Devis with Babies... and Creative Friends

Friday, October 31, 2008
We Devis are always amazed by the creativity of the people we know. They are writers, artists, fashionistas, musicians, and more, forever challenging themselves to push out of the familiar narrative of life and into a greater one. We’d like to take a moment to showcase some of their fabulous projects. Check them out, and then tell a friend.

Brother-sister duo Anand Subramaniam and Arthi Meera, known as the band Fair and Kind, have launched their debut album into the world. It’s a dreamy, ethereal work of art that conjures up the Smiths, the Sundays, Cocteau Twins and Echobelly. Need we say more? Listen to sample tracks at http://myspace.com/fairandkind.

Project Ahimsa is a global effort to empower youth through music by producing cultural events, supporting youth music educators throughout the world, developing innovative cultural arts programming, and donating musical instruments. Project Ahimsa has raised over $125,000 and impacts children in eight cities worldwide. It’s got three connections to DwB: Co-founder Vijay Chattha, Director/VP Archana (known to us as Archie) Chattha, and our very own Devi, Deepa. Learn more at http://www.projectahimsa.org/.

Arpita Patel is a physician, but in her free time (ha!) she’s launched a new shop for all things baby. It's named "little bachu" which means little baby. “I had the idea to start this fun venture after designing and creating several baby gifts for family and friends,” she says. Check it out at http://littlebachu.etsy.com.

Iniam, the ultra-sophisticated Oakland, CA boutique run by Lisa Raja, is establishing its web presence at http://www.iniam-boutique.blogspot.com/. The narratives of their new clothing actually make us drool.

Sheetal Gandhi is no stranger to the creative space. She's played a leading role in Cirque du Soleil, directed a dance company, and performed as an original cast member on Broadway's Bombay Dreams. If you're in L.A. on November 21 or 22, you can see her perform in her new program of original dance and dance theater work. Go to http://www.sheetalgandhi.com/ for more.

Imagine a space on the Web where you could ask for style advice, get advice on the best outfits for your body type, and give advice to others. That space exists at http://youstyleme.com. YouStyleMe was started by Nitesh Mehta in 2007, who had the simple vision of “making the world a more stylish place…one person at a time.” That’s something a Devi could warm to.

For an other-wordly, cutting-edge multimedia fashion experience, go straight to http://www.gravuremag.com/. Started by a husband-wife duo, photographer Alex Freund and fashion stylist Lisa Mosko, Gravure is really more than a magazine (although it is available in print form); it’s an adventure in haute fashion.

Do you like it raw? Dhrumil Purohit and his motley crew do--raw FOOD that is. Check out his site, www.welikeitraw.com, for tips on how to incorporate raw food into your diet, photos of raw food loving celebrities, and other assorted raw-ness.

Brown Girls: Equal Opportunity Porn

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Devis: Want to Talk to the Washington Post?

Apparently the "Brown Girls" know how to keep debate alive. Based on the controversy over last week's cartoon, The Washington Post is interested in talking with you if you have a story/anecdote/experience about bringing home an African American boyfriend or girlfriend, or bringing home a potential spouse of a different race in general. Please email us at deviswithbabies@gmail.com (or leave a comment here) if you would like to share your story, and feel free to tell this to any friends you have who may be interested as well.

Also: Look out for the next issue of "Brown Girls" this afternoon.

Devi Style: The Lengthened Sillouette

Hey Devis! Welcome to another installment of how to dress for your body type. Most of these tips are useful for all sorts of body types, but especially for what we defined as the Devi H&B (hips & breasts) body type. In a community where 5'5" is considered tall, we're constantly looking for ways to appear longer and leaner. Here are some of our tried & true techniques for lengthening your sillouette.


Long pants: To give the appearance of height to your body, tailor your pants/jeans to almost reach the floor when you wear 2-inch heels. (Remember, stick to flared, boot-cut or straight-leg pants and jeans.) That way, you can wear them with 2- or 3-inch heels, and they will make your legs look longer. The key is for the hem to hit below the ankles, and even below the heel, if you can handle a higher heel.





Wedges: Heels can obviously make you appear a lot taller than you already are, but I've never been able to handle really tall heels. Thank heaven for wedges. They’re in style, easier to walk in, and more comfortable because they usually have a little padding under the sole, and they distribute the weight of your whole foot. I’m a big fan of Michael Kors wedges.





Long scarves: If worn around the neck to casually hang down below the waist, this will direct focus to a vertical line on your body, and vertical lines give the appearance of length. Make sure it’s not too hefty.







Sectioned shirts: Women who are heavy on top do better with shirts that are visually sectioned. There’s a reason wrap shirts are so popular. They flatter many different body types – and they’re also a great way to wear white gracefully. If you’ve got any excess weight in the tummy area, look for a wrap shirt that hangs away a bit under the waist instead of fitting snugly.



Beware the cleavage: Thanks to our small stature, being blessed in this arena can be a curse. If you want to flaunt your assets tastefully, wear a shirt or dress that gives a hint of the top of the cavity between them. Also, avoid the squished-together look, unless you want to channel Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons.




Top or bottom: Which part of your body is most flattering? Accentuate it. As Donna Karan said, “Highlight the positive and delete the negative.” If you have a narrower rib cage, slender arms, and well-proportioned breasts, but heavier hips and thighs, wear fitted shirts and lighter colors on top. If you are heavy up top and have excess weight in your waist area, but have slim legs and shapely calves and ankles, wear more fitted pants/jeans and short skirts.




Black all over: Perhaps nothing will do more to give the appearance of a lengthened sillouette than wearing all black. It’s also the most versatile look, good for the 9 a.m. meeting as well as the 9 p.m. dinner date. To punch it up, try wearing a long scarf, mentioned above, in another color, with the outfit.





My last piece of advice, which is a more general style tip, would be to try shopping for clothes with a friend. Ask her to pick out some clothes that she thinks would look good on you, and try them on. Some of the best pieces in my wardrobe are ones I never would have picked myself, but that friends have picked out for me. Sometimes it takes another eye to give you suggestions that you would usually skip over.

New Karmacy Pro-Obama Video: "Stop"

Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Check out the new Karmacy video for "Stop." 6 days to go guys.

The Enigma of Marriage and Ambition

My husband is a trooper. Anyone who’s married to a writer deserves a medal of honor, in my book. We are moody types, prone to long bouts of introspective reticence, sudden bursts of manic energy, and a tendency to over-analyze everything from the state of the world to the state of our daily lives. “What’s it all for?” we’re constantly asking. Of course, we never have a definitive answer to that question.

It can get tiring for us, but at least we can explain it away by saying it’s all fodder for the book we’re going to write or the short story we’ve been working on in our heads for the past two years. (Or, in my present case, a blog entry I’m putting up the next day!) For our partners, however, it’s maddening. They don’t understand why we have to live so much of our lives in our heads. They also carry a heavy burden: that of being our muses, our cheerleaders, and at times, our punching bags when things go south.

I use the term “punching bag” figuratively, of course, but for one of my favorite writers on the planet, it turns out this term is very close to describing what his ex-wife, Patricia Hale, was to him. I’m talking about Vidyadhar Suraj-prasad, “Vido,” Sir Vidia -- V. S. Naipaul. In The World Is What It Is, Patrick French’s biography of Naipaul releasing in the U.S. next week, this “cruel and unusual” relationship is depicted in all its horrors. Astonishingly, the biography is authorized: Naipaul gave French intricate details of his marriage, even handing over his late wife’s diaries to French.

