Thursday, January 31, 2008


I had some strange new TV show on in the background while I was working tonight.

No, it wasn't Lost.

It was Eli Stone.

I wasn't paying much attention but I caught bits and pieces; the protagonist is a hard-nosed lawyer who keeps hearing George Michael's "Faith" in his head; suddenly he starts seeing signs and doing pro bono work and visiting an acupuncturist - who tells him that God is everywhere.

Next thing you know, he wins the case against the evil vaccine manufacturer, makes peace with his long-dead father and is planning a trip to India.

More here.

*that would be union-with-God yoga, not foot-behind-the-head yoga.

* * *

How funny - the evening news just showed A Red Orchid Theatre artistic director Guy Van Swearingen shoveling snow in front of the theater - like he's just another blue collar guy (actually, he's also a full-time firefighter). You just don't get that kind of dichotomy in NYC. Ah, Chicago....

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


The Washington Post recently ran a piece called, "In India's huge marketplace, fair skin sells."

It discusses how Eastern European models with dark hair and light skin are being featured in Indian adverts.

"Indians have a longing for that pure, beautiful white skin. It is too deep-rooted in our psyche," said Enakshi Chakraborty, who heads Eskimo India, a modeling agency that brings East European models here. "Advertisers for international as well as Indian brands call me and say, 'We are looking for a gori [Hindi for white] model with dark hair.' Some ask, 'Do you have white girls who are Indian-looking?' They want white girls who suit the Indian palate."

Indians' color fixation is also evident in classified newspaper ads and on Web sites that help arrange marriages. The descriptive terms used for skin color run the gamut: "very fair," "fair," "wheat-ish," "wheat-ish-medium," "wheat-ish-dark," "dark" and "very dark."

Family elders here commonly comment on a newborn baby's color, after checking out the gender. One of the best-selling skin creams in India is called Fair & Lovely. A men's version, Fair and Handsome, was launched last year.

"The Indian mind-set prefers light skin. My pictures are routinely Photoshopped to make me look a bit lighter -- a lot lighter, actually," Riya Ray, 23, a dark-skinned Indian model, said with a laugh. "But when I work in Britain and France, my color is praised as exotic. It is a two-way trend: Indian models are going abroad, and foreign models are coming here."

I can't help but think of Raj, from my first trip in India back in 2002.

He made frequent trips between Mysore and Bangalore on his silver Honda Hero Super Special motorcycle, and was seriously thinking about getting a helmet.

To protect your head? I asked.

"No, Cadda. To protect face from sun."


"So I do not become too dark."

Even Desi TJ - who's lived here for eight years - was concerned last month that his skin looked darker after two months in the Subcontinental sun.

Silly man. Doesn't he know that gori girls dig that sh-t?

Apparently not.

Click here for the full article.

Saturday, January 26, 2008


I must say, it's fun to be a frigid hipster once in a blue moon.

After seeing Redmoon's surprisngly good Hunchback last night, we went for tea and talking instead of Heather McAdams' sold-out show at Hideout. It's such a relief to find out you're not the only one without prior knowledge of the Hunchback story. Plus walking around onstage and touching the puppets, contraptions, etc. and chatting to cast members after the performance conspire to make one feel childlike again. And it was snowing the entire evening.

Despite all that I couldn't sleep past 7:45 this morn, so I went to Mysore class with Suddha, who always attracts such a nice group. Marikay was there and afterwards we made plans to cross-country ski tomorrow afternoon - provided the snow hasn't melted.

After getting home I did my sitting and then called Ammu, who is in Bangalore working on a film. I started babbling to him about the incredible karma yogi Shashi Kapoor, and he told me that he'd been part of some big brothel scandal last year. I was aghast, and after we hung up I went online to see for myself. But I found no evidence of it. Nor did I find anything about the massive tsunami he said was poised to hit the US today....

I had a bath, put on Indian dress (with long underwear) and drove up to Devon to see Kirti and and overgraze her buffet with my editor. It was snowing again and of course I wore the wrong boots (the suede ones that look good but act like a sponge). We had Kirti's special homemade Gujarati chai both before and after lunch, so the conversation flew fast and furious.

