pure unadultered fear of the very sight of Ghulam. We were often warned that he would appear if we didn't eat our food or take our afternoon naps. I remember being 5 years old and sitting on the lap of Rukhsana who smelled like mould and sweat and skin like all the other village women, Rukhsana whose hair and skin were the colour of lead, Rukhsana whose royal Bactrian namesake had married Alexander the Great, Rukhsana who was my makeshift nanny that summer when my family visited India. "Ghulam aa jaayega," she'd told me. Ghulam will come! I forgot to blink and my mouth hung open as the consequences of any bad behaviour from me paralysed me with fright.
If any of us children ever spotted Ghulam while we yelled and played and ran about the mohollah, if any one of us even spotted the slits for eyes and the paan-stained thin-lipped mouth that never moved, if his bloated still face showed up at any window, the afternoon game would be abandoned and we'd run for our lives, screaming, all legs and arms as we'd dive into the nearest house in the moholla where everyone was related to one another. "Kya baat hai, bacchon?" What is the matter, children, and we'd shush and plead the owner of our refuge to please let us hide under the takhat bed, in the dark kothri closet, in the spacious ghusalkhana bath, all 5, 10, 15 of us, Ghulam is outside! Didn't you know, he ate raw eggs! None of us ever mentioned it, but he probably ate children too, or something much worse.
I was marching home from my mother's home to my father's home once in my 10th year. I swerved right to enter the narrow gali and froze. Ghulam had his charpai out in the middle of the gali. He was sitting on it in all his jaundiced slow-motion glory. He turned his head sleepily and looked at me. His mouth moved and I heard his barely-audible lethargic voice for the first time. I saw he had small yellow teeth with brown cracks in them.
His charpai almost barricaded the whole width of the gali. Whenever someone did that, you'd have to squeeze between the wall of the gali and the charpai in order to pass through.
I'd have to approach Ghulam, squeeze past his charpai as he sat there motionless, looking at me stupidly as I passed by him as close as just a foot away. Close enough for conversation, for sharing the same breathing space. It was claustrophobic. The short gali seemed to stretch out in front me into forever. I could see the entrance of my father's home a few meters in front of me, but Ghulam sat there right in the middle of my path. There was no other way for me to reach home except through the gali. I'd have to do it.
I turned and fled the other way, back to my mother's parents' home where I'd been playing that morning, holding back tears in my eyes and an inconsolable wail in my stomach. I refused to pass by Ghulam even with another adult accompanying me. I wanted to go home to my parents but I couldn't, because Ghulam was out there. He'd looked at me directly, he'd seen my face, he now knew who I was. I was done for, my life was over.
I saw Ghulam once when I was visiting India in my late teens. He was still there on his charpai in the gali, and he seemed like he was wasting away. He was still overweight but he was beginning to look like an old balloon that's started to deflate. I wasn't frightened of him, but I had come upon him suddenly, and my first reaction was my primal one, to fight or to flee, or possibly roll over and play dead until he went away. But my mother and I passed him by. My mother even asked him how he was doing. Turns out he wasn't doing so well. He had a lot of health problems. My mother later laughed at my reaction to him, and told me that Ghulam was as harmless as a kitten and probably only 10 years older than I was. I was surprised, he had always been ageless to me, unchanging, like a mountain or a story.
Ghulam's parents found him a wife. I don't know if he had children. I heard he'd lost all his money betting on cricket games. That was some time ago though. I heard he died last week. He'd been very ill.
Friday, March 12, 2010
For many years I wasn't able to sleep very well. I was depressed, stressed out, and lonely. If I ever woke up in the middle of the night, I'd gasp at the overwhelming silence within me. Every morning, I'd wake up with stale headaches and bodyaches. Those aches were the worst part of the day I'd see yawning before me. I felt like the Tin Man, rusting and squeaking from all his joints, frequently lockjawed or frozen when the decay got the better of him, always lamenting the loss of his heart with tears that would rust him even more as he awkwardly and noisily stomped about the place. Clank, clank, clank went he, went me.
My life is much different now. Every night I can feel my body slowly relax until it begins to feel like a foetus suspended in a delicious sticky womb. I feel happy and safe. My mind is quiet, my thoughts are smooth and creamy and soft. I can follow my thoughts until I realise that I'm remembering things that don't make sense because they haven't happened yet. That's when I know I am 15 seconds away from falling asleep and activating parts of my mind that hold their tongues during the day. That's when my other life in the other dimension begins. I hardly wake up during the night. When I do open my eyes in the morning, I feel like how I used to when I was little. Like Thumbelina waking up for the first time, yawning and stretching, a brand new person, stepping out barefoot from the flower where she was born.
I enjoy my sleep so much. I enjoy waking up and lying in bed for a while, licking the bowl clean of the last few intoxicating drops of truly restful sleep. I am so grateful for this sense of complete physical relaxation that had evaded me all those years. These are the things that really matter in life.
Monday, March 8, 2010
You're probably overreacting.
Then imagine someone else, maybe someone you know or a total stranger even, making that same mistake. How does it look now? Chances are that sure, you think they made a mistake, but you don't think it is that big of a deal.
Now imagine if that person keeps beating themselves up over it for hours after the event, so much so that it tears a big gaping hole into their self-esteem, the negative effect of which will start leaking over into other aspects of their lives in the long run.
