Some live by “Love thy neighbor as thy self.”
Others by first do no harm, or take no more than you need.

What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national.
Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp — praise song for walking forward in that light.

[excerpt from the Inaugural Poem by Elizabeth Alexander]

I’ve had the pleasure to  serve as Interim Choir Director at St. Pauls in Newton, MA since fall. If you are looking to attend a Sunday or a special service during the Advent/Christmas season, please drop by. (View schedule and location). Led by the dynamic and oh-so-cool Revd. Gretchen Grimshaw, the music leans toward jazz, mixed in with some gospel and traditional choral styles. And although we don’t have a large choir, (it’s affectionately known as the little Big choir), they’re tremedously capable, having withstood some mean choral arrangements of mine in the past. I will be at this church until the Martin Luther King weekend, which falls on Jan 18th.
P.S. the choir welcomes new voices!

I was in Mumbai (formerly Bombay, the name I find hard to discontinue using since I knew it as such for most of my life) during the month of November, on a vacation to visit family and friends. During this time, we visited our favourite haunts including the majestic Taj Hotel where we lunched at the Golden Dragon restaurant. I distinctly remember how impressed I was by the rich decor, classical ambiance and spaciousness of this century old structure. A few things were different I sensed, compared to my last visit seven years ago. There were more people for sure – milling in the lobby and at the entrance, with hundreds more just outside the periphery of the Taj, a spill over from the squeeze of visitors to the Gateway of India. Just outside the lobby, at the foot of the gleaming marble stairs, was a solitary narrow metal detector that visitors had to pass through before entering the hotel. It looked ugly, out of place in these surroundings, and hardly seemed effective. Once inside the hotel lobby, we tried to capture some video footage on our camcorder of the enormous room with the stunning chandelier and artefacts, but were politely asked to refrain from doing so, as we would be “offending guests”. (Had the staff been instructed to curb people from filming the interiors for security reasons, or was it truly because we might offend the sensibilities of guests and intrude their privacy, albeit in a fairly public place?)

TV reportsA few days later, we were enjoying an exquisite Indian buffet spread at a restaurant in another 5-star hotel a few kilometres away at an area popularly know as the Juhu beach. There was an outdoor wedding reception taking place on the beachfront. We saw headlines flash by on the restaurants big screen TV – there had been shootings at the main railway station in Mumbai, then at the Metro cinema in South Bombay. Within minutes, the channel was showing raw footage of the aftermath of gun attacks at Leopold’s Cafe. We thought it might be gang-related, but Leopold’s was hardly the kind of venue for assassinations of this sort. It was essentially a tourist hangout, and its clients didn’t didn’t seem to be sort who might be involved in trouble of this nature. Within few minutes we heard that the Taj was under attack, Continue reading

Hookah Menu at Tony da Dhaba

I’d mostly seen this ancient pipe being used by people in Indian villages, but it appears that it is a trend gaining popularity among college students in urban areas today. Hookahs are widely being offered in cafes and restaurants in Indian cities, with the tobacco offered in an assortment of flavors. Students come in groups and sit for hours peacefully gurgling communal pipes in casual surroundings. Here’s a hookah menu hanging at a popular ‘dhaba’ restaurant on the outskirts of Bombay. (This place also served served ’emu tikka’ btw).

Incidentally, one of my upcoming performances (20th November) will be at a restaurant in Pune called the Shisha Jazz Cafe, ‘shisha’ being a common term for the hookah in the Middle East. For reservations call 20-65200390.

Getting pronunciation correct, especially when it comes to names of countries, religions and personal names is a basic sign of respect for a nation and it’s culture, and not an ‘exotic’ endeavour. I’m glad this is being discussed here. As for our politicians – anyone who claims to remotely have anything to do with foreign policy should stop critiquing Obama. Sometimes, just the pronouncing of a country’s name correctly, can evoke a gush of goodwill from that nations’ citizenry. A basic step in good ambassadorship.

Most folks in the US wouldn’t be aware of this, but it’s nearly time for us Canadians to elect our new PM – Oct. 14th actually. In June, CTV and the Globe & Mail did a survey which stated that Canadians preferred Obama over their own leaders. In an article out yesterday, the Vancouver Sun reports that it is a case of Obama-envy with 42% (a huge increase in margin!) of them choosing Obama, well ahead of the 29% that current Conservative PM Stephen Harper garnered. Ouch. Inspired by this solid enthusiam of Canadians for the US candidate, there’s a “Barack Obama For PM” website with spiffy T-shirts, complete with igloo and maple leaf logos.

