My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I have known Vinay Singh since 1980s, when he was briefly back at his alma mater University of Roorkee (now Indian Institute of Technology). This is immediately after his MBA from Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. This fact should not come in the way, when I am reviewing (for others to read) his debut effort in writing a book. But it also raises a question, if you do not know Vinay personally, and if he is not a billionaire many times, Everest summit climber many times, and a rockstar - Why should you read his memoir (or anyone like him)? The answer is - Absolutely yes, if the author is an engrossing story teller. Yes, Vinay is an engaging story teller. He may digress sometimes in his first book, sometimes be too naive in his childhood recollections but he tells his stories with clear eyes, and earnest energy. His memoir starts with the concept of "over learning" where you over train beyond needed to reach the immediate goal. He claims he learned from his mountaineering experiences where mountaineers do a series of practice climbs of ascent and descent from their base camp before they attempt the final summit, and this prepares climbers for any unforeseen eventuality during their final summit. He thinks this concept has kicked in automatically for him when his life veers away and his father is the author of this "training for life" in his case. In his own words, "The thought process, that ultimately led to this book, started with a question - Is recovery possible for someone who turns out to be a mediocre student at the University of Roorkee and IIM, and after migrating to the United States finds himself with a divorce decree and without a job? The answer, in my case, seems to be in the affirmative".
Yes, Vinay has established himself in US as an entrepreneur, has been remarried for many years, and has raised his daughters with love for mountaineering and adventure. They as a family continue to do hikes, and "expedition style" summit climbs on many different continents.
Is that all? No.
He has attempted to summit one of the most challenging hill right now in the world. In countries like India, opening of economy brings in the time bomb of ambition. India now has more than 1.3 billion people, with a huge youthful bulge. The demographics of India has hundred of millions of young people. And, they all are hungry for opportunities and upward economic movement in today's world. Are they prepared for opportunities of 21st century? They are not. The primary education, except for few affluents, is completely letting them down.
Vinay in his memoir recounts his continuing experience of opening an evening school in his father's ancestral village. He and his family did this for the love of memory for his father, and a will to act upon. Vinay in his last few chapters describes why children in rural India have all the odds against them. He talks about challenges in building an evening school with the help of his family and friends. Shiksha Vikas Vidyalaya in Chanchli is an evening "free" school for learning English, Math Skills, Reading, and Writing as a supplementary effort to teach them to climb the summits of tomorrow. This is the most audacious summit, he is attempting to climb as an individual.
Perhaps, this is an enough reason to read his memoir.
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Late evening, ICU units, Houston, September 2009.
“Are you all alone?”
“No, I just stepped out. I am visiting a relative next unit.”
“Do you want to watch Monday Night Football?”
I step into an ICU room, a smiling man.
“Thought you’d give me company. I am alone. My girlfriend has not even visited once.”
It took me four years to write again 55 words of flash fiction (or maybe, partial fiction). More on flash fiction.
On December, 18th evening, I am standing at the immigration line at Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, India. More well lit and lines moving faster than 2006, I am fairly pleased. I move to the red line to waiting for the immigration officer to call me, and suddenly, a family of four zips past me with an airport employee bypassing the line, and get their passports checked before me. I laugh, and turn around in befuddlement for breaking the line. The guy standing behind me says, “Welcome, Home”. I just smile. What else can I do?
With India bursting to its seams with consumerism in swanky malls, in the process being turned upside down with the second largest growth rate in the world, an emerging MTV-like generation in India, and still being beset with an extremely fragile infrastructure*, the divide between rich and poor ever widening, and the general chaos that comes with being an extremely crowded country – I will present you in the coming weeks of pictures and short movies through my blog, flickr, and facebook account, I took here in my two week stay here (12/18-01/01), through my eyes.
