Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween in Bangalore

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Brooms Look Different in India

I left my computer's power-cord at work by mistake today, so this'll be quick:

A group of beautiful teenage witches showed up at our door to collect candy. I passed several costumed kids on the way back to our house tonight. It was surreal and totally believable a at once. The opportunity for free candy is a universal reason to celebrate, I understand now, if I didn't already.

Also, 60% of the community where we live are expatriate families; I saw more Indian than non-Indian kids out tonight, but possibly, they were Indian-American kids.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Why I Persist

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Intermittent Reinforcement -- the Most Powerful Kind

Last night, we returned from vacation and I was in a sad mood at being done with extended leisure. I didn't feel awake or spirited enough to blog, and then saw e-mail from an Indian friend's mother, who told me that she liked my blog.

That's all I needed to re-engage me. We had an exchange about how at one time, she knew Jews only as literary characters. I was reminded of how much education I used to lack about Indians; I wrote:

Before high school, the only Indians I knew were in Rudyard Kipling's novel, *Kim.*

I had gone to elementary and junior high only with Jewish kids and I grew up in Stamford, Connecticut, where at the time, there was no Indian community to speak of (I'm 42). There was one kid who hung out with us in high school, Jason Patel, and I'm not kidding: I did not know he was Indian. I thought he was Jewish. I didn't even know that Patel was an Indian name back then.

Progress is important to recognize. I know more now than I knew in high school.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Strangers on a Train

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Bound for Delhi from Agra

Me, turning to the woman in the seat across the aisle: "I'm sorry that I don't speak Dutch, but would you like some walnuts?"

"I'm Swiss."

"Oh! I'm sorry. I thought that because of the CH sound --"

"Yes, we have the CH sound, too."

"I speak Hebrew, which also has a CH sound."

Anyhow, she doesn't want any walnuts, and I turn back to the package and scoop them into my yogurt sheepishly.

Pat returns from the bathroom and then I find a hair-ball in the walnut-package; Pat tries to soothe me that it must just be felt from the conveyer belt in the walnut factory, and then, sternly, "Sarah, rally!"

Very quietly, I tell Pat about the ignorant interchange I've just had, and Pat says, "When you said, 'I don't speak Dutch,' she should have said, 'Neither do I!'"

We burst into laughter. I don't want the women -- her friend has also now returned from the bathroom -- to think that we're laughing at them and so I turn to her with all the humility my face can express and tell her Pat's quip. She laughs and then explains what happened to her friend, who smiles.

I say, "I'm so embarrassed. I was trying to be sophisticated."

"I'm sure you are sophisticated, says the friend generously.

"Yeah, somewhere," chimes in Pat and we laugh some more.

"We're not the sort of Americans," I need to tell them, "who think it's fine that everyone speaks English."

"You wouldn't be travelling if you were," says the friend.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

An Anniversary I Never Wanted

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Not a Jubilant Jubilee

This weekend marks the 25th yahrzeit of my father, may his memory be blessed.

This morning, I sat on the balcony of our hotel-room, facing the Taj Mahal not too far off in the distance, thinking about the ritually simple, pine box in which my father was buried compared to the bereaved Mughal emperor's monumental tomb for his favorite wife.

A herd of sheep proceeded across a hill just over the floral wall of the hotel and I recalled my dad teaching me a pop song from his era, which needed to be sung quickly for full effect: "Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy; a kid'll eat ivy, too, wouldn't you?"

My dad, who was a toy and game designer, earned his Bachelors in Industrial Design from the phenomenal Rhode Island School of Design. He taught me to honor my imagination before I lost him, which was fortunate, as I've been imagining a continuing, rich relationship with him ever since his death, when he was just 56 and I, 17.

Vision and a Calling

Many people think of imaginative people as having vision, or being visionary, and I don't relate to that version of imagination. More so, I relate to imaginative people being called to do something essential. I hear things, rather than see them, I think.

My sort of imagination has never worried me -- other than lately, when I keep thinking I'm hearing my cell phone when I'm not; I *must* download a new ring-tone. My imagination, I do feel, is more aural than visual, more so stimulated aurally than visually.

An example of my sort of imagination would be my fairly keen recall of dialogue. Also, when I believe in a future state, I'm called to promote it, I think, rather than that I can see it, and want everyone else to see it, too.

Hearing and Seeing in Agra

No doubt, the Taj Mahal is wondrous, particularly in nearly-full moonlight, as Pat and I were privileged to see it last night. The chanting, apparently coming from the adjacent mosque, is what really intrigued me during our evening view of it, though.

Waiting for our half-hour slot for the evening view, we met Christine, a German tourist whose travel agent also did not know about the full-moonlight viewing opportunity. She had to educate her travel agent, as Pat did ours. And Pat wouldn't have known if our friend Lyn hadn't given us a book called something like 25 Things to See Before You Die.

Christine was from a town 100 km from Frankfurt and close to what had been the East German border; "I've been to Africa and the United States, but I had never been to East Germany," she said.

When we began speaking with Christine, we apologized that we needed to speak English. Pat said in German that she spoke just a little German and I said that I spoke just a little Yiddish.

"You might be interested to know, since you speak some Yiddish," she said while we discussed East and West Germany while the wall was still in place, "The wall came down on November 11th, which was the same day as Kristalnacht, and so our Independence Day is celebrated on October 3rd, rather than on November 11th."

In the bus, during the short ride back to our hotels, we established that Christine had lost both her parents nearly 30 years ago while I had lost my dad 25 years ago -- all to cancer. Pat had lost her dad nearly 20 years ago, too.