Well, I wouldn’t wish it to happen, but after the results of the last US election there’s always a nagging fear of history repeating itself. So if McCain wins, at least we know that Obama can always head over to Parliament Hill in Ottawa 🙂 So to those among my friends who I know are thinking of re-locating to Barcelona, Amsterdam or Auckland if the Republicans win, perhaps you may not have to move that far after all!

Obama For Prime Minister

Have been trying to make some some moral decisions when buying seafood … it’s not easy and there have been many mishaps along the the way. Came across some info that helps one make the right eco-choice. Based on the zones you live in, here’s one that displays sustainable seafood choices. Also some great buying advice from Henry Lovejoy, president of the sustainable-seafood purveyor EcoFish. And here’s a scorecard of how the top 20 US retailers did when it came to seafood sustainability. Even the winner didn’t make the grade 🙁

It’s 2008 and New Year’s greetings and best wishes to all! Heard a brief interview on NPR this morning with Eric Weiner whose book is on my reading list, called “The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World“. Besides referring to the World Database of Happiness, he mentioned a trip to Bhutan where a man’s suggestion for being happy was to set aside a few minutes a day to think about death.

In the East, the cycle of birth and death can be table talk, linked figuratively to the waxing and waning of the moon, and change of seasons. Dealing with adversity differs among people and nations. Growing up in India, it was not uncommon to hear people when speaking of their problems, end their speech with a ‘What to do?’. (Kya karega?). The phrase adorns the end of every monologue that has to do with recounting a problem or ‘situation’ and is accompanied by a shrug of the shoulder. If pressed for time, a Jaguar will not get you to your destination faster than the lowly auto rickshaw in Bombay’s crawling, leaden traffic. What to do? The telephone has been dead for over two days. What to do? Resignation, an apology that one can’t have control over all things in life. Just saying it insulates one from obsessive worrying – sort of a tension exhale. Apparently the phrase is infectious too. I had to do a quick double take and rewind when I heard it casually uttered by John McLaughlin while I watched the DVD Remember Shakti – The Way Of Beauty. There was an upcoming tour, and he was trying to locate L. Shankar the violinist who had strangely disappeared for several months, to no avail. Finally he engaged the talents of the mandolin prodigy U. Srinivas. And then he said “What to do?” With a shoulder shrug. It was strange to hear an Englishman say that – but then John in many ways is even more a desi than I am. He’s spent several years of his life in India, immersing himself in the classical music, spirituality and culture of the country. Speaking of him, I need to revisit more of his amazing works from the 70’s. Also check out his latest DVD: The Gateway To Rhythm, which explains the system of ‘konakkol’ (the art of vocal drumming and rhythms from South India).

Neither apparently, as far as being green goes. We  know the best option is to carry a stash of canvas or re-useable bags when we go shopping, but there are times I forget to do this. Having to choose between the two was a grey area for me, and I’ve always wondered what would be the lesser of two evils for the environment. The Washington Post printed an informative diagram some time ago, weighing the costs and consequences of paper or plastic.

[This travel article was published in the November 2007 issue of the Qatar-based feature magazine ‘New Era’.]

Central Park, NYCIt is late afternoon, and I’m writing this article on a muggy, fall day in New York City’s Central Park. I’m seated on patchy grass after finding myself a hotspot (thanks to free wi-fi in the park), catching up on e-mail and news. I arrived here on the comfortable Acela train from Boston, three and a half hours of super-smooth travel that skirted the Eastern seaboard with barely a whisper. Since my arrival, I’ve been drawn into a gritty, urban state of mind, while savouring the ability to keep walking for hours, being simultaneously assaulted and lulled by the sights and sounds of Manhattan. In contrast, the park is an anticlimax – a green cocoon of quiet; free of exhaust and the taut energy that wraps the avenues outside. The purpose of my visit? None really. I have no appointments to keep, no deadlines to meet. I’m staying at the New Yorker Hotel, in midtown Manhattan. Built in the art deco style of the jazz swing era, it was one of NYC’s premier hotels and hosted famous big bands such as those led by Benny Goodman and Woody Herman during its heyday. Unfortunately it stands in various states of disrepair today, but its location is hard to beat, offering an almost instant access to several key tourist spots and vistas in the city core. Situated a few blocks north is Times Square and Central Park, and to the South, Lower Manhattan and the Village with its interesting, funky neighbourhoods such as SoHo, Chelsea, Little Italy and Chinatown. Continue reading