Naipaul and Hale met at Oxford, married quickly, and spent the rest of their lives in pursuit of his many literary ambitions. Hale gave up everything to marry Naipaul, “a scholarship boy with no prospects, contacts or money at a time when the racial prejudice endemic at every level of British society prevented him getting a job or even renting a room in London.” She served as his editor, typist, and secretary, even on her deathbed as she lay dying of cancer. And in return? From The Guardian:
He stopped her acting on the grounds that it offended him, refused to buy her a wedding ring ('I had no interest in jewellery,' he explained blandly to his biographer) and stamped out any hope she may have had of an independent career, except in so far as he needed her initially to earn his keep.

Her world contracted as his expanded. He undermined her confidence, derided her opinions and told her she was too dull to take to parties. She stopped travelling with him because, for the last 20 years of her life, he shared his favours with a far more sophisticated and no less compliant Argentinian mistress who crisscrossed the globe at his side, providing services, principally boastful, energetic and violent sex, outside the scope of his mute, sad, stay-at-home wife.
She records this all in a painful, self-loathing way in her diaries. From The Atlantic:
Vidia’s unconscious hope may have been that if he were sufficiently horrible to Pat, she might disappear. Alone in her room at the cottage, she dutifully recorded his insults … “He has not enjoyed making love to me since 1967 [the entry is for 1973]”; “You know you are the only woman I know who has no skill. Vanessa paints, Tristram’s wife paints, Antonia, Marigold Johnson” … Even when she was alone, Pat felt she had failed her husband. After going up to London to watch a play with Antonia, Francis and Julian Jebb, she concluded that while she was there she had “lived up to Vidia’s dictum: ‘You don’t behave like a writer’s wife. You behave like the wife of a clerk who has risen above her station.’”
It finally became too much for her when Naipaul publicly announced in 1994 that he had regularly paid prostitutes for sex in the early years of his marriage:
The shock of this revelation devastated Patricia Naipaul, who had been in remission from a cancer that now became terminal. 'It could be said that I killed her,' her husband conceded dispassionately to his biographer in one of the brutally frank interviews that provide the backbone of this extraordinary book.
The insult didn’t stop after her death, however. Naipaul proposed to his current wife, Nadira Alvi, a Pakistani journalist 20 years younger than the writer, as soon as it became clear that Hale was going to die:
'He felt angry that she was dying,' Nadira reported, 'and angry that she was not dying fast enough because he wanted to carry on with his life.' The day after Patricia Naipaul's brief, austere and impersonal funeral, her successor moved into her house and a few months later scattered her ashes in the nearest wood while reciting a prayer in praise of Allah.
Naipaul’s “extraordinary callousness” has been well-documented in the past, most famously by Paul Theroux in his scathing 1998 biography of the man, Sir Vidia’s Shadow. As a student, I read and re-read his books, marvelling at his mastery of the English language. He was my favorite writer for years. He’s won the Nobel and been knighted, and it’s a prodigious accomplishment, especially given where he came from, as a penniless grandson of an indentured laborer.

But now, perhaps in part owing to my perspective as a Devi with baby, I chafe at what happened behind the scenes while all this was going on. All sorts of thoughts run through my head as I read. That poor woman! And, what kind of a man could treat such a loyal partner in this way? And, what kind of woman would put up with that?

We've often heard about how great men and women in history often have had flawed personal lives. So many examples in recent history come to mind, from Bill Clinton to Madonna. It makes me wonder if a worldwide level of fame or achievement is almost intrinsically at odds with a functional personal life. It seems to be the sacrifice one has to make in order to be great, because other parts of your life inevitably have to suffer.

Is Naipaul still one of the greatest writers in history? Yes. Can we still adore and admire his books knowing the pain and degradation he inflicted upon another human being in order to create them? That answer is personal for everyone. I am also a firm believer that you can't judge someone else's marriage, because you really have no idea what happens behind closed doors.

What I do know is, if that’s what it took for me to be as great a writer as Naipaul, it’s not a sacrifice I’d be willing to make. Would you?

My Blue-Eyed Girl?


Smart. Brown Eyes. Tall, dark and handsome. Did you ever have a list like this for the guy you were hoping to land, marry, make a life with together?

What if the list were: High IQ. Green eyes. Fair skin. Is that in any way worse?

Now, what if you want these characteristics in a child? Is it wrong to look for them in a mate if you know you would like to see them in your kid?

And, if for some reason you find your dream mate, decide to have kids and can't, resort to in vitro fertilization: Would it be wrong to CHOOSE these characteristics for your baby-to-be?

According to this article, more and more Devis and their spouses in India are hitting up Indian sperm banks and egg-donor facilities in search of children who have (1) light skin; (2) green or blue eyes; (3) light hair; and (4) high IQs. To meet the growing demand for these traits, fertility clinics in India are importing sperm and eggs from all races, all over the world. India is turning into a genetic laboratory.

Obviously IVF and doomsday prophesies about "engineering" children are not new issues, but something about this article--focusing on the increasing popularity of the practice in India, and the large-scale search for "desirable" sperm and eggs in the U.S. to import--hit closer to home than it has before. We've talked about the ingrained notion many of our moms have that "fair" equals "lovely" before, so that didn't surprise me so much (though it never stops being bizarre to me.) But green eyes? Light hair? Why? And what does it mean that these couples in India want these supposedly "superior" children who will look nothing like them?

On the flip side, if you are in the surreal situation in which you have the ability to order traits of your kids, as if items on a menu, why wouldn't you choose "high IQ" over "low IQ," "tall" over "short"?

How do you think a growing number of "less-Indian-looking" babies in India will affect our little Indian babies here at home?

Thoughts Devis?

I Have A Photographic Memory...I Just Don't Have Any Film

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Today is Diwali--happy Diwali to Devis and SM readers alike, from us and Barack! Ha. I had big plans to do elaborate things with my kids for Diwaili (Rangoli Barack Obama anybody?). But guess what happened? I forgot it was Diwali till this morning.

Was there a bunch of controversy over "The Brown Girls" recently? Some talk about race? Can't really remember.

Over the weekend, I saw a segment on some random show on TV vaguely related to test-tube babies in India that I thought would be great to post and discuss with you guys. Know what happened? I forgot, in any more detail, what the segment was really about.

Are you sensing a theme?

Can you remember what it is?

If you can you are ahead of the game. Or at least ahead of MY game. Mommy-brain, sleep-deprivation, old-age, general senility--not sure what combination of these factors, and others, is at play here but, recently, my memory has gone the way of the dodo. Which is what brings me to the sight I must have been this morning, walking from the Bart to my office, chanting out loud--"turmeric turmeric turmeric"--so that I would remember what I wanted to write about.

Turmeric! I read an article on the way to work about how eating turmeric actually increases your brain capacity. How very Indian, no? Studies have found that turmeric increases brain function when eaten at least once every six months. Doctors suggest stirring one teaspoon of the spice into soups or stews. All you have to worry about is flashbacks to having the stuff rubbed all over you right before your wedding--maybe you have FORGOTTEN about that and maybe the turmeric will make your brain capable of remembering it again...!

Some other ways to improve your memory, starting with my favorite:

1) Drink More Wine.

Okay, fine, for me the advice would be to probably drink LESS wine. But the studies show that drinking red wine in moderation (key word) slows the buildup of plaque in the brain. "Plaque" just sounds gross--and is. Drink up.

