Monday, January 22, 2018

Suraj Prakash Marwaha (1921-2018)

I didn’t know my grandfather’s first name was Suraj until I was in my 20s. My entire life, he was “Grandpa,” or in more formal settings “Pita-Ji.” Probably one of the reasons my daughter calls my own father grandpa.

Sadly this is not be the first funeral for many of us, nor the last. But for me what’s special about this one, is that I feel less sad, despite what my tears may soon show. 

Unlike so many of those who leave us too soon, Grandpa’s life ended at the right time, in the right place, with the right people – many of whom are in this room. He lived across four continents. He lived to marry his wife and raise their children together. He lived to see those children become grandparents. He lived for those grandchildren become parents. He lived through tragedies along the way, but he persevered, because he was strong. He survived. He lived.

We should all be so fortunate.

My tears are not about feeling sad for my grandfather, but feeling proud of everything he leaves behind for us. Grandpa lived as full a life as any of us can hope for. Of course there was hardship along the way, but there were also many, many shared moments of happiness. Holidays, trips, vacations, teas, meals bus rides, walks, weddings, and just small visits. And for much of his journey - especially after he started this family - Grandpa was surrounded by people he loved dearly, and who loved him back.

The sorrow we feel is for the void left in the center of the family he and my grandmother founded. It is now our privilege to carry on that legacy.

When I was younger, all of my American friends got money from grandparents’ visits. But my grandparents didn’t live in the US. They lived in a faraway place called England, with funny accents, and great candy. I know this, because my grandparents didn’t bring Dollars, Pounds, or Rupees - they brought us British candy. Lion Bars, Smarties, and Polo Mints, which i still seek out whenever I’m in an Indian grocery store. All of my cousins have my grandparents to thank for our quite sophisticated sweet tooth.

I remember my first visit to the town of Wolverhampton, where Grandma and Grandpa lived in the UK. Up the narrow stairs, past the smells of cooking and incense was a small cubby at the top of the stairs where I’d sit and read. Across the hall was Grandma and Grandpa’s room, where my sister, cousins and i would watch reruns of the Mahabharata on TV until grandma would call us down for tea or home-cooked Punjabi food. It’s really good when your mom cooks it, but it’s fantastic when your grandmother makes it. But I think grandpa took special pride and enjoyment from watching his daughters and son make him the same delicious recipes they learned from their late mother.

My grandfather would take us for long walks, and we’d pick up fish and chips, when it was still wrapped in a newspaper. I’d ask my grandfather - a strict vegetarian - why he could eat fish. He told me that fish wasn’t meat because it didn’t have legs. I learned that everything was a choice, and where there’s a will there’s a way – especially for the small pleasures in life.

As kids, we spent many holidays with our cousins, aunts and uncles - and my Grandma and Grandpa were always there. They made the trip. It never mattered that there weren’t enough bedrooms. All you needed was blankets and pillows on the floor. I learned that things were better with family. Like today.

There was one summer my cousin and i became obsessed with playing kids' cards games. We were soon scolded by Grandpa, since to him, playing cards meant something else. He might have seemed old-fashioned at the time, but it was what he knew from his experiences. For some reason, that moment stays with me. It had less to do with any absolute perspectives on what’s right or wrong, but on how my grandfather held firm positions, which guided him. Something about his conviction in that moment that has informed how I choose approach an increasingly grey world. 

I’m by no means a religious person. So to watch a man such as my grandfather hold steadfast to his beliefs, defined for me both sides of what faith should be. 

These stories are not unique. In fact, I need them to not be. I hope every child can have experiences like I had, especially my own daughter, nieces and nephews.

I tell you these stories, because they’re how I choose to remember, and think of my Grandpa.

As a new father, I’m continuously in awe of all the things my parents, aunts and uncles experienced and did for us. English wasn’t their first language, America was not where they were born, and they didn’t have the internet. 

But what my grandfather did over the course of his life was even more extraordinary. I’d encourage you to hear those stories. There are many more that I still don’t know about.

During my adult life, I have had the privilege of watching the devotion of my grandfather's children: his late son Jawar (Uncle Joe), his late daughter Vijay, and especially and most recently that of his 2 remaining daughters - my mother Inez and Sunita Auntie. It speaks volumes to the love you carry in your heart for your father and your family.

As one of the many new parents in our family, I can only hope to live the kind of life, and set the kind of examples that our Grandpa did to earn that kind of love and respect from my own daughter. I know i’m not alone in that sentiment.

Suraj Prakash Marwaha was a good man. He worked hard. He loved his a wife. He took care of his family. And no matter what the world threw at him, he was pretty great at those things. And because of that, he made the world just a little bit better.

