Mitali? Natalie? Matally?

A few years ago, I stopped spelling out my first name in America. I was tired of spelling, "M as in Mary, I as in India, Blah, Blah, Blah ...," or saying sweetly, "Just think of Tamale and switch the M and the T." After the standard "name-please" from the cashier at Starbucks, I answered "Mitali" quickly, just once, as though I were saying "Amanda" or "Jennifer" instead. (How would it feel if everybody actually got your name after you said it once? Enlighten me, Jennifer, Amanda.) True Confessions: I enjoyed watching the person behind the cash register squirm as they debated whether they should take a stab at the spelling, or ask for a repeat. And then I waited to hear the mutilation. A wide range of attempts were called out, from "Non-Fat Vanilla Latte for Natalia" to "Tall Cappuccino for Attila."

But recently, my slightly mean-spirited decision not to help people handle my foreign-ness hasn't been fazing the young twenty-somethings who work at Starbucks. They've been multi-culturalized, trained from pre-K to pronounce foreign names that their grandmothers would have politely, affectionately abbreviated. (I would have been dubbed Mitty in the 1950s, I'm sure of it.)

"Mitali," I tell them.

"Grande Mocha Frappuccino for Mitali!" they sing out nonchalantly and proficiently, sounding like they grew up watching Bollywood flicks along with MTV.

When I'm a sixty-something myself, some buff blonde surfer dude will beat me to the counter. "I'm Mitali," he'll say. "That's MY Grande. Back off, Grandma."

My Baby's Off To California! Hooray!

The completed first draft of Asha Means Hope was 199 pages long, and of course my printer ran out of ink after spitting out page 195. Trotted off to Staples, made a copy for myself to read (later, much later), bought the ink cartridge, printed the last four pages, and mailed the manuscript to Laura Rennert, my agent. "Free! I'm free at last," I wanted to shout, falling on my knees, but it wouldn't be true. I have to begin working on Sparrow's story immediately (as in three months ago) which, however, will be fun and light, nothing like Asha's emotional journey. Goodbye for now, Asha my love. Peace be with you till Round Two.

Kahani Magazine

I'm having chai this morning with my friend Monika Jain, who is the editor of Kahani Magazine. If you've not yet learned about this fantastic publication, you're missing out! Insider tip for writers: Monika makes outstanding chai.

Justine Magazine Review

Check out the nice mention of Monsoon Summer in Justine Magazine's October/November 2005 issue. I LOVE this mag's mission statement, so am thrilled about the mention.

Hollywood Calling, Don't Hold Your Breath

I got an e-mail from a production company asking if the "film and television rights for The Not-So-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen are still available for option." What? I thought, imagining the stunning outfit I'd wear to the New York premiere of the movie. WOW!

But then I started Googling, and quickly discovered that it wouldn't be wise to announce my new celebrity status to my friends and family. This company is only interested in the possibility of buying the option of making my book into a film. So, if they do decide to make an offer (and who knows how likely that is?), they'll pay a small fee to reserve the rights for a year or so. Very, very few books that are optioned appear on either the big or small screen.

Oh well, a girl can dream, can't she? Let's see, a red saree and gold stilettos might photograph well in People magazine ...

A Literary Healer in Louisiana

Reviewer Colleen Mondor (Eclectica, BookSlut) writes that she's tutoring displaced kids in Louisiana. She's set up two wishlists of books and games for the children. If you want to donate used books, or anything else, you may e-mail Colleen directly.

South Asian Festivals

Two upcoming events of note: the South Asian Literary Theater and Arts Festival in Washington D.C., scheduled for October 1-2, 2005 (it's free!), and Kriti, an exciting conference sponsored by DesiLit November 10-13, 2005 in Chicago. Children's authors at these events include Uma Krishnaswami, Anjali Banerjee, and Pooja Makhijani. (I OD'ed on links today ... Enjoy!)