Pictures will always speak more than pedantic words. One thing these pictures will show the sense of optimism that seams to be infectious in India, inspite of all the hiccups, poverty, dust, power cuts, and the open trash. Also, maybe, somebody should get me introduced to Amrita Rao. I can only dream – millions on the footpath in India do that. My name is Anthony Gonsalves.
*My home in Roorkee, inspite of fast internet connection was completely down for nearly a week. The neighborhood where my parents live does have a wireless connection but the service provider could not provide a modem for wireless for months when we had requested.
8:00 PM, Dallas, Texas summer night, 1998. I am at a high-dollar strip club talking to a tall blonde in a white bikini.
“Hey, How much money did you withdraw from the ATM”
“My dance depends on that”
“Lap dance $80, and this $300, we could”
“No, only the dance”
For rules and inspiration: Sepia Mutiny "I want your SEX edition"
At Bhatia ka dhaba outside IIT Roorkee, 6 AM January.
Dablo is quietly wiping my table clean.
Me: “Do you even go to school?”
Dablo smiles: “Kismet”
Bhatia: “Hey Dablo, Jaldi. Hazaar customers.”
Inspiration: The Mercy Edition @ Sepia Mutiny
Also, cross-posted @ Desicritics
Dhaba = Cafe
Kismet = Destiny
Jaldi = Hurry up
Hazaar = Thousand
Ms. Rita's Starbucks in Ratanpur
Ms. Rita, a fair and lovely coed from Cornell, originally from Ratanpur meets our Dablo at a dhaba. Dablo, a 10 year old waiter is a hopeless flirt.
Rita: Low-fat frappuccino, please. Grande.
Dablo: Madame, no frappuccino. Mother dairy chai, here.
Dablo: Apun ka chai, Amitabh Bachchan loves. Are you Miss India? Very pretty.
Inspiration: Sepia Mutiny
Who is Ms. Rita Chandraswamy?
More about Ms. Rita. Ms. Rita is a 100% fictional character in my writings. She is a young pretty Indian-American who was born in Ratanpur, India (a small village in North India) and spent her first 5 years there. Her parents immigrated to US both as medical doctors. Her father is Tamil (South Indian) and her mother is Punjabi (North Indian). Her extended family still lives in Delhi and she visits India very often. Through her, I sometimes highlight cultural contrasts between India and America, and the tight-rope walk for Asian-Americans for emotional cues. Currently (Spring 2006), she is around 20 years old and is a junior at Cornell University.
She is more relaxed than Jhumpa Lahiri. Then she has been center of attention always and therefore, she flaunts her Indian looks in America as an unique value added to her stock. Sometimes, she does act totally confused, funny, and retarded too. Who doesn't? Also, she is quite fluent in English, Spanish, German, Hindi, Punjabi, and Tamil. She does love Bollywood.
I will continue to write about her adventures and misadventures. I may even draw her - After all she is my creation.
Shaq: My man. What’s cookin?
Kush: Brother, LSU smoked Duke. Baby Shaq, Davis took where you couldn’t.
Shaq: B’cause you never helped with that damn Calculus homework.
Kush: You know what Davis has been saying, “Shaq is going to live forever, I can't live forever being Baby Shaq. I want to be my own guy."
Inspiration: Sepia Mutiny
Ms. Rita Chandraswamy is a junior at Cornell as pre-med major. She is an Indian-American and is right now at her ancestor's home in Delhi (India) for Christmas break. She is a pretty, petite girl but sometimes whines more than the situation demands - deep down she is quite empathic and a sweetheart. Also, she has love-hate relationship with India that gets more pronounced every 2 years when she visits India to be with her extended family and grandparents. She is little freaked out right now. She is little culture-shocked, jet-jagged, and misses her WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) boyfriend Harry. Harry is a jock, Physical Ed major at Ithaca College. They say he is quite a sensitive guy and promises to accompany her to India next time. Deep down, there is also a lingering doubt that they may break-up and the separation due to India trip might act as a catalyst - that is adding to her anxiety of being in India. Nevertheless, this is has not damped her shopping spree in different malls in Delhi and passion for buying different sarees. A brief conversation between her and her grandmother (दादि मा):
Delhi, December 31, 2005 , 8:00 PM
दादि मा: बैठि, य खा लो । (Grandmother: Daughter, Eat this.)
