Music verses in his pocket. Worked every time.

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I come from a family of musicians. My older brothers are in multiple bands and my parents wrote their own songs. My dad, especially, prided himself in writing theological verses and tunes. In fact, he usually carried a religious verse or two in his pocket ready to sing at a moment’s notice. Just in case inspiration hit and then he would burst out into song. He believed life is a Broadway show (or a Bollywood movie which is probably more accurate).

Sometimes he would burst out into song even if he was nervous or inspiration didn’t hit – because he felt that was a great way to make friends. He figured he could lure them in with his songs and my mom’s samosas. 9 out of 10 times it worked. The times that it didn’t work he would blame my mom’s samosas.

He also had a competitive streak. Part of the reason he kept a verse or two in his pocket was in case someone else tried to use that luring strategy at a dinner party. He wasn’t prepared to let anyone outdo him.

In particular, there is one such event that still makes me laugh. I was visiting home from college for the holidays. My parents had already signed me up for various social events. This is a good place to elaborate I don’t just come from a musical family but from a family of musical social butterflies. We lived in Cyprus at the time and my parents insisted that on a small island it is even more important to be “seen” at all events.

My parent’s favorite place to be seen was at the Indian Consulate. They went to all the parties at the Consulate and had quite the fashionable reputation. The buzz was always, “I wonder what Mr. and Mrs. Hukmani will be wearing tonight.”  (The photo above speaks a 1000 words on their stylishness, don’t you think?)

On one such occasion my dad particularly outdid himself. He put on his very Bill Cosbyesque sweater knitted by my mom, of course, so he could brag about it and wore his brand newly, starched, maroon turban for the holidays. In his pocket were carefully placed verses of a few songs he wrote. 

Equipped with a tupperware of my mom’s finest samosas, off we went to the holiday soiree of the year. I don’t remember what I was wearing. It was classy but I made sure I didn’t steal my parent’s thunder. After all this was their night and I loved how excited they got.

The evening started like any other. Fashionably late grand entrance expecting people to be excited about my dad’s sweater. Only no one paid attention this time. Determined to find out what was distracting all the Indians in Cyprus, he walked over to where everyone was gathered. To his delight, the Greek President’s Indian wife had decided to attend tonight’s social soiree. Jackpot! 

This was his dream. He really liked the Greek President at the time (President Clerides) and the fact that his wife was part Indian made it even more exciting. He used to always tell me, “We’re going to be best friends one day!” 

So what did my dad do? Never to shy away from a challenge, he burst out into song. Pulled out the verses from his pocket and started singing. Just like a Bollywood movie. The crowds parted and everyone listened. And when he was done, my mom distributed samosas. Like magic, Mrs. Clerides walked over and spent the entire evening speaking to my parents. 

As you’ve already guessed how this story ends, my parents became best friends with Mr. and Mrs. Clerides. I don’t think I ever fully got used to seeing the Greek President randomly at my parents house but my dad made it seem like a no brainer. 

This is one of my favorite things about my dad. He would set an intention and make it happen. Whether it was to make new friends, be everyone’s favorite social butterfly or brag about my mom’s knitting. Even when he was nervous he took risks. All the while dressed to the nines, distributing food and with music verses in his pocket ready to perform at a moment’s notice.

Worked every time. 

Embrace The Turmeric Face

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Rachna Hukmani Photo Copyright Katarina Kojic Photography. All rights reserved.

My mom has always been obsessed with turmeric. Using it in home remedies to cure any ailment to cooking with it to using it as a face mask, she swears by it. Truth be told it really is a miracle root. Google health benefits of turmeric and you’ll be in awe. It can cure anything from inflammation to hair loss to wrinkles to cognitive function to lowering risk of cancer.

About 2 months ago I had a freak injury in boxing class (a long story for another time!) that has ended up in me having torn and sprained ligaments as well as multiple bone contusions. This resulted in a lot of “me” time because I had to elevate my knee and stay off it. On a plus note, I meditated so much I feel I must have evolved as a human being. I feel lighter and more alert somehow.

In the midst of all the meditating and lightness, I was reminded about the year I started getting migraines out of the blue. I was 10 years old. As expected, my mom came to my rescue, mixing a concoction consisting of turmeric, indian butter (ghee), coconut oil and ginger. She smeared it across my forehead generously despite my spirited objections (tantrums). I smelled like a chicken tikka marinade. I know that sounds like a good thing but it didn’t feel like it.

Of course, it worked wonders. My migraine was gone in an hour. This also meant she wasn’t going to let me miss school the next morning (booo!). I was sent to bed and I woke the next morning feeling perfectly normal (or as normal as a 10 year old Indian child can feel in an all Greek school).

The only drawback was my forehead was bright yellow from the overnight turmeric miracle. No matter how much I scrubbed my forehead, my forehead looked like a Minion had licked it. Of course, my mom did