Unbelieveable? Unnecessary? But that's how you too were behaving a minute ago.
We all need objectivity in our lives. It is hard to look at ourselves and judge our own situation realistically. If you don't have someone with whom you can discuss things and get an objective opinion, then just take yourself out of the situation and imagine you're watching someone else go through the same issues. I'm not saying that this approach will make everything seem unimportant, but I can guarantee you that it will end the nightmare of your taking every single thing unnecessarily to heart.
Most of us are way harder on ourselves than we need to be. You wouldn't dare yell at other people if they broke a plate or ruined dinner by mistake, then why would you be so cruel to yourself about similar things?
Think about that.
Saturday, March 6, 2010
Thick hair will fade
We're drunk on today
Tomorrow it will come
When we become
Strange ugly children
Needing kind words and company
Did you forget?
If you could remember
That your road has an end
You would mend your path today.
"Look at her", she announced in an accent that was French, "so young! Her whole life ahead of her, beauty, youth - look at her eyes, this young woman!"
The old women chuckled. I smiled, somewhat embarassed. The French woman continued her grand delivery.
"How old are you!" she boomed in the spirit of the moment.
If only she knew that I felt like a withered 40.
"25! Do you know how old I am? I am...a 100!" Mock pride coloured her voice. She waved her hands, her fingers like mangled swollen digits of flesh and bone and nail. "Sweet, sweet, beautiful 25. Your whole life ahead of you - love, boys, friends - young child!"
The old women chuckled. The French woman beamed at me, and I saw myself in her eyes, and for the first time in a very long time, I felt like a shiny new body. I trembled as an old delightful shiver, loaded with promise and flavour, sparked within my belly.
Steve was dying. Every hour or so, the head nurse would come by to check up on him. She'd make a joke and say something flirty, but she couldn't tell if it made him feel better because he was too weak, too drowsy, too old to respond. He'd just lay there, his small tired head now a part of his pillow, the rest of his thin body invisible under layers of blankets.
I once sat by his bed by myself, the faces on the walls encircling the two of us, marking the boundaries of that anonymous bubble in time, the faces that would be the only witnesses to that moment. "Tell me," I said, "you who have lived and can look back on your journey, what do I need to know?" I needed to know, I needed to know from someone who was completing his journey to tell me what lay ahead of me in mine. "Please."
I had a cold the next week, so I visited the retirement facility the week after. I was marching towards Steve's room when I abruptly stopped in front of his door. The nameplate now said 'Vacant'.
Thursday, March 4, 2010
"She thinks it's her baby," the head nurse had told me. "Many years ago she lost her husband to cancer. A year later, she lost her only child, a grown son, to cancer also. She's been this way since."
Today the old woman sat on a wicker bench under a window. The autumn sun dully lit up her short faded red hair into a grubby halo. Her synthetic peach suit covered her arthiritic frame as her hands, bloated, with age spots and swollen blue veins, gently stroked the teddy bear in her lap. I sat down beside her.
"I like your baby," I said.
She looked at me, and what was visible of her eyes lit up under her droopy eyebrows. I smiled as she told me about how well-behaved her baby had been all day and that cancer is a terrible, terrible disease.
"My mother has written books and poems in Urdu, and her father was a journalist and a freedom fighter. My own dad quotes Victorian English poetry at the drop of a hat, and I think the only thing he doesn't think twice about before spending money on it is books. All in all, seems like literary pursuits are our family tradition."
The White girl's eyes grew large.
"Wow!" she said. "And I thought you said your family was religious!"
She may as well have said "black is white". My mind drew a blank as I realised that some basic assumption of a common ground was amiss in this interaction of ours. I failed to grasp the girl's implication that religion and intellect were mutually exclusive. How did the presence, the choice of one completely eliminate that of the other?
That was my first encounter with the Western divorce between spirituality and academics. I encountered this notion repeatedly during the 10 years I spent in North America in every realm of life - education, politics, art, life & death. The very idea seemed to be the unspoken rule of modern Western civilisation; people were willing to kill and be killed for it. The air was thick with an invisible assumption I would have to decipher on my own. Over time I traced its origins back to the rebellion of Europe against its Church, rebellions also known as the Renaissance and Reformation movements. The battle between science and the spirit had begun...
...purely a European phenomenon though. For instance, secularism in America means the complete absence of religion from public life. If you are religious, then you are pathetically unevolved. In India, secularism implies the noisy coexistence of all ways of life as long as no one's stepping on anyone else's toes. But if you're an atheist, then there's something fundamentally wrong with you.
I was raised in a Muslim household. My journalist grandfather was also a Mufti, a lifelong scholar of Islam. We are religious - we believe in one unseen Deity. We also study languages and various sciences. We are avid book readers and spend our days discussing politics, art, literature, and theology. Through the faithful observation of science, we want to relish the creation of a God whose first word to His last prophet was 'iqra' - 'read'.
Read in the name of your Lord and Cherisher who created.
Created man from a mere clot of blood.
Read and your Lord is the most generous.
The One who taught the use of the pen.
Taught man what he knew not.
- The Holy Quran (96:1-5)
Of course, none of this occurred to my 18-year-old self back then. At that moment 10 years ago, two college girls stood facing each other, the East and the West, miscommunicating once again.