Je m’appelle…

Hello world! Or hello 825 followers if I’m being more precise! First post in over a month but who’s counting? Are you counting? I hope so.

A lot has happened since we chatted last. Some work. Some home. Mostly TV. More to come on that later.

Today’s post is about my name. Yep. Mi nombre. A few weeks ago my daughter’s boyfriend (adorable guy), asked if he could interview me about my first generation childhood. He said it’d take an hour and he’d ask me questions about my childhood, adolescence, etc. My answer was yes, of course. An hour to talk about myself as if I was on Oprah (not the new Super Sunday version…the old 4pm talk show version)? Who would say no to this? Not me. Not the gal who literally started a blog thinking people were dying to know crap I did and do and think about. Anyway it was so much fun. He promised to share the final version of it with me and if it’s flattering and makes me out of be some national Indian treasure, I’ll share it with you.

I’m telling you about the interview for two reasons. 1) to show off, obviously 2) because it got me thinking about my childhood. I don’t think I’ve ever spent that much time talking about how I grew up since…well since I started dating my husband and he grilled me like the FBI. But lately, something has been coming up. For some reason, in the past year, maybe 2 years – I’ve gotten a lot of questions about my name. Specifically…how my name is pronounced. Even more specifically – how I’m letting people mispronounce my name.

My name is Neha.

It’s an old-school Indian name derived from the Sanskrit version (Sneha). It means love and tenderness – which will come as a big surprise to those who usually use other words to describe me. You know who you are. In the proper Indian dialect (choose your favorite), it’s pronounced Neigh-Ha. Neigh…like what horses say, and a very soft ha. Not like a karate chop HA! That’s how my very young, wonderful parents imagined my name being said all over India.

Except my young, wonderful parents didn’t stay in India. They hauled ass to the USA. Jackson Heights, Queens to be exact – in 1979ish. To get the exact date I’d have to call my mother and disclose why I need this info, to which she’d say I’m giving super personal info to strangers on the internet who want to kill me. True story. My mother thinks the internet is out to get me. She’s right of course.

Let me set the stage. Jackson Heights today is not what Jackson Heights of the late 70s/early 80s was. Today, there’s so many Indian immigrants that have settled there, they call parts of it Little India. Back then it was still mostly immigrants, but there was a broader mix – Chinese, African, Puerto Rican, and some Italian and Irish to balance it out. In today’s Jackson Heights – my young self would have had other Nehas to mix and mingle with. My young self would have gone to a school full of other people that looked, talked, lived like me. But that’s not how it was.

My dad was a pharmacist – the reason we came to the US was for his job. My mom was a teacher in India but her certifications weren’t accepted here, so she got some random part-time work. My parents did one thing. They worked. They didn’t socialize. They didn’t have hobbies. They worked. I had a job too. One job. School. That’s all I had to do. My entire focus was school (and TV. Indians love TV. It’s a stereotype I know, but it’s also true). As was the case for most of my elementary and middle school life, I was the only Indian in my classes – and sometimes in the school.

I don’t remember the first time I said my name to someone outside my family. I wish I did. I wish I could remember how and why my name began being pronounced like Leah…as if it was spelled Neah…Knee-ya. It all makes sense. I’m sure I wanted to fit in. I’m sure I wanted to not be different, but I don’t remember making a calculated effort to change how people pronounce my name. But maybe I did. I definitely wanted to assimilate. I wanted to dress like everyone else, eat like everyone else (lost cause), date like everyone else. My idea of a perfect boy was a blonde, blue-eyed dude with a one syllable name. Speaking of names, I would have given up a limb to be called Kelly, Jane or some other really white name, so maybe this was the closest fix. I just wish I could remember that happening. I probably need some deep therapy to remember, but the irony is that I remember other things really well from that time. The Saturday night line-up…. Dance Fever followed by Love Boat and ending with Fantasy Island. I remember the slice of pizza my mom got me every Friday after school – this was early 80s NYC pizza. Big. Flat. Foldable. I remember getting a Rubix’s Cube. It was my parent’s favorite kind of toy. Quiet, cheap, and portable. I remember all kinds of useless info. The moment that changed the way people said my name? Not so much.

I’m going to interrupt this line of thought for a quick moment. One of the things I get asked often when i’m trying to explain why my name is pronounced the way it is, is this question,” well how does your family say your name? Do they use the wrong version too?” No. No they don’t use the “wrong” version. They don’t use any version. My family almost never, and I mean literally almost never, calls me by my given name. For the majority of my childhood I was known by a pet name – a loving moniker – Bittu. And it’s pronounced how it looks. Bit-To. It means “little one” or “little thing” or something like that. That’s what my parents, aunts and uncles called me. Once I had cousins old enough to talk, they called me Didi. Which means “big sister”. I know what you’re thinking…I’m a cousin, so why call me a sister? It gets even better. Now every member of the family calls me Didi, including my parents. Confusing, right? Listen – I can’t explain why all Indians are confusing – I can only explain the ways I’m confusing. Are you still with me? Are you over it? Bored? How many times have you checked your insta? Tell the truth. I just needed you to have some background since I assume you’re making a case in your head about why I’m a psycho.

