Thank you, DWL.

It was my birthday on the 17th. My husband’s family was here, and he decided to take on a DIY project for the weekend. We are the people who laze in front of the TV on Saturdays, put off doing laundry until we can see the bottom of our drawers (no pun intended), and call a plumber for fishing out a nail out of the sink. A DIY project in this house presented itself like a looming disaster. And this is not just any project I am talking about. It’s not like he was planning to hammer some nails and hang our pictures, not at all – a monkey could do that. My husband, ladies and gentlemen, was planning to put tiles all over the kitchen walls above the granite counters to create a dazzling backsplash. Aaaaarrrgh!!!

So, the project began on the 15th. The boys made several trips to Home Depot, selected tiles and grout, and began putting adhesive on the walls, christened chipkum by our cousin, between annoying sessions of FIFA on PS3, endless cups of chai, and loud, harmless cursing. By the time the chipkum was done, it was the 16th, and my kitchen was in complete and utter chaos. At this point, they started to press down the tile sheets on chipkum while I was cooking a birthday feast…wait for it…for myself! Yes, I was, in fact, required to cook a feast for the entire family on my birthday to celebrate. Charming, right? God bless our cousin’s wife, she did most of the cooking while the boys showed mock annoyance and worked around us. At midnight, a wannabe black forest cake from a chain grocery store was cut by yours truly. All of us looked like construction workers. Grout was all over our clothes and all over my kitchen counters (gasp!), the chai was still flowing freely, and of course, FIFA was still being played.
Such was my birthday celebration. Imagine my surprise then, when I logged on to DWL on the morning of my birthday and found AMAZING, beautiful, thoughtful, absolutely wonderful birthday wishes from the mods and members. It REALLY made my day, guys. All of a sudden, it was OK that I was working like crazy on my birthday, cleaning up wretched dried-up grout from the newly installed tiles. My arms were ready to fall off, but it was all good – DWL loves me – and that made it all bearable.
Almost a week later, I am sitting in my living room. My husband is STILL cleaning the grout. We are almost ready to seal the tiles, and in two hours, my kitchen will look amazing.
For this difficult birthday and horrible week, I thank you, DWL. The ‘Lounge has been with me through some grave times; this last week was one of the “insignificantly troublesome” variety, but I would have pulled my hair out if it weren’t for DWL and Papercuts.
Brimming with love,

Papercuts Volume 7 is out!

This is going to be short and sweet:

Volume 7 of our biannual magazine is now available. We’ve all worked really hard to revamp the magazine, and we’re hoping you will enjoy reading it. Don’t forget to comment on any pieces you might like.

Go to and click on the Papercuts tab to read!

Delusions of grandeur

The first time we were going back to India after moving to the States, in the summer of ’97, my father declared that I was allowed one pair of jeans, one pair of sneakers and a shirt to travel in. My attire after landing in India was to be salwar kameezes, lenghas and long skirts. As a fifteen year old and a part of the 1.5 immigrant generation growing up in NYC, I cracked a few smart ass comments at my father’s dictate, but didn’t fight it too much. See, this wasn’t worth beating my already sore hands on the drums of teenagedom caught in the middle of the immigrant experience. I could mouth off to mom and dad, insist on my independence, rail against the stereotypes they attempted to impose on me and generally be an Indian version of the bratty American teen (where, really, my parents got off quite easy) all in the safety of my life in Queens. Being on Indian soil, however, wasn’t reality; it was vacation, where what happened in India, stayed in India. For a month or so while we visited family, I could play pretend and be the Sati Savitri type if that’s what my family wanted.

While in India, I never made an attempt to explain my life in NYC to my family members. Maybe it was sheer selfishness on my part of wanting to avoid the lectures on how I’m still Indian even though I live in America that came with opening up with my conservative family about my life in NYC. Staying general usually worked best: yes, school was good; yes, I still remember how to speak Kannada; yes, I do have Indian friends. I smiled a lot, I ate a lot, I wore what they wanted me to wear and I wrote in my journal a lot. I was polite, respectful and most of all, just plain quiet. We never discussed anything deep and certainly nothing related to sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll.