Rita: Man, India is too hot, the food is too hot, too dirty. Do I have to wash my hair everyday? Next time, I come here, you better have a western-style toilet seat. Harry will freak out. Tonight, I am going to Hotel Siddhartha for New Year's party so I need to get ready. Granny, later. Dadi Ma, don't worry.
दादि मा: हा, अब खा लो । (Grandmother: Yes, Now please eat this.)
Still, the real cause for anxiety is not heat, spice, toilet - it is that damn Harry. What is he doing on New Year's Eve?
Note: The characters speak in their own language. The English translation is within parenthesis when used Hindi . This is a very sophomoric maiden effort by me in bilingual writing. The Hindi is still shaky with spellings. Hopefully, my literary efforts will get more sophisticated with time.
I see a couple sitting next to the window. The guy has gently placed his hands over hers. They are not talking, not making eye-contact with each other, not smiling, and are staring outside through the window.
Concept of Flash fiction: no official or specific rules applied to the fiction above. This is my continued homage to Beanery where I go at least twice a day.
In French Quarter, Saint Louis Hotel Bar, New Orleans.
“Hey, that woman is really striking, Martine.”
“She is a man, Kush.”
“How do you know?”
“Adams Apple. Only a man looks as pretty as Pretty Woman. You better keep that in mind; otherwise, it is going to be Crying Game.”
“Only in N’Awlins. Ms. Martine.”
Inspiration: 55 Friday
Aranyi made the mistake of soliciting the visitors of her new blog for ideas to write on. I called her on and she definitely took the challenge very seriously. Working for a young woman in any place in the world has its own unique set of challenges that may seem mundane but do require significant amount of grace under pressure, courage, and humor. In India, you add to that cauldron, the chaos, the over crowded-claustrophobic milieu, and the contradicting ethos in a very ancient country that is currently changing faster than any other place on earth except China - you have a powder keg that is the good, the bad, and the ugly daily life. My initial request was:
Maybe, how about trial and tribulations of a young woman working in Mumbai. Day to day challenges. You know the simple stuff. [Link]
I knew it would not be simple. She did put quite an effort in her write-up. Do read her, and please let me quote a few passages below that stood out to me.
I could complain about not having enough time or stamina to manage my activities (dance/gym) with meeting friends for coffee. [Link]
Then when I went to dad's office building, I got whistled at again! [Link]
Then I have to enter the lift and stand in one corner or where I can't be touched or brushed (big files and bags and standing with arms crossed and a forbidding expression helps). But the good thing is that the liftmen are quite protective and also these guys don't really have the guts to touch. [Link]
She (her mom) is sorrowed that nothing surprises me - about sex, drugs, mafia, politics. [Link]
It has a very different ring than Gregory David Robert's Mumbai in Shantaram. Her post is part diary, part hope, part personal, and part commentary. Does Mumbai, like all other metropolis wraps her denizens with a big heart or is really a Gotham City, again like them? Also, some of her thoughts and experiences are very timeless and can be from anywhere - they will be same for a young woman in New York City, Amsterdam, Tehran, and Tokyo today or tomorrow.
How much are just universal thoughts and experiences of any young woman? No doubt, some of the bizarre experiences like harassment do take painful proportions in India. Some of her concerns are rightfully distinctly Indian, as they should be. A culture in transition cannot be gleaned through crafted pamphlets, carefully written books, Op-eds but unscripted thoughts. Perhaps, she will write again from time-to-time about the trial and tribulations of her and other working women in a cosmopolitan like Mumbai with the clarity, honesty - yet full of contradictions and confusions like the one she just did. She herself said, "And this blog is just the surface, baby!" It will not make anything easy for anyone or make everything rosy but since when purgatory writing did. Why not? The good, the bad, and the ugly daily life is the real life to the fullest.
