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A Visit Across the Border

29 Jul

After what I can only describe as an intense academic year, I took off for 5 weeks to Pakistan and India this summer for fieldwork.

Pakistan was a complete revelation. I spent about 10 days in Karachi and a week in Lahore, admittedly a very short period of time. However, in that time period, I was fortunate to meet and work with some amazing people and get a flavor for the sights and sounds of urban life in the country.

Karachi was a study in contrasts; warm and welcoming, yet bubbling with tension under the surface. It reminded me of Bombay in so many ways; a true melting pot of people from all over the country (and all over the region). Similar to other cities in India, remnants of the bygone British era stood side by side with edifices of modern commerce.  I got to see a bustling market area, Saddar, filled with the beautifully decorated and painted lorries and buses that are ubiquitous in Pakistan. My friends took me to the seaside where we picnicked and took a ride on a camel. I tried some absolutely delicious food, from biryani to Peshawari ice cream to barbeque. And I shopped for lawn, the light, patterned fabric turned into gorgeous salwar suits.

More than anything, people in Karachi are incredibly friendly and kind. On learning I was from India, people were nothing but affectionate. It was great fun gossiping about Bollywood and cricket, and also when exchanging notes on the similarities and differences. It was also interesting chatting with people about the state of Pakistan today; I felt a great sense of urgency around reforming the politics of the place, with people from all walks of life eagerly waiting the day when things would go back to some level of normalcy.

Lahore was different in so many ways; green and lush, very safe and economically quite prosperous.  Culturally and historically, the city is an absolute gem, with stunning monuments, well-preserved buildings and an excellent museum. Similar to Delhi, the city is divided into an old fortified city with 13 ‘gates’ providing entrances into the area. Some of the gates are named after the direction which they face, and so till date, there is a Delhi Gate and a Kashmir Gate. The old city has some breathtaking monuments such as Badshahi Masjid, Lahore Fort and Wazir Khan Mosque. Not too far from the city is Jehangir’s tomb and the famed Shalimar Gardens (the latter of which I did not have a chance to visit).

Lahore is also tantalizingly close to India and some good friends and I visited Wagah Border; the experience of seeing the border from the ‘other side’ was surreal, to put it mildly. The changing of the guard ceremony was fantastic fun, complete with patriotic songs and cheers, tons of bravado and ultimately, a sense that despite all the political nonsense, people on either side do not harbor much resentment; its curiosity more than anything else.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever have the chance to go back again, but I was delighted to have experienced Pakistan once in my lifetime.

What is it about stress?

16 Mar

I’ve been thinking lately a lot about stress. Probably because I’ve been more stressed these past few months than I have in a very long time. Apparently, I’m not the only one – a recent study found that my generation, the Millennials, are way more stressed out than previous generations (thank you recession!).

What I’ve really been trying to understand is why we get stressed, rather than the reasons for why we are. There are a million things that happen to us each day that can rattle our nerves. Traffic, exams, deadlines, family drama, you name it. Yet, some individuals simply do not let it affect them, and some are quite easily affected. It’s almost as though the only prevention is changing your own expectations, rather than specific circumstances around you (unless you just happen to be in the most frustrating job or relationship of your life, and then yes, the external piece matters).

A friend recently said to me, “I am just going to make a decision to not be stressed”. If you think about it, simple words, but extremely powerful. So I’ve tried to put into practice lately. I haven’t always been successful, but the times that I have been, it works almost like magic.

I am a chronic over-thinker. I can over-think, over-analyze, over-discuss just about anything under the sun. I have, however, started to think a few times before making a decision about how worried I am going to be about something. I just make a decision in my head saying, this is not going to bother me. And believe it or not, it actually helps instantly. It most certainly does not make the problem go away. But it does make it more manageable.

