A bouquet of flowers picked along the way ….

The ransom Sikh’s pay August 13, 2012

Repeated below is an email I sent to my local Sikh community today. I’ve made a couple edits but nothing significant.

Yesterday, in India, my Sikh friend from 30 years (which is almost all my life) got married to his long time Hindu girl friend. Part of my family attended the wedding and so did common friends from college days. Today, I learn from them that my turbaned Sikh friend is now clean shaven; “perhaps as part of the deal he removed his turban and shaved his beard”. It first came as a shock and then a throbbing sadness, like that from a deep personal loss.

A friend who attended the wedding, found some resonance between the wedding yesterday and this story about Punjabi Americans from the early 1900s. And the words “perhaps as part of the deal he removed his turban and shaved his beard” are from the story.

So, now, I have no friend from the first 20 years of my life who wears a turban. There is a vacuum which cannot be filled. And the sadness of this loss pervades my heart. Yes, it is a personal loss. Yes, I am being selfish.

Countless Sikhs, specially in Punjab, have chosen to give away the beloved symbols of their faith. Some for prosperity, some to avoid looking different, some to avoid the daily duty to maintain long hair, and some for a wife. While we (the Sikh community) mourn the shootings in Wisconsin and work hard to educate the world about our turbans; while people from other faiths stand beside us and come to our “temple” to wear turbans; we, the Sikh community, have an internal threat that is even more urgent. And it is more urgent because of its hidden nature and its numbers. It is rare to see a non-Sikh become a Sikh for any reason other than having discovered a faith they fell in love with. And that should be the only reason for faith conversion. I am perfectly fine if a Sikh were to choose another faith of his own free will, under no greed or duress. But to negotiate, to pay one’s faith as a ransom to acquire another thing, is not okay. That is true for any person of any faith.

Where does the love for faith begin? Not a blind, mindless attachment. But, rather, a firm, righteous, yet kind love. It begins in the lap of your mother. In the stories and actions of your father. Sikh women, when they marry a non-Sikh rarely bring up Sikh kids. On the other hand, when non-Sikh women marry Sikh men, the story is no different. Again, the kids are often brought up as non-Sikhs.

A week ago, a white supremacist gunned down 6 Sikhs but could not make a dent to the Sikh faith. In fact, sensing danger, the community responded with more faith. Because we sensed danger and we sensed we were wronged. When Sikhs give up their faith everyday, we do not sense that same danger. It is a slow poison but one that claims thousands. One could argue it is a personal choice. But is it really a free choice? Would that Sikh give up the symbols of his faith had he got what he wanted (prosperity or spouse) without having to sacrifice his beliefs? Or was he given a either this or that choice? To me that is not a free choice. It is a ransom.


Bollywood Sperm (book review) July 13, 2011

Filed under: book reviews,friends,India — gurdas @ :

What should I expect from a novella titled Bollywood Sperm? Anything Bollywood by itself is packed with controversy, spice, and silliness. Add Sperm and it becomes potent, ready to re-produce within you. Nikhil Tripathi’s first published work is good storytelling. An easy read that does not fail to raise uneasy questions. That said, this is not great writing. The dialogues are witty and entertaining, but there is nothing here, in terms of mechanism that has not already been done to death before. This is a clever book, not a classic. And maybe that is what the author meant it to be. Reason demands the question, “Is this far-fetched and almost fantastical?” Something tells me that if the sperm of a Bollywood mega-star were to become available, there will be takers. Sad, but true.

Nikhil packed a lot of re-readable sequences into this novella. I enjoyed the many shades and swings of the character of Farrukh Khan. I would prefer to see more layers in other characters but did not find any. Everyone else in the story is painted in monotone. They are either always greedy, always sad, always scheming or something along those lines. Maybe I am expecting too much within these few pages. A few other reviewers find Sumit to be a champion. I see him as a disaster. A loser who is clinging to a baby to find redemption. He marries a woman he lusts for when she is having a weak moment. Not much is said about his professional life but it seems it isn’t going anywhere. He then agrees to have his wife bear Farrukh’s baby. Okay, he does not see the baby as ugly. Unfortunately, that may not be because he is an evolved soul but simply because the baby is not demanding him to man up. He evokes pity in me and that, I know for myself, is not a positive. Sumit’s wife, Priya Kumar, Star Seed employees, and the Judge are all villains thrown in to further the plot.

The real hero here is Farrukh. Complex and charismatic, I find his character to be fascinating. He is more honest than anyone else in the story. Also enjoyable are the passages where Farrukh duels with his son, Salim.