Here we were, three daughters, all of whom had lost at least one parent, visiting a 300+-year-old mausoleum of someone we never knew, honoring someone else's dead, from a religious tradition that differed from ours. And the Mughal emperor and the three of us had common ground.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Prelude to the Taj...

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Space Defense

"Don't touch me like that!" I said sharply, shoving a probably 15-year-old boy's red-shirted shoulder.

He looked at me with such a shocked expression that I had to remind myself of where his hand had just been while he stood behind me in line.

"The last person, who tried that got his arm broken, just fyi, Sweatpea!" growled Pat.

It's true that once, I knocked a drunk man to the ground for copping a feel as he walked by me.

He whimpered, "You broke my arm!" He couldn't get up. His friend stood there, gaping. I walked away.

That time was 16 years ago on a Saturday night, on Sheridan Road, when I lived in Chicago. This time, Pat and I were heading into one of the seven most peaceful place on earth...aside from our eruption; all of us were on line to enter the Bahai Lotus Temple in Delhi. (There are six other such temples worldwide.)

The boy was with his friend and they got ahead of us and one mimicked me to the rest, "Don't touch me!" and all of them laughed heartily. Then the boy and one of his friends held hands as they ascended the steps.

Everyone reading this entry who's not Indian needs to suspend his or her frame of reference. Here, male, teenaged friends often hold hands and it is a purely platonic gesture.

Seeing that he had a friend with whom he had a capacity for tenderness moved me. The imitation a moment prior inflamed me and then the hand-holding disarmed me.

Shoe Shame

We had checked our shoes in a nylon-burlap bag and Pat dumped out the two pairs for us afterwards. On the bench, where people were putting their shoes back on, I saw a mountain of shoes next to ours -- large sizes down to tiny ones -- all of which had spilled out of a bag like ours. The smallest pair, multi-colored sandals, made me sad for a sec. I envied their full bag compared to Pat's and mine. which yielded just two, adult pairs.

Hidden Diplomacy

Walking back to meet the driver, a group of junior high school girls passed us, saying hello eagerly. Pat didn't notice at first. I just said hello cheerfully in return and had to acknowledge to myself that our sunglasses did nothing to hide our skin-tone.

"Why are they saying hello to us?" Pat asked.

"Because we're not Indian, which makes us celebrities."

On the way back to the hotel, we drove by gorgeous embassies. "All of them are on foreign soil," Pat reminded me, "Isn't that neat?"

We saw Mauitius', Palestine's, Qatar's, Pakistan's, Canada's, Sudan's, Italy's...the United States'. Seeing our flag, flying in India excited my patriotism.

"Can you find this address?" I asked the driver, pointing to #13 on the map in our Lonely Planet guide book, which didn't included the number of the street at which it stood -- the Israeli Embassy.

On the road, leaving the Delhi airport, we did see Hebrew printed in cautionary, red font on the back of a car, "Shmor merchako,"/"Keep [your] distance." Unwittingly, our driver heeded the command and we never caught up to the car to see who was inside, unfortunately.

A conference of mostly non-Indian McKinsey people was also meeting at our hotel and all of them wore exquisite, Indian silk outfits to dinner. How much more beautiful a world we'd live in if every one of us wore Indian fashions all the time.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Would I Agree to Another Assignment?

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

More of a Home- than a World-citizen

A European colleague phoned me today to discuss my perspective on what it's like to be on assignment in India, as she's trying to come on assignment here herself.

"How well were you accepted?" she asked, and "Would you do it again?"

"In my experience, most Indians I've met are not so much interested in learning about my culture from me, but they're very interested in my interest in their culture....We were invited to a Ganesh festival event, for example, and were asked to bring a dish to share. 'It's right around the time of the Jewish New Year,' we responded, and, 'We can bring apples and honey, which is our tradition, to promote a sweet new year.'

"Would you bring soda? We actually need some soda," said the person who invited us, with zero response to our mention of the apples-and-honey tradition.

"By contrast, when I ask questions about Indian history, religion, art, literature, and culture at large, everyone lights up and I learn a wonderful amount," I told my colleague.

"That actually makes sense, since don't most people prefer to talk about themselves? Still, it's a good tip -- not to assume an interest in a cultural exchange."

At dinner tonight, Pat suggested another reason: "Sarah, they see it right and left -- American culture -- all over TV, everywhere. Why would they want to know more?"

It doesn't matter. I'd rather it were this way than the other way around, i.e., that they share their culture with me freely, rather than being coy or secretive about it and only asking me to teach them about mine. After all, I am the one who came here. Since I'm lucky enough to share one language in common with many Indians, why not learn as much as I can and not mope about the initial lack of mutual intellectual curiosity.

With anyone with whom I'm having any sort of deep conversation, actually, I volunteer parallels between our cultures that strike me (see Deck the Cars...), as I'm a common-ground hunter by nature.

"Would you do it again?" she asked.

"Oh, well, that's a long answer. First, I need to explain that I didn't ask to come on this assignment; my VP recommended it to me as a great learning opportunity and offered either China or India. I picked India because of the special warmth of the participants in the management development program I facilitated here two years ago, plus I loved the food."

"I don't think I'm the world-citizen that you are [this colleague and I met seven years ago, when both of us worked at 590 Madison Ave. in New York City]. I'm less resilient. I get very homesick. It has been really hard at times.

"My mom will be 82 next month, God willing, and this weekend, I'm missing her receiving a lifetime achievement award from a Jewish women's organization with which she has worked for most of her life [Hadassah].

"*And* the work is more exciting than almost any I've ever done, and I will miss it, I know, upon my return. Everything's blooming here. It's marvelous work-wise."

