Car- Free Living

For the husband and me, it was not a cool lifestyle choice. We couldn't afford it. Plain and simple.

Courtesy : multiple websites on the internet
Living in Somerville, MA and struggling with finding a parking spot, keeping track of third thursdays, distance from street intersections, finding your shoveled parking spot being taken by someone else and numerous parking tickets for rules we didn't realize we were violating, we decided to call it quits and sell the car.

We had a newfound sense of freedom. We replaced our old bikes with new ones good enough for commuting, used the T to go to places we had never been before. We even used the commuter rail ! Our radius of activity was limited, but it gave us the opportunity to explore parts of the neighborhood and try activities that we never did before. We started frequenting neighborhood coffee shops and restaurants, inadvertently supporting local businesses.

We did rent cars to go on trips, or use zipcars to go outside the city, but the trips were infrequent. Our legs got stronger, carbon footprints smaller. We felt good. 

A little over a year later, things changed. 

My commute every morning
We needed more space and to travel with his visiting parents. As friendly as Boston (and close neighbors) is to car-free living and traveling , the rest of the North East is not. We had two options : spend a lot of money (with no tangible returns) on home and car rentals, or bite the bullet and move to a suburb and buy a car. 

We chose the latter, decided to move. While house hunting, our criteria for looking for places to live was centered around being able to bike to work. We would have to buy a car, but wanted to keep as much of our daily activities car-free as possible. 

We chose Arlington, MA. Close to the bike path, but hassle-free resident parking. Between us, we still bike 90+ miles a week. The car goes to grocery stores and to visit friends and family on weekends. We are strong, our carbon footprint is happy and small.

P.S. I should preface this by saying that I grew up in India, where public transport or walking is a way to escape having to drive in traffic. Our family also tried not to use the car for more than what was absolutely necessary. I lived in the largest city in the US without public transport for 2.5 years. Also without a car. Being car-free in Boston was probably not as hard for me, especially since I was finding it more and more difficult to justify the effort and expense it took to maintain an aging rarely-used car. 



And then, just like that, on the day that the marathon "crime scene" opened to the public; the weather was perfect. The perfect amount of blue in the sky, the perfect little fluffy white clouds, the perfect amount of warmth to be out, the perfect amount of breeze to move the wind chimes. It was almost like it was reflecting the energy of Boston. Of hope. Of strength.


Oprah Winfrey's India

In an interview with Barkha Dutt, Oprah Winfrey, you said that she wanted to show your audience a "broad picture" and connect to the heart of people. You unfortunately missed one important group - your hosts.

While I agree that you are an American talk show host who deals with celebrities who might not hesitate to bare all, you were dealing with real families, real people and real emotions during your interviews. People whose lives will not change by your interview. It is insensitive to be invited to a person's home and comment on what it is lacking and ask them intruding questions about their personal lives. No one wants to be reminded of their misery. It would have been wonderful to talk about how well a 11-year old girl held fort and acted as the translator. 

It is also rude to comment on people's habits. Yes, we eat with our hands, just like you eat a sandwich or a slice of pizza. Yes, we have animals, we have birds, we have people in our country - just like you do. And no, we don't all look the same - all you need to do is to pay attention. We do speak english, along with multiple other languages.

As you might have learned, the Western way is not the only way of living. Not everyone needs a shower head or forks. Some people are happy living the way they are. 

I understand that it is difficult not to want to see the stereotypes. After all, that is all the media feeds you. But, you being Oprah Winfrey, we expected better. We expected you to work a little bit harder to understand the customs of the people you are visiting, and to shed the (unintended ?) "holier than thou" attitude. NO, having a saree made for you or wearing a kurta doesn't qualify. They play right into the hands of the myopic Western view of the East. We are a country of perseverance and strength. Of diversity and of sympathy. Of tolerance and understanding. Of contrast - so stark that it shocks us sometimes. 

Yes, we have our problems, but who doesn't ? Yes, our problems are probably a lot more complicated than a lot of others' but do you realize that we are 65 years old ?

You tried, but like multiple people before you, you failed. It is impossible to "experience India" (to use your own words) in 2 weeks. Trying to understand us and our country is like being in a relationship - you only get out of it as much as you put into it. Your show packaged the India that people want to see - not the India that is. It did nothing more for people to understand Indian culture than "Friends" does for the rest of the world to understand American culture. Which is why, I know, that someone in spite of watching your show will still come up and ask me if my family owns an elephant. 

