I went shopping at CostCo (with my mother) last week. Alas, I happened to be slightly hungry at the time. A person who lives alone should never shop for food at a warehouse where everything comes in “Eight Is Enough” quantities. Most of the things we bought, we split: a tub of grapes, a big container of dates. I was attracted to a thousand fairies‘ worth of mushrooms. Mum doesn’t like mushrooms so they were all mine.
I mentioned that I had this as part of my very lovely solstice evening, and someone asked for the recipe. I’m writing down how my genius friend Miriam showed me to make it. She adapted it from somewhere else. Despite the picky tone of my instructions below, it’s really easy and took about 15 minutes at most. You can substitute non-organic stuff and a different brand of chips if you want; it might not be quite as virtuous, but it will still be incredibly tasty. Fool your non-vegan friends — it’s that good.
As I get a little more fluent with (ok, addicted to) Web 2.0, I’m having an Aha! moment. I believe email is, very soon, going to be all but obsolete.
- I literally unplugged (and stopped paying for) Internet service in my apartment, and instead bought a $55 wireless card for my laptop (of course, now they come installed). I didn’t have a wireless network at my house, so presto, no internet at home.
- I automated my accounts to alert anyone who sent me a message that I was checking email once a week or less, and to call me if the matter was urgent. (No, I didn’t put my phone number in the outgoing message; I figured if they didn’t already know me well enough to have it, how urgent could it be?) My lovely friends and family quickly learned to call instead of email if they wanted to reach me.
- I got off most of my group lists, and kept the ones I wanted on a digest-only or read-online-only basis, so that they didn’t exceed my inbox capacity.
- Using an online guide like this one, I scoped out places with a pleasant environment and free internet. San Francisco’s public libraries and the Cole Valley Cafe became favorites.
- Throughout the week, I would jot down (on paper!) a list of tasks I needed to conduct online.
- Once a week or so, I would go to one of my spots, have a mocha, and spend a very efficient hour or two online. I quickly learned to skim and delete, and I enjoyed the satisfaction of checking items off my (paper!) list.
- Google docs, for sharing documents for client work and review by multiple editors. No more “I couldn’t open the attachment!”
- Groups (Yahoo, Google, etc) and forum/bulletin board posting functions for creative drafts, documents within a virtual community.
- Facebook and LinkedIn for staying in touch with extended personal and professional network, as well as introducing people to each other. No more “So what have you been up to lately?” emails.
- This blog (powered by WordPress) for incremental progress reports and random creative spurts. I also like that blogging is totally consensual; I don’t have to worry about irritating people by sending them too many emails about trivial updates, or decide which friends would really be interested in which of my various book updates and pithy observations.
- Gmail chat and Facebook chat for quick hits, arranging meeting times, logistics, flirting, quick one-on-one catching up with friends. I particularly love how Chat eliminates the long strings of emails saying “I don’t know if I can meet at 6. Does 6:30 work for you? / OK, but can we meet near my work then? There’s a Thai place. / No, I don’t really feel like Thai. / Cuban, then? / etc.” One quick chat, and it’s all settled! It’s so easy that, during my recent bout with bronchitis/laryngitis when I couldn’t talk on the phone for days and days, I even persuaded the recalcitrant and tech-averse Daddi G to g-chat with me. Hoorah!
- Gmail video chat and Skype for virtual conversation. On Google video, I did an interview with a magazine reporter based in New York who wanted to look at my family photographs as part of her interview. In theory I could use Skype to chat with my family all over the world, though I haven’t yet used it much.
- Designated private chat rooms for topic discussion, such as for an online writing class I’m currently taking.
- Evite to invite people to events and respond to invitations. Facebook also has useful event and group tools, so I’m doing more of my inviting and social/writerly event coordination there instead.
- And of course, my trusty little Helio Fin cell phone, where I can access all of this at anytime, even though it’s not a superduper smartypants crackberry or iphone.
ly still need email to connect online. But it seems like our techie friends are working fiercely on integration. Already I can, for example, feed this blog into my Facebook page with ease. I also like the integration across my various gadgets such as the phone, laptop, and iPod (I believe these are called “platforms,” but that makes me think of Vegas shoes).
- My email inbox is more under control than ever. This is also because of the genius of gmail, and my friend Patty’s advice on how to use it. Now, at any given time, my actual inbox has fewer than a dozen items. Everything else is neatly sorted (filtered) away into folders, searchable and available to me at any time, but not screaming for attention.
- The time I spend online is not reduced, but it is more fun, less tedious. I hang out on Facebook way too much, not because I have thousands of pesky chores piled up waiting for me to decide or act or delete or just read — but because I like to. I could stop anytime (really, I could!) without that horrible feeling of being behind and overwhelmed.
It’s almost midnight and I’m awake listening to the umpteenth hailstorm of the day. Some last just a few seconds; the longest have been maybe 15 or 20 minutes. They produce small lentil-sized balls of ice that quickly melt away. This particular hailstorm seems harder and longer than the others; it sounds like a flock from The Birds pecking at every window of the house at the same time.
Minal Hajratwala’s Leaving India is a fascinating history that kept me up late into the night–and I suspect it will do the same for most readers. Filled with amazing and compelling family stories, it will strike a chord in anyone whose people have come from elsewhere–and today, in America, that’s most of us! I am filled with admiration at Minal’s honesty and the careful beauty of her language. I learned so much, through the story of this one family, about the tragedies and triumphs of the Indian diaspora.