At dinner, Pat said, "Well, we'd certainly do it differently next time -- like we'd know that the huge security deposit for our sublet was just business as usual, and how the Internet service provider plan worked, and the cell phone application process, and we'd pack better....I don't think I'm ready to go again for at least a year....And we couldn't expect Jeffrey, and Sam and Margaret [our neighbors] to do what they did for us this time [watching the house and keeping our mail]....A former boss who's on assignment in Shanghai for the next two years took me to dinner last week and said, "What you should do is come to China next."

"Oy!" said my mom when I told her, and then reassured her that I'm committed to completing my Masters and have already maxed out the allowance on the non-residency part. My mom was so brave and encouraging about this assignment. I think my mom misses me even more than she thought she would. I miss her as much as I knew I would, and the rest of my family, too.

The Full Moon's Coming

I really ought to have packed for our Taj Mahal trip, which begins at 5:15 am, already, and ought to have been in bed hours ago. Shoulda-woulda-coulda. I'm so wired and tired all at once.

Pat's all packed and snug in bed. I hate the thought of being more than arm's length from a blogging vehicle for the next four days. I am hoping and expecting that the hotels where we stay have web access, so that I don't have to be blogless.

A mentor of mine at work commented that blogging can't qualify as full relaxation, as it's still a form of work. Obviously, he's not a writer at heart...and then again, maybe it'll refresh my self-expression to have a hiatus. Pat needs to upload her photos and videos to her own machine, and so she really will be offline till our return, as she won't bring her laptop with her, which I agree makes sense.

During this vacation, I dream of reading in a bathtub, swimming, eating new foods in new places, seeing extraordinary sights, including the Bahai Lotus Temple in Delhi on Thursday, prior to going to Agra by train the next day, and of happy adventures I can't even anticipate....

For someone who talks about not really being able to relate to others' religions as comfortably as my own, this will be the third Bahai temple I've visited -- one in Haifa, Israel; one in Wilmette, Illinois; and tomorrow, one in Delhi.

Considering the number of Indians I've met who haven't wanted to trade notes initially on similarities and differences of our cultures, I thought about people I know who are less intellectually curious about other cultures and religions than I am, and so who gain zero cultural enrichment in that way. They don't try to share their culture with others, and they don't seek to learn about anyone else's. Maybe that's human nature...and where I go, too, during primitive, visceral moments.

Please, God, let there be nothing visceral about my behavior during this vacation.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Pop Tune Mystery

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Who Was the Artist?

During today's morning commute, my driver Channa and I heard a song that reminded me of a faster version of classic Suzanne Vega music. Malwika, the R.J. (her term for D.J.) on Radio Indigo, 91.1 FM, the colour of music, announced it as "Drinking Champagne Through a Straw." I really, really liked it and cannot find it through Google.

On the way home, I heard a new song by James Blunt. I disliked "Beautiful," which everyone else I knew loved, but I enjoyed "1973" and this other new one, the name and words of which I can't recall.

As I've stated here before, music is the balm!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Graphic Novels and Culture Klatsch

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Book Lust

Last night at dinner, Pat said, "I put The Elephanta Suite on your night-table. I think you'll like it, and it has big print."

I frowned.

She smiled.

Pat's a super-fast reader. I am a slow reader.

Malgudi Days, which I'm loving, is right up my alley. Simple. Essential. Touching.

I've written here before that I'm a slow reader, but a relatively fast writer. Probably, that's why I prefer to write than to read.

Growing up, I was ashamed of my slow reading speed and I know it's why I majored in Comparative Literature. I needed to prove I could read and comprehend in not one, but two languages (English and Hebrew).

Also, it's probably why I like graphic novels. In our three-plus months here, I've read both of Sarnath Banerjee's, Corridor and The Barn Owl's Wondrous Capers.

When I was buying the ...Wondrous Capers book at Blossom Book House in Bangalore, a pretty woman looked at it in my hand and smiled, saying that she appreciated Banerjee's books, too. Pat was right there and enjoyed listening to the exchange, she told me later.

Also, later, Pat and I agreed that while at the bookstore, we felt in the thick of the society, like we did when we were with mostly Indians on that early-Sunday-morning Lal Bagh tour.

"Have you read Fun Home by Alison Bechdel?" I asked the woman, "It's actually a graphic memoir, and amazing!" (I wrote a bit about it previously here.)


"You'd love it! It's the most literary book of its kind you've ever seen! It's Fun Home, and Fun is short for Funeral, like, Funeral Home."

I like the manga Buddha series, she said, pointing to a daunting stack of titles. Wikipedia's great because now that I've scanned the info. on the Buddha books, I'm interested in going back to the bookstore and trying at least the first one.

Deathly Digression

The bookstore didn't have Fun Home, but said they could order it. I said, "That's OK. I own it already, and it's amazing." Later, it occurred to me that "funeral home" might be a bit of a foreign concept here, since most of the dead are cremated.

I must admit that I'm willing to be ignorant about this for now, as I don't feel like researching the Indian funeral home industry, or lack thereof. Ideally, one of the people who finds his or her way to this blog will know and will educate me.

Digging for Discrimination

The latest Banerjee novel is the closest I've come to meeting a Jewish, Indian immigrant, and the character's fictional(!) as well as multi-century and multi-geographical. The book is stranger than his first, and compelling.

As a non-fiction Jew myself, when I read about how the character is a merchant for the rich, I found myself digging for an anti-Semitic sub-text, mostly without any satisfaction...namely, I didn't really find one.

From experience, though, I became nervous, looking at cartoon depictions of Jews by a cartoon-artist who wasn't Jewish. Historically, and even currently, they were not typically flattering.