Having said that, I appreciate some of the sentiments that you echoed at various points during this interview with Barkha Dutt, your heart and intentions are in the right place. Actions, however speak louder than words, and your actions, unfortunately told a different story. 

A note to my fellow Indians : all of us (including me) need to lighten up about how the West perceives us. There is some truth in what is being said, we just need to look beneath the layers of fluff that it is packaged in ! 


What is the best book you have read ?

I used to watch a quiz show on TV growing up where the mascot was a (book)worm, who would come in saying "A book is your best friend". I was sold on that idea and grew up believing that was true. 
In some ways, it was. I read a lot, loved that my father drive 45 minutes on a Sunday to take me to one of the best libraries in town. 

As an architect, I now like books with pictures more than books with words, but I will try to make a list of the books that have impressed me over the years. I should confess, however, that if you give me a list of top 100 books everyone must read, I will do poorly checking off that list. 

Favorite kids book: 
When I was 3 and couldn't read yet, my mom would read out this counting book to me about pom pom bunny preparing for his birthday party. I had made her read the book to me so many times that I knew the words by heart. I would sit there by myself, reciting the words out loud, turning the pages at the right time.  I forget the name of the book, but it started like this : 
"Pom Pom bunny is writing a letter - Please come to my birthday party, it said. How many letters are there? There are 10 letters." 

Favorite toddler book: I loved the "Little Golden Books" The Poky Little Puppy, The Fox and the Hound and Bambi were my favorites. 
My pick : The Poky Little Puppy 

Favorite elementary / middle  school book(s): 
This is more an author than a book. I grew up reading everything Enid Blyton. From the mystery and adventure series to the Naughtiest girl and finally when my tastes started becoming more girly, St,. Claires ; she kept me entertained, informed and left me with a strong desire to travel to England and live in the English countryside.
My pick: Malory Towers series by Enid Blyton

High School books: 
I was a confused kids. My reading choices will tell you that. I would read Nancy Drew, Classics Illustrated, Sweet Valley and did the typical Jeffery Archer , Robin Cook and anything else I could lay my hands on. 
My pick : Kane and Abel by Jeffery Archer. 

Grown-up books: 
If I was confused in High School, I am worse now. I will try to pick some books that genuinely impressed me and left me thinking. 

A million little pieces, James Frey
It is a semi-fictional autobiography of a 23-year old guy through alcohol,drugs and rehab. Immensely powerful because it is bereft of any self-pity or excuses. It is blatantly objective and honest. 

The Namesake , Jhumpa Lahiri
An amazing story about the Indian diaspora in the US, and their identity crisis. The story is narrated in aw way that endears you to the characters and leaves you thinking about how to define home, family and identity. 

A Thousand Splendid Suns , Khalid Hosseni
A story of two generations of women in Afghanistan, oppression, terror and the Taliban. It is a story of a male-dominated society, of friendships and hope, of betrayal and the struggle to survive. It is a beautiful portrayal of Afghanistan before the Taliban and how their policies affected the daily lives of people. A beautiful book about human spirit. 

India Calling, Anand Giridhardas
First generation American citizen, NYT columnist goes back to visit the land his parents left decades ago in search of a better life and understand his roots. His book is an objective commentary on the state of the country now and his views on the future direction it will take.

The Snakehead , Patrick Radden Keefe
Another of those narratives, this time about the Chinese mafia in NY Chinatown. It is the story of how one woman almost-single-handedly managed to transport an entire district of China to the US illegally and help them lead a better life. It is also about perceptions and how a most-wanted fugitive in one part of the world is a most-revered figure in another.  

And, of course. Atlas Shrugged. Before I am accused of blasphemy, let me mention The Fountainhead. Although I might not agree in principle to the underlying message of these books, it is the idea of power and changing the world in these books that impresses me. 

Check out other participating posts :


20 years hence ...

20 years ago, I was 6. Thinking about what I would do for the next hour and the next day seemed to be the farthest I thought. Today, I am 26. Thinking about what I will do in the next couple of years is how far I have gotten. 20 years is a long time - I will be 46 and hopefully thinking about the next couple of decades.

I am both terrified and thrilled by thinking about 20 years hence. I can only hope - life hands me lemonade; and not make me hunt for the lemons. I can sweeten it, still lemonade would be nice.

