I May Not Have Had Internet While I Was In India, But I Had Something Better

I May Not Have Had Internet While I Was In India, But I Had Something Better

Love is the grilled cheese sandwich my mother makes for me, sighing exasperatedly as she pulls the cheese out of the fridge for the third time this week.

Let me explain: when I think of my favorite foods, nothing on the list strikes me as particularly complicated to prepare. I’m passionate about grilled cheese sandwiches. I’ll make them for myself in a pinch, but I especially love when my mother or my grandmother make the sandwiches for me. It’s kind of cheesy (pun slightly intentional), but I feel like I can taste the love that went into making the sandwich.

I’ll get back to the “feeling love” thing later, but you may be wondering why I haven’t written for a while. I actually spent close to five weeks in India this holiday season; I was busy feeling love in all of the homemade food I ate at my relatives’ houses. (And yes, I did enjoy a few grilled cheeses, courtesy of my grandmother.) This India trip was unusual for a few reasons; less than a week after I got there, a cyclone ripped up cables all over the city and left us without electricity, internet, and running water for a few days. And more than a month later, my grandmother apparently still doesn’t have internet!

But there was a silver lining to this whole mess; I was able to accept not being constantly connected to social media. Of course, the lack of internet access made working as a news writer kind of difficult; it’s hard to let people know what’s going on when you don’t actually know. Thankfully my editors gave me the time off. And considering my father spent the first eight years of his life without electricity, and his entire childhood without running water, my “struggles” pale in comparison.

My dad took us to his childhood home today. It was an eye-opening experience. Around 75 people lived in a house with one bathroom and no running water. My house has two and a half bathrooms for four people, so I can't even imagine having to share with so many people. Let alone having to pump water and carry it up the stairs in a bucket every time I needed to drink or bathe or wash my hands. Still, despite such difficulties, my dad obviously had a good time as a kid. He said he never felt like his life was hard back then; he got to go play cricket with his friends on the beach after school. The city was a lot less crowded at the time; now a boutique stands where a building housing cows used to. Don't worry, the 8th century Parthasarathy temple is still there (and no, despite the name it does not belong to my family). Cows continue to roam the city streets, casually making their own ways and leaving vehicles and people alike to navigate around them.

A post shared by Maya Parthasarathy (@mastahfia) on

I spent my time in India with my family, as I always do. I consider moments with my family to be precious, especially since during the trip I was reminded that people do in fact die. While we were there, one of my father’s uncles died, and the following day, one of my mother’s uncles passed away as well. The two uncles were both in their eighties when they moved on, but my family is still dealing with the aftermath.

My grandfather recently fell down and broke a rib, and my grandmothers aren’t free of health problems either. Despite this, all three of them continue to live their lives, with my grandfather heading to the library he’s been helping run for decades instead of quietly resting at my cousins’ place. My maternal grandmother hasn’t given up on an independent life; she gets far more phone calls and visitors than I do, and she continues to attend singing classes and create beautiful art. My paternal grandmother takes care of her family, keeping everyone well-fed, and mastering her smartphone to call us (in my case, everyday through an app during the three weeks I lived alone this year).

But I still feel afraid from time to time. I don’t get to see my grandparents too often, considering I live half the world away from them. I worry that I might go home and never meet them again. When I find myself thinking like this, I remind myself that there’s no point dwelling on what-ifs. Instead, I choose to remind myself how it feels to be loved by my family.

I feel love when my grandmother shuffles over every half hour to make sure I’m not hungry, often brandishing half an orange or a colorful sweet. I feel love when she saves mangoes from the rest of the family for me, remembering how much I love them pickled. And how can I forget the time as a child I hung my pants over the bathroom door and my brother stole them? I didn’t expect my grandmother to so effectively chase down my brother, but she did, and she got my pants back to me after giving him quite the scolding.

I feel love when my grandfather offers me my pick from books that haven’t been added to the library yet. I feel love when he agrees, against his principles, to take an auto rickshaw home instead of the crowded city bus, just to reduce our worries. I feel love (and I also feel slightly ashamed of myself for not realizing) when I’m sitting where he’s planning on sleeping, but he’s too nice to tell me to move.

I feel love when my grandmother gets excited to see me try on clothes, and when she tells me to buy half the store. (I have to refuse, obviously, but I so rarely feel good about buying clothes that going with her is a treat.) I feel love when she tells me that my weight doesn’t matter, and that I should ignore judgmental people. I feel love when she tells me stories about my late grandfather, and my mother when she was growing up.