So after Jackson Heights my parents moved us to the hub of diversity and inclusiveness known as Albany, NY. No offense if it’s gone through some major change and my sarcasm no longer applies. Remember when I said I was the only Indian in the school growing up? Well in Albany I was the only person of color in the entire school! And it was middle school to boot. Good times. Actually they were good times. I have been incredibly lucky in my life and have always met friends who helped me through. In 7th grade something amazing happened. Two Pakistani girls moved to town. Twins. Huma and Asma. We immediately became friends. They were my first ethnic friends! I mean I tried being friends with a girl named Chang back in Queens but she was allowed to hang out less than I was so it didn’t work. I enjoyed my white friends whose parents let them come to my house for hours with no issue. Anyway – back to my first brown friends. They had just moved here from London. Dad was a doctor and divorced (scandal!). They came to the US to be closer to his sister. They all had these amazing accents which somehow cancelled out their “otherness” and made them hugely popular. It didn’t hurt that they were loaded and had a house with a pool (a rare jewel in Albany). Their dad worked crazy hours and the girls were mostly home alone – another bonus. I loved their house. It was the opposite of my house. No one cooked. My house smelled of ginger and garlic all day. Their house smelled of…nothing. Heaven. The twins’ dad was the first person to tell me that I was mispronouncing my name. Lucky for me his daughters were mortified and told him to never to talk to me again and I moved on.

Actually my family moved on. We moved from Albany to Harrisburg, PA. Again, Harrisburg today has a full, lively Indian culture. Back then? Nada.

My dad believed any religion was good religion – so I went to a Catholic High School. It was diverse”ish”….but guess which population there was only one of? That’s right people. Still me representing all Indians. Dot. Not feather.

It wasn’t until I went to college in NYC, where I minored in religion (by mistake) and had to join a club as part of my Religions of the World class, that I met a whole bunch of Indians. I joined The South Asian Club for two long months. They were a nice bunch – most of them had grown-up in Queens, in the exact neighborhood that I’d started out in. Turns out Queens went full-on Indian soon after we moved out. On another side note – by this time I was dating a half Irish/half Ukrainian New Yorker. That’s right people, he’s blonde, blue-eyed and most of the time has a one syllable name. All my dreams really did come true. Anyway this new bunch of friends all tried to educate me on the correct way to say my name. I left soon after. Not just because I didn’t want to be lectured to, in all honesty, I left because they met on Friday mornings at 8am – which didn’t work with my Thursday night at Terminal Bar schedule.

I’ll speed up. The 90s were vapid. No one really cared what the origins of my name were or how to say it correctly. Easy peasy. Even the early 2,000s were a non-issue. It wasn’t really until the last few years when people started getting “woke” that it came up again.

The 20 year old intern who asked me gently if I knew how to correctly pronounce my name. Yes, thank you. Next. The well meaning friends who have other friends who pronounce the same name differently. Yes, I know. I get it. You feel like you’ve been doing me wrong. But you haven’t! I swear. It’s not you. It’s me. Well, technically it’s not me, it’s my name.

You know I even went through a real immersion-into-my-culture phase in high school. We would go to India every year at that time to visit relatives (relatives who also never ever called me by my formal name). I was way into the culture, the movies, the food, the language – all of it. I was a Junior in high school and all I wanted to do was be different. I was thrilled to show-off my funky jewelry and henna’d hand. But even during that time – I never thought about changing the way people say my name. What does that mean? What does that say about me? I dunno. I’m sure there’s a million ways to dissect it. To “help me”. I’ll have to find a therapist and have them give me an answer. Or maybe I’ll Google it.

My point is this…aren’t you glad you made it to the point! Mazel. You’re almost done. My point is that however it started, and whatever reason I did it or maybe someone just started calling me that and I went with it – whatever – it’s how I’d like you to pronounce my name. Yes, the wrong way.

Trust me – it’s a daily struggle. People say my name in all different ways. Correct, incorrect, messed up, etc. I don’t mind any of it. I met a wonderful friend last year through work who is French. We had a long discussion about this. She told me that in French – the direct translation of Je m’appelle isn’t “what is your name?”. The meaning is “what do you want to be called?”. I love that. Je m’appelle Neha (knee-ya).