Thank you Grandpa. 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Madelyn Yu-Lin

6 pounds, 2 ounces.
she changes everything.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

50 State/s of Mind.

recently, i set foot in my 50th state.

in honor of what may be my last travel "accomplishment" for awhile (more on that later*),  i figured i’d recount recollections from each, along with the year i first made it official.

here’s some musical inspiration to play while we travel state by state...

Alabama (1979)
Appropriate that this is first alphabetically and chronologically, as it’s where was born and raised. my earliest memory being a Star Wars themed birthday party with a backyard swingset. Aladdin’s Castle and Halcyon dreams indeed. Roll Tide roll. 

Alaska (2011)
Got married to my favorite person on a boat by a Greek captain with an accent, surrounded by our closest family and friends. Later got stuck on a glacier. No penguins.

Arizona (2011)
First stop on the southwest road trip between jobs. Stopped by my boy Frank Lloyd Wright’s crib @ Taliesin West. Spent a day and night at Soleri’s concept down Arcosanti. What a trip.

Arkansas (2010)
Jesus of the Ozarks can’t compete with 2 brothers from another mother. Oh yea, and Bill Clinton’s Presidential Library looks like a giant trailer. Coincidence? 

California (1985)
Too many bitter and sweet family memories, memorials, and ashes spread at sea. From Redondo Beach to Irvine. Throw in some stand-up comics and grown-up fun in SF + the Silicon Valley, and you’ve got my ultimate state of mixed feelings. I guess that’s just the California state of mind. At least until the big one hits.

Colorado (2010)
Sand dunes, turtles, and junk food. From diners in Alamosa, to lazing on Beth’s Denver couch. Ran out of daylight in the Rocky Mountains, and realized I’m not hipster enough to live in Boulder. Nice fish tacos though.

Connecticut (1985)
A very Yale Christmas with Uncle Joe. Now just a stones’ throw away from my current place, traffic on 95 is a monster, so good luck actually getting there. Greenwich is a rich man’s Tarrytown, despite there being no more bar car on the commuter train. The pizza in Mystic is overrated, but they’ve got old boats! 

Delaware (2012)
Sleepy beaches and crabs cages in the back yard. Wild horses on the beach. Rest stops and bridges. Close your eyes for too long and you’ll have already passed through.

Florida (1989)
America’s crazy state. Orlando’s a weird town, nevermind the giant mouse who doesn’t wear pants. The panhandle feels more like South Alabama though. Now home to in-laws, nephews and nieces, I’m sure to be there every other Christmas.

Georgia (1984)
I’m pretty sure this was the second state i ever visited, and it will always belong to Touchi Uncle, shanti sarva. Far too many good shows and mind-bending ex-girlfriend encounters. But somehow all my cool college friends wound up there. I’ll always have a reason to be back. 

Hawaii (2007)
Frequent flyer miles, earthquakes, nauseous catamarans and Lieutenant Commander Will rescuing us for Mexican food on the north share FTW. Though smoke-on-the-water does not have the same cool-factor as watching liquid hot magma

Idaho (2015)
No, you da ho! Trout Hunter brunch, and the patch to prove it. Wooden postcard arguments at the local post office. 

Illinois (1996)
Chicago is a poor-man’s NYC, unless “clean streets” and “no rats on the subway” is your sort of thing. Great place to visit, but not for me. there was that one time at Model UN. but the Mexican food in Urbana is delightful. Thanks Dr. Nair!

Indiana (2005)
i learned how to ski at the small artificial snow hill that is Perfect North

Iowa (2010)
what do you do when a blizzard keeps you from making it to Des Moines? Hit the local (Stoner) drug store in Hamburg for a milkshake. ski jacket and giant black brother-in-law are optional. but the local kids will have lots of questions.

Kansas (2010)
I'm gone to Wichita, far from this opera for evermore, but despite their delicious hamburgers “Carry-on My Wayward Son” really should be the state song. Otherwise Abilene is a pretty neat town. And the Then there was that one time my sister moved there and had my niece. 

Kentucky (2002)
CVG stands for Covington, not Cincinnati VG, a fine place to get a step stool. Many movies and Smoothie Kings with friends. Tons of great shows at the Southgate House. 

Louisiana (1995)
Many, many, many non-boozy trips to New Orleans for art museums, rock shows, pretty girls, and beignets.

Maine (2009)
Lobster. check.

Maryland (1991)
Uncle Joe taught me how to use chopsticks in Silver Spring. Carmen Auntie bought me far too many comic books. I toured my grandparents through the Smithsonians. I walked into a tricky female situation at a basement bar, and then then there was that one time i escaped family Christmas drama by purposefully getting stuck in BWI and watching Once at some girls house. 