Chitra is best known as a novelist now, and was one of the first South Asian American authors to draw a mainstream readership. However, I first encountered her as a poet, through her books The Reason for Nasturtiums
Told with the probing detail of a reporter, the fluid voice of a poet and the inspired vision of a young woman who walks in many worlds, Hajratwala’s story offers an engaging account of what may be one of the fastest-growing diasporas in the world.
Quick take: A very compelling film, if not quite the upbeat story I’d been led to expect.
Closest equivalent: “Life Is Beautiful,” the feel-good film about the Holocaust (Italy, 1998).
I don’t like to read reviews before seeing a movie for myself, but in this case, I do wish I’d read beyond the one-line review excerpts or that someone had told me how grueling it is to watch “Slumdog Millionaire.” This “rare feel-good movie” (Village Voice), this “buoyant hymn to life and a movie to celebrate” (TIME magazine), starts with a torture scene and proceeds through murders, mob violence, rape, child maiming, and multiple assaults. I suppose anyone who’d seen Danny Boyle’s earlier film Trainspotting wouldn’t have been shocked; I hadn’t, so I was. One of my companions actually had to leave her seat halfway through the film, it was that intense.
Jamal is a young boy from the Mumbai slums who’s on a winning streak in “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” He’s just about to win the big prize when he is accused of cheating. No one believes an uneducated tea-boy could get so many answers right.
In fact, there’s a harrowing story behind every one of his correct answers, and the movie is a series of flashbacks that tells his story and appears to illuminate the life of India’s poor children. Along the way Jamal, his brother Salim, and their friend and eventual love interest Latika find themselves caught up in every “issue” you’ve ever heard about in India: prostitution, Hindu-Muslim violence, mafia-type gangs, call centers, children crippled so that they can earn more money begging, etc.
So are we getting a skillfully woven portrait of an oppressed class, or a series of stereotypical situations strung together with lovely camerawork? Hmmm. As I was watching, it all felt very real, through the magic of cinema. Now, through the equal magic of writing/reflecting, I’m aware of a sense of feeling somewhat manipulated.
In between these flashbacks, we see what looks like all of India, but especially poor folks, clustered around TV screens cheering Jamal on through the answers. These bits at least feel realistic. Nowadays it’s just another game show, but I remember when “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” first aired in the U.S. and was such a sensation here. In India the show is called “Kaun Banega Crorepati,” and the first episodes were hosted by the most famous man in India, the actor Amitabh Bachchan. We watched it on satellite tv and the thrill factor came all the way through the invisible airwaves, amplified by the clear love and devotion that the contestants and studio audiences had for their host. (Regis, eat your heart out.) In India “Crorepati” was huge huge huge, and the top prize was 1 crore, which is 10,000,000 rupees (10 million rupees or the fantastic sum of $200,000).
“Slumdog Millionaire” dispenses with currency conversion, replaces the beloved host with a sneering bad guy, and translates all of this into English.
In fact, all of the characters, including the grown-up slum kids, appear to have learned to speak and read English flawlessly. This requires considerable suspension of disbelief, especially because the older Jamal couldn’t shake his full-on British schoolboy accent, and the older Latika — who starts out as a medium-brown tough ‘n’ scruffy ghetto girl — is a very light-skinned model acting in her first film, whose performance makes her more or less interchangeable with dozens of other Bollywood starlets.
But the younger children who play Jamal and Latika in the flashback sequences speak only Hindi. That’s because these young actors really come from the slums. About a third of the script was rewritten from English to Hindi to accommodate them, according to the New York Times interview with the director. Apparently teaching the children enough English to say their lines would have been more ridiculous than asking the audience to believe they just picked up perfect English somewhere along the way, despite a full schedule that includes hustling, begging, starving, and joining and fleeing gangs.
A lot of movies shot in India use very poor children, non-actors who give amazing performances that stun critics and audiences. These kids are no exception; they’re stunning to watch. I recently saw “The Terrorist,” a really beautiful and amazing South Indian film from 1999, where almost all of the parts were played by children, non-actors, who were just luminescent. Is it immersion in Bollywood from infancy that makes Indian children so amazing on screen?
But I do wonder what kind of compensation these children receive, and whether it’s anywhere near a fair trade. Are a few hot meals, maybe some money, and a little taste of glamor and fame enough? Is anything done to actually improve their lives and the lives of their families and communities? Recently the makers of a 2005 documentary, “Born into Brothels,” about children growing up in Calcutta’s red-light district, were apparently sued over alleged infringement of the children’s rights. What’s the line between shedding light on someone’s story, and exploiting it?
That last question is something I’ve thought a lot about, with regard to telling my family’s story in Leaving India (although I didn’t interview children). I don’t know if there’s a right answer; even if you give someone a chance to sign a release and give consent, there may be times when they don’t know enough about their options to choose. Certainly a kid from Dharavi isn’t going to have someone negotiating a contract in his or her best interests the way that, say, a Little Miss Sunshine is. And how much difference does it make whether the resulting work is a marginal indie documentary or a runaway mainstream success?
If nothing else — and it is a lot else — “Slumdog Millionaire” made me go Hmmm. If you see it, I’d love to know what you thought.