Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Handshakes are becoming my current worst social embarassment. A couple of months ago, at the temple Diwali festival, we met up with some acquaintances -- C & J -- who had come with their parents. The old man started a conversation with S and shook his hand. When he started talking to me, I raised my hand for a handshake. Oops. An embarassed pause followed. He smiled uncomfortably and just folded his hands in salutation. Maybe I should have just said 'Namaskaram'?!

A month later, I met a desi in his 30s at Kroger. This time, fresh from my handshaking faux pas last time, I just said 'Hi'. Oops again. The guy had already extended his hand for a handshake and my 'Hi' sounded like a snub! Ughh. Of course, in my embarassment, I hurriedly took his hand which made it seem like I was desperate to shake his hand (Thankfully, I am not single or this could've been construed as something else). The same thing happened with an American at work when I forgot to shake hands with him!

When Dr. Kalaam visited Lexington in March 2008, it was confusion galore for me! An American I had just met hugged me like I had known him for years. Another one shook my hand very enthusiastically. Young Indian guys shook hands with girls. Older Indian guys refrained from it. Middle-aged guys were in as much confusion as myself.  Dr. Kalaam himself, I noticed, didn't shake women's hands. He just folded his hands. 

Anyways, the point is, being caught in a social 'Trisanku sorgam' in the US, its difficult to keep all these various cultural permutations and combinations clear in my head. Until then, I guess I'll continue to be embarassed..

Monday, December 15, 2008

Psstt..we went to Jared's..

Those of you in the US might have seen the ad for the jewelry store "Jared's". It has a whole bunch of people whispering "He went to Jared's" at a table when a couple announce their engagement and the bride-to-be flashes her ring exuberantly. About a year and a half back, S decided to get me a wedding present. On a whim, we both landed up at the nearest Jared's.

After 15 minutes of looking around, we realized that the designs were plain as can be and there was nothing attractive enough to capture our GRT-Thangamaligai-sensitized imaginations. Just as we were about to make a silent exit from the shop, a sales-guy captured us red-handed.

"May I help you with your purchase today?", he asked smilingly.

We could have said "No, thanks" and walked out. But something got into S and he said,

"Yes..we are actually looking for a ring."

"Would diamond interest you?"


I glanced at S desperately to ask him why he wanted to see those boring, old rings again.

The sales guy flourishingly displayed a set of about 30 diamond rings set in platinum. All of them had a plain band with a single stone of varying sizes set on top.

I was about to say, "okay, I am not interested" when S suddenly chimed in,

"Do these diamonds have doshas?"

"Do they have what?"

"D-o-s-h-a-s. Doshas. Meaning -- are these diamonds fit to be worn?"

Sales guy: "These are of the finest quality made by the best jewelers in the world"

The poor sales guy thought we were questioning the quality of the products. How wrong he was..:-)

S, nodding sagely, said, "Ah, yes. But they will not affect the wearer?"

Sales Guy: "You mean allergies? We have the best ---"

Hubby Dear: "No, no, see, in India, people say that some diamonds will cause the wearer harm or bring bad-luck..."

Sales Guy: "Oh..okay. How do you know that?"

Hubby Dear: "We don't know that..our parents do."

Sales Guy: "You want to come with your parents another day?"

Hubby Dear: "No..that's difficult"

Sales Guy: "Can I interest you in some other stones then?"

I was already giggling and struggling to compose myself. S was in full form that day.

Hubby Dear: "Umm..we're not sure if we can wear any stone."

Salesguy: (Dumb-founded, confused silence)

I thought I would alleviate some of the awkwardness and said,

"Only some stones can be worn by some people depending on their birth star.."

"Birth star?", the sales guy asked incredulously.

"We are all born under a star at the time of our birth.."

"You mean sun signs?", he asked doggedly.

"No, no..there are 27 stars..and some stones don't go well with some stars.."


"One of my aunts wore an emerald stone ring against advice and a thief broke into their house within a week."

"So...that's because of the emerald and your Aunt's birth star?"


After 5 minutes, we left the store, our heads held high leaving behind an extremely aggravated sales person. Both of us burst into uncontrollable laughter. The incident still evokes laughter!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The coverage of the Mumbai attacks in the US has been intense. I am angry and outraged at the partisan politics India's parties seem to be waging amidst this tragedy. But I am also annoyed at the western media's consistent referral of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as a "Hindu Nationalist Party".

If the BJP is termed so, can the Republican Party in the US be henceforth referred to as the Christian Fundamentalist Party"? Honestly, I don't see much of a difference between the values these two parties espouse vis-a-vis religion. So , why not? Would this be a mis-representation?