Massachusetts (2001)
the Singh brothers. the Freedom Trail. the Paramount Diner. Bittersweet apartments. Bunnies. Cracker Barrel before the Mass Pike. Paging Dr. Nair-Nako. 

Michigan (2004)
First date with my future wife. We even got a hotel room - now why did her 2 older brother’s have to ruin my plans of romance in the same city as my dad’s first job? Selling the startup dream to cereal companies by driving blizzards between Detroit and Kalamazoo (and losing my wedding ring). But crashing a Michigan homecoming was pretty awesome (Go Blue!)

Minnesota (2015)
Mexican food just outside the airport made this one #49. The Mall of America, some boards games, drinking, an Ikea and a waterfall. Good enough. 

Mississippi (1995)
Biloxi was my first venture, but then there was that one girl from Clinton (and all her other friends). Thanks for the memories Bubba.

Missouri (2003)
Then there was that one time i flew in to meet up with that girl from the internet, and she was not what she seemed. We went to see Bad Boys 2, i went up the Arch, and escaped quickly (thanks for the cat-scuse Dale)

Montana (2015)
Yellowstone extends into Montana, and so do cheap hotels across the street from an Alabama bar. Just watch out for the Elk. 

Nebraska (2010)
I did not drive across it (per many weary traveller’s advice), but i did enjoy a fine steak in Omaha at Warren Buffet’s favorite diner

Nevada (1987)
How many indians can you fit in a rent-a-wreck van (Bob Stupak’s Vegas World baby!). And numerous boozy work excursions. The Hoover Dam and Cirque de Soleil was pretty neat. And CES? interesting, but not worth the hoopla.

New Hampshire (2010)
My boy FLW's Zimmerman House. Stonyfield Farms Londonderry HQ. Check and check.

New Jersey (2009)
EWR en route to England as a kid doesn’t count. But being stuck on the Garden State and/or Palisades totally does. Plus Kinchley’s pizza tavern in Mahwah is the ba-bomb.

New Mexico (2010)
Counting gunshot holes on signs on Zuni reservation is a great way to pass the afternoon before a Ladykillers (retired boomer bluegrass band) show at the local food co-op. Green chile salsa verde? Delicious. Hiking the back-country of the red mesa and seeing a bear in the wild? Terrifying. 

New York (1985)
My favorite state to move to. My favorite city to work in. My favorite village to live in. Strawberry Place forever, Dinosaur Barbecue mac & cheese, and Ithaca is gorgeous. Check out my exhibits at the Warner library. I’m forever ruined on bagels and pizza, but i'm pretty sure my daughter will be born here soon*

North Carolina (1989)
Once just a rest stop, now a solid in-laws Thanksgiving option that includes chicken biscuits, jerk chicken and Med-deli. Just please quit feeding the raccoon in your back yard!

North Dakota (2015)
Most people’s (including my) 50th state. They even gave me a t-shirt. Drinking, board games, and startups in Fargo with childhood friends The perfect finish. 

Ohio (2002)
Where big kids go to become grown ups. Queen City (comics), corporations, and condos. Becoming buds with my sister, weird dating experiences, video game pre-gaming, racking up the rock shows, and now building startups. And there’s even a giant basket building just past the wildlife preserve in Zanesville. 

Oklahoma (2010)
Where the hills come rising down the plain, where you also get a ticket doing 108 (though i was only clocked at 92!). Nicest State Trooper i've ever met, all things considered (which had i been listening to i might not have been speeding). Ridiculous Christmas lights and right-wing tour guides.

Oregon (2006)
I got some voodoo…doughnuts the first time, and shopped far too many times at the Company Store after a more than a few job interviews and startup pitches.

Pennsylvania (2004)
Then there was that one time the funny indian and i drove to Pittsburgh to shop at Ikea and fly back just to get Gold Medallion status. Also my first Jewish wedding and visit to the bridge of the USS Enterprise-E. 

Rhode Island (2010)
Where my Brown girls at? Literally.

South Carolina (1987)
Mmmmm. Chicken. 

South Dakota (2015)
the Badlands are so much cooler than Mt. Rushmore. It’s not even close.

Tennessee (1999)
Elliott Smith, XO Forever. The mean lady at my first Thai restaurant who poured more ice than water to question my south asian spiciness credentials. And being my Farmer friend’s alibi after he got arrested. 

Texas (2001)
For awhile i could legitimately say all my ex’s live in Texas. Now it’s just one (as well as a few others that came close). But breakfast tacos and indian weddings FTW. Pretty high up on my list of states i love to visit but would never want to live. Sorry ladies. But breakfast tacos (sigh)?

Utah (2004)
Nothing like drinking at high altitudes, and then riding down off-season ski trails on mountain bikes. It’s a wonder i’m still alive. 