In conclusion, I’m moving to France. Au revoir.

Monkey

The Chinese New Year doesn’t start until February, but I’m already excited. It’s the year of the monkey. A year of activity and action. Lots of energy. Lots of movement. A little spastic and frantic, but full of life. If you believe that sort of thing. And I do.

I don’t think I’m religious. I was raised by devout Hindu parents who lived their lives based on similar astrological magic. I went to Catholic schools for most of my education, mainly because there aren’t any Hindu schools in Harrisburg, PA and my parents thought any religion was better than no religion. If there had been only a Buddhist school they would have sent me there. I married an Irish Catholic semi-religious dude. When he asked if we would baptize our kids, I was all for it. Why not? Let’s do it all. Hedge our bets.

I minored in World Religion in college and that’s exactly where it fits in my life now. It’s minor. A few weeks ago I had coffee with some new friends and one of them asked what my spiritual journey is. Spiritual journey? I think I laughed, made a joke, and then ran home. I couldn’t even imagine how to answer that. I would have had to use a life line and phone-a-religious-friend.

I do try to meditate – although lately that just ends in a nap.

All that said, I still like to think that there’s a bigger purpose. A higher power. Some kind of connectivity to each other and the universe. I like that.

So I read my horoscope. Sing Christmas songs. Tell my kids about the elephant God and when someone tells me they are going to church or temple, I always ask them to say a prayer for me. I hope they do.

I’m going to my first psychic reading in a couple of weeks. Why? Why not! That’s the attitude we need in the year of the monkey!

On another note – a few of my f’d up friends call me monkey. It began more than a decade ago at a Mexican restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen. A place where margaritas come in two sizes. Regular and the Mama. We went there often and laughed till our sides hurt. More often than not, the laughs were on me. Me telling stories of my hilarious life (said sarcastically). One day, deep into a Mama margarita – I pounded the table and yelled something like,” I’m not your performing monkey!!”.  At this point they all got very silent and then burst out laughing. They’ve called me monkey ever since. Just wanted to give you another reason why I obsesses about this stuff (outside the obvi reason of course, insanity).

This morning, I got up early and took a moment before our year gets going. I sat in silence and started to write this blog. The plan was to tell you about how the year of the monkey was going to be my year to believe in something (besides my family, friends and reality tv). But I was blank. I had nothing. No blog for you!

I left the house and met some friends to walk around a flea market and what do you know…look what I found.

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Monkey found a monkey. With a banana. It’s going to be a good year.

 

Post Pope Pfunk

I’m blue. The man in white is heading home. I’m not Catholic, or really all that religious. I used to say that I was “spiritual” which made me feel like I wasn’t dead inside because I didn’t believe in a Jesus or Allah or Krishna or L. Ron Hubbard. But now I’m ok with that. I believe in people. Collectively.

But that aside, I cannot believe the spirit of joy and love that I’ve felt from this man, head of one the wealthiest organizations in the world, through the TV! There’s just something about his face. His eyes and smile aren’t big and animated like the other faces we are used to seeing on display.

I swear I can feel his kindness and warmth. I’ve loved learning about his childhood, about his tendencies toward the poor and sick. I don’t agree with all his ideas, but I agree with his delivery. He condemns no one. There is no hell and fury. There is only acceptance and open arms. Imagine disagreeing with someone without hating them? What a novel concept.

Not surprisingly, I want to know more. I heard he had back problems, how did he handle this marathon visit to North America? Does he nap? Does he ever get some privacy? When does he eat? What does he eat? When he was in Philly did someone shove a cheese steak in his hand? Why weren’t there pictures of him having a slice of NYC pizza?

I liked turning on the news and not seeing Trump. I liked seeing Pope Francis in Madison Square Garden and millions of people trying to see him. I mean he doesn’t even have an Instagram! His followers are live.

I’m not saying he’s perfect. When I heard he gives sleeping bags to the homeless outside of The Vatican I thought, “gee, that’s nice but couldn’t a small portion of your institution’s wealth take care of all the poverty in Italy?”.

But I don’t care. I like him. A lot. I like the way he made me feel the last few days. I like that all the newscasters had to fill time with positive things.

And now it’s over. Trump and Putin are on 60 Minutes. I feel like people started yelling as soon as he left the country. It seems very ungodly.

Instagram Balanced

Here’s what showed up on my Instagram feed yesterday. Same, but different.
Shaolin Monks who believe your mind
can do anything you command it to. They believe in discipline, focus and training.

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Next up: Andy Cohen from Bravo. He believes in gays, housewives and International home searches. He also believes in Mazel-of-the-weeks, Padma Laxshmi and alcohol.

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Same, but different.