Afterwards, still high on chai, I came home and worked on The Magnum Opus and homework and a restaurant review. Somewhere in there I called the grand-niece, who turned three today and received a purple Barbie bicycle to mark the occasion. Apparently she can't figure out how to pedal the thing. This information came from her father; turns out her phone attention span is even shorter than my own.

The chai is still animating me; rather than paying bills though, I think I'll stop and watch a bit of Muqaddar Ka Sikandar before hitting the sack. The soundtrack, by the way, is sublime.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


I've been sick the past few days, which has allowed me to catch up on sleep - and movies.

Make that Merchant-Ivory movies. Written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.

And starring the incredible Shashi Kapoor

First up was Shakespeare Wallah, about a touring British Shakespeare company playing to dwindling audiences in post-Raj India. The score was by none other than the great Bengali filmmaker Satyajit Ray.

Kapoor plays the playboy who falls for the daughter of the couple who run the touring company. She's played by Felicity Kendal - the younger sister of Kapoor's real-life wife, Jennifer.

Of course the playboy could not commit.

Next up was the first-ever Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala production, The Householder.

In this one, Shashi Kapoor stars as an unhappy college lecturer in a new, unhappy marriage.

It was so depressing at first that I nearly shut it off. His character reminded me of the worst aspects of my (formerly negative) self.

But I stuck with it, and it paid off.

One hilarious scene had the straightlaced Kapoor visiting the home of some Bohemian American expats who love all things Indian. They kept hammering away at him: "What type of yoga do you do? Hatha? Bhakti? What type of yoga?" and he was, like, "What do you mean?" There's a similar sequence with a crazy western saddhu wannabe in Heat and Dust.

What is clear about these movies (and the M-I film Heat and Dust, in which Shashi plays a down-on-his-luck nawab who gets the firangi girl) is how much the filmmakers love India.

It's an interesting collaboration: James Ivory is an American Protestant, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala is a Eastern-European Jew, and Ismail Merchant is (was) an Indian Muslim. The Householder was the first feature for all of them. Merchant got the money together and did all of the lawyering, accounting, etc. Jhabvala wrote her first screenplay (in a mere two weeks) and her husband, an Indian architect, helped fund the film.

Ivory had only made documentaries before. They were using the crew usually employed by Satyajit Ray, and when they disembarked from the train with all of their gear Ivory was flummoxed - and had to pretend he knew what to do.

The films are stunningly beautiful, by the way.

Apparently Ray bailed them out again later, when they brought him their first edit.

He re-edited it, and Ivory kept what he did - adding just a single sequence.

My next M-I-J film will be Bombay Talkie - starring Shashi and Jennifer Kapoor as a mysogynist Bollywood film star and a rootless, needy writer. Hmmmmmm........

All of these films, by the way, are available on Netflix.


Apparently Shashi Kapoor swore off acting in 1992 and spends much of his time working with cancer patients).

Apparently he finally found his yoga: Karma Yoga.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


AND understands that yoga is a spiritual practice.

An excerpt:

Dharmanidhi referred to partner yoga as "a joke," rather than "bullshit," but the sentiment seemed the same.) Dharmanidhi, who is a recognized guru and Hindu priest, told me he thinks teachers who use partnering exercises to help their students gain more sensation and awareness "might have their hearts in the right place," but what they're doing isn't yoga. As Dharmanidhi explained it to me, the goal of yoga is to "achieve union with your essence" through a combination of physical and metaphysical means, including postures (asanas), breathing exercises and meditation. (Unlike the impression given by most American yoga classes, physical postures make up a very small part of this package.)

Traditionally, yoga is taught one-on-one, takes years to master and has nothing to do with improving the definition of your shoulder muscles. It also emphasizes emotional detachment, which is difficult to achieve if your head is in someone's junk. But Dharmanidhi's biggest point was this: Yoga is an integral part of Hinduism, and Americanized yoga -- whether it's called Ashtanga, Iyengar, Bikram, Vinyasa or anything in between -- is a bastardization of a spiritual practice.

The full article is here.

Monday, January 21, 2008


Everyone's making a big deal this year about January 21st.

Supposedly it's the most depressing day of the year.