Vermont (2010)
Skiing. Dinner barns with Nirvana playing in the attic. Cabot Cheese and Magic Hat. What more could you want? 

Virginia (1985)
It really is the south up there. Nuts. 

Washington (1992)
Then there was that one time i locked my parents keys in the rental car and they heard me curse for the first time. Later on (when much older) i got to see some Battlestar Galactica spaceships before taking my family on a boat to watch me get married.

West Virginia (2009)
Bridges and lunch breaks en route to NY. 

Wisconsin (1999)
Madison is a great college town to party with friends (when you’re in college). And they’ve got burritos the size of your head. Now that we’re grown up we simply shop farmer’s markets, play board games and nurse beers, and that’s alright by me. 

Wyoming (2015)
Yellowstone is amazing. And then there’s that world-ending volcano underneath it. We got charged by a moose and stuck in herd of Bison. Tatonka!


so how many states you visited? airport layovers and simple drive-thrus don't count!

Monday, October 26, 2015

i just like the taste.

definitely not a family dinner in my household.

i was raised (mostly) on a vegetarian diet. most evenings' dinners consisted of some combination of lentils, rice, and spiced vegetables. but along with being an immigrant family, came the need to acclimate, acclimate, acclimate. so we occasionally got to eat some tasty Chicken McNuggets or Captain D's (it's a great little seafood place). my meat consumption steadily increased as i became older, more independent, and moved in with someone who grew up with a slightly more carnivorous diet. while it's not hard for me to stop eating meat, i continue to dine with a fork and knife because i enjoy it. 

today’s announcement from the World Health Organization more closely linking certain cancers to meat consumption (particularly of the red and processed variety) really was not a surprise to me. despite my bad, albeit moderated habits of eating meat, i've long known it's something worth a closer look in my own diet, and more broadly, in our society (cancer and carbon be damned). despite it's tasty, tasty goodness. 

but that's not the point of this piece. as with most things, i wonder about the future. so let's talk about the past.

remember, not too long ago, when smoking was part of our every day lives? well, most of my generation does not. between "just say no," far too many "very special episodes" of my favorite shows, and the waning public acceptance of smoking, our society knew that smoking = bad. and while it may be cliche to mention, not too long ago — the 60's, 70's and part of the 80's — smoking was not only commonly accepted, but often encouraged. sometimes by doctors, no less! and the manufacturers (and advertisers) of such fine products had a field day...

thanks Uncle Phillip!

ironically, what did happen in my generation, and our current society, was that by becoming widely accepted as as an unhealthy and publicly unacceptable habit, those who did smoke, now on the fringes, did it out of a callous rebellion, or because they liked the way it made them feel, health consequences be damned. smoking was (and is) cool again! after all, how many of you have said, while lighting a death stick to your mouth, "i only smoke when i drink?"

i’ve been wondering how this will play out with meat. 

for me, it seems inevitable, that we are approaching a future where the consumption of meat is not only frowned up by our society, but actively discouraged by the scientific community, especially as more and more conclusions like those released by the W.H.O. make their way from the fringes, to the trendy, to the headlines. often times to study a problem, science must first know to look for it. and then it takes time. a whole lot of precious time.

but it's happening. in the future, we'll be choosing "forks over knives." which is a phenomenal film (of the same name) worth watching:

perhaps meat will become hard to afford. never mind supply and demand, but perhaps we'll see "sin taxes" not unlike those we see for alcohol and tobacco. maybe in the future only those who are well-to-do will eat meat (of the non insect or lab-grown variety). after all, that's what's already happening on the macro scale. those of us in the west have meat with almost every meal, while those in developing countries either don't eat (much) meat for religious and cultural reasons ("namaste" and "a salaam alaikum") or economic ones (saving meat for special occasions - just ask any African goat herder). like with most things, from computers to shoes to organic-free-range chicken, we'll continue to have meat "haves" and "have nots." 

how about the potential civil concerns that may arise? putting aside most religious thoughts, is it right to kill animals just for a tasty treat? Elmer certainly didn't think so.

but don't get me wrong, like with cigarettes, we'll still eat meat, because we like how it tastes, and how it makes us feel. but we will do so knowing the harm we are causing, to ourselves and our environment. and then we'll start to wonder how people look at us, at work, in airports, at parties. and things will change. we'll become more conscious of the stigma. and we'll start to feel different. and some of us will make changes, but many of us won't. after all, how was that last fizzy soda you enjoyed? 

if you'll excuse me, i now need to go make a delicious turkey sandwich.


Thursday, September 17, 2015

My relationship with stories.

Years ago, my girlfriend’s* roommate told me i should watch “the Wire.” I gave the first episode a try, but let’s be honest, it was no BSG, so I moved onto other shinier things.

