Monday, July 5, 2010

Dreams of Fabric

Most girls who grow up in South India know of Nalli - the saree store. There aren't many television ads or glossy spreads in newspapers for the shop. But knowing that the store has some of the most beautiful silk cloth is information that is exchanged from grandmother to daughter to granddaughter, sister-in-law to mother-in-law to daughter-in-law, somewhere during the years that these women are busy preparing for weddings, the birth of a child or a religious occasion.

With a wedding around the corner, I recently found myself inside the original Nalli store, opposite Panagal Park in Chennai. Established in 1928 by Nalli Chinnasami Chetty, the shop is a wide tunnel, lined on either side with glass shelves of neatly folded fabric in piles. They come in mindboggling variations. Kancheepuram silk, Mysore silk, crepes (not the edible kind) and cottons. Fuschia, indigo, crimson and azure fabric peeks out from behind the glass cases divided by solid wood panels that house them, many of them lined with bold gold borders, and seem to say, "Pick me, choose me."

The experience gained significance as I shopped for a trousseau and was accompanied by my mother and grandmother. Three generations of women in my family draped billowing cloth in front of full-length mirrors in an effort to decide what looked timeless. What cloth would capture the beauty of the moment that we intended to wear it for, forever.

Customers jostle in front of display counters as sales people expertly pull piece of cloth, one after another, depending on specific requests. The mound of cloth builds in front of a client and they begin to fish through pile as they decide what to buy, resisting the temptation to sort though or choose from more. A customer leaving the store empty-handed is a rare sight as the cash registers ring ceaselessly and the smell of money lingers above the payment counters.

Nalli is one of many icons associated with Tamil Nadu's history. Although I may never state what I am about to write here to a side of the family who has appealed to me since childhood to consider the state in more fond terms, I must admit that during this particular visit I found Chennai much more fascinating than I do otherwise. Maybe it had something to do with the weather which was nothing to complain about, bordering on pleasant, compared to the sultry mess that usually greets a visitor and threatens to melt their insides until they leak through every available bodily orifice. Whatever the reason, this time I was paying attention to local attire, thinking about native cuisine and a local history that is several centuries old.

Putting no time frame to my resolution, I intend on returning to Chennai and greater Tamil Nadu willing to discover beauty that I am now convinced exists.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Talk the talk

They say talking helps. They are the chicken-soup-for-the-soul-reading, afternoon-Oprah-watching, possible-therapist-visiting general populace.
I've been talking.
Talking to people.
Talking to myself.
Talking to the walls.
Talking in my sleep.
No, I'm not crazy. I'm just a talker.
I've been talking.
My conclusion: It's all just talk.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Apologizing is what Tiggers do best

When news of Tiger Woods' accident broke, I was trying to carry more bags than necessary through Boston's Logan Airport. At the time, I had London on my mind and the three-flavored chowmein at the Panda Express sort of place in the terminal's food court looked too interesting to pass up. That, and the nearby bookshop. So I boarded my flight, forgetting all about Woods, thinking that the poor guy must have been careless backing his precious SUV out of the driveway, which would explain his knocking into a fire hydrant and then tree. Or heaven forbid had just had one drink too many. Maybe that was what had irked Elin enough to "hit" him, with her weapon of choice - a golf club. Classic. That is, before she felt sorry and helped her discombobulated husband out of the car window. Bizarre, sure, but hey, anything is possible.

So a few days ago, the incident found some closure with a public apology from the man who wields a mean arm on the green. He admitted to infidelity and asked for privacy in true celebrity style. After neglecting this news for several weeks, I had the chance to review it in totality. From the beginning, when he supposedly crashed his car near his home to news of an affair making headlines and subsequent women coming forward with their versions of romping in the sack with Woods. Of course, who can neglect the larger context of Woods' unblemished image that preceded these revelations, making them that much more acidic. Vile. Poisoned.

Opinions on extramarital affairs, monogamy and all things related to marriage are personal, of course. Between a husband and wife, to quote the accused himself. But I struggle to dissociate a person's professional life from their personal one. A person is all that they are. In entirety. A person is not a cafeteria that allows picking of the healthy salad and chocolate milk while passing up the mystery meat.

This particular incident makes me more sad than judgmental. No one is about to send Woods to his room without dinner. His sponsors will grumble at the loss of millions and the tabloids might go to town with photographs of a teary-eyed Elin. But there is a possibility that people will become greater cynics, more suspicious of goodness. Expecting it to explode into immorality or corruption at the slightest provocation or without. For increasing distrust in goodness in a world where there isn't nearly enough as there should be, for chipping away just a little bit more at the sanctity of relationships and allowing to have one more reason to be self-assured, smug, you disappointed, Tiger. It'll be a while before you find your roar. Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Beauty in the world around me, Beauty in all I see

So I'm standing on the shore looking out at sea. All I can see for miles is watery blue until it kisses the wispy blue of the sky. Perfectly. Happily. The yellow from the sun is all that breaks this unending expanse of blue. I can feel the sand under my toes. I can feel the breeze in my hair. I can feel the sun on my face. All this, without being close to a beach.

The earth seems to be shifting from under my feet. All sense of space, time, reality, have lost meaning. The quest for the meaning of life seems overrated.