I am 26, have a masters degree in architecture and care for the planet and the less fortunate. I have also been unemployed since I graduated, for the last 8 months. In 20 years, I hope to be doing something that unites all three of my passions. Of course, I hope for world peace, healthcare and food for everyone in the world and an end to poverty, but lets be practical here.

I believe that the rich / poor divide is going to grow. It will be a survival of the fittest, and competition will get intense. Today's technology will become obsolete : kids will wonder how we survived without gizmos (you remembered things -really ? what do you mean you didn't write to everyone - you TALKED ?) Technology will start ruling architecture, we might see entire sections of the building 3D printed. LEED will be a part of the building code - wait - buildings will be blobs. Architecture will start becoming blobitecture - blobs will be self-sustaining independent living systems. People living in the blobs will only socialize with the people in the blob; therefore becoming independently functioning entities. Kids will think cows are a type of food and sparrows are found only in zoos. Villages and small-towns will become unheard of, with cities growing to 4 times their current size.

In the midst of all this mayhem, there will be a group of like-minded professionals who still find beauty in purity and simplicity. People who cared about the past, people who care about the future. People who do not think that technology is the answer to everything - people who want to help. People who believe that if we looked outside, we will find the right answers.

I will be among those people, hopefully not having abandoned my dream of becoming an architect because the world didn't have enough money to hire me and people wanted blobs, not buildings.
I hope.

A participating Lets Blog Off Post.
The table below is a list of the other posts in this series.


Traditions - Lets blog off

Once every two weeks, the blog world unites to blog about a common topic. The topic this time : "What traditions do you keep ?

I cant think of traditions without thinking about my roots. I was born in a city called Chennai in Southern India, where my parents grew up and went to college. However, we lived in different places until I was 5, and when it was time for me to attend regular school, settled down in a place I consider home, Bangalore.
In India, traditions (religious and cultural) vary from state to state. Although we have a lot of national holidays that are celebrated by the entire country, the way the religious festivals are celebrated widely differ, sometimes even falling on different days. There is always a set of conventions that each family follows, each fine tuned to suit their individual preferences.
Growing up, my family always celebrated all the religious festivals that our family traditionally celebrated at home, but with a local flavor. One thing common between all of them was food, new clothes and sharing - a tradition I still continue to maintain.

Of course, moving halfway across the world changes things. Living in a different timezone and following a different cultural calendar is confusing, add to that being married to a guy whose husband's family follows a slightly different cultural calendar ; and things are seriously complicated.
One tradition I still continue to keep through all of this, is the one I was raised with - celebrating all festivals with a local flavor. The number of occasions has increased - from 1 to 3 different sources, but I'm not complaining !
I cook traditional meals for Pongal and Diwali, bake a traditional fruitcake for Christmas, complete with dry fruits that have been soaked in rum for a week. Considering that  my family here is too widespread to visit, thanksgiving is the time to celebrate with friends who have become family here.

So I guess I should say that the only tradition I really keep is amalgamation !

Here's a list of other participating posts:


Relax and recharge

Relaxing is stressful. To find the perfect thing to do to feel your best the next day stresses me out !

The topic of this blog made me start thinking about relaxing, and how the concept has changed for me over the years. .
As a kid, relaxing meant running around, trying to dodge homework and playing imaginary games with imaginary people. As a teenager, all I wanted to do was curl up with a book, shut off from people and the world. I am a TV snob, and tend not to like most of the things I watch, so that stressed me out too.

Somewhere between my teens and my tweens, I developed a love for the beach. Although I cannot go lie on the beach for hours together, its too passive, I loved the sound of the waves and the moonlight bouncing off the waves especially on a full moon night.

Now on the wrong side of my twenties, I think relaxing is mental; and about food. My favorite thing to do after a stressful day is to cook. The coming together of the dish, the intermixing of all the different flavors and sometimes contradicting tastes to come together to appeal to a larger audience is magical. Top it off with home made dessert, and I am ready to go !

I am also a page traveler. I love traveling, especially through books. The idea of being in a foreign land, where no one knows you and you know no one is thrilling. I am happiest when I have some travel / guide books around me and I am making notes for all the touristy things to avoid and the non-touristy things to do! Of course, actually going to the less visited places would be the icing on the cake, but that is for another day !