This is according to U.K. psychologist Cliff Arnall, who specializes in seasonal disorders at the University of Cardiff, Wales. Apparently it has to do with money, weather, and failed New Year's resolutions. Arnall calculated it using seven variables: (W) weather, (D) debt, (d) monthly salary, (T) time since Christmas, (Q) time since failed quit attempt, (M) low motivational levels and (NA) the need to take action.

Sounds like fuzzy math to me - especially when you consider that he calculated this day for a British travel firm. Apparently Brits book trips to sunny destinations when they're low, and this company wanted to figure out when to make its biggest marketing push.

If this theory were indeed based on fact - and I think it's bullocks - then it makes more sense to see the glass half full.

If today really is the most depressing day of the year - and we're just three weeks into it - then the rest of the year will be a breeze.


For my account of the hell that was January 24, 2005 - that year's worst day of the year - click here.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


Yesterday SportMarty and I finally went to see The Savages. It was a nearly perfect film. It explored the death of an abusive parent and one of the most complex and long-lasting relationships there is - between siblings.

It got every detail right, down to the adminstrator pushing the legal documents towards Philip Seymour Hoffman rather than Laura Linney, to the sad, slow waltz you make to the bathroom with an ailing parent, to the reckless sampling the deceased's medication, to the type of car driven by the married lover (a vintage silver Volvo wagon). It was written and directed by a woman, Tamra Jenkins.

Plus they shot it in Buffalo. In the winter. When it was snowing. That takes some nakas.

It tugged at the emotions, yet somehow wasn't manipulative. In fact it was more funny than sad. Not once did it become sentimental; witness Linney wrenching her prized red pillow from the arms of a wrinkled woman in wheelchair, who screamed in anguish. There was never a scene where the siblings tried to placate or patronize their father.

Nor were the points Jenkins was trying to make driven into the ground; either you got it or you didn't (these included sutble slaps at institutionalized racism, mainstream attitudes towards the immigrant underclass, and self-indulgent bourgeoisie art; its details - such as how the airline gets a wheelchair-bound passenger from the gate to his seat - provided a sly commentary on just how dehumanizing life is today).

This was the second film in a row where I actually saw someone like myself on the big screen, which is a rare thing indeed. Linney played an unproduced NYC playwright who'd been raised by wolves and was coming to terms with her father's dementia and a bad relationship (thankfully they did not give this role to Jennifer Jason Leigh); in Starting out in the Evening Lili Taylor was an NYC yoga instructor dealing with her father's decline and trying to get herself heard in a recently-rekindled relationship.

Both women were single. And my age. And struggling with real issues. And not portrayed as pariahs.

Maybe this isn't such a bad year for movies after all.


After seeing the film, I had to call my brother (Dreyfus). It made me realize just how lucky I am to have him - a point my mother made again and again when he and I used to fight, and which was never driven home until after she passed.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


While listening to Eight Forty-Eight today I was reminded of my very first crush on a courageous Desi creative nonfiction genius -- sociologist and former Chicagoan Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh, author of the new book Gang Leader for a Day.

It reminded me that sociology was my first love (I once quit a PhD program in sociology).

He also used to be a filmmaker - my other obsession (I once quit a Master's program in film).

And he's a writer to boot (I also once quit Medill's Master's program in journalism)!

He's like the me I'd always wanted to be - only with balls.

Sudhir did a lot of work at the old Robert Taylor Homes - aka the worst projects in Chicago, back when there were projects - and I remember writing something (brief) about him way-back-when for the Backwards R. He spent some 15 years documenting the lives of the people who live(d) there.

Actually, he describes himself as a "rogue sociologist" - which makes him all the more intriguing.

From an article in yesterday's International Herald-Tribune:

Dissatisfied with opinion surveys and statistical analysis as ways to describe the life of the poor, he reverted to the methods of his predecessors at the University of Chicago, who took an ethnographic approach to the study of hobos, hustlers and politicians. Much like a journalist, he observed, asked questions and drew conclusions as he accumulated raw data.

Apparently no one knew what to make of him because he wasn't white (like the police) or black (like the residents). This made it easier to trust him, and he was taken under the wing of a gang leader named J.T.

One glorious day J. T. lets Venkatesh get a taste of power and the problems that come with it. He allows him to make the daily rounds of the platoons under his command — six-man crews that deal in crack cocaine — and try to sort out the petty squabbles and mistakes endemic in a criminal enterprise comprising 250 underpaid, uneducated and violent soldiers.