2) It's All Small Stuff

Stop stressing out over your Halloween costume, your in laws, your job, work-life "balance," whether your unborn child is going to go to college. The release of stress hormones in our body shrinks the hippocampus which is NOT a college for a certain animal but rather the brain's memory center. Yes. Stress shrinks your brain. Freaky.

3) Sleep

Bless those Harvard people. Apparently a team of geniuses have figured out that sleep, in addition to being mighty fun, improves our memory. A study at Harvard Medical school showed that a 45 minute nap of non-REM sleep boosted recall of information by almost 50%. Next up, Harvard is going to try to prove the remarkable proposition that sugar tastes good. (By the way, the woman in the picture is wearing a "sleep suit" to ameliorate itchiness during sleep...who knew?)

4) Party

You don't need the Sudoku afterall. A University of Michigan study found that talking to another person for a mere 10 minutes--about ANYTHING--increases memory as much as doing a brain teaser.

5) Don't Eat Tofu

That's right! Here it is: Your excuse to pass the tofu...away. Soy has many benefits but apparently helping our memory isn't one of them, according to some people at Oxford. A recent study showed that eating two or more servings of soy a day can decrease memory by as much as 20 percent, particularly among vegetarians. Here's to giving my children the Fruit Loops instead of the edamame...!

6) Something Really Great

There was one more thing...but I forget what it is. I'll report back after I have a glass of wine and take a nap...at a party.

Obama vs. Brown ... vs. Brown

The continuation of the debate on race, sparked by Brown Girls, ignited by Sepia Mutiny, and spreading back to Devis with Babies, has us fascinated, perplexed and downright amazed. It seems a lot of people feel the need to have their say on the matter of interracial dating vis-à-vis the Obama candidacy.

In 1991, Denzel Washington and Sarita Choudhury brought the controversial topic of Brown + Black romance to mainstream America. (Who can forget that steamy love scene? Way to go, Mira Nair!) Guess what? Seventeen years later, we’re still debating the same issue. What’s even more incredible: A lot of us were teenagers ourselves when that movie came out, and thoroughly related to Choudhury's Meena as she professed her love for Washington's Demetrius to her parents. Now, as parents, a number of us seem to relate more to the Indian parents in the film than to Meena.

For the most part, discussion on this topic is good discussion. We need to talk/write these things out and understand one another’s perspectives. As I was reading all the comments, I thought of how a localized variation of this topic came to light in my own family twenty years ago, when my brother married outside our “community.” She was Indian and Hindu, as were we. But she was Telugu, and we were Gujarati. The union was met with caution from all sides. Her relatives questioned my brother’s lack of advanced degrees at the time; our relatives wondered if she would “fit in.” Looking back, all the concern was laughable. But at the time, South Indian/North Indian unions were less commonplace than they are today, and different communities viewed each other with a lot of suspicion. Today, I don’t think any of the commenters concerned about their kids marrying outside their race would mind them marrying outside of their ethnic Indian state.

Am I wrong though? Is this still an issue, in much the same way Indian/African-American dating is to a number of you, twenty years on? We all know the stereotypes we have of one another: Southies vs. Northies, Punjabis vs. Gujaratis, Bengalis vs. Malayalis. Does the personal Bradley effect exist even amongst Desis who share common religions and homelands, but who hail from separate states? How would you feel if your kid brought home someone from a different region of India? What’s been your experience with introducing your parents to a boyfriend or girlfriend from a different Indian state?

We'll get back to regular Devis with Babies programming shortly. But it’s clear our community has much to say on these topics right now with race/otherness in the national spotlight, and we want to hear you!

Monday Musings: Bringing Obama Home to Momma

Monday, October 27, 2008
It's been a busy weekend for the "Brown Girls." Last week's strip--centered around the idea that the personal "Bradley effect" is as much an issue in our cultural landscape as the political one--landed on the pages of Sepia Mutiny, sparking a debate that is currently 150+ comments strong. And those wacky "Brown Girls" have generated some of the most comments to-date amongst we Devis on this blog as well (thank you readers!)

Having written the comic, I of course love the idea that it prompted even one reader to comment, whether out of agreement, disagreement, anger or curiosity--in the ocean of media available to us, it is a rare category of material that causes any reaction these days, don't you think? (Then again, that would mean I would be impressed by "W" because its horribleness moved me to tears and made me bemoan two lost hours of my life...) That it has provoked so much conversation and that, for the most part, the level of dialogue on everything from assimilation, acculturation, and insidious racism has been amazingly impressive and enlightening--all the better. One of the many lines of commentary that struck me strongly was the thoughtful presentation for and against marrying non-Indians. In attempting to make sense of what, at first blush, seems like "racist older generation Indians," "NaraVara" on Sepia explained that "[c]ulturally I think our parents were raised under traditions that were geared towards thinking in terms of retaining a sense of community into future generations...My parents would not be comfortable with me marrying a White girl...That doesn't mean they would not accept her with open arms or love the grandchildren we have any less. But the fact is that if I marry a Desi girl they will be much more secure in the knowledge that our kids will be Indian. With half-White grandkids it's a toss-up. Call it retrograde if you want. But this is the mentality that allowed us Indians to retain our unique cultural identities over a thousand years of being ruled by foreigners..."

On this blog, "Shimarella" expressed surprise that the issue of Indian parental disapproval of dating outside the race was even still an issue: "I know Indians of my parents generation still feel this way. But seriously? Are there still younger brown desi divas who think this?"

From shock over racism to shock over people being shocked--an entire spectrum of opinion was presented with authenticity and candor.

Humor too of course. Perhaps foreseeing the hot-button nature of this penumbra of issues, "glasshouses" offered words of advice to any non-Indian interested in an Indian girl: "Run from desi girl and don't look back."

And what commentary would be complete without some vitriol. Check out "GetOffMyLawn," schooling everybody on blaming parents for everything: "Don't forget that the very values that many ABDs knock are the ones that have allowed South Asians to be the most successful minority in the West. Emphasizing family structure, respect for elders, respect for education, respect for one's body and sexuality and emotions, and above all, respect for the collective community rather than the individual are all why Asians can come from the poorest of regions during the worse of times and have their children in graduate schools within one generation...We have served you well. Show back some respect. Buying into facile discourses about race and identity and denigrating your own is an insult to those of us who came to a brand new country to give YOU a better life. This discussion about desi parents or community being racist is really disheartening...You may see us as old fashioned, racist, obsessed with color, etc. That may be true, but we are also obsessed with feeding you, clothing you, making sure that we, and not the school teachers, are parents, and we also took painful steps to make it in a country alien to us so that you can come on this blog and whine about not being able to openly date a black man. If you feel that you want to date out of your race, then have the strength of character to openly date that person."

LOVE all of this. I want to talk with "GetOffMyLawn" and ask her what she would think if her daughter brought Obama home to her. He emphasizes family structure, shows respect for elders, values education and I would guess respects his body and sexuality (Barack: I know you are reading, feel free to chime in...!) Yet I am willing to bet that an "I walked uphill both ways to school in the snow in Delhi where it doesn't even snow" guilt-trip would ensue nonetheless. Hence: The personal-Bradley effect.

The personal IS political.