Because the day begins and ends without alarm clocks or breathing exercises. It's been days since I checked the mail, dealt with the bills or watched my favorite show on TV. Suddenly, there is so much more importantness to fill my time.

I'm journeying, languorously, weightlessly, effortlessly. Sublime.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The wheels on the cars go round and round

There's chaos in the street. Two-wheeled mopeds, bicycles, three-wheeled autorickshaws, four-wheeled vehicles and pedestarians. This space is mine, not yours. Go grab your spot on top of the street median. I will curse your family if you cut in line. That is my birthright. Of course I will jump the traffic signal, what exactly are you going to do about it? My voice cannot be heard above the clamor. It is drowned out in billowing thick black smoke of exhaust fumes. Choking, choking, unconscious.

Brakes screech, dogs bark, dust rises from the tarred road and creates a brown cloud. Cough, cough. Sneeze, sneeze.

Just another day on the road in Bangalore.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Thank You

Thank You. Because there's no other way to say it. Because even saying this is not enough.

Thank You for the strength to make hard decisions. Especially when the difference between right and wrong couldn't be more confusing.

Thank You for allowing me to believe that I can conquer anything, survive much and fear little. Especially at times when I begin to doubt myself.

Thank You for my support system, my wonderful family and friends. I feel less lost with them, as they help me find my way back home.

Thank You for making me someone I'm happy being - Someone who stands for something rather than someone who will fall for anything.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Adieu 2009

So pooh, I didn't get the BBC job. Now the search for a new job in journalism begins.

As I kick back and soak up the Indian sun, here's wishing all of you a wonderful 2010!

Saturday, December 5, 2009


This week I did one of the most thrilling things of my time as a graduate student. I flew to London and back in 48 hours :)

Three months ago, I had just arrived in Washington and thought it might be a good idea to check out job opportunities, knowing that the busy semester would not allow specific time for applications. Out of curiosity, I checked London's options as well and came across an opening with BBC. I began the online application on my work computer, where I had found the posting, couldn't stop thinking about it all day, went home and stayed awake until 5 a.m. and submitted it.

As the days went by, what seemed to be glaring errors on my application jumped out at me. They haunted my sleep along with that growing sinking feeling in my stomach that I had just blown a perfectly good job possibility.

The last date to notify applicants if they had been selected for the next round was Nov. 4, which came and went without a whistle. I had resigned myself to not hearing back long ago.

And then, a message popped into my inbox.

I had been called to London for an interview with two BBC journalists. I had made it to the next round!

Thrilled beyond belief, I booked tickets and counted down the days.

Just back from London and I can't stop smiling.

When I got to the BBC headquarter in White City, I had to walk through a long cobbled pathway, lined with trees on either side. The three BBC letters stared back at me from across the building.

"In London, I'm Ayesha Aleem, for BBC World," I said softly to myself, grinning that I was actually here.

I spent the rest of the afternoon in a series of tests brought to a close with the interview, which was my favorite part.

Before heading to the hotel room for the night, I walked through packed Oxford Street, all lit up and pretty for Christmas. The queues at Primark were endless but with good reason.

I'm not sure if I will get this job. But I was among 60 people called for an interview from among 2000 applicants. Only 15 people get through to the program.

If I do get the job, it won't be any secret. And if I don't, I'll always have this whirlwind trip to London to smile about.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Priceless dining

On what I think was the nicest day since I've been in Washington, M and I went for lunch to Karmic Kitchen. Otherwise a a regular Indian restaurant that serves food at a price, the Karmic Kitchen is the same place transformed to a space of genorisity between 12 and 3 p.m. on Sundays. In other words, you can enjoy a fixed-menu vegetarian meal for free! All you have to do in reutrn is a random act of kindness to a stranger.

So M and I ate saag panner, basmati rice, novratna korma, chana dal and naan, without paying a cent. We intend on being repeaters and leaving a better donation next time round.

But pay a visit to the place by Dupont Circle. Whoever said nothing comes free?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

In love with Washington

I had the most absolutely fantasgamorical wonderfully beautiful day today.

And I just ran out of adjectives.

So anyone who doesn't want to read about my endless gushing should wait until the next post.

This morning I went to the capital for the House vote on advancing the date for credit card regulation. Congressman Barney Frank, who cosponsored the bill, was managing the debate. This arrangement was likely to elicit some lively quotes.

I could have sworn I entered the capital on the House side. All the room numbers did begin with "H." But somehow I ended up on the Senate side in the press gallery. It took more than half an hour to meet Frank's secretary. But we finally found each other and spent the rest of the afternoon in the press gallery watching the vote on the House floor.

Afterwards, we walked down to the speaker's lobby where I met Frank himself. For all the horror stories I heard of his temper and unreasonable impatience with reporters, he was a perfect gentleman. Addressing me by my first name, he motioned to a sofa where he said we should sit down to speak.

Sit down and speak with Barney Frank!

I could have been in his living room at home for a cup of tea.

I'm smiling as I type this.

Walking out of the capital, Rep. Mike Capuano's chief of staff escorted me in the direction of the Metro station because he was going that way. And again my unknown thoughts were articulated when I said, "You have to let Washington grow on you. It's not love at first sight."

It's grown on me. Flourished and found a friend.

Read my published story here.