All this is much better than toting a clipboard. "It was pretty thrilling to have a gang boss calling me up to go hang out with him," writes Venkatesh, who ridicules his own naïveté but just as often fails to rise above it.

Without question, Venkatesh is dazzled by J. T. and seduced by the gang life. He maintains enough distance, however, to appraise the information he is given and to build up, through careful observation, a detailed picture of life at the project. He writes what might be called tabloid sociology, but it rests on a solid foundation of data, like records of the gang's finances turned over to him by T-Bone, its treasurer.

Like everyone worth their mettle, Sudhir has ditched Chicago. He's now Professor of Sociology & African-American Studies at Columbia University.

One can't help but wonder if he too lives in Park Slope.

The radio piece I heard today is here. The interviewer, by the way, often attends my Thursday night ashtanga class.


*I still adore Suketu Mehta and will continue to stalk him whenever I'm in Park Slope.

Both he and Sudhir:

1. Did years and years of research before taking even more time to write their utterly amazing books

2. Were in verrrrry dangerous situations but stuck it out (among other things, Sudhir's affiliation with Gang A, made him a target for Gang B; Suketu had a gun put to his head by one of Bombay's top mobstas)

3. "Crossed the line" with their subjects (among other things, Sudhir adminstered a kick in the stomach to a wife-beater who had a choke-hold on one of his gangsta friends; Suketu accepted one of his subjects' invitation to co-write the film Mission Kashmir.

4. Ditched Chicago for NYC

Monday, January 14, 2008


On Friday night 20/20 did a theme show about happiness, exploring who has it (denizens of Demark, Singapore and Asheville, NC) and how to get it (stop shopping / quit complaining / get on a bicycle).

I prefer the word "contentment," since it's less loaded / manic.

But it's their show.

The found that having children does not make people happier. Ha!

Being married does. Wah!

So does having connections with other people, doing meaningful work and thinking positive thoughts.

They're also happy in Denmark because they don't spend all of their time shopping and they're not afraid of the future. If something happens, they know they'll be taken care of (the government pays for health care and spends more per capita on children and the elderly than any other country). Also, even the worst jobs seem to bring in a good salary, and 92 percent of Danes belong to some sort of hobbyist club. Plus they trust their government and ride bicycles.

I think we're unhappy in the US because we're isolated from each other and our culture is based on fear and accumulating useless dreck. We'd rather watch people abuse each other on our flat-screen TV than see our friends. (Also, the people here seem to think that the right to "the pursuit of happiness" means they are should be happy all the time - and if they're not, they're missing out on something everyone else has. This thinking breeds a very dangerous sense of entitlement.).

The most amazing thing about the show was this:

They said that 50 percent of a person's "happiness" is based on genes (this was bad news for me, considering the forebears' attempts at hari kari). Ten percent is based on current circumstances, and a whopping 40 percent is in our control.

Forty percent! In our control!

And then they dropped the biggest bomb of all: If you spend a half hour every day sitting quietly and thinking about kindness and compassion for two weeks, your perspective will change and you will start to become happy. It's actually been scientifically proven:

"The happiness activities are not going to surprise anyone," Lyubomirsky said. "I mean, they're things like gratitude, forgiveness, relationships, savoring the present moment, meditation. I try to sort of determine to what extent those things are supported by research."

Davidson would agree. He has studied the brains of Buddhist monks, men who spend their lives deliberately forcing positive emotions, and their happiness is off the charts. His new data claims that if a person sits quietly for a half-hour a day just thinking about kindness and compassion, their brain will show noticeable changes in just two weeks.

"In many ways, this is the most important idea in neuroscience in the last decade," he said. "Our brains are just waiting to be transformed, and they're always being transformed. But we can take responsibility and change the brain in more positive ways."

"Research is showing pretty convincingly now that happiness is really within us, it's not outside of us," said Lyubomirsky. "It's in what we do. It's sort of how we act, how we think every day of our lives."

One can only magine what would happen if people watched 30 minutes less TV each day, and used that time to sit.....

GlaxoSmithKline and Eli Lilly would go out of business.

Part I of the 20 / 20 piece is here.