My writing, however, has never been quiet. I will break my personality into pieces for the various different compartments of my life, but my writing is one place where I live, whole and complete with total honesty. It never concerned me in the past that when I get published (yes, I said it – when, dammit, when), as a creative non-fiction writer, I would be laying my life out for public consumption. With my immediate family, I began to hang the family’s dirty laundry out to dry starting at 16, so it would be nothing new to them. Everything else, I justified. My parents are so closeted about their lives that it’s not like their friends and acquaintances would recognize me as the child of someone they know. My extended family in India – well, I’ll just make sure the book never gets translated into Kannada and besides, how are one brown woman’s words ever going to travel across the ocean anyway? It’s tough enough getting published and being known locally.

What I hadn’t counted on was technology shortening the distance between my lived reality and the person I pretended to be to keep the peace with my extended family. Before, there were phone calls between NYC and India where surface words lay like sweet, sickly icing on top of a cake. Now, there are emails and Facebook updates between my life and my cousins’ in India. With the internet came Google and Facebook and off they ran, snatching my delusions that my writing and my life could be kept separate from my extended family in India.

While working with Noor to edit a short piece of mine for volume 7 of Papercuts, towards the end of the process, I realized I hadn’t changed one of the characters’ name. That realization broad-sided me as I realized I was telling quite an intimate tale that involved people other than myself. With Papercuts accessible online and subject to Google’s tentacles, there’s a possibility that my cousins in India would now have access to that part of me that I hid from them. (Sidenote: I’ve seen the re-designed website for Papercuts and it rocks. It’s shaped up to be quite a strong representation of the talent at Desi Writers Lounge. You all should be uber-excited!)

There was a brief moment where I considered breathing into a paper bag, but then the writer in me, the one who has always had the backbone, snarked, “Well, then you either better hope they never find it; hope that if they find it, they’ll understand; or if they read it and don’t understand, then you better get ready to deal with the fall out – because this story is getting told.” After another dirty look thrown at the hyperventilating pansy, the writer strode off to start penning the continuation of her story.

Plans for the Resource Board

Our team was extremely excited about the resource board when it was launched last year. We are very pleased with the exercises that some of you participated in, specifically the ones featured in “Breaking the Block.” I find those to be very helpful and now that the content for volume 7 has been finalized, which we are all completely in love with, I will be making frequent appearances on the forums in order to encourage everyone to write more.

I will be introducing an interesting new dimension as well. I am taking a course here at Stanford titled “This is your life: Personal Stories in Poetry and Prose” and I am eager to share all that I learn with DWL members. We all write personal stories in our poems and stories from time to time. Even if we think a subject has nothing to do with our own lives, we can often trace back the roots of a piece to one personal experience or observation. This is why I am eager to take this course. Not only will I learn how to pen down personal experiences, I will also rediscover ways to critique such writing. I know we run into critique disagreements frequently. Keep your eye out for tips regarding helpful and honest critique in “The Critic.”

Another plan for the resource board is to post more of the classics in “The Critic” for discussion. I know we touched upon a few pieces, just brushed the surface of them, really, but I plan to update that thread with more short stories and poems for us to critique and discuss. I have some of my favorite and widely enjoyed authors and poets on the list. So stay tuned.

Finally, guess what?! It’s January – beginning of the year, which means there will be a lot more competitions to look forward to. Keep checking “Publication Avenues” for updates. I encourage all of you to send your work to these competitions. Usually there is a nominal non-refundable reading fee, but consider it a creative investment. Remember, we are all here to critique and polish your work so it is in its best shape. Please post your entries on the forums and wait for your peers to comment before submitting to a journal/competition. More often than not, you will find that critique on the forums will make your work more competitive.

A special scoop: there are a few other major plans we are working on, including but not limited to another writing competition. More on this later.