Ah, her blog constantly mentions one of the greatest writers, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. She is reading, "Love in the time of cholera". I read that classic book more than 10 years ago at sea. It will knock her off by the time she reaches the end of the book - no more hints and spoilers.
I do not think she is any different from anyone writing from New York City or Tokyo. Maybe, some details are, some aren't.
A Soldier Forgotten
Quietly sitting next to Debbie and Rita at the Hot Rod Bar in College Station, Texas, “Did you see Cadet Harry? He is so hot and calls me Ma’am.”
I just can’t anymore. I quietly limp to the nearest strip club a mile away.
“Was it 1967?","Hey, you got girlfriend Vietnam? Me so horny.”
Inspiration: Fiction written in 55 words at Sepia Mutiny
The Asian Writing Club has a prompt for review for Wong Kar-Wei's 2046 but Netflix has not released that movie yet. However, on the Netflix and Amazon sites, two phrases for one of the Wong Kar-Wei's another movie, In Mood for Love piques my attention - "Love in the absence of fate" and "It is about a love affair that should happen, but didn't." I check the movie for rental thinking that I am going to watch an elegant Hong Kong/ Chinese version of "Casablanca" or "Lost in Translation". In Mood for Love is also part of an informal trilogy that includes 2046, so I am OK in picking this movie for the writing exercise. In Mood for Love is much more than I thought it would be. It is about love that is ethereal but nevertheless very real and with a deeper understanding between two souls. It is also about decency, and also about lack of courage to rebel against the rules of society. The opening line in the movie says it so aptly:
"It is a restless moment. She has kept her head lowered to give him a chance to come closer. But he could not, for lack of courage. She turns and walks away."
Winner of many awards that includes 2000 Cannes Film Festival, In the Mood for Love is a tour de force by Wong Kar-Wei. Juxtaposed by the repetitive nature of the movie scenes like a very delicate poem with high-low pitch multi-lingual music, striking cinematographic light play and beautiful cheongsam dresses, it is a story of two neighboring apartment dwellers, Mr. Chow (Tony Leung) and Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung) who discover that their ever-absent spouses are having an affair. These lonely souls become friends and then fall in love - but they keep it platonic, undefined, and never attempt to cement it. The strength of their love is undeniable in one of the scene where Mrs. Chan breaks down sobbing in one of their mock breakup but then their restrain is often repeated in the movie by a self-imposed rule:
"We will never be like them!"
But why, they deserved better. I disagree with "It is about a love affair that should happen, but didn't" and agree with "It is a restless moment. She has kept her head lowered to give him a chance to come closer. But he could not, for lack of courage. She turns and walks away." Maybe, Wong Kar-Wei is more complex and cryptic. Experience the movie yourself - I hope have not spoiled the story for you by the review.
Cross-plotted at Asian Writing Club.
Overheard at Delhi National Airport, while waiting for a flight.
Mrs. Mehta, a top executive at McKinsey telling her daughter over the mobile phone, “Now Pinky darling listen, tell Ayah Ma (nanny), if she speaks in her Hindi again to you, we will deduct 10 rupees each time from her salary. Our house, always English.”
Inspiration: Sepia Mutiny I Can't Drive 55.
I am bundling three of them together as collection of 55s under the title "I am a middle-class Indian and my obsession is - I just can't help freaking about". Enjoy. Help.
Amsterdam to Delhi flight, 2001
Gurdeep: “Can I please sit next to you? Those bhai sahibs over there would not let me drink.”
Me: “Where from? How often to India?”
Gurdeep: “A Canadian through political asylum. Every six months.”
Me: “Shouldn’t you shun India.”
Gurdeep: “Were no jobs in Punjab. Had to.”
We both laughed.
Inspiration: Sepia Mutiny Fiction Friday