Part II (with the monks) is here.

(Funny - I don't remember them talking to any nonwhite Americans for the show).

More on Denmark here.

I can't help but wonder about their immigration policy, being a quarter Dansk and all....

*Santosh = Hindi for contentment or happiness

Saturday, January 12, 2008


My favorite of course is the five-gallon coin.


Thanks to Dreyfus for the link.

Friday, January 11, 2008


(which may bring to mind Truman Capote's famous one-liner about Jack Kerouac's On the Road: "That's not writing at all. It's ty-ping.")

the procession form the washington mall to the
supreme court was quite stunning and effective a long long line, 2
by 2 i think we were as many as is currently in gtmo to date. all
clad in orange suits and black hoods hands behind our backs heads
down utterly silent in fact dc seemed so quiet not sure
if any regular people live there anyway we get to the court and
then those risking arrest went and kneeled on the steps of the
court no one is allowed on the steps at any time meanwhile a
group had gotten inside the building and were hoping to unfurl a
massive "close guantanamo " banner unsure if that happened as
there were conflicting reports cops everywhere just waiting to get
stuck in which they did sometime after the kneeling on the steps
all were taken away they may get out tomorrow maybe monday
whilst they were being taken away the permitted demo area was
chanting "arrest bush" "arrest cheney" "stop torture" there
was also a little stage and some speakers pete seeger's grandson
was playing freedom songs on the guitar the family business
apparently. the day had started with an amnesty international
rally at the mall, in the rain some speakers and general calls
for action the rain stopped the minute the procession started the
night before i fell asleep under the large wooden suspended jebus
in the church only to be woken all night by mass snoring of all
varieties thank god for the walkman we performed a piece and
people liked it i got a couple of "oh you're the guy who did the
great piece last year" lets hope we dont have to do it again next

My other lawyer-cum-rock star ex and I ran into none other than Thurgood Marshall on those very same steps back in 1987.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


"I'll be wearing orange because I believe in human rights." — Susan Sarandon

The first prisoners arrived at the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay on January 11, 2002. Guantánamo quickly became an international embarrassment. It has made a mockery of our laws and values for six long years. We won’t allow seven; this is the year we are going to end the national disgrace

Nationwide, the ACLU has set January 11th as a day of protest, declaring that it’s long past time that we put an end to illegality and close down Guantánamo. The ACLU and organizations across the country are asking people of conscience to wear orange to protest Guantánamo. I hope you will consider standing in solidarity by wearing orange on Friday as well.

More info here.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


This awesome video was created by the Alliance for Humane Action, a new humane (not human) resource network for Northern Illinois. "Whether you're looking for a low cost spay and neuter clinic, a feral cat program, or help for an injured turtle you found on the side of the road, our Resource Network, once complete, will be the place to find the best resource."

My dear friend Deb is one of the group's cofounders. (It's though her that I found my naughty cat Kirby).

Click here to read her blog.

I know that some of you are thinking, "That video is cute, but I want my cats to be 'free' and 'natural' and don't want to 'fix' them.

Well, consider these sad statistics from PAWS:

- One female cat and her offspring can produce over 420,000 cats in seven years!
- Euthanasia is the #1 killer of cats.
- 80% of impounded cats are killed in shelters every year!
- Only 2% of impounded cats are reunited with their owners.
- In 2004, 24,092 cats and dogs were killed in Chicago's
shelters because there were not enough homes for
unwanted animals.
- Spaying and neutering stops the cycle of breeding.

For info on free or low-cost neuter and spay in Chicago, go here.

Monday, January 07, 2008


Apparently some people are getting hurt in yoga class.

From a piece Sunday's "Iowa City Press-Citizen":

Many people such as Miller suffer injuries from yoga, but instead of quitting they alter their practice. There are a variety of ways to explain the pain, such as matching the wrong technique to your body’s needs, as in Miller’s case. Others suggest the problem is rooted in inexperienced and overzealous teachers and participants jumping on the yoga bandwagon.

Recently, the Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that 14 million people practice yoga or tai chi in the U.S., which is up 136 percent since 2000. With that surge, there have been an eye-popping number of injuries. The commission reported that 13,000 Americans were treated in a doctor’s office or emergency room for yoga-related injuries over the past three years.....