The only downside to this is laziness. Why of all things laziness? Well, stress can actually be a fantastic motivator. It propels action like no other mechanism I know, save deep, unrelenting passion for something. However, say it isn’t something that is absolutely enthralling to you. There is a chance that you can “de-stress” a problem away, so much so that when time comes to deliver, your calm demeanor has led to zero results. But to me, this has more to do with time management than a stress-free life.

What are some other things that are helping? Yoga has actually been a welcome change in my routine. I’m certainly not great at it, but I find that the breathing helps decompress and center in a way like nothing else. Hot yoga? That’s a different story (short version: no thanks). Reading each night before bed rather than checking my phone (although I’m guilty of that a lot). And Stickies – I am rediscovering my love for the sticky to-do list. Overall, there are some ways to minimize some of the self-inflicted damage we do to ourselves, and keep what little elasticity we have for stress to those events completely out of our control.

Everything Old is New Again

7 Jan

I first stepped foot in Evanston more than ten years ago (yikes!) and graduated six and a half years ago. It’s hard to wrap my head around just how much as changed in these ten years.

Yet, as I walk around Evanston in 2013, I feel as though very little actually has. My husband is doing his MBA at Kellogg, and I’m spending the month here on a much needed break from school. As I walk around downtown Evanston, I find myself taking the exact same walks I have taken a thousand times. Coffee at Starbucks, ambling through Barnes and Noble, sampling expeditions to Whole Foods, movies at Century. Sounds like something you can do in any gentrified chain store-heavy town anywhere in America (and yes, it is). Yet doing these exact same things several years later gets my mind racing about all the things I’ve done right and most importantly wrong during college, after college and way way after college 🙂

Right after I graduated, my visits to Evanston felt a little odd. I felt as though I had left some of these memories far behind and whether good or bad, did not care to be reminded. In 2011, I moved here after I got married, and experienced six-months as a townie – an Evanstonian with no immediate connection to Northwestern. It was a total revelation to experience Evanston from a different perspective – new friends, different restaurants (That Little Mexican Cafe replaced Chipotle), new bars (Bar Louie replaced Nevin’s), etc. I was probably too spaced out to really enjoy it, and soon enough, we found ourselves moving to Columbus, OH. My Evanston reunion was short-lived.

Fastforward a year, and I was back in Evanston, this time visiting my husband at business school. So much had changed in the preceding two years (four moves, two jobs, and now school) that school felt like  a distant memory. And my hubby being in school made everything feel fresh – I loved seeing everything through his eyes again. My constant thinking did not stop though – I kept evaluating how my life had changed in the ten years since I first got here – particularly, how I wish I had valued school when I was in undergrad the way I value it now as a PhD student. My academic choices seemed particularly silly in retrospect.

Yet despite my ruminations, I do feel a sense of peace this time around in Evanston. I’m in a happier place in life than I have been in the past. And while I certainly do not expect for us to live here in the years to come, I finally feel as though I can put all those negative thoughts to bed and focus on what I did gain – good friends and key life lessons that will stay with me forever.

Chicago has played and will continue to play a vital role in my life. I was born here, went to college here, was married here, and most important, have many of my closest family living here.  And so, as I cruise Lakeshore Drive, hit up Devon Street, ride on the Green Line to my parents’ home and explore Andersonville, I am always reminded how fresh and alive this city can feel, even a decade later. Sweet Home Chicago!

Honest Abe on the Big Screen

29 Nov

My inner history nerd was out in full force last night when I watched Lincoln, Steven Spielberg’s artful new film about the last few months of Abraham Lincoln’s life. It took me right back to my undergrad years, when I was majoring in US history, convinced that I was going to do a PhD in American civil rights movements in mid-twentieth century. Fastforward 10 years – the PhD part is true, but that’s where the parallels end.

I had mixed expectations going into the film. The trailer had me a tad underwhelmed, and I really couldn’t imagine how a movie that seemed steeped in rhetoric was going to keep up a strong pace for several hours (Spielberg? Less than two hours? Not a chance).