I would rate this first novella at 3.5 / 5

Certain features/passages of the novella delighted me while some others were disappointing. Spoiler alert!

The delights

  • The pilot program description left me with some very industrial images. A nicely ‘engineered’ delight  J
  • The lab scene in the commercial is pulp fiction taking a satirical jab at real life.
  • “As you all know, babies conceived in cold weather are likely to be fair and attractive.” Wait, is that true? LOL
  • The conception sequence left me smiling.
  • “Sir, all the brands endorsed by you,” said Sumit. “Please take something.” Oh, how I’d love to see this put to film so that I can see Sumit’s and Farrukh’s expression.
  • Sumit’s reason for not having sex with his beautiful wife was like seeing a beautiful flower along an evening walk. A moment of stillness, pondering, grief, and wisdom.
  • The cover, by editor Sonal Gupta, does complete justice to what is inside.

The disappointments:

  • The use of “Idiot” by the judge is not a true representation. Indian judicial system is known to be many things not good, but I doubt a judge can get away with such language. This kind of put me off. Is the author falling into the trap of providing too much spice?
  • Twice is the “…err…” trick used to depict humor. An easy device that left me cringing.
  • Description of Sumit’s house is overly pulled down. Make everything look bleak and gain some sympathy device? Did not go well with me; need more realism here.
  • Why would Farrukh say “Shall we go for a walk?” when he is going to such lengths to hide his identity? Seems like the author wanted us to draw the image of Farrukh and Sumit taking a walk.
  • Sumit’s use of flat out party style English does not blend with his character. I simple cannot imagine this person blurting out sentences like: (1) “Of course,” said Sumit. “Just holler when you’re done talking.” and (2) “And the toolbox is in perfect working order.”
  • “The baby chewed on the stem of the sunglasses that he had been given, wondering what the fuss was about.” Too Bollywoodish and needless.

The leftovers

  • A dramatic Scene I. Maybe a little too dramatic for my taste, but entertaining nonetheless.
  • Inexplicably, the description of Farrukh Khan reminds me of Elvis. The Shahrukh connection is not lost thought.


Nikhil and I go back a long way, some 19 odd years now. While Bollywood Sperm is his first published work, I have had the pleasure of reading him for many years now. For a first novella, Bollywood Sperm is very good. But I am not going to let him off easily, am I? 🙂  I have found his short stories to be extremely well written. In my opinion, they leave this novella looking ordinary.


Ms. Sweet Tea and some kids March 21, 2010

Filed under: Children,creatures,friends,humour — gurdas @ :

Ms. Sweet Tea

See that small dog in my friend Sue’s arms? Her name is Sweet Tea and sweet she is. She attracts attention like a magnet. And she acts pricey. For the 45 odd minutes that we were there outside the Starbucks close to campus, we had about 10 people who looked at her and smiled as they walked by, 4 people who wanted to pet her, and finally two groups of students (one seen here) who wanted a picture with her for a school project. I was slow with my phone camera when the first group of students had their shot taken. Which made me not happy since it was a nice story telling shot. But I totally underestimated Sweet Tea. A few minutes later, we have another group stopping by. They asked me if they could have a shot with the dog. I pointed to Sue and said “Ask the owner”. They made a pyramid because they also needed a shot of that, and this way they could kill two birds with one stone.

Kids make me happy. Kids making pyramids and having fun make me very happy. The Oscar for the most happening person of the month goes to Sweet Tea the dog.


Trusting Trust February 16, 2010

Filed under: friends,life,Me — gurdas @ :

In a recent episode with a friend, the value of trust in a relationship was revealed (again). The more I forge and nurture relationships, the more I respect the value of trust. It explains actions and thoughts without need of an elaborate explanation. Many words and actions either become redundant or, even more, take on a beautiful new meaning when looked through the glass of trust. It is also the foundation for robust relationships.

But trust does not come by itself, unlike some other characteristics. Trust has to be brought into a relationship by choice. And the only way to do it is to take risks. To become vulnerable. To give the other person a certain amount of control and power over you. If they misuse this ‘power’, get out of the relationship at double speed. If they become more watchful and cautious now that they have the power to cause harm, you know you have found a trustworthy friend. Just like, to know if a person is really humble give him/her some power and observe what they do with it.