.....The recent “yoga craze,” as Footner describes it, has cast a spotlight on this ancient practice and exposed yoga as a way to care for people’s bodies, which is a good thing, she said. But it also has opened the door for injuries due to ambitious but insufficiently trained instructors and participants.

“There are a lot of untrained people teaching yoga,” Footner said. “When they don’t know what they are doing, people can get hurt.”

But wait, there's more:

Tips for finding a good yoga instructor

 How many years have they studied yoga, before becoming a teacher? Where did they train to become a teacher?
 Do they practice daily outside of their class?
 Ask them about their continuing education.
 Ask them about their certification: How long did it take?
 Watch if they are paying attention to what you are doing. Are they moving around the room in order to observe and assist, or staying in one place?
 Did the teacher ask you about any injuries or physical conditions, such as recent surgeries, high blood pressure or pregnancy?
 Is the teacher demonstrating how to do a posture or expecting you to just follow along?

The question they neglected to include is Why did they decide to become a yoga teacher?

The best answer is, "My teacher asked me to."

Depending, of course, on who the teacher is.

The full piece is here.

Saturday, January 05, 2008


A suburban man recently allegedly set a fire, in which his daughter and her husband and son died.

The father has said it was because the husband was of an inferior caste (the son-in-law's surname seems to place him somewhere in the merchant or "third" caste.

So yesterday Eight Forty Eight did a piece on how caste plays out in America.

The intro:

India’s caste system has been in the headlines ever since Subhash Chander was charged with murdering his pregnant daughter and her family last weekend in the south suburban community of Oak Forest.

Prosecutors say Chander deliberately set his daughter’s apartment on fire-- killing her, her unborn baby, her son and her husband. Chander is reported to have been angry that his daughter married a man from a lower caste.

The story shocked many Chicagoans used to different attitudes toward class and social background in the US. It made us curious to find out just how closely Indian immigrants adhere to the caste system once they settle in the U.S.

Hear it here.

Friday, January 04, 2008


From yesterday's article, spotted by Catesey:

Originally part of a millennia-old Indian yogic tradition, the practice of nasal irrigation — jala neti — is performed with a small pot that looks like a cross between Aladdin’s lamp and your grandmother’s gravy boat. The neti pot made its way into this country in the early 1970s as a yoga meditation device, but even as yoga became mainstream, the neti pot remained on the fringes of alternative culture.

That is, until now. Due to a confluence of influences, the neti pot is having what can only be termed a moment, sold in drugstores, health food stores, even at Wal-Mart and Walgreens.

"The practice gained wide exposure last spring when it was introduced on Oprah Winfrey’s show by a frequent guest, Dr. Mehmet Oz, a cardiothoracic surgeon and an author of health books. Dr. Oz explained that bathing the sinus cavities in a warm saline solution can reduce symptoms of allergies, cold, flu and other nasal problems....

I've been using the thing since they demystified its use at last February's teacher training with Dharma Mittra.

The results have indeed been amazing.

Just make sure that you use 1/4 tsp fine, non-iodized salt and lukewarm water - mixed well. Also be sure to stack one ear on top of the other when pouring (so it doesn't go out the mouth - which isn't as bad as it sounds). Most important: Lower the head and snort hard at the end, so you get everything out.

Expletives are optional.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008


Receive a call from India just before Midnight NYE


Wake up. Eat fruit. Pay estimated taxes. Clear off desk. Go back to sleep.

Make calls to friends.

Water plants.

Chai up.


Practice, ending with Chandra Om's half-hour guided Yoga Nidra (savasana)


Pet the cat.

Make Hoppin' John and greens.


Watch the snow fall.

Make calls.


Talk on phone.

Receive invitations to visit friends. Notice near-blizzard conditions outside. Decline.

Take down Xmas tree.

Finish watching Taming of the Shrew

Start sorting through / purging videos. Call Gridlife. Learn that some are worth $24.99 and up.

Make more calls.

Clean out bathroom cabinet.

Start watching Shakespeare Wallah

Write short-term goals in brand-new journal.

Read a chapter from The Mastery of Love.


Wake up at 5:15AM. Chai up. Clean up.

Trudge half-mile in -3 windchill to snow-encrusted car.

Car starts!