Still, even without anything overtly anti-, the character's role reminded me of a conversation I had a month ago with one of the otherwise smarter people in India.

"I wouldn't guess you were Jewish," she said.

"Why not?"

"Well, you don't seem like a bean-counter."

"What do you mean?"

"Jews are known for being careful with their money, though nothing compared to the Chinese!"

"Where did you learn that?"

"You just seem more fun --"

"I didn't think there were enough Jews in India for anyone to have an opinion about us. What have you read?"

At that point, another of the smarter people in India, who was listening, interjected, "Anyone here *would* have read."

"What? The Protocols of the Elders of Zion? I heard that that was big elsewhere in Asia, actually."

They looked at me blankly, and so I inferred that the nutty rag didn't ring a bell. "What if I made a generalization about Indians?"

"We wouldn't mind. In fact, we're terrible to ourselves. If you walked into a restaurant here with a disabled Indian friend, who needed assistance, they'd help you first because you're white."

I've never felt so white as I do here. I've always thought of my skin as greenish and definitely not pink, like full-fledged white people (like white people who are not on the hate-list of the Ku Klux Klan). And yet in India, I feel like a white person.

At a glance in the United States, of course, I am registered as white. I do not feel as white there, though, both proportionally and culturally. That is, there are many more white people in the United States than here, and so there's a hierarchy of whiteness, I feel, that is absent here. Instead, there seems to be a hierarchy of brownness. It is definitely all relative.

To India-based Indians, in my experience, Jews are mostly literary characters or occasional figures in news from Israel; we're not part of their basic frame of reference, and so here, I'm just white and also assumed to be Christian.

I can't recall if I wrote this here or not, but during our first week, staying at the Windsor, we asked the concierge to see if there were a synagogue or anywhere for us to worship with other Jews during our Sabbath.

At the end of the week, she reported hopefully, "There is no synagogue, but I have the address of a Methodist church if you like."

Friday, October 19, 2007

Deck the Cars with Strings of Jasmine

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Comparative Conversation with a Colleague

Yesterday, a colleague who typically works from home appeared as a pleasant surprise, wearing a rich, dark-and-light, pink-patterned, thick silk sari, looking elegant as always. She was coming in to the office to settle some expenses.

"I thought about you during my commute today. I saw the same Aum symbol that you painted [in vermilion] over your doorway on several cars and buses." (In celebration of the final, pivotal days of Navrati, Channa, my driver, also strung yellow mums on the hood and across the grill of the car, and hung jasmine from the rear-view mirror.) "Remind me: What does Aum stand for?"

"It's really the idea of one god as compared with idol worship."

"And that's the worship you do, of the one god?"

"I do both. My mother worships idols, though her father was a member of Arya Samaj."

"Arya Samaj?"

"Yes, they were scholars of the Vedas and felt there should be no distinction among castes, and no idol worship.

"How is that possible, if your grandfather was against idol worship, that your mother was able to do it?"

"Because her mother did."

"So they're not far enough apart religiously that it caused problems in their marriage, I guess, since both of them were still Hindu --"


"Sikhs are also monotheistic, aren't they?"

"Well, they don't believe in a human sort of god, but they do have nine gurus, including Gobind Singh. Sikhs used to be part of many families. Originally, a Sikh was just the first-born son of any Hindu family, whose function was to protect the family."

"First-born sons are special in Judaism, too." (If you click on the link in the previous sentence, among other details of the tradition, you'll learn, "According to the traditional rabbinic interpretation...the duties of a priest fell upon the eldest son of each family. The first-born was to be dedicated to God in order to perform this task.")

"And they really became separate only in the last century. Things became bad when the army entered the Golden Temple in 1984, to arrest a terrorist."

"Oh, that's awful that they defiled the temple --" I said, recalling the reason I'm forbidden, as a non-Hindu, to enter some temples. (Months ago, I told a colleague that I thought it was exclusive to be barred from entering some temples and he said that the exclusion resulted from the British, having desecrated a number of Hindu temples pre-independence.)

"Just as there is Pakistan, the Sikhs wanted their own state, Khalistan...."

"I'm most comfortable, talking about others' religions when I can find parallels or parts of them that remind me of mine. Then they don't seem so the nine-day Navrati festival together with Diwali remind me of Chanukah, which is our eight-day festival of lights."

My colleague's eyes became wide and she said, "Wow!" smiling at the similarity.

"Yeah, I was a Comparative Literature major and I guess I always enjoy being comparative."

"I studied Child Psychology and was able to do some comparative work, too. A number of us lived with and studied the tribe in the east that speaks Ho --"


"Yes, it's a really rural tribe, and also the Nairs of Kerala (in South India) and the Khasi of Central India, in Madhya Pradesh. They're all matrilineal.


"And we did some other work, comparing other parts of Asia with India."

"Like where?"

"Like China and Japan....I didn't like the clinical part of Psychology, though, as it made me so sad to meet with, for example, autistic children and --"

"My partner Pat got a Masters in Psych., but opted out; the clinical part upset her, too."

I could have kept talking with my colleague all afternoon, but I knew I needed to let her get her work done, so that she could get back to her holiday celebration, and I was also trying to leave early to work from home for the rest of the day, so that I could enable Channa to continue his holiday celebration with minimal interruption.

At 2 o'clock, when I sat down in the backseat, Channa reached over to the other front seat and handed me a package. "Sweets for the holiday, Ma'am."

"Oh, Channa, I should have known to do the same for you. Thank you! It's so kind of you!" It was a small, foil, heavy tray of something. The bag referred to "pure ghee." My doctor forbids me to eat sugar to help keep my blood sugar in check for my otosclerosis, but I knew to accept the candy in any case.

