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 Z├╝rich, 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.

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