Years later, a friend whose taste I greatly respected, further relented, “why haven’t you watched 'the Wire' yet?” I soonafter moved to NY, found myself on planes, trains, and working from home more, so decided to give it the old college try (again). But this time I made sure I was uninterrupted by laptops, phones, or squirrels. After pushing through the first couple of episodes, I was drawn in, and could not let go. Soon, instead of taking ~30 minute express trains, I found myself opting for ~50 minute locals, arriving on the train early to get a seat so i could get a full episode in before getting home. I may or may not have missed a flight, and I’m not going to comment on hours of skipped work.**

Needless to say, “the Wire” was, and remains a great show. David Simon’s “love letter to America.” But back then, after just a few months the show was over. At the time, everything else on television seemed…lacking. Since then there have been a host of other shows I’ve enjoyed, some getting close to the high bar that "the Wire” set for me.

Stories (without pictures)

So I read…a lot. Maybe not as much/often as others I know (“there’s always a bigger fish”), but my appetite for prose, and the great stories behind them, is voracious. Whether it’s graphic novels, the Economist, my wife’s New Yorker, assorted internettery (Pocket is the best/worst thing ever, especially in a post-Google-reader world), and of course actual Books - novels and short stories alike. I tend to oscillate between fiction and non, at varying frequencies, but am not going to lie, am a sucker for good science fiction, and the occasional historical and/or contemporary fiction (your Mistry, Hornby, and the like)

I recently learned that a close friend/co-worker was also a reading (and science fiction) nut. He highly recommended a series of 4 sci-fi novels (a Cantos, if you will, reminiscent of Chaucer and Boccaccio), written in the late 80s/early 90s, that won all sorts of science fiction awards. Also knowing i was also a student/fan of religion, my friend hinted that it might even provide more perspective. While usually skeptical of singular recommendations — I usually wait for 2-3 before even considering a new story venture) — the religious hook piqued my curiosity, so i dug in. And like "the Wire” many years before, i could not let go.

~2 months later, after ignoring almost everything else outside of work and home (stacks of magazines piled up, and i’m still working my way through a backlog of undiscovered graphic novels), I completed all four books. And everything else that followed seemed lacking. I was in withdrawal. Story withdrawal.

After my literary immersion, I "slept around" with more than a fair number of graphic novels. Chasing favorite authors on Amazon and picking them up at my local library. I tried picking up a few books as well, albeit unsuccessfully (sorry Eric, Elon, and Aziz***). I got back into the printed world through the lens of the Economist, the New Yorker, Wired, Rolling Stone, and Fast Company. And while my literary needs were briefly, and temporarily sated, it was somewhere between candy and vegetables. Frozen vegetables if you will. There was something missing in the taste, the flavor, that left me wanting. 

Now showing, Daily.

In 1999, I was living in Huntsville, AL, working alternate semesters/summers in the defense industry (longer story). I had just ended a relationship (with a girl!), so found myself going to more rock shows, buying computer parts, burning bootleg CDs, binge reading comics, watching movies old and new, and channel surfing. An MTV comedian named Jon Stewart took over the Daily Show. And while it was at first just something to pass the time and fill the void, I quickly became hooked.

Over the years that followed, I came back and forth into the show over the years (school, girl/s, friends, and rock music got in the way). After graduating  and leaving Alabama for my first real job, I again found myself single and with even more time. So I started hanging out with my friend Jon more every night. The advent of the DVR in the early 2000s made it even easier to have Jon, along with his pals Steve, Stephen, and Mo, a dinner companion at my apartment (Side note: during this DVR period, i also became acquainted with Jed Bartlett and his staff, who are sorely missed). 

Eventually, I met my girlfriend*, and dinner (or brunch) with Jon became a ritual, even when we were living overseas. And as you know, most recently, Jon decided to leave us. 

I’m not going to lie. It felt like we lost a friend (having lost more friends and family than I would care to, I don’t say this lightly). Sure, we've tried hanging out with some of Jon's other friends, John, Larry, and more recently Stephen. But it’s not the same. So we find ourselves trying to move on.

I guess what i’m trying to say that really good stories (and or great storytellers), are like relationships. They become part of your life, your being, but only for a short period. Inevitably it comes to an end, and anything else comparable seems lesser afterwards.

Fortunately that’s what real life is for.

*The girlfriend referenced in both stories? Spoiler alert, she's now my wife . I guess now that all these stories/storytellers are gone, we’ll have to find something else to do with each other. Until I discover something else.
**I assume there’s some statute of limitations on playing hooky for a TV show, after all “the Wire” was 2 companies and 7+ years ago.