All of you who are able to make it to the DWL Reading and PaperCuts Pre-Launch Event, have fun. It has taken a huge effort to bring this together and our team in Pakistan has been working tirelessly to arrange it. If you are able to attend this event, please do! And don’t forget to contact Shehla to let her know that you’ll be there.

I am getting super excited for all these new plans, and I better get to work now so I can deliver all that I promised above.

See you on the forums!

Happy New Year

Happy New Year, everyone.

I can’t believe it’s 2011. Babies born in nineteen ninety are going to turn twenty one this year. I feel ancient. I am a mid-eighties baby myself and really detest the ugly hairstyles and questionable fashion trends associated with my decade. But really, my decade was the nineties, the late nineties particularly when I finished school. Ah, those last few years in an all-girls missionary school were full of day-dreaming teenagers. The poster boys were Shahid Afridi (he still is a hero, was just younger and clean-shaven back then), Shahrukh Khan (“Kuch kuch hota hai, Anjali. Tum nahi samjho gi” and “Senorita, aisay baray baray shehron mein aisi choti choti baatein hoti rehti hain” – eww, and yes, I still remember these lines!), The Backstreet Boys (I thought they were horrible, frankly), and the ones who wanted to be really “different” liked Saqlain Mushtaq/Shoaib Akhtar, ‘N Sync/Boyzone, and Amir Khan/Salman Khan. Sigh, ten years after graduating, I still think my world at that time was perfect for the fifteen-year-old me.

I remember these trivial details well. There was no fear, no worry, just a normal and healthy childhood. When I called home this morning from the warm comfort of my commuter train, my thirteen-year-old brother answered. After exchanging pleasantries he said, “Do you know Salman Taseer was assassinated today?”
“Yes,” I said. “It’s horrible.”
“Not so horrible for me. I get a day off from school tomorrow,” said my brother.
Both my sister who was sitting near him, and I, a world across from him said “Shahzil! Someone DIED! Should you be saying this?”
“Sorry, sorry,” said my brother, completely non-committal.
How’s it possible to think this way? Did I have the same mentality as a child? Granted he is twelve years younger than me, but in that moment this morning, I felt decades older. I have never felt so distant from him before.

In this situation, who do you blame? We’ve both had the same parenting, same facilties, similar schooling. The circumstances, however, of our respective childhood are different. When I was his age, I never heard a bomb blowing up my neighborhood marketplace. I didn’t ride my bike across the carnage. My mother didn’t go looking for me frantically in the street because she had heard hand grenades going off two roads down our house. My brother has seen and experienced all this in his thirteen summers. He has switched three schools to be closer to home. He has lost distant family members in street violence, bombings, and suicide attacks. His mother and uncle have been robbed multiple times at gunpoint. He has seen two monumental natural disasters in his country: the earthquake and the floods, along with the mass migration of internally displaced persons. His parents and sisters are paranoid about his safety. All this has led him to treat death as something trivial, an everyday occurrence. Something about his childhood is lost and damaged. He has grown up too fast, too soon. His eyes have hardened and narrowed. I don’t see the mischief in them that was so apparent when he was five and was waving goodbye to me at Lahore International Airport in 2003.

It is two thousand and eleven, everyone. My little brother will turn fourteen this year. When I was as old as him, I was writing really bad poetry inspired by nineties Bollywood. They are horrible poems, but my childhood was beautiful enough to turn me into a poet. Hopefully we can all make an extra effort this year and do what we can to improve the world we live in. Resolve to make the world better in any way you can. Go green, even if it involves a small change like switching to paper bags. Write a small check for a charity every month this year – every dollar helps. Blog about what you see around you, raise awareness for the causes you believe in. Write to make someone’s life better, even if it is for an instant. Put a smile on someone’s face even if you have to contribute a joke to a local paper. This year, don’t make colossal commitments. Start small. Do something for someone else. A tiny little thing. And see where it takes you.

Happy New Year from all of us at DWL. Sorry for the sadness, but some days laughter eludes me after the first paragraph.

Best wishes.