There are so many other moments that remind me of the love I constantly receive from my family members and my friends. I’m very grateful to be able to spend time with my extended family despite living across the world from them. There will likely always be times when I feel insecure and alone, but I plan on using memories of the love people have shown me to get myself over those bumps in the road, just as I always have.

Images: Partha Narasimhan, Maya Parthasarathy

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How I’m Handling This Devastating Election & Making The Best Out Of A Horrifying Situation

How I’m Handling This Devastating Election & Making The Best Out Of A Horrifying Situation

I worked election night for the first time yesterday, and needless to say it did not turn out how I thought it would. I keep staring into space numbly because I don’t know how to react to the frankly horrific results of the presidential election.

This is a hard loss to take. The United States just elected a president who has been accused of sexual assault by women now numbering in the double digits. Donald Trump is a serial liar, a known racist and Islamophobe, and he doesn’t seem to understand how economics and public policy work. The campaign even removed Trump’s access to his Twitter account, reportedly because he couldn’t be trusted to conduct himself appropriately. (His access has since been reinstated, so get ready for more 3 a.m. tweet-storms.) If he can’t handle being on Twitter, how is he supposed to handle being president? Not to mention the Ku Klux Klan supports a Trump presidency. Let me say that again, a little louder for those in the back: THE KKK, A WHITE SUPREMACIST ORGANIZATION, SUPPORTS A TRUMP PRESIDENCY. Even if the Trump campaign denounced the endorsement, you have to understand that the KKK supporting a candidate is never a good sign.

Thankfully, there are positive things about Election Day that have nothing to do with the Donald’s big win, including some results in Congressional elections that I as an Asian American woman can appreciate. Washington and California have elected Congress’ first two Indian American women, Kamala Harris and Pramila Jayapal. In an inspirational turn of events, Tammy Duckworth won a seat in the Senate over the incumbent Mark Kirk, who made a racist comment about Duckworth’s family during a debate. My home, the San Francisco Bay Area, elected all women and/or people of color to the U.S. Congress.

This is good progress, but there is much more to be done. To be honest, my life as long as I stay in my little liberal bubble in the Silicon Valley won’t change too much. My family has enough money that my access to medical care won’t be an issue, even if Trump’s administration completely overturns any advances in healthcare made in the past few years. I have a community of supportive people of color I can turn to if I’m feeling particularly bad about discrimination.

But I spent a few years in a completely different part of the country, and I know that this is not the case everywhere. My heart aches for those of us from traditionally marginalized groups living in areas populated by racists. We have definitive proof that they exist now. They’re all around us, from the owner of the pick-up truck parked next to me at the gym with a Trump sticker on their bumper to the lady with a cute dog at the park who says Trump tells it like it is. These people are implicitly and explicitly supporting white supremacy.

It may seem like all hope of positive change is gone. But there are still things we can do to take steps towards actually making America great. The government was originally created to carry out the will of the people. If you think about it, voting is actually the strongest tool we have to hold our representatives accountable. If we don’t elect them, politicians don’t have the power that comes with being in office. (Of course, it’s much more complicated than that, considering that lobbyists and people with money have a lot of sway over political proceedings. As my brother rightly pointed out, campaign finance is a serious issue that needs to be addressed. But in its simplest form, our representative democracy is based on the decisions of the people we choose to represent us.)

Frankly, the president has power, but real change happens from the bottom up. How many people are properly informed about all those initiatives on the ballot? (California had 17 this time around.) Those propositions will likely have a far bigger impact on your day-to-day life than the presidential election will. Sure, you’ll have to see Trump’s stupid face on the news every day. But maybe less people will be sent to prison for non-violent drug offenses with the legalization of marijuana in California. Maybe plastic bags will be banned, and the environment will benefit. Maybe an initiative will be passed that forces officials to examine the possibility of working to overturn Citizens United. Politicians and lobbyists take advantage of our being largely uninformed and unmotivated to make it to the polls (or in my case, a mailbox) to sneakily pass complicatedly-worded initiatives that a majority of people might not actually support.

There are other concrete ways of helping your fellow Americans fight the good fight. Contribute to movements, such as by donating to Standing Rock activists fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline and other important causes that have been overshadowed by the fanfare surrounding the presidential election. Write letters to your representatives. Volunteer your time to help marginalized communities.