***I’m almost done with all three of these, thankfully. All non-fiction, all worth the read.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Baldev "Touchi" Sehgal: August 14, 1953 — August 31, 2015

Baldev Krishan Sehgal was born in New Delhi, India, to Satya Wanti and Jiwand Lal Sehgal. Baldev had six elder brothers: Jagdish, Mitter, Mangal, Mohan, Rajesh, and Ved. Baldev was affectionately called “Touchi” by his friends and family. Baldev studied Hotel Management, graduating in 1971 from the Pusa Institute of Technology. 
When he was only twenty-one, Baldev interned in Zürich, Switzerland, after which he worked in Bahrain for four years. In 1979, he emigrated to the United States, working various jobs in Atlanta, Georgia, before receiving degrees in Hospitality Administration, Computer Science, and Business Administration from Georgia State University. Baldev then began a twenty-two year career in Enterprise Information Services at the Georgia Institute of Technology. 
Baldev married Lalita Kulkarni in 1992 in New Delhi, India. Settling down in Gwinnet County, Georgia in 1993, the couple became active with the newly-formed Greater Atlanta Vedic Temple. Their daughter Khyati was born soon after in 1996.  As a family, the three traveled to Morocco, India, Jamaica, Canada, and across the United States. Always known for his humor and friendly nature, Baldev is survived by his wife Lalita, daughter Khyati, two elder brothers, Mangal and Rajesh, and the loving families of all his brothers.

Sadly, I've gotten too used to funerals and all they entail.

Growing up, I didn’t know as much of my family overseas, especially on my Dad’s side. Touchi uncle, as we called him, was the only relative of my Dad’s living in the US. We lived in Montgomery, Alabama, so Touchi Uncle was always only a 2.5 hour drive away.

While I've gotten to know much of my extended family on both sides over the years,  Touchi uncle was the most consistent extended family presence for my sister Mandi & I as kids. He was just another member of our family who stopped by often, for holidays, special occasions, and just for the weekend. He would always visit us in Alabama, driving his “green machine”, which i think was a Toyota Corolla? He usually slept in my room, which meant i had to sleep on the floor because I was the youngest. I didn’t mind. My uncle was cool. And i didn’t even know that he lived in Switzerland and the Middle East back then. Cool Touchi Uncle from Atlanta.

Recently, I learned that after my mom was married in India, she had to stay with my dad’s family. Dad was in the US working on her immigration paperwork, but Touchi Uncle was still living in New Delhi. So he took care of my Mom, who had never lived in India. He hung out with her and showed her around. I think that’s when they became fast friends. And over the years, more than in-laws, but true siblings.

In our house we have 2 dining tables - one in the kitchen, and another in a more formal living room. Touchi uncle always used to give my parents - especially my mom - a hard time that he never got to eat at the fancy table. It became a bit of an ongoing joke.  So one weekend Mom made a big dinner and we all ate there like we were important.

Growing up, we also made frequent trips to the big city of Atlanta. Naturally Touchi Uncle was our tour guide. I remember Waffle House and the Dekalb County Farmer’s Market. I remember the Quick Trip near his apartment, and all the Danish furniture places my dad made us wander around in. And far too many indian restaurants and shops.

I’lll always remember my first baseball game. As a little kid, Touchi Uncle took Mandi and i to see the Atlanta Braves. I don’t even remember who they were playing or who won, but I do remember Touchi Uncle pointing out all the positions and players. Again, my uncle was pretty cool

One day we got to meet our new aunt - Lalita Auntie. All of a sudden our cool single uncle wasn’t single anymore. He went from an apartment to a house. As a little kid, that was so weird! A few years later his daughter Khyati showed up. Watching Touchi go from “our uncle” to a husband and father was neat. Even though he was our elder, we were watching him grow up. But somehow he stayed cool in his own way. As someone who’s been recently married, I hope I can keep my own kind of cool like he did. Being a family man suited Touchi Uncle well.

It was always great having Touchi Uncle and his family nearby. Diwalis, Christmases, and Thanksgiving were more special occasions when family could come visit. And Touchi uncle and his family was always there for graduations, pujas, and weddings. That’s a big deal for a kid whose relatives are all thousands of miles away.

Over the years, as family tragedy seemed to persist back in India, distant uncles, grandmothers, and family I vaguely knew passing away,  it was always Touchi Uncle who was there - accompanying and helping my dad through difficult times. The loyalty between the two brothers during those  times was comforting. I know my dad was always—and still is proud of everything his younger brother did, and who he became.

I last got to see Touchi Uncle on a visit to New York last year, when him and Lalita auntie were visiting Khyati in college. He was older than I remember, and it was clear that his condition had advanced. But to me he was the same. Questioning things, making unintentional jokes along the way. I actually think I’m the one that became different, older. It’s funny how age does that. But at the same time, we remember people how they best were.

For me, it's been a strange separation ever since.