Not only did the movie far surpass all my expectations, I left feeling as though somehow, I was privy to a special, rarified side of American history. Granted, the movie is probably filled with historical inaccuracies For example, an NU professor, Kate Masur took to the NY Times Op-Ed page to decry the filmmakers crucial emission of African Americans’ role in ending slavery.

Despite all this, the film was arresting. With this performance, Daniel Day-Lewis has cemented his place as one of the finest actors to ever grace this planet. I was a little nervous about ‘the voice’ after watching the trailer, but his acting was so powerful that I came away feeling sad about the assassination of a president who has been gone for 150 years. The supporting cast is just terrific, particularly David Strathairn has Secretary of State William Seward. The costumes, sets and cinematography are bathed in authenticity. Many of the actors even look strikingly similar to their characters – see here for more on this.

The release of this film following the 2012 Presidential Election is poignant. Listening to the main players of the day debate about whether African Americans could ‘handle’ freedom, throws into sharp relief the fact that the current occupants of the White House are black. It underscores a point that politics aside, Obama’s presidency is a milestone in the history of race in this country.

But more interestingly to me was the dynamic between the parties – the more liberal Republican party and the stiffly conservative Democrats (oh how the tables have turned). The debates in the House of Representatives recalled a brutal, yet humorous rhetorical style, in many ways similar to what we see in today’s Congress (minus the humor). I wonder if folks will look back on the discourse taking place regarding same-sex marriage and wonder, wow those guys really didn’t get.

No doubt Oscar buzz will drive more people to see the movie in the coming months – but would suggest you guys get a head start and watch this film ASAP.

Brad Pitt’s new commercial – whaaa?

5 Nov

If you haven’t already seen Brad Pitt’s (insert your own adjective for crazy here) new commercial, I urge you – please visit this link. It will be the best thing you do all day 🙂

Obviously, this ad is ripe for ridicule. Of all the spoofs I’ve seen, this one hands down wins –

Oh Brad, what you won’t do to donate your money to charity 🙂

Election Mood Swings

11 Oct

I find myself in wild mood swings when thinking about the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election. This is definitely a far cry from how I felt in 2008, but up until a few months ago, nothing really bothered me about it. I just figured there would be more clarity and precision as the election neared.

Here I am in October, less than a month away from Election Day, more confused than ever. There is no doubt in my mind who I will vote for (hope springs eternal). But something about this entire campaign rings false to me, and that’s even harder to swallow given the numbers of people who truly care about change for this country.

Let’s consider the debate for a moment. I personally did not find Obama’s performance bad. I actually thought he had some great lines and made excellent points. However, after reading Maureen Dowd’s excellent Op-Ed today, a few pieces clicked in my head.

I realized that we all want him to succeed so much, that we excuse a lot of his behavior. And yes, it is true that there are many solid justifications for why things have not gone 100% right in his first term. That does not excuse, however, an inability to communicate your vision. It says a lot when you need to call in Bill Clinton (close to four years after you have been elected) to provide the most lucid description of your policies to date.

I am probably drinking the kool-aid in terms of how the media is spinning this entire story. However, the repeated nature of this communication problem makes it that much more intolerable. As a supporter, I can excuse a lot of these challenges during the campaign. I will not accept it during his next term.

Something tells me that Obama will turn it around in just a few months. Which brings me full circle to 2008 and the word that stirred an entire generation to action – hope.

Baltimore – First Thoughts

28 Aug

It’s been over a week since my move to Baltimore – quite short, but enough time to get a flavor of the place. So far, so good. Yes, there are Wire-esque aspects to it, but this city deserves far more credit than it is given.

There are some beautiful neighborhoods,  excellent food, and above all, good people. Clearly, there is a lot of history in this town. I’ve particularly enjoyed views of and from the harbor. There’s something about being near a water body that is instantly calming.

Here are some snaps of my neighborhood, Mount Vernon. Look out for more posts on Baltimore in the future!

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