When I got it home, Pat and I opened it, to see if it might be of interest to her, and also because I was curious what candy made of pure, clarified butter (ghee) would look like. It looked like a tray of solidified butter and hardly smelled sweet.

It was a perfect example of how there's not necessarily a 1:1 translation or parallel between what I value and what people of other cultures value, but how there are still universal values we share, e.g., gift-giving/receiving.

One more comparison comes to mind: Last night, I was wired and couldn't fall asleep till 1:30 am. I started a book by R.K. Narayan, which my friend Chitra recommended to me, Malgudi Days. Could the author be the Indian Sholom Aleichem or I.B. Singer? I'll have to keep reading to see.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Blog Urge

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Jonesing to Blog

I've been wanting to blog since I woke up this morning, and yet, here I am, 30 minutes past when I should be in bed with the lights off, if I wanted a good night's sleep. There isn't even a burning topic in my head -- simply, have missed spending time with the blog and the people I know and love, who kindly follow it, and the strangers, who show up via random search words.

Next week, Pat and I go to the Taj Mahal and we're talking about it often. "I figured you'd like it, since you like rocks so much," Pat said. I love that she gets its native, mineral appeal to me. And I get that she'll want to take photos and photos of it.

The Taj Mahal captures my imagination, as do the people behind the search words that land here, as does envisioning an India, where being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender is simply extraordinary, rather than at all taboo....I wish that for the United States, too.

I just added my friend Deepak's blog to my blog roll. He'll help both countries get there by his example, and now Holland further, since he's begun his MBA there.

What Else Captures My Imagination?

-- the magazine we bought for our niece at the small sundry shop in our neighborhood, "Muslim Girl: Enlighten. Celebrate. Inspire." There's a great fashion spread inside, "5 Key Pieces for Fall" along with "Eid Eats" a music review of Kate Fenner....I just went to see what Kate Fenner sounded like and was reminded of a mix of Carly Simon and Joan Armatrading.

What else? -- I'm intrigued, thinking about what people were like as children, and their favorite children's books. I asked the favorite children's book question on my Facebook profile and got some neat answers.

What else captures my imagination? -- anticipating the meal of Mughalai cuisine that we'll experience tomorrow evening during the Navrati food festival that the Rajgarh restaurant here is hosting for all nine of the fest's days. We've been to six of the seven nights so far -- missed last night's Bengali cuisine, but have enjoyed the Punjabi; Gujrathi; Chettinadu; Kashmiri; Goan and Rajastani food so far.

It has been months since I've tried ending a blog entry with a question to readers, but I'll try once more: What captures your imagination?

Monday, October 15, 2007

What's the Purpose?

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.


I'm tempted not to blog, as I don't want to be coy, but I must be. I cannot blog about the actual work I'm doing here, as ideally, it's competitive advantage stuff.

It's irresistible, however, to mention just how purposeful and hopeful and certain I feel today that I'm doing useful work at a corporate and ultimately societal level.

I want to remember these marvelous feelings during the hard-work part.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

God Bless Oprah Winfrey

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

20 Years Later, Oprah Still Is a Champion

Twenty years ago, I sat in Oprah's studio audience on her National Coming Out Day episode and Friday's show was on transgender families. When I went to the discussion board, there were many positive postings.

Same day, different side of the world: On p. 19 of The Times of India, I spotted, "Dancing her way to social acceptance," a story from Chennai, featuring Narthaki Nataraj, an award-winning Tanjore-style dancer.

At the end of the article she said:

Things have changed a lot now. I have become financially more secure and my relationship with my family has also improved. My parents have accepted me....However...nothing seems to have changed in the way people look at me. To them I am still a transgender. I want them to see me as a dancer. That will happen. I shall continue working towards that.

I related to her statement. I want all people to see GLBT people as people, to recognize our humanity. That's likely a huge part of my drive to demonstrate my humanity through self-expression as fully as I can.

Speaking of Dancing...

Well, it's more than an hour into the big folk dance Dasara party at the Palace Grounds and Pat and I aren't there. We just couldn't do it when we found out that the same sort of dance celebration will occur right in our neighborhood next Sunday, and much earlier in the evening.

We're not in our twenties anymore. We just couldn't bear the thought of going to bed at 3:30 am, and then my having to get up and study/work all day, which is the plan for tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Pat's watching what sounds like the Indian version of "Entertainment Tonight" in the living room while I blog here in home-office space with the door open and the ceiling fan whirring.

Bindi Flirtation

A lovely person rubbed bright-red bindis on our foreheads at the clubhouse tonight as we went in to dinner. The clubhouse is celebrating the Navratri festival by honoring all diners with a bindi and a few grains of rice thrown over our heads for luck, and applied to the bindi.

And there is a shrine outside the restaurant with realistic, little, plastic dolls of all of India's major gods and leaders, including Nehruji and Gandhiji ("...-ji" is an honorific suffix). And the steps up to restaurant are lined with the sort of little candles you can float in water. Pat took pictures and I expect that she'll post them on her photoblog soon...maybe even one with me, sporting a bindi. Like a number of photographers, Pat hates having her picture taken, and refused to pose with me, though I tried again tonight.

Good Over Ego

The festival, I've been told enthusiastically by a couple of colleagues, is about the triumph of good over evil. When I checked an article to learn more, I was reminded of Judaism's concepts of the yetzer tov (the good urge or impulse) and yetzer rah (the evil urge or impulse). (The link I chose for "concept" was the best I could find, though the article reminds me of how I sometimes don't feel included among Jews, since I'm female; note the gender it's addressing.)