Trust extends over both emotional and material stuff. The other day I was having a conversation with an American friend about extending monetary support to dear friends. I happened to remark that I have such and such amount extended as friendly loans. The amount was not trivial and my American friend said “I believe you would have done legal paperwork” to which I said “No”. He would not believe me. I am not against legal paperwork or the concept of keeping things clear. I look at money as a practical tool and am not too emotional about it. So, when I extended these loans I was very clear about when the money has to be returned and I do not hesitate to charge my friends a nominal interest rate (and the reason is not just profit, but also to rid them of unhealthy feeling of being obliged). The loans I had extended were significant, yet not enough to dent my total wealth if for any reason I lose every penny of these loans. I trust my friends to stick to their word and not once have I been let down (though minor disappointments have occurred). That does not mean I will never be completely let down. I am sure some day I will be, but that is a small cost to pay for the tremendous benefits that accrue from taking these risks. I am investing in my relationships just like I would invest in the stock market. And in both cases, there is a risk attached to the probability of ‘profits’. Further, if I am not cheated I win by making the relationship richer and if I am cheated then I win by getting rid of a ‘bad’ friend at the cost of a known risk. A win-win situation if you look from my perspective!

One of my most cherished and tender relationships is a friend with whom trust is complete. And our relationship is unshakable because we have already made ourselves 100% vulnerable to each other. That does not mean we share anything and everything. To the contrary, and this is what makes trust magical, we do not fear to say what we want to say. So, I can ask my friend anything without worrying too much and she can freely answer or refuse without worrying too much and vice versa. Beautiful! The inexplicable either gets explained without effort or does not need an explanation.

To summarise, the more you trust, the more adventurous you become. You do not fear from experimenting inside the relationship (because there is little or no fear of losing it), and that adds a lot of spice, eventually making the relationship tender, warm and strong.

Trusting trust is a win-win argument!


Goodbye Cheri December 8, 2009

Filed under: friends — gurdas @ :

Cheri's friends and family at the memorial service, June 3, 2010

Cheri, office manager for my apartment complex, passed away this past weekend.

The news reached us a few minutes ago. And only a few minutes before that I had gone down to the office looking for a package I was expecting and wondered why the office was closed. Little did I know the news that awaited me. I liked Cheri. She was good at her job and she was a great person. I saw her on Friday when I stopped by at the office concerning collections for a charity. We exchanged niceties and chit chatted about issues related to the new parking rules. I took leave saying “Enjoy your weekend”.

A few months ago I was eager to move out of my apartment to another building within the same complex; a place with more sun and air. It was an unsure period since I was also evaluating moving in with my international friends. Cheri completely understood the difficult choice I had to make and she went out of her way to provide time and options. I know she stepped away from guidelines by allowing me to keep my apartment beyond the lease renewal deadline. She patiently continued to show me apartments as they became available and on the fourth visit she showed me the apartment where I now live.

For more than a year now, Cheri has been there when we needed her. It will take me some time to visualise that office without Cheri, her welcoming smile, and her hearty greeting “Good morning, Gurdas!”. I am informed she has family in Michigan and Florida and we are waiting to find out where the funeral will take place. I hope I get to say goodbye in person.

Cheri Smolen, my friend, you leave us poorer.


— update and request —

Many of us are saddened to hear that Cheri fought with lonliness. I, for one, never gauged that from my brief but plenty interactions with her during her time at Western Manor apartments. She seemed aloof at times, but then I can say that for everyone, including myself. And this increases my respect for Cheri. If she was fighting a battle within herself, and yet managed to diligently attend to her professional duties, it is nothing but a mark of her character. So, God bless her.

I am also going to humbly request that comments focus on memories of Cheri, what she meant to you, her goodness, and your goodbye message. When I wrote this piece I had not imagined so many of Cheri’s friends would find their way here. For that, I am thankful to each of you. And I would like this page to become our very modest gift to our dear friend.

— update 2 —

There are some comments where people have requested for information about Cheri’s family; specially the request by Shirley Franklin Fleury. If you have information to share, please post it as a comment or send it to me. My email address appears in the ‘About’ page (see top blue bar).

— update 3 —

Please also leave your condolences for Cheri here. Laura, thank you for starting this.

— update 4 —

Today, June 3, 2010, some of Cheri’s friends from the spiritual community she attended got together and celebrated her life with a memorial service. I am so glad I went. This was my first such attendance in the US, and I was moved by what I saw and heard. A service berry tree was planted in her memory beside the visitor center at the Umstead Park and some of us shared our memories of Cheri. What I liked most was that hope and joy was abound in that group, and when we did have a tear or two, it had nothing to do with sadness, but a lot to do with love. I happen to remark that life is rather extraordinary because the passing away of a friend becomes the reason to meet so many new wonderful people. There was a lot of wisdom collectively held between the group that had come together to celebrate Cheri’s life. I think she would be proud of what she has left behind. I felt like saying, Hello Cheri.