Tales and Turkey To Go

My parents reminisced as we ate shrimp and rice with the fingers of our right hands, in proper Bengali fashion. Dad, one of eleven kids growing up in rural Bangladesh, remembered restless nights on dirt floors worrying about cobras slithering in through cracks and holes. Several families in the village had lost children to snake bites in the dark of the night. Mom, a talented Manipuri dancer and singer of Rabindra Sangeet told me about the plays and musicals my Didu used to organize for the entire neighborhood. Now that the first draft of Asha Means Hope is done (ALLELUIA), I listened eagerly, taking in details to add texture as I revise. I'm sure I had the only carry-on that was packed with freshly-made luchis and Ma's signature ground turkey, potato, and pea vindaloo, which she sent along for our dinner tonight. Too bad I can't bring it out on the Fire Escape for everybody to sample ...


(Please translate for other readers if you know these words; am grumpy after a red-eye, miss my parents, and lack energy to cross borders graciously this morning.)

Rabindra Sangeet
Manipuri Dance

Dorothy Was Right

Won't be blogging till next week as I'm off to visit my raison d’ĂȘtre. Baba called to ask what he should buy at the market for Ma to cook. I chose shrimp this time (sauteed in a light yogurt-turmeric sauce, the way only she can prepare it so that it perfectly complements steaming white rice). I won't take anything along except clean underwear and my iBook. Ma will provide a new toothbrush as well as freshly-laundered-and-dried-on-the-line flannel pjs. My old teddy bear is waiting patiently to continue our conversation. He's hard as a rock and has no eyes and mouth, but his ears are intact so he's a great listener. Pass the jet blue slippers; California, here I come.

3D Music: A Rant

Sweating on a treadmill at the gym yesterday, I watched VH1 on the shared television — something I haven't done in years. I caught the creative offerings of celebrities like Missy Elliott, Gwen Stefani, and Mariah Carey. The videos were basically mini-movies, quick stories with each vocalist starring as the main character.

Didn't like 'em. I'll admit I was critical of the hyper-sexualized, anti-woman content, but when I reflected on my distaste, it had a lot to do with the genre of music videos as a whole.

A good song has the power to weave into your soul when the rhythm of the music and the beauty of the lyrics become a 2D poem. But it seemed to me that the third dimension of video diminished and overwhelmed both the music and the lyrics. The songs themselves became secondary, playing like background music to the in-your-face visuals. Music videos skew the relationship between the listener and the artist, giving the latter too much control over what should be a shared musical experience. Besides, you listen to a song. You don't watch a song.

Convince me I'm wrong. Please. I'll watch any music video if you think it honors the song. And the listener.

A Two-Latte Morning

I jammed at Peet's Coffee this morning and spent four hours writing. To pay for the free office space, I consumed two vanilla lattes and a bagel with cream cheese. Sigh ... what's good for the deadline is bad for the waistline.

Are You An Echo Boomer?

Here's an interesting quote about young people from a CBS News Report:
Violent crime among teenagers is down 60 to 70 percent. The use of tobacco and alcohol are at all-time lows. So is teen pregnancy. Five out of 10 echo boomers say they trust the government, and virtually all of them trust Mom and Dad.
On the other hand, according to a CEO of a company who's starting to interview the older end of this demographic group:
They can't think long-range. Everything has to be immediate, like a video game. And they have a lot of trouble sort of doing things in a stepwise fashion, delaying gratification. Really reflecting as they go along.
Agree or disagree?

Knots and Mexican Hats

So you think you were a dork in middle school? Bet you can't top this. I spent the summer before seventh grade at the neighborhood pool. We'd just moved to the burbs and I was reveling in the luxury of swimming every day. My hair stayed in a pony tail for weeks, in and out of the pool, in and out of the shower. When we went out as a family, I stuck a sombrero on my head to cover the tangled mess. (We'd moved from Mexico City to California and the hat had traveled with me.)

The day before school started, my older sisters informed me that the season of their tolerance was over. If I wanted a shot at social survival, I'd have to get the knots out of my hair. And dump the hat. I protested, but it was three stylish women standing firm against one fashion-challenged late bloomer. Ma started with a comb, lost patience, and brought in the shears. I started junior high with a short, neat haircut that smelled faintly of chlorine.

True confessions: I still own the sombrero. Wanna borrow it?

Notes to the Zero Generation

My essay exploring the gains and losses of growing up as an immigrant kid is featured in the fall 2005 issue of Teaching Tolerance magazine. The issue also includes a good article by Carrie Kilman about teaching immigrants.