Even on Sepia, where the audience is--I would hazard to guess--a bit more vigilante than the average Devi with Baby, the crux of the discussion centered around social issues and our parents. Why they think the way they do. How that affects the way we think. How we interface with them when we disagree with them. Taking this a step further and addressing you Devis--who actually are parents: What would you do if your daughter brought Obama home to momma? Would you be cool with it ("Is this even an issue?")? Want to be cool with it but not REALLY be cool with it ("I know alot of black people! They are some of my closest friends!")? Be REALLY uncool with it ("Over my dead body, and I make no apologies")? And is there a disconnect between the way you would answer this particular question, and how you view the issues of race and racism more generally?

It doesn't seem fair to pose these questions and not try to give some sketch of where I'm coming from so: By way of background, my parents called me the "United Nations dater" before I married my Punjabi husband. They were cool with it--but they essentially wanted to hold a parade when I went Brown. And I'm not alone. There are many of us out there who dated outside of our race but then ultimately married within it. Whether there was personal Bradley at work or not--definitely a part of this debate.

So what's my take-away. As much as I can read and agree with bits and pieces of so much that has been said in the back-and-forth on racial politics that the comic has provoked, I come back to the notion that it's horribly depressing that we think we have to "stick to our own" to preserve some sort of ethnic heritage; that an African American is for any reason unacceptable in our homes just because he is African American; that we can and do justify subtle racism in the name of "culture." Couching our concerns about race in the language of "cultural preservation" is, in and of itself, a personal Bradley effect. Taz, the original poster on Sepia responded to some of her critics by saying that she thinks it will become easier to bring a black man home if Obama is elected. I think she's right. As Manju said, "Obama will do for racism what Goldman Sachs did for anti-semitism on wallst, which is not to say he'll end it, but rather show us the way to overcome it." And, although Rahul is correct that "the the FDR presidency didn't create an epidemic of polio afflicted grooms," it begs to be noted that FDR (with the assistance of the press--can you imagine?) kept the extent of his handicap a secret from the public for the vast majority of his presidency.

Our buddy Barack's race is no secret. It's out there, looming large, for all of us and our personal Bradley-mechanisms to see, internalize, learn from. This can ONLY do good things for our little devis and boy-devis: The President of the United States--dark and "different"--is going to look more like our kids than those of the Smiths and the Jones. Yes it's superficial but so is discussing politicians' haircuts, Neiman Marcus shopping sprees, use of spray foundation, love of pretzels. Superficial isn't always as superficial as we think. Unpack a comic and you might find a debate.

Yes it's all very messy. Yes there are lots of considerations. But do I think we can weigh all the considerations and fix this mess, you guys? Hell YES WE CAN.

Bust-In Moms: The New Mommy Trend?

Leslie Bennetts, author of The Feminine Mistake, blogs over at Tina Brown's Daily Beast this morning about the Other Financial Meltdown that’s happening – that of the Wall Street wives, whose husbands are losing their bonuses, jobs and houses, and who are consequently starting to suffer. She quotes one of these women, called “the Mrs. Richan Vulgars”:
“People are totally freaking out,” says Marilena Greig, a divorced New Canaan stay-at-home mom I interviewed for The Feminine Mistake. “I go to yoga in Greenwich with a lot of these women who spend their days shopping. Now their husbands have lost their jobs, and people are terrified. They’re pulling the plug on everything; they’re telling their kids, ‘That’s it!’ These are people who live in 30,000-square-foot houses, but a lot of them live on the edge; they’re leveraged not only in their accounts, but in their lives. There are a lot of ‘For Sale’ signs on these properties now, but the houses are not moving. And two-thirds of the marriages in Fairfield County end in divorce. There are so many women going to these job counselors, but they’ve been out of the work force for 20 years. What do they do to make money? How do they support their lifestyles?”
This got me thinking. For the past five to ten years, during the boom years, we’ve read countless articles about Opt-Out Moms: professional women who went to the best schools, worked in top firms and companies, then left it all when they had kids to stay at home. Clearly that was a choice in the boom years, while their husbands made bank and their 401k’s soared. But now that many of those husbands are experiencing a drop in compensation or job loss, and those 401ks are quickly plummeting, opting out may no longer be a viable choice – especially considering that some of those marriages might have held together sheerly for economic reasons.

With times looking to be lean for the next few years, perhaps we are looking at a new mommy trend: that of Bust-In Moms. Bust-In Moms will be, in essence, Opt-Out Moms who have to get back into the workplace in order to attempt to continue their standard of living. They will either have to rekindle their previous careers as professionals, or try a completely new field if it’s really been 20 years -- or if their old career was in financial services. They won’t be able to be picky; security and stability will be keywords in their job search.

If growing numbers of Opt-Out Moms re-enter the workforce, there will be repercussions on all of the dependent areas. Bust-In Moms will need quality childcare, affordable work outfits, fast and healthy family dinner options, and of course, career guidance. (I also predict sequels of Working Girl and Baby Boom, coming soon to a theater near you!)

The scary part about all this, of course, is that jobs will be hard enough to get and maintain for women who’ve been working all along. All of those flexible schedules we’ve fought so hard for may go flying out of the window in the face of plunging profit lines. For Bust-In Moms, there may be few jobs to bust back into. For instance, Greig, the woman mentioned above, ended up getting a job cold-calling to sell supplemental insurance on commission. But there’s no salary.

Many stay-at-home moms who weren’t professionals or high earners to begin will also have to get back into the workplace, and for them the options will be even fewer.

Bennetts, whose book is all about the mistake stay-at-home moms are making by not earning a living and having a livelihood outside of raising their children, says she takes no satisfaction in being right about her ideas. And indeed, there is no satisfaction seeing the lifestyle options of women and moms dwindle even further. I have a feeling our generation will be forever changed by this recession. I know I’ll definitely be teaching my daughter about the benefits of staying active in the workforce.

Devi Style: The Recessionista Files

There was a lot of discussion about racial relations and Indian-American viewpoints on race and culture this weekend on Sepia Mutiny, in response to our favorite "Brown Girls" pontification on bringing Obama home to momma. Look for more on that this afternoon but in the mean time--what are you wearing?

Did you guys see the piece in the New York Times about "The Recessionista"? If the New York Times Styles section is featuring Target-finds and blogs about frugality (amongst the ads for Gucci hobos of course!) you know it's time to take this money-saving talk seriously.

Get ready to shop without breaking the bank Devis. Welcome to Edition One of Devi Style: The Recessionista Files.

-Online Sample Sales

We already told you about Gilt.com, but Gilt, at this point, is the old kid on the block. There are a slew of others, most of which are invitaiton only --but we got you covered with special access, using the following codes:

-Hautelook.com: Click "sign up" and enter code "stylewatch10"
-RueLaLa: Go to ruelala.com/style to join
-Idelli.com: Invitation code "stylewatch"

-Sites for Discount codes/coupons

Try these sites to see if your favorite stores are offering any promotions.
-Reesycakes.com
-RetailMeNot.com
-Styleforfree.com

-Sign Up for Sales Alerts

These sites send info on sales to your inbox, so you are only alerted to the deals on the brands, styles or store you are interested in. TIP: Set up a separate email account for these sorts of mailers, otherwise you will be overwhelmed with the volume of mail you receive.

-ShopItToMe.com: Choose a weekly or daily email telling you when styles and brands you like go on sale in your size

-Stylenotes.com: To-the-minute information on when there is a sale at your favorite store or on a style you are looking for

-Shefinds.com: Weekly deals, as picked by a team of editors. And Momfinds.com, a sister-site to Shefinds which focuses on all sorts of stuff for all sorts of moms.

-StoreAdore.com: A directory of the best shopping online and offline.