My dad said something at a close friend’s funeral several years ago. It was about the concept of everything "getting better." It’s a common misconception that the hurt goes away. It doesn’t. We just get used to it, and it becomes a part of us. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Because that’s what memories are. Our experiences and remembrances gained from those we once knew make us stronger, better people.

As I’ve been in town this week, i’ve driving up and down the highway back and forth to the airport. Staring out the car window - the same way I did as a kid in the back seat - watching all the buildings, lights, shops and cars. Because of my years knowing Touchi Uncle, I can’t help but remember my cool uncle from Atlanta.

We won’t just miss you Touchi Uncle, we’ll remember you.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Comics: the Extraordinarily Ordinary (Ethos): PART 2 of 2

(recently, i wrote a few comic-booky posts for Ethos Review - a literary journal. the entire process was interesting, entertaining, and humbling, as i got to interact with a number of editors trying to tease out my geeky conjectures to suit an academic audience. and since i've not bloog-posted for a year, i shamelessly re-post the first of TWO entries below for you, the oft-neglected, but loyal reader)

This is Part 2 of “Comics: Extraordinarily Ordinary” where über-geek Raman Sehgal argues that comics (their characters, stories, and context) bear witness to where we have been, and are going, as a country – via shifting dynamics in character and context. If you missed Part 1, you can read it here.

As we enter the 70’s, things start to get real (and relatable, since after all, I was born in 1979)...

Despite the collective “let’s pretend they didn’t happen” attitude most have towards the 1970s (no thanks to great men like Nixon, Mao, and Travolta) - comics actually used the decade to hit the gas pedal and up the ante from the momentum building out of the 1960s. Most literally, Hal Jordan (Green Lantern), Ollie Queen (Green Arrow), and best gal Dinah Lance (Black Canary) drove cross-country as “hard traveling heroes” to find the “real America” - fighting ordinary American evils - poverty, racism, sexism, and most relevant - drug abuse; as when the heroes return to find Queen’s sidekick Speedy a heroin junkie. Comics’ “Bronze Age” had begun, and things were a little less shiny

While the age is now seen as bronze, it would actually be a From the late 60s through to the 70s we saw an emergence of colored heroes - some far too obviously named - like Black Lightning and the Black Panther (not to be confused with the radical political movement, but rather king T’Challa of the advanced African nation of Wakanda). Luke Cage had indestructible skin, and made wearing a yellow shirt, tiara and chain belt cool. John Stewart grew up in the inner city and got a green power ring. Even Captain America and Iron Man got black best friends in the form of the Falcon and Rhodey, respectively (and they both kicked a lot of ass). We wouldn’t even meet Han’s old buddy Lando Calrissian until 1980, and was he really a hero, or a sellout to the Empire? Giant Size X-Men #1 brought us the Ororo Munroe (Storm) whose startling African beauty and god-like powers were arguably as poignant a statement as Lieutenant Uhura makingout with James T. Kirk. Now ordinary black boys and girls growing up in a new America had extraordinary role models with whom they could identify.

As we entered the 1980s, our heroes’ ordinary problems persisted. The Cold War had matured into something pretty normal for most of us (versus them). Reaganomics was in full swing. But there was now a new super-breed of entertainment for us kids - Star Wars, GI Joe, Saturday-morning cartoons - all driven by commercialism (sell more toys) - which completely outpaced most kids’ interest in comics. Somehow along the way, I discovered comics and superheroes (starting with the Fantastic Four, see previous post). So while most of us missed it, some ordinarily human stories were being told of our extraordinary heroes at our local newsstands: Watchmenthe Judas Contractthe Dark Knight ReturnsDemon in a Bottlethe Dark Phoenix Saga. These were fairly dark plots: committing genocide to pre-empt a nuclear winter, sex-driven betrayal for money, an old-man Bruce Wayne kicking Clark’s ass, alcoholism, and killing your one true love to save the universe, respectively. As critically-acclaimed as these stories would later be, they did not make up the majority of comics, but could not have happened at any other time in the medium. At the time, I barely read or understood any of this (I wasn’t even 11 years old and more focused on thinking about how cool it would be if Luke Skywalker could team up with the Human Torch).

Honestly, most of comics-culture from the late 80s and early 90s were like the 50s, only worse. Extraordinary heroes began to do extraordinary things - in and outside the funny book pages. As things became more extraordinary, they became more absurd, and out of touch with ordinary human problems. And why should they be? Gas was cheap (again), greed was good, we beat communism, and everyone had Happy Meals and Jean-Luc Picard! As America’s economy took off to new heights, the merchandising-driven industry of toys, cartoons and games quickly caught up to comic books. Sure, Tim Burton’s Batman film was pretty great, and brought comics back into the mainstream, but soon comic book movies were being green-lit by the dozen, prioritizing quantity of potential box office returns over quality of production (the MaskDark Manthe PhantomJudge Dredd, and Steel, just to name a few). Sure, Batman: the Animated Series won some Emmy’s, and the storylines from the X-Men’s cartoon weren’t half-bad, but 1997’s Batman & Robin was admittedly made just to sell more toys.