Bros before….you know

We had a busy weekend. We picked up a kid at camp. We drove 3 hours to upstate NY and had a fun day with friends, came home, slept and then headed west to Harrisburg to see my family (and pick up the other kid).
We were also there to celebrate two birthdays and an Indian celebration called Raksha Bandhan (we’re efficient that way).
To be clear, there are hundreds to Indian celebrations. What can I say, we like lots of Gods and lots of ways to worship them. And by WE I really mean my people, not me. Because as I’ve told you before, I’m religious light. I dabble. The Catholic Irish Ukrainian dude I married is the same way. We do the big things. Baptism so the kids get into heaven? Check. Making sure they know how the Indian god Ganesh got an elephant head? Done. Mortal soul secured.
So we approach holidays in both religions with some whimsy. Don’t you think some of the problems of the world would be resolved with some whimsy? Whimsy is undervalued.
Anyway, back to the weekend.
Basically the celebration is about the bond between a brother and a sister. She puts a sacred thread on his wrist, dots his head with a red mark called a Tilak (red powder dye and water. Think runny red lipstick) and she feeds him something sweet. He promises to protect and love her and gives her a small gift. Lovely.
What happens if you don’t have a brother like me and my sister? You’re screwed ! Just kiddin. Our cousins step into the role for us.
Here’s some pics from the celebration. The last pic is of my cousins who payed dual roles, our brothers and the birthday boys.
Notice my sons face as my daughter feeds him the Indian sweet. Maybe next year she can feed him an M&M or something.
And speaking of tweaking tradition, one of the sacred threads resembled a football – so we chose that for my son. He missed the subtle cultural fusion we tried to create.

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Please stay tuned.

oh hi. It’s me. Remember? Did ya even notice I wasn’t writing for a bit? Like a long bit?

I had some technical issues. Technically I decided to spend all my free time sleeping instead of writing this blog.

In defense of me, I have been sick.  Is it a cold? Allergies? Who knows, and I’m certainly not going to a doctor to find out.   To add to the fun, life has been a tailspin of activity.

But things are slowly unwinding. School is almost over. All major religious rights-of-passage celebrations have come to an end (for now).  Work is still insane, but lately it’s taken a turn for interesting, which makes me less likely to daydream about being a coal miner (seriously. have you ever thought about it? Aside from the life threatening aspect – it sounds perfect. Solitary. repetitive. One singular goal. No need to shower in the morning. That’s my kinda job).

May was a blur, but it’s June 1st. Time to get back on the blogging horse.  I can’t make any promises, I have to be honest. I’ve enjoyed sleeping.

Here’s some random pictures that could and should have been blog posts but I was in deep REM mode instead.

This post would have been titled: 17 years of marriage yo!  See, child brides do make it work sometimes.

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I would have called this post: I-know-you’re-obsessed-with-karate-and-doing-a-perfect-split-but-I’d-really-like-grandkids-someday-so-please-be-careful

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The below photo was taken by my girl at a concert that she’d  been waiting to go to for months. All her favorite bands were going to be there. It started at 1pm in an outdoor venue by the water. The day before the concert we found out that all the bands that she wanted to hear weren’t even coming on until 9pm. On a Sunday night. And the concert wouldn’t end until closer to 11:30pm. On a Sunday night. What happened next cleanly, swiftly and neatly explains how different my husband and I are, not just in parenting, but also down to our core.

When she told us her sad tale, my reaction was,” bummer. guess you’ll be missing all those bands since we’ll be picking you up at 7.”  My husband’s reaction was,” ok. So I’ll buy a ticket and go to the concert with you so you don’t have to miss those bands.”  WTF?

This post would have been called – Lucky Duck

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Dysfunction Function

What happens when your family gets together?
Is it fun and stressful and crazy?
Do you debate which family vendetta to support and which to avoid?
Which side to pick in the fight du jour?
No? Just me?
In the last two weeks we’ve celebrated two big milestones.
My son’s communion and my daughter’s confirmation. A Catholic religious rite of passage, squared.
This is particularly interesting because I’m not Catholic and my husband is what I would consider a fair weather Catholic. Christmas time, he’s in. Easter mass? Ditto. Other than that? It’s a crap shoot.
Nevertheless, this was important to him. And I like to make him happy and ensure he and my children go to heaven. I plan on being reincarnated until I can finally live a life without Spanx – so they won’t see me for a bit in the afterlife.
Anyway it was two weekends full of fun. The kind of fun that could break out into a fight at any moment. The kind if fun that requires alcoholic beverages.
But it was also the kind of fun where you remember why you love your parents, uncles, aunts, sisters and cousins. You remember that you’re related to these loonies because you are a looney too. In fact you may be the king of the loonies.
God is good.

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