-Compare Prices

Make sure you are getting the best prices available--before you "add to cart."


-Dealio.com
-ShopStyle.com (aka your new BFF)

-Get Money Back for Shopping!

-Ebates.com: See if the store you are about to purchase from is part of the Ebates network, which includes 900-plus stores. If it is, ebates will deposit a percentage of the sale into an account and, four times a year, they'll send you a check!

-Swap Your Stuff

Be that Indian Auntie/momma who loans all your saris (aka: jeans) and curry pots out to everyone--but get something in return too.


-Swapstyle.com: Exchange clothes with people around the world
-GiftCardRescue.com: For a small fee, you can swap a card you don't want for a different one you will use.

-Spa discounts

Forget the stuff and get thee to the spa--for less.

-Spa-addicts.com: If you live in LA, NYC, New Jersey, Chicago or Atlanta, check out this site for monthly spa specials, and to earn "SpaMiles", redeemable for treatments

-SpaFinder .com: Find day spas online-only deals and packages

-SpaWeek.org: Get all the information on spas in your city participating in Spa Week, when spas across the country offer up to 80% off their signature treatments.

And there is much much more to come, Devis. Next week: Check in on how to reuse, repurpose, and rework the clothes, accessories and makeup you already own--including that sari blouse that is just a LITTLE bit snug post-baby...!

A Cheat Sheet for School Diwali Presentations

Oh, crap. Tomorrow’s Diwali, and one of the teachers at your child’s school has asked you to do a presentation on the holiday for her class this week. Is she kidding? Does she think that just because you originally hail from the Indian subcontinent, and/or are a Hindu, you should know what Diwali is all about??

The little-known secret among many of us is that we really have no clue, do we. We want to hand down these cultural traditions, but truth be told, oftentimes we're just winging it. We don’t live in an entire country that does rangoli designs in front of their houses on the same day. One entire isle of Rite Aid doesn't get converted for Diwali. We don’t even have the option of doing a version of “Chrismukkah” -- December’s too far away for Christwali, and I’m not sensing a mass movement for Diwaloween.

This, Devis, is what DwB is here for. We’ve already covered ten ways to celebrate Diwali with your own kids, but how about introducing it to non-Indians? It’s important to enlighten your child’s classmates about Indian culture, right? Maybe then your kid won’t seem so “other” to them. Maybe a Diwali presentation is what will bridge the gap of understanding between cultures, so that your child will finally be accepted for who he/she is, become popular, get better grades, and eventually become the next president of the United States.

Or maybe you just don’t want to look bad in front of your kid’s teacher. Either way, here are some ideas we’ve gleaned from around the Web.

1. You’ll have to start with a 5-minute talk on “What is Diwali,” but don’t fret, there are people who know about this sort of thing and have done it for you. Try National Geographic’s new, panreligious explanation of Diwali, or LearnHub’s Diwali one-pager. Also, recruit the first generation! They usually know what they’re talking about. Ask your parents, uncles, or aunts to come with you and help out.

2. Have the kids make Diwali collages: Type “Diwali” into Flickr (or just click here) and print out some of the beautiful photos that appear. Add scissors, glue and paper, and you’re ready to go.

3. If the kids are older, have them make rangoli designs. Type “rangoli” into Google Images and print out some of the photos. The kids can recreate the designs with chalk on chalkboards or, if the school is willing, on the ground in an outside area.

4. If you’re more ambitious, try having them make diyas with self-hardening clay and paint. Both of these are available at kids’ toy stores. Or if you’re crafy, try this 15-minute, 5-ingredient recipe for a Diwali favorite, coconut barfi. (Check with your kid’s teacher to make sure this is copacetic to do, and leave out the nuts for allergies.)

Best of Devis with Babies

Friday, October 24, 2008
Happy Friday, Devijis and Devatas! We know blog posts have a tendency to get lost once they disappear off the front page. So, with the belief that “second time’s a charm,” here's some of the best of the Devis with Babies archive.

Find out what the heck we were thinking when we started this blog, here and here.

We’re not always sugar & spice: check out how bitchy Deepa and I can get.

Halloween’s almost here! See what else besides the skeletons scares us about it.

Find out what we think is one of the best gifts for kids, and what Deepa never leaves the house without.

And of course, who can resist the Brown Girls? See how it all began, check out how we get through these troubled times, and find out how the news cycle is affecting our home lives.

Thanks for reading!

Friday Randomness

We have mentioned we are random right? Here is a hodge-podge of some random things for you this Friday:

A Posh-Devi Graces the cover of Vogue India--still not smiling:


Think you know your "Twinkle-a Twinkle-a Little-a Star?"--watch this Indian Aunty take the nursery rhyme through a tour of Indian singing styles:



And: How horrible would you feel if your one vote decided the election--and you forgot to vote. Personalize this hilarious video to show all your friends that one vote really can make a difference--and to see your name in grafitti:


Brown Girls: Everyone's A Little Bit Racist?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Desi Home Remedies for Colds

Cold season is upon us, and with the new restrictions on giving children under six cold medicines, it’s going to be an even tougher one for devis with babies.

Fortunately, this is one of those areas where our heritage proves to be an asset. Indian home remedies, using all-natural ingredients, seem to exist for every ailment under the sun. Below are some simple ones I’ve tried that have worked. They’re not always the best-tasting, or best-smelling for that matter, but at least they’ll provide some relief for your little one (and for yourself). I've added honey to some of them to make them more palatable for children.

Also, don’t forget the tried-and-true-but-often-forgotten ways to give children with a cold better sleep:
-warm chicken or vegetable noodle soup before they sleep
-humidifier or vaporizer in their room at night
-a small amount of Vicks rubbed on their chest or blanket

Ginger tea: Shred an inch-long piece of ginger. Add the shredded ginger to a small pot. Add a tablespoon of lemon, honey to taste and 2 cups of water. Boil. Great for chest congestion and coughs.

Ginger juice: I wouldn’t have believed this unless I saw it work myself. It provides instant relief for chest congestion in children. First thing in the morning, before your child has had any food or water, shred a small piece of ginger. Squeeze it through a strainer so you get a small amount of ginger juice. Only a teaspoonful is needed. Put the juice in a dropper or oral syringe. Now for the tricky part: have your child swallow the juice. This is best achieved by putting the dropper fairly deep into their mouths. They will scream, cry and possible curse you, but shortly after that they will either cough or vomit up insane amounts of phlegm, and 2 minutes later they’ll be in the best mood ever. This is the best remedy for chest congestion I’ve seen.

Turmeric milk drink: Heat 1/2 cup of milk. Add ½ teaspoon turmeric, 1/2 teaspoon melted butter or ghee, and a few sprinkles of salt. Stir and drink. Works wonders for sore throats and coughs.

Nasal drops: For excessive nasal congestion. Add 1/4 teaspoon of table salt to about 1 teaspoon of lukewarm water. Using a nasal syringe or dropper, put 1 to 2 drops in each nostril about 3 to 4 times daily. The salt loosens up the mucus inside, making it easier to breathe through the nose.

Tamarind-pepper rasam: Add 1/2 teaspoon of tamarind paste to 1/2 cup of hot water. Add 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper and 1/2 teaspoon of melted butter or ghee. Add honey to taste and drink. This will clear up nasal and chest congestion.

Got any of your own cold remedies to share, devis?