The United States has its roots in federalism; states’ rights continue to be protected under the constitution. While this may have been a negative for Hillary Clinton last night, there are ways to work with the system to improve our country, state by state. If we start change from our smaller communities, we will be able to make a tangible difference. You may think I’m being ridiculously hopeful, but a belief that we can create a better future is what our country was founded on. I believe in America, and I hope you do too.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Representation, Diversity & The Great Young Adult Novel

Representation, Diversity & The Great Young Adult Novel

Happy Halloween (a.k.a. my favorite holiday)! I was a “steampunk adventurer” this year at a festival, and it was great. Tonight I have work, but as my office is my house, I plan on dressing up and handing out candy during my breaks.

Halloween has a another special significance for many writers; it’s the day before NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. I attempted this feat every year in high school, but to this day I have yet to finish a story within the deadline.

This isn’t to say I’ve never written a book before; when I was in eighth grade I wrote a full-length novel as my “exit project” from middle school. As someone who is notoriously private about sharing my fiction, I almost threw up before school the day I had to read an excerpt out loud in front of my class. But I did it, and a copy of that story likely still sits on the shelf in my former classroom.

Of course, I never did much more with that book. My parents were constantly badgering me to get it published, but I wasn’t happy with my work. It was great for an eighth-grader, but by my third read-through I was already unsatisfied with the quality. I’m a closet perfectionist, and I wanted only something I was extremely proud of published under my name.

kindle_by_mastahfia
Here’s a sketch from my eighth-grade novel of one of my characters, Kindle. He was, of course, named before the Amazon Kindle made its debut.

And as the years went on I had more and more on my plate. In eighth grade, my extracurriculars consisted of thrice-weekly tae kwon do practice and accompanying my parents to grocery stores. I had a ridiculously large amount of time to spend reading and writing. But once I got into high school I joined speech & debate, water polo, and many other clubs. I had friends who lived within walking/biking distance. I still wrote fiction, but that took a back-seat to everything else.

But now that I’m out of school and have less of a social life, I feel the urge to once again write a full-length novel. I plan to participate in NaNoWriMo this year for the first time since my freshman year of college. And this time, I plan on winning.

But what am I planning on writing about? My last book was a work of fantasy. I’m still into that genre, but I was always captivated by the idea of the “Great American Novel.” Except I wanted to write the “Great Young Adult Novel.” I was tired of some of the stuff I picked up in the Young Adult (YA) section of the library. Don’t get me wrong, there are so many great YA books out there. Most of my favorite books are YA. (Harry Potter anyone?) But so many have the same basic storyline; the only difference is location and character names. And don’t even get me started on Twilight, which I read against my better instincts. Some friends told me it was amazing. (Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.)

Unoriginal YA aside, I’m also really into representation and diversity in books/media. I don’t think you have to be the same race or in the same situation as a character to relate to them. But let me be clear: that’s not an excuse to avoid featuring people of color as main characters in books or in movies. I spent years thinking I couldn’t be an actor because of my skin tone. After all, as a child, the only characters I saw on TV that looked like me tended to be guest stars with horrible fake accents who were made fun of by the main, white characters. I don’t want other brown and black kids to feel like they can’t be the main character because they aren’t white.

If you don’t believe me when I say representation matters, look at the case of Whoopi Goldberg. She was inspired to start her career by seeing Nichelle Nichols playing Uhura on Star Trek when she was young. Do you know how much we would’ve missed out on if Goldberg hadn’t been watching Nichols, a black woman, play an iconic character on Star Trek? She wouldn’t have been in The Color PurpleGhost, or Sister Act. (Let’s be real, my childhood would have been so much worse without Sister Act.) And Goldberg is just one example of a kid inspired by seeing someone who looked like them on TV.

These days, I see more brown people on TV. Not enough, but more. I’ve also exposed myself to writing by more great brown women writers (Randa Jarrar, Jhumpa Lahiri, Mohja Kahf, to name a few). But I’m tired of their books being part of a niche market.

People of color exist in books, but as main characters they’re not as mainstream as I would like. And books featuring characters from marginalized groups (LGBT+ characters, disabled characters, characters of color, etc.) tend to be all about how the main character is, for example, transgender, rather than having a storyline that incorporates the character’s identity into a larger storyline. Stories can be about more than a character’s so-called “defining” characteristic.

I don’t want every book about a teenage girl of Indian descent living in the United States to be about how she rebels against her parents wanting her to get good grades and have an arranged marriage. Because, sure, my parents wanted me to get good grades, but that wasn’t their main focus. And they’ve never, ever said they want me to get an arranged marriage.

These days I’ve grown out of the idea of there being one “Great YA Novel,” but I haven’t lost hope that one day white/straight won’t be the defaults. It shouldn’t be revolutionary that a main character can be brown/black, queer, and chronically ill, but that the story is about going on a quest and saving the world.