Some initially great story-arcs made up-and-coming artists into superstars (remember the Rob Liefield / X-Force Levi’s commercial?). The art was uncanny, amazing, and hyper-realistic. Jim Lee (no relation to his uncle Stan) re-launched X-Men with the above FOUR covers (which when combined make a cool poster, so of course you had to collect ‘em all!) October ’92 brought the death of Superman, and we all rushed to stores to become thousand-aires with our commemorative poly-bagged issue of Superman #75. Soon, enamored with their own super-stardom, all the hottest artists left Marvel to start their own creator-owned comics imprint (after all, who needs good writers?). The market was soon flooded with mainstream and independent special editions, #1 re-launches, chromium covers, and large-breasted women in ridiculous contortions fighting evil (not featured here). Now both the heroes and their illustrated worlds were extraordinary, but without any ordinary human anchor, their medium just got absurd (read this to understand why the afore-mentioned Rob Liefield was such a "great artist," and have a cringe/chuckle at my teenage fanboy pains). It was all so extraordinary, and I couldn’t take it anymore.

So I stopped buying comics, and decided to try “growing up.” I discovered Nirvana and Weezer (who would actually sing about Kitty Pryde,and Nightcrawler too), and tried to fit in and be cool, albeit unsuccessfully, with the cool crowd that didn’t read comics.

A few years later, on a rainy evening in 1994 I found myself, still uncool, in a drug store with my mom. Bored, I wandered over to the magazine aisle, and started flipping through a copy of the Flash #97, just to see how my old super-friends were doing since I last left them. I discovered a brilliantly writtentale about an extraordinary guy with some ordinary problems. Wally West was a man, literally racing towards near-godlike speed, and losing his humanity in the process. His only salvation? The advice of a man who had done (and lost) it all many times before, and a very ordinary woman whose love was the very anchor he needed to survive. An extraordinary hero in extraordinary circumstances with an all-too-ordinary solution. And the art wasn’t too bad either. Gone was the previously-lauded hyper-realism and exaggeration of buff heroes and buxom babes. It didn’t need to be realistic, it didn’t need to be cartoony. Just great lines (and colors) on a page that moved the story along and pulled you in. The art was a medium through which the story could be expressed. The two worked in tandem. All of a sudden, I discovered a whole world of amazing character-driven stories, and I wanted more. To this day, I cannot thank Mark Waid, Mike Weiringo (R.I.P), and Sal Larocca enough for setting such a high bar in an industry that I had given up on. I was hooked again, and this one issue remains arguably one of my most prized possessions.

The nineties quickly turned into a new century, and comic books turned back around, regaining credibility, not just for me, but for readers and collectors alike. Inspired by a medium of rich storytellers, great directors started taking our heroes again to Hollywood. Unlike previous attempts in the 80s to just make money, it was about bringing great characters and stories to life on the big screen.  They made an X-Men movie - and it was actually pretty good! The new Spider-Man trailer looked amazing! The market became saturated with this phenomenon of great writing with our favorite super-heroes of years gone by.

And then the planes struck, and the towers fell.

As our shock slowly began wearing away, the same extraordinary heroes peddled their escapism of ordinary and extraordinary proportions. But at the same time, new writers emerged, unknowingly seizing our newfound collective numbness, writing about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Creators - writers and artists alike began taking more independent risks. A crime-fiction author started writing about regular detectives investigating super-hero homicides (Bendis’ Powers). Yorick Brown and his pet monkey soon found themselves the last living males on earth (Vaughn’s Y: the Last Man). A Georgia sheriff discovers that it’s not the zombies that are the monsters, but who we become when the chips are down (Kirkman’s the Walking Dead). At the stalemate of modern American Civil War, Matty Roth reports from the conflict border of Manhattan (Wood’s DMZ). Or, you could just look up at the sky with the ordinary people (Busiek’s Astro-City). It’s not that the world was darker, or more grim and gritty. We simply found ourselves, normal people, living in an increasingly extraordinary world. And our funny-books chose to reflect it.

In the last ten years of our ordinary world, we’ve witnessed extraordinary technology making fiction into science into reality. Any piece of information, anywhere, in small computers in our pockets and on our wrists. And without missing a beat, comics are getting (even more) interesting.

So we’ve got plenty to read.

Raman does internetty startup stuff @Ahalogy. He’s been to all seven continents, reads a lot, doesn’t write enough, and lives in NY.
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