For days, if not weeks, I've been thinking about how, other than women's textiles, religion is the most visible dimension of diversity in India in my experience so far. I've been meaning to comment on it here sooner than I have done.

Public Pluralism

In my experience, people are so "out" here about their faith. They don't talk about it so much, unless I ask questions, but they live it visibly and pubically. I see Muslim women in hijabs and burqas and Muslim men in kufis. I see Sikh men in turbans and Hindu women and men with bindis and vari-colored streaks of ash on their foreheads. And I see Christians, wearing small, gold crosses.

The diversity of people of various religions, going about their days openly, is the most interesting part of India to me so far. I understand that there is tension between some Hindus and some Muslims, and that some Christians face discrimination, and yet people persist in public displays of their faith.

This is not a formal study that I'm doing; it is based simply on observations during my commutes, and in my workplace and neighborhood. By contrast, other than my last name and features (e.g., blue eyes and dark hair) -- and most Indians I've met are unaware of classic, Jewish surnames, or Russian-Jewish complexion-combos -- there's nothing visibly Jewish about my daily dress or jewelry.

I kind of wish there were something that signaled people. Of course, at nearly 5'10" and with my skin-tone, I stand out, but if everyone else is free to demonstrate their religion, I'd like to figure out a way to be free likewise.

Meanwhile, I'm bindified for a few more minutes, before the washcloth gets to wear it, so that my pillow-case doesn't. I like the bindi and wish it were part of my religion. I don't want to trivialize it by wearing it for fashion, but I enjoy whenever it's offered to me.

Until I can come up with a better Jewish visibility system, I'll just keep teaching Hebrew and Yiddish phrases to my colleagues here. Most recently, my mom told me she went up to a speaker after his talk, "I couldn't resist telling him," she said, "Gezunt on dayn kepele," (Yiddish for "May your darling head stay healthy.")

I'd like to tell Oprah Winfrey and Narthaki Nataraj, and anyone else dedicated to good, triumphing over evil, "Gezunt on dayn kepele."

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Happy NCOD...

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Today, 20 Years Ago

In 1987, if I remember correctly, I was sitting in the Chicago studio audience of "The Oprah Winfrey Show," as I lived in Chicago at the time and Horizons, our local gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) community center, invited volunteers to be in the audience for Oprah's National Coming Out Day (NCOD) episode.

When Oprah shook everyone's hand on our way out, it was electric -- I've never again felt as much present-ness by a stranger in a single moment. Of course, Oprah was no stranger to me, but I was to her, and she gave a firm handshake and absolutely respectful and complete eye-contact. I loved her for doing the episode.

The day before it aired, my mother called one of the women from the Jewish community where I grew up and told her, "My daughter Sarah's going to be in the audience on the 'Oprah' show; Oprah's doing an episode about coming out as gay." My mother said she told Mrs. X strategically, as she knew that Mrs. X would tell others and it would be all over the community in one, swift afternoon.

Today, Today

An Indian colleague and I met today and he asked what made me ready to be fully open. I told him how I had been self-aware since age 11 -- he said that he knew about his own attractions by the time he was three or four years old -- but that I didn't own my identity till a decade later, when I was 21, after a lot of running from, and to, it.

"Something I didn't realize until I learned it from my mother," I said, "was that just as our families can reject us, we can reject our families, too. My mother said that she had already lost my father [from bile-duct cancer at 56] and that she didn't want to risk losing me, too, by not accepting me."

"That's something I never thought of until just this moment either [-- that rejection can go two ways]," he said, with an encouraged expression.

"Of course, no matter what wise thing anyone told me along the way, until I was ready to come out, I did not do so. It didn't matter that my Honors Advisor in college, who I considered a role model, told me it was fine in her experience to be out. She could have told me a thousand wise things, but until I was ready, nothing she said would have convinced, or did convince, me."

"But it's conversations like those along the way that help so much," he said, and I wondered if I could be for him what she was for me.

Our stories were full of dramatic moments and had many touching twists. Recently, I realized that non-GLBT people's stories of their romantic awakenings were interesting, too, but that so much less frequently did I ask them to share their stories because with one another, our stories were like jugs of water at a serendipitous oasis. Each of our stories helped us tell ourselves that we weren't as alone as we felt, growing up.

Of course, most teenagers were alienated for one or another reason, and our particular alienation was just one brand of many.

Why Does IBM Care?

Unfortunately, I had to rush, ultimately, to a 1:30 pm teleconference, and he asked me a great question as we were saying goodbye. "Why does IBM care about GLBT people, or is it just the GLBT community at IBM, who cares and gets others to care?"

"We have a legacy of inclusion," I said, feeling like I sounded like a propagandist and so I qualified it:

"Prior to integration in the South, IBM told the city of Raleigh that it would build a huge facility there, but only if black and white people could work side-by-side. Raleigh became integrated ahead of the rest of the towns around it as a result." I had to run to my call and we agreed to talk more.

It was definitely yes and yes to my colleague's question; since IBM was among the very first giant companies to include non-discrimination for "sexual orientation" in its equal employment opportunity, GLBT people were encouraged to work for IBM, and since we were encouraged, we became a strong community in the company, advocating for our further and further inclusion, e.g., for domestic partner benefits, for inclusion of "gender identity and expression" in our global non-discrimination policy, for a global team dedicated to the GLBT business-to-business market....

Why Don't Other Smart Institutions Care More?

The grad school, where I'm pursuing my Masters in Organization & Leadership, does not have a great record of visibly welcoming GLBT faculty and students. It's not systematically inhospitable, but for a world-class educational institution, it's not well-educated on our community and not particularly warm to it.