Devi Food: Best Recipe Site Ever

Wednesday, October 22, 2008
My father has rarely cooked a meal during his 70-plus years. In that regard, he’s a pretty typical Indian male in his generation. It just wasn’t done in India, and by the time we migrated to America, he was in his 40s and well-indoctrinated into the “Real Men Don’t Cook” school of thought.

Thirty years later, he’s been treated to some spectacular meals by his son and son-in-laws. I mentioned before that we’re a cooking family, but it still wasn’t enough to get him into the kitchen.

Then one day, he and my mom went to dinner at the home of a couple they had newly befriended. They were eating an amazing meal of chicken and biryani when my father started complimenting the wife on the food. “Don’t tell me,” she said, “tell him.”

To my father’s (and my mother’s) amazement, she said her husband, who is my dad’s age, had made all of the food. And suddenly, as I like to imagine it, a light switched on in my dad’s head. The Light of the Enlightened Indian Man. Real men can cook, he realized, and really well!!

My dad and his friend spent the rest of the evening talking about cooking (!), and the secret to this man’s culinary success was revealed: a website that showcases simple Indian cooking videos. The key is that the chef in the videos is an Indian guy. (Clearly he brings out the “if he can do it, so can I” male competitive hormone.) So my dad went home, watched some of the videos, and started cooking. My mom, needless to say, is thrilled.

News of the website caught on among his friends, and before long they decided to have a dinner party in which -- and I love this part -- all the husbands cooked instead of the wives! The photo here is from their dinner night. Can you imagine how psyched their wives were?!

When I heard all of this, first of all, I brimmed over with pride for my dad. I can imagine it's not easy to develop a completely new hobby -- not to mention overturn a mindset -- at that point in life. Secondly, I figured if this website inspired my father to start cooking, it must be pretty good. So I went on and took a look myself, and seriously: I am willing to guarantee that, if you cook even just a little right now, this website will inspire you to try a dish you've never made before.

It’s called VahRehVah.com, and it features 5-to-10 minute videos of everything from chilli paneer to banana dosai (“your kids will go crazy about this item”). Some of it is way too complex for me – I don’t think I’m going to be making jalebi any time soon. But the vast majority of the recipes are easy. The most-viewed section includes butter chicken, egg biryani, and vegetable puffs (an easy appetizer for parties – buy frozen pastry sheets and fill them with any type of vegetable or meat filling, then bake). The recipes are in written and video form. I love the videos because they show details, like the exact size chopped potatoes should be, or what a “gravy” should actually look like.

The cook in the videos cracks me up as much as the name of the site. “Vah-Chef” Sanjay Thumma, who could easily be one of my cousins in India, has an infectious excitement about food. His down-home attitude about the whole thing is refreshing. He’s got a special kids’ corner, named after his daughter Shreya, featuring dishes that kids like. Best of all, the site is dedicated to his mom, “who inspired me and introduced me to this awesome world of cooking and culinary art. My house always smelled good. It wasn’t the smell of room fresheners or incense sticks. Rather, it was the smell of fresh baking and cooking.”

Check it out, and while you're at it, call your husband/fiance/boyfriend over. You never know when that male competitive hormone will kick in!

Hairy Situations

I can remember every detail about the first time I waxed my legs, down to the mumu my mom was wearing as she taught me how. I was in the sixth grade and my mom was finally letting me get rid of the hair on my legs that I had been painfully aware of for at least a year, when Tiffany B. called me out during kick ball in gym. "Don't you know how to shave your legs?" she sneered, kicking that horrible red rubber ball--in my estimation--directly at my face. My retort was genius: "Huh?" I said.

I think I was a bit of a late-bloomer. I certainly must have noticed that my fifth-grade legs had long black hairs on them, while my friends Christy and Meredith had shiny, squeaky, hairless legs. How do you not notice that? But I didn't feel self-conscious about it until Tiffany's comment. And, afterwards, it was pretty much all I could think about. When we were at the grocery store and the checker would ask me what grade I was in, I would think he was making fun of the hair on my legs. I started wearing jeans in 90 degree Michigan weather. I begged my mom to let me shave my legs but she was adamant in her refusal. "You'll thank me later," she said. "Once you start you can't go back."

Then--the magical night. In retrospect, it seems almost cavewoman-like. My mom heated this strange, small tin of wax on the open flame while my sister and I looked on in awe. (My lucky sister--getting to wax HER legs when she was TWO YEARS younger than I!) Then we sat on the newspaper covered tile of our groundfloor bathroom and applied the hot wax to our legs with what, in my sister's and my opinion, looked like giant popsicle sticks, after which we covered the goopy mess with "muslin"--a word, for some reason, that made my sister, mom and I laugh. (Still does). Then: YANK. And: OUCH. And: WOW!

I was hooked and, twenty years out, I am here to tell you that my mom was right (hope you're reading mom)--waxing is MUCH better than shaving, a fact I have come to realize after I started to shave in an oh-so-radical bout of college rebellion...! I quickly saw the error of my ways ("you have to do this every day?") and reverted back. And, after meeting many Indian women during college, grad school, and married life, I have come to realize that hair--and its removal, goddamit--are truly part of the South Asian woman's experience. Sure, it sounds trivial. The Devi woman deals with issues of gender inequality, marginalization, and exotification, sometimes on a daily basis--but get a group of Indian women together and I guarantee you, the stories about how hairiness has played a role in their lives will make you laugh and cry as much as the stories of diasporatic frenzy and social isolation.

Now, of course, what was once a privilege has become a chore. I am waiting for the invention of the half hour "we'll take all the hair off your body" procedure. Till then though...

We all know about the usual suspects: Razors, Depilitories (who does this? anyone?), Waxing and Threading. And there is a host of options if you are going to go to a professional (laser hair removal and electrolysis being the most popular). Here is a selection of some of the newest at-home choices for us wonderful, albeit hirsute, Devis (with or without babies--and the stuff that babies do to a Devi's hair is too much to cover in this particular post...!).

Emjoi hair removal: Don't be scared by any Epi-lady flashbacks. We've come a long way. I've tried this and, while it utlizes technology that sounds eerily similar to the 80s Epilady, there are built-in functions centered around "pain reduction," such as plates that massage the skin as the hair is being yanked. And skin is noticeably smoother than it is post-shaving.

No!No!: No!No! wants you to be realistic. It promises that if you use it 2-3 times a week, for 8 weeks, it will reduce your unwanted hair by 65%. The upside is that, after this 8 weeks, you are supposed to see an obvious reducton in re-growth. No!No! uses "gentle heat wave" technology that destroys hair at the root, and claims to provide the same results as laser hair removal and electrolysis. I am in week one of this product (I am using it on my "moustache") so I will update you in 7 weeks. In the meantime, take heart that the claims thus far are true: No!No! postures itself as "pain free" and it really is. The pricetag is steep ($250), but if it really works, imagine all the waxing/threading/time you will save.

Gigi hair removal strips: Yes, these are just plain, old-school, garden-variety wax strips, but they are the best I have ever found.

Threading at home: I have not ever tried to thread at home but my cousins are absolute experts. Check out these instructions and this video if you want to give it a whirl.

Those well-versed in the at-home hair removal lingo may have heard about Tria--the Rolls Royce of at-home lasers, currently being sold at Barneys and the like. But word to the wise--Tria is not recommended for anybody with darker skin. Stay away.

Any tips to share ladies?