With that, I should really be going. This brown girl has her own quest to go on; there are 50,000 words she has to write, after all.

Images: Pexels, Maya Parthasarathy

Reaching for the stars & other clichés

Reaching for the stars & other clichés

When I was in fifth grade, there was a period of time when I wouldn’t turn my homework in. Not because I hadn’t done it; I’d actually finished it far before most procrastinators would even decide to take a look at the assignment. No, my reason for not submitting my homework was that I didn’t think it was good enough.

In reading class, we were assigned a final essay. When I was passed the growing pile of essays, I self-consciously put a piece of scrap paper on the bottom of the stack and passed it on. Of course, the absence of my assignment from the pile did not go unnoticed. My mother got called in for a talk with my teacher, and I was eventually forced to surrender the essay.

Later on, the teacher told my mother that I would’ve gotten an A if I had turned in my essay on time. Instead I got a D+ since there was a policy penalizing late work. (In fifth grade! Apparently our fifth grade teachers were preparing us for life, but even college professors don’t usually lower the grades on late assignments that much.)

9yo
That’s me, a few months before all of this drama happened.

At the time I was definitely overthinking things. I’d worked hard on the essay, and I’d fulfilled and even exceeded the requirements of the assignment. The only part of the assignment I didn’t do was actually turning it in.

But sometimes you just have to go ahead and turn something in, even if you don’t think it’s perfect. Of course, it’s best to submit high-quality work. And there are definitely times when an extension on an assignment is warranted. But if you have a lot of performance-related anxiety like me, you’re probably being ridiculous when you decide your hard work isn’t good enough.

There were many times throughout my later school days when I didn’t turn in assignments I had done. But this didn’t help me do better work; instead, it negatively impacted my grades. In eleventh grade, I didn’t submit my math homework for two months straight. That’s a lot of points. Plus, I didn’t get feedback on my work that could have helped me improve. (Not to say my grades were all bad. I did well in most of my classes, and I went on to higher education.)

By the time I got to college, I had made a promise to myself: no matter what, turn something in for each assignment. And guess what? My grades were better than ever. I started to realize that what I thought wasn’t good enough could actually be above average. I was amazed first semester freshman year when my comparative government TA pulled me over and told me I was the top scorer on the midterm. Slowly my self-confidence increased. There were still times when I doubted that an essay I’d done well on was “A” material, but there were also times when I felt proud of myself for how far I’d come.

17yo
And that’s me at 17 after getting surprised with a birthday cake at a speech & debate tournament.

Of course, grades aren’t everything. What’s most important is what you learn from the work you do. And boy was I learning so much more. Since I was no longer so afraid of failing, I began raising my hand and participating in class discussions. I even went to see professors during their office hours, something I had been petrified of doing since a one-on-one meeting had the potential to end in embarrassment. I was no longer the quiet kid in the back of the classroom who might not turn in her homework; I was that kid who wasn’t afraid to ask a lab assistant for help when she needed a nudge in the right direction.

Now that I think about it, there is one more part of assignments that I frequently didn’t do: turning them in by the due date. In fifth grade I was offended by the strict rules surrounding late work. But now, I’m thankful. In college, one of my areas of study was journalism. For journalists, deadlines are extremely important; if you don’t turn your story in on time, you could affect the entire publication.

While some of my professors tended to be more laid back about due dates, my journalism professors were the opposite. If you didn’t make a deadline, your story earned an F grade, or in some cases, a zero. It was as if you hadn’t turned anything in at all. But guess what? I’m proud to say I made my deadlines, no matter what it took. And I avoided fact errors, which were also cause for an F grade.

rfljdgwn
And finally, a more current photo.

You’re probably wondering where I’m going with all of this. It might seem like I’m just taking the opportunity to brag about myself. And yeah, I am, kind of. (Can you blame me? I turned my academic life around. I rediscovered the joy of education! But I digress.) Still, there was a point to the story. I’ll express it through clichés: Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game. Reach for the moon — even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars. There is no such thing as failure, except for if you do not even try. (I could keep going, but you probably get the point.)

Despite everything I’ve gone through, I’m still a little afraid of starting new things. But I have a lot of things to say, and my journal is no longer enough of an audience for me. (Sorry, journal. It’s not you, it’s me.) My goal in college was to turn in every assignment; my new goal is to keep this blog updated. It took me a while to summon enough courage to write this post. But with each new piece of writing, it should get easier.

So I hope you’ll join me as I navigate the uncertainties of post-college life. I’ll be happy to have you along on the journey.