This morning (India time), I learned that yesterday morning (Eastern time), a black professor at my grad. school came in to work to find a hangman's noose strung up on her office door.

When she was interviewed, she mentioned that there was "ill-will" between her and another professor. I turned to one of my Indian colleagues and told her the story. "And can you believe that a professor might have done this?" I asked.

"Yes, I can. A professor committed a terrorist act in Delhi on December 3, 2002. I remember the date because it's my birthday."

I think the hangman's noose and the occasional ignorance about our community that I have personally experienced from some of the school's faculty are related, just as IBM's integration of Raleigh and its welcoming of GLBT clients and IBMers worldwide are threads from the same sari.

Let me qualify what I mean: I'm not suggesting that many faculty of my school are racist and homophobic, but rather that when an institution does not actively support inclusion of all historically-underrepresented groups -- as IBM does in my experience -- and remains ignorant about their humanity, then it becomes less surprising when hate-crimes against any historically-underrepresented group occur there.

Typically, I'm not one to point out problems without also trying to solve them. If time were no object, I would help lead the GLBT campus group. I saw how it worked at IBM. Good policies + inspired grassroots leaders (including me) brought deep success to the company in this arena.

I am also one, who prefers to have happy endings, and so I'll mention that one of the faculty of my school -- who I considered among the not-fully-educated when she was my professor -- is the key advisor on a colleague's dissertation, "Unlearning Homophobia." My colleague's premise is that since we can learn it, we can unlearn it.

Please, God, let everyone learn love and unlearn hate, including me.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Three Cheers for Instant Messages!

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Anticipating Dussehra Festivities

Before we left for dinner, I opted to leave my instant message application on, as I was waiting for a U.S. colleague to help me with a spreadsheet formatting dilemma. The dilemma's solved -- thanks, Mike! -- and even more exciting, I received a celebration invitation from an Indian colleague.

He invited Pat and me to join him and his friends in celebrating Dussehra over the weekend. My other friend Chitra is Catholic and so doesn't celebrate the Hindu holidays, and until this friend contacted me, I didn't think we'd be doing much celebrating.

Will I find ways to relate, i.e., that it's part of a nine-day festival with lights, like Chanukah is an eight-day festival of lights, and that the calendar of Hinduism is lunar apparently, too? Or will I feel alienated at the essential non-Jewishness of it? Or both? Or neither?

Whatever I feel from 10 pm-2 am on Saturday -- I can't believe we will be up that late -- I'm so touched to have been included in his celebration. "I think it will be worthwhile," he messaged.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Family Proxies

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

My Mother's Indian Counterpart

Was I like that at 14? I still am. I relish the same pop radio station as my friend Chitra's 14-year-old daughter, Niki, and I bought pants that were fun, if not age-appropriate, when Chitra and Niki took Pat and me shopping yesterday.

Chitra said, "I felt like your mother, taking you to a store that was good for your pocketbook, though you told me you prefer retail."

It's true that I prefer getting in and out, buying exactly what I came for, rather than hunting for hidden gems that are inexpensive and not necessarily anything that I needed. Probably, I did need up to two pairs of pants, but was able to buy four pairs for the cost of just one that I bought at Marks & Spencer here several weeks ago.

I never thought I'd miss my mother in terms of her perennial attempts at consciousness-raising of me on how much money I could save by not buying retail.

Being a 14-year-old, Teenaged Boy

This weekend, I spent time with not just one, but three, 14-year-olds -- two in New York, by phone, and one in India, in person.

Our nephew Zach's sitar and Sankrit-singing concert is today and I wanted to see how he was feeling about preparing for it. And then we talked about his burgeoning computer-building business.

"I like giving customers options, which helps them feel more in control," he said, "Like, I can give you a $35 refund, or I can buy another stick of RAM for you."

"Did the stick of RAM cost less than $35?"

"No, that's the actual cost. I don't like to rip anyone off because they won't come back if I do."

"I'm so glad that you've got tech-savvy and business-savvy, Zach. That's a great combo."

Zach's hoping for another customer soon, so that he can buy an iTouch. "Zach, Pat told me she prefers the old iPod, with the wheel."

"The whole thing's a wheel now, since it's all a touch-screen."

I told this to Pat, who out-geeked him, I think, by responding, "Yeah, but with the wheel version, I can pause a podcast without even taking the iPod out of my pocket. I know where the pause part is just by feel."

As far as the concert goes, Zach said he was most nervous about the singing part. I do hope it gets put on YouTube, so that I can proudly see what I'll necessarily miss.

Being a 14-year-old, Teenaged Girl

Our niece Zoe answered the phone when I called my oldest sister yesterday.

"They came to interview us about our high school compared to the one in 'Gossip Girls'."

"What's 'Gossip Girls?'"

"It's very famous. It was a series of books I read about an all-girls high school on the Upper-east Side [of NYC], and now, they've made it into a TV show."

I felt behind the times, until today, when I looked it up in Wikipedia I see that the first show aired in late-September, and since we're not living in the United States, we wouldn't have seen any promos for it.

"What are you reading now?"

"Hairstyles of the Damned."

I laughed hard. "C'mon. Really?"

"It's a great book, actually...."

Teens These Days

"Well, I'm enjoying keeping up with you through your Facebook profile. You've got some great pictures out there, and I like how you joined the event that was going to wear blue on October 4th to commemorate people who perished in the Holocaust. I joined that event, too, because of you."

"What I really want to do is Displace Me for people in Uganda, and the Day of Silence in April. For Displace Me and Invisible Children, I have to live in a public park, in a cardboard shelter that I make myself, for 24 hours with a box of Saltines and a gallon of water."