Devi Style: Hips Don't Lie

Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Many of us are taking the current economic climate to get creative in the "style" department. I recently "shopped my closet" and came up not only with a bunch of clothes I forgot I owned but also three bags of donations for Salvation Army. The majority of these cast-offs were what I call "aspirational clothing"--clothing I wanted to wear and rock, but that never really worked quite right on me. Everyone knows that you have to dress for your body, not for trends--but sometimes its hard not to buy that drop-waist flapper-style dress that eyes you from the window every morning on your way to work (okay sometimes it's hard for ME not to buy the drop-waist flapper-style dress). You know you and your hips look a little ridiculous in the dress, but somehow you convince yourself otherwise.


Conventional wisdom dictates that there are 4 categories of "body type":

(1) Wide on the bottom (the "pear")
(2) Wide on the top (the "apple")
(3) Hourglass (the one we all wish we were--aka the "my sister in law"...!)
(4) Straight throughout ("boyshaped")



Now this is all fine and dandy and there is definite utility in knowing your body type. But, truly, the vast majority of Devi women have a fifth type of body type I like to call the "H&B"--hips and breasts. This is a good thing, or so my husband tells me. JCrew and all its tucked-in shirts beg to differ (if I tuck in a shirt I look quite literally like I escaped from an institution...and left my abdomen inside). Devis avec babies also usually have a little more stomach than they used to and while we are all SUPER confident and don't care AT ALL about that extra flab (ha) it certainly does take dressing and shopping to new corners (I know more about Spanx than I care to admit).

There are three clothing BFFs that anybody with an H&B body-type needs to know about (are you keeping up with all the acronyms?):

(1) Empire Waists--in shirts, sweaters, dresses. Empire waists sit right below your bust and are universally flattering. By bringing the eye up from your natural waist, an empire waist elongates your figure and detracts away from hips. It also skims over the thickest areas of many Devi bodys--tummys and thighs. Now--word to the wise--to avoid looking pregnant, make sure the garment isn't overly voluminous and don't buy empire waist garments that tie in the back--those scream Mimi Maternity. Instead, stick to fitted, tailored styles, that happen to have a higher waist.

In the image to the right, the model created an "empire" waist by belting her sweater right below her bust line--thus accentuating the smallest part of her rib cage. Without that artificial waist, she wouldn't look nearly as svelte.

(2) A-lines--in skirts and dresses. The A-line silhouette is narrower at the waist and flares gently towards the hemline, thus resembling the letter "A." The flared hem provides balance to the shoulders and creates the illusion of an hourglass figure, all the while hiding any lumps you may want to hide that lie between your waist and your knees. Make sure that the waist of the A-line garment fits well--too tight and you will just create more lumps at your waistline, and too loose and you will look sloppy. Also, length is very important--the most flattering skirts and dresses hit right above, at, or below the knee.


(3) Flares--in pants. Like the A-line dresses and skirts, a slightly flared pant provides balance to a figure that is heavy in the breasts and the hips. It is a rare rare Devi that can pull off pleated or tapered pants. And, seriously, even if you can, you would probably look even better in non-pleated, non-tapered pants. Taperality (it should be a word) creates a "balloon effect" around your ankles, making your hips and thighs seem even bigger than they are. It is evil. Flares, bootlegs, and straight pants are the way to go.

And now--drumroll please--allow me to introduce you to the queen bee of your new BFF circle: All hail Shopstyle.com. Shopstyle trolls most of the major web stores for you and has the most amazing search function I have ever seen. For instance, you can type "empire waist dress" in the search bar and--voila--3787 choices pop up. You can then narrow down the selection by brand, price, store, or size. This tool is truly a miracle. Say you are looking for a pair of Seven jeans after Monica's post about how good they will make your butt look--throw "Seven jeans" into the search bar and see the vast selection (and different prices) the web has to offer.

There is so much more to discuss. What to do to disguise short-waistedness; how a few bucks to a tailor can completely change an outfit; the best jackets and blazers for all body types; how to look taller (this could be the topic of a book for me--I am actually 3 feet 5 inches tall and almost NOBODY knows the truth). But all great journeys begin with a single (well-heeled) step, no??

Ode to Dada and Dadi

This weekend, we left our daughter with her grandparents for the night. It’s a treat all around: she loves being with them, they love being with her, and we love an occasional guilt-free night of freedom. While she was with them, she went to the park, read books, did puzzles, watched Micky Mouse, sang along to an Indian game show called “Sa Re Ga Ma Pa,” ate home-cooked food, and received copious amounts of hugs and kisses, marked on her cheek by her Dadi’s bright red lipstick.

Since my daughter was born, I’ve been eternally grateful that we live close to my husband’s parents. They don’t just provide us with those guilt-free nights of freedom. They provide a level of attention and love that she doesn’t get anywhere else. They’re retired, so when she is around, all other activity basically stops. Of course they spoil her. They never let her cry more than a minute if they can help it. They give her too many snacks. They indulge her every whim, from staying up late to listening to whatever she wants on the stereo.

They are also very silly with her. My father-in-law becomes a child himself, talking in funny voices, making clown faces, causing her to her laugh so hard that my husband and I come from the other room just to watch.

I didn’t have that sort of grandparental love growing up. My grandparents lived far away, and when they visited, they were more of an austere presence in my life. Loving, yes, but people to be respected rather than to laugh with.

My own parents live far away as well, but they visit for long periods of time every year. My dad, who does yoga daily, teaches her how to stand on her head. He sings Indian children’s songs to her. My mom tells her long stories about animals and makes her all sorts of delicious food; she always gains a couple of pounds during one of their visits.

There is so much my daughter will gain from having her grandparents be an active part of her life. She will have role models who have always lived their lives in a decent, honorable way. She will understand how to respect and value the elderly. She will have a larger perspective on life than that of just young people. She already knows Indian fables and myths that I don’t even know, thanks to them.

I sometimes worry about what will happen to her when it’s time for them to go. Morbid, I know, but I can’t help it. They are elderly, and she is so close to them. What will I tell her? How will I explain that these people, who would drop everything and give her more undivided attention than her own parents could, are gone forever? How will we attempt to fill the hole in her life? She expects nothing of them except to love her. They expect nothing of her except that she allow them to love her. Not once will they ask her for a thing, yet they will love her without end. That kind of love is irreplaceable.

Sometimes I think she has a sense of their mortality. Once, while we were waiting for her grandparents to come over for dinner, my daughter started getting impatient. “Where is Dada Dadi?” she demanded.

“They’re driving over in their car,” I told her. “You’ll see them soon.”

She was quiet for a minute. Then she said, “Mommy, tell them not to leave me, okay?”

I looked at her, and all I could do was nod.

Indian Baby Names 2.0

Monday, October 20, 2008

Naming a child has always been a thorny enterprise. How do you put all of the love, hope and meaning of having a baby into one name that will identify your spawn for life? It's hard enough to do. But for our generation of Indians brought up and living in the West, it's even more challenging. We want to come up with names that can be enunciated by maitre d's and grandmothers alike, but that have a beautiful, deep meaning.

We can all think of names that were mauled by grade school teachers and/or taunted by fifth-grade bullies. (To all the "Anils" and "Hardiks" out there, I apologize on behalf of your parents.) I’m thankful that I don’t have that problem. My father got my name from a Bollywood hit song which had the lyric, "Monica, oh my darling…." Even though I’ve received my fair share of "What's your Indian name? Your real name?" comments, I'm still grateful to Asha Bhosle for singing that song. But for all the Indian Monicas I know, my name remains a firmly western one – never possessing a Sanskrit or Persian root or meaning, therefore never fully incorporated into the naming culture of the subcontinent and its diasporas.