"Zoe, that's not only happening in Uganda."

"But the genocide is also the problem."

"Ah, OK." I love how social and community service is popular among Zoe and her friends. When I was in high school, the most popular organization outside of school was Junior Achievement (JA). JA was a fine organization, but it wasn't designed to do what Displace Me does.

"Tons of kids from my school, including me, are also going to do the Day of Silence."

"You mean, on December 1st, for AIDS?" [I see now that it's about starting to talk, but I could have sworn that the first one, in 1987, was a day of silence, to honor the lives lost. What I found at the site was better.]

"No, it's not for AIDS. It's in April and it's for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth who are bullied. To stop the bullying."

I love how both of them -- Zach and Zoe -- understand, empathize and affiliate with GLBT people. Last spring, Zach talked about how someone at school was making fun of another boy who seemed effeminate. Zach intervened.

Zoe's Indian Counterpart

On Saturday morning, after my exchange with Zoe, Pat and I met Chitra and Niki in front of Blossom Books and went for a walk till it opened. I told Niki that I had just installed the movie taste comparison application on Facebook and was disappointed in friends who didn't award five stars to "Mean Girls," and had she seen the film?

"Yes," and she loved it.

"I mean, I wondered, why am I even friends with these people if they have no desire to see this great movie?" I said, commenting on the comparisons of our taste that I was able to view online. I wasn't trying to pander or curry favor with Niki by showing her that I cared about movies she cared about. I was serious. Still, I think she was pleasantly surprised and it did give us common ground faster.

Driving into the city, Pat and I heard a fantastic song, from 1994, that I hadn't heard for a long time: "Here Comes the Hotstepper." It put me in a bouyant mood, and made me even more open to the day.

Chitra, Niki, Pat and I walked along Brigade Road and I told Chitra, "It's not just because you showed us the good stores to go to here, but just walking up the street with you makes me feel like I'm part of society here, rather than apart from it. It's nice to be walking with you. It's different when it's just Pat and me."

Chitra smiled.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Ladies Who Lunched

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

SMS: Meet You at Noon Outside Royal Ballroom

At lunch, I felt even happier to see my American colleague and friend than I imagined I would. Yesterday, I wore what should have been today's salwar kameez, as I was anticipating the lunch and thought we were meeting yesterday, rather than today.

"You look so...Indian," she said twice, and then later, "You look great." She's been on assignment for IBM in a European country for two years and was here for meetings.

Atlanta might have been the locale of our previous meal. "How neat it is that you're here in India," I said, putting my hand on her back for a moment as we walked to the restaurant.

What emerged from our conversation was the inherent loneliness of assignments as well as the amazing opportunities. My friend described getting a flat-tire on her bike, and then carrying it on her shoulder for three miles back to her apartment, passing 120 people -- "I counted...." -- none of whom asked if he or she could help.

"I asked the team about it on Monday and they said, 'If you had asked for help, any of them would have stopped and helped. Everyone was respecting your privacy.' I had to realize that in that culture, I was being self-pitying because I expected a proactive offer of help when I should have just *asked* for help."

I shared that now and then, there's a lonely quality to feeling aware of the vast difference of my cultural background from that of everyone with whom I interact at work here. That's mine to get over....

On Friday, my local manager has invited the team to his home for lunch, and probably, I won't feel lonely at all during that visit. We'll see....

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Gandhi Jayanti

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Peace Be With You/Ahimsa/Shalom Aleichem

This summer, the United Nations declared today, Gandhi Jayanti (Mahatma Gandhi's birthday), to be the International Day of Non-Violence. Gandhi's birthday is an Indian national holiday.

As I'm writing this, the five-year-old boy next door is outside, scream-singing, "Jingle Bells," the catchy Christmas song. During Ganesh's birthday and the neighborhood block party, the same neighbor was scream-singing "Ganesh, Ganesh, Ganesh..." over and over with sweet zeal.

Stevie Wonder Made Me Cry During a Recent Commute

Since Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday is not until January 15th, it seemed wholly random when I heard Stevie Wonder's "Happy Birthday" on my way to work a few weeks ago on Radio Indigo.

While listening to the song and looking out the Chevy Tavera window, at all of the people with darker complexions than mine, going about their day, and looking at my driver in the rear-view mirror, I became homesick, even as the particular scene was not familiar. I choked up and felt proud that someone as profound as Dr. King had ever lived.

Walking down the hall at work yesterday morning, I realized that I didn't notice my physical traits in contrast to my Indian colleagues' in as conscious and daily a way as I did for the first weeks of my assignment. I wondered if that's how African Americans move through mostly white areas in the United States -- basically, losing alertness to their visible difference until and unless someone of the majority reminds them.

Honoring Mahatma Gandhi

Yesterday, via e-mail, I wished my Indian colleagues a meaningful Gandhi Jayanti and pledged that in honor of the day and in his memory, I would try to have a more peaceful attitude today. So far, so good, and it's almost time for dinner.

Earlier today, I finished reading The Diary of a Maidservant, which I loved and which inspired me further in posting to this diary-like blog of mine.

There's common ground all around, when I seek it. Although The Diary... was fiction, I related to the peace gained by the low-caste protagonist in recording her thoughts. And Mahatma Gandhi's message of non-violence is universal, too.

Finally, Pat alerted me to an article from today's "New York Times," which talks about the common ground of Indian-Americans and Jewish-Americans...which reminds me that I spoke with my 14-year-old nephew the other day and learned that not only will he perform on his sitar at the upcoming concert, he'll sing a song in Sanskrit.