Aiming to meet those two naming objectives -- pronounceable yet profound -- some of us have become creative. We’ve searched books and websites for names that have crossover appeal, and found names like Milan, Maya, Dhillon, Tara, Krishan, Devin, Roshan, Amaya. It's also important to us that people pronounce these names with the accent on the right syllable, engendering a set of names with double a's (Armaan, Aadesh, Kaayva).

Others have gone as far west as possible without alienating grandparents: Jay, Neil, Sara, Julie, Sophie. Still others have stuck to pronounceable classics: Arjun, Anjali, Shreya, Krishna.

Certain names are probably lost to us forever. Like all those lovely, funny names of our ancestors. I doubt I'll receive an email announcing the birth of Saraswati, Suryakant, Sushrata or Satinder any time soon. I'll probably never seriously entertain the thought of naming my child after my grandmother, Sulochna, or my grandfather, Shantilal. It's too bad, because those names have such gorgeous meanings: Sulochna means beautiful eyes, and Shantilal means peaceful.

The problem is, there are only so many pronounceable-yet-profound names. Thus, the glut of similar names -- I've lost count of how many Anyas and Akashes I know. And, of course, you have to stay away from names chosen by close friends and family. (Why did I name my cousin's son "Devin"? Now I won't be able to use it!)

But still, I'm glad no one is resorting to "Peter" or "Rebecca" just yet.

Monday Musings: Xacto Knives and Happy Medium Land

Yesterday I found myself in a very familiar predicament: It was 10 a.m., both kids were up and active and fed, we had already gone to the park--and yet it felt like the whole day stretched ahead of us. I bemoan the lack of quality time with my kids as much as the next person but, tell me you know what I mean--those days that just feel like they are going to go on forever? I didn't want to pack up the kids in the double-stroller and do our usual walk downtown because I would end up buying a pair of earrings/shoes/purses(!) I don't need. Breakfast was done, so no need to brave a restaurant. Last I checked, it would have been inappropriate to trek my kids to the movie theater to see "Blindness" or "W" (I miss the movies!). We needed a project.

In the last 3 years, I have tried many of the activities that moms and babies are "supposed" to do. "Music together." Mommy-and-me yoga. Gymboree. I have always left these sorts of things feeling pretty much like a tool, and, more often than not, severely bored--in general and of the person I am in such places. Plus, thus far, my kids just don't seem to be that into any of these activities (go ahead, get out the armchair and the psych book: "projection projection!") I think the problem is trying to shoehorn myself into a mom that I just may not be. Obviously my kids are still pretty malleable and if I forced "Music Together" on them over and over again, they would likely get into it. So, clearly, the problem is me. Problem Mommy.

Yesterday I thought about doing the "supposed to" activities. Going to the children's museum. Reading lots of silly books. Checking out the puppet show at a local bookstore. I have done all of these things before. And, yes, I have enjoyed them sometimes, as have my kids. But it was one of those days where the effort to be "that mom" seemed Herculean. So something altogether different transpired. As I was going through the bookshelf, looking for something to read to my 3 year old that wouldn't make me fall asleep, I found one of my absolute most treasured possessions: A frightening looking book called "Clowns Do Happen," given to me as a gift from a college friend. It is a "secret book"--completely hollowed out--that she made herself. When you open it, in my friend's Unabomber handwriting is scrawled: "Place Treasures Here."

I decided we HAD to make a secret book. Immediately. My kids were very amused by "Mom On A Mission." This was, in part, because I made us all wear tinfoil hats as I gathered the necessary materials, and who doesn't like tinfoil hats? This is what you need to try this at home:

-A hardcover book, at least 1 1/2 inches thick
-Elmer's glue
-Some sort of container to mix glue and water (I used an old bowl)
-Xacto knife
-Painbrush
-Ruler
-A way to silence your mother's voice in your head telling you that books are sacred (they are) and that you shouldn't deface them (you shouldn't--but sometimes rules need to be broken).
-These clear instructions


For three hours, my 3 year old sat mesmerized--truly mesmerized--as we cut paper, glued edges, and sang at the top of our lungs to Bob Dylan (Secret Book not contingent on musical selection--but there is something pretty amazing about hearing a child attempt to sing Subterranean Homesick Blues). This is a child who spent 2 months of Music Together, literally--literally--running in circles. My younger one rocked happily in his little chair scrunching the discarded paper in his hands and playing peek-a-boo with it. My toddler didn't ask for "Fireman Sam" or "Thomas the Train" once which I consider one of my proudest accomplishments thus far, not only as a mother but in life. The day became one of the memories of time with my kids I will file away and take out when I'm frustrated that they won't sleep, that they're constantly making messes, that they have so many needs. It was simple, and it was so me--plus children. And the silver lining is that I didn't have to make forced funny faces or otherwise act like a buffoon.

Our energy is contagious. As much as my love of eccentricity wants me to believe otherwise, I am pretty sure my 3 year old wasn't half as excited as he seemed by the prospect of making The Secret Book. I think he just liked seeing me jump up and down, get excited myself, not nag him to eat his "tree" (decoder ring: "tree"=broccoli). It's easy to forget this sometimes--to forget that the authenticity, the sense of ourselves that we have lived our lives building and striving for still serves us well in this new adventure of parenthood. It's almost impossible not to get bogged down with the "supposed to" and the "shoulds." But there is of course a happy medium, and in Happy Medium Land live Secret books currently filled with the candy that I don't let my kids eat. In Happy Medium Land lives Happy Medium Land Mom, snuggling with her kids and watching Colin Powell finally saying what somebody should have said so long ago, (making my kids watch tv, for once, even though they are too young to understand how amazing his words are), having the epiphany that, sometimes you gotta do the Xacto knife activity instead of the trip to Tiny Gym...you just do.

Weekly Roundup and Weekend Links

Friday, October 17, 2008
In case you missed it, here's what happened in the Devis with Babies world this week:

-We wondered what is lost, career-wise, when we have children.
-We rolled up our sleeves and turned our homes into spas and into Diwali-culture-centers.
-We pondered sleep and showed you some Indian cooking shortcuts (less time in the kitchen=more sleep, no?)
-We asked the age-old questions: Do you fantasize about other men? and How do you know you are a Devi, or a Devi with baby?
-The Brown Girls wondered, is there such a thing as too much news?

And here is some of what we are watching and reading this weekend:

Want to see a female trainwreck that ISN'T Sarah Palin? Check out Katy Perry (of "I Kissed a Girl" fame) falling all over a stage of icing. And of course for some more Palin entertainment: The rumors are true and she will be on Saturday Night live tomorrow.

It's almost time for the San Francisco International South Asian film festival, which runs from November 13-16. Check here for the lineup, to learn more about the movies and filmmakers, and to get tickets. Perfect excuse to plan a trip to the Bay!

Feel like you have that great novel/painting/symphony in you but are worried you are too old to get working? Think again--and read Malcolm Gladwell's (of "Blink" fame) inspiring take on "late bloomers." Bottom line? Keep on plugging away, it will be worth it.

Jenny McCarthy claims that her son's autism is cured. Dennis Leary blames autism on inattentive mothers. John McCain inexplicably brings up autism multiple times in the last debate. All of it makes me scratch my head.

And in the never-ending lunchbox chronicles, Cookie magazine shows you some of the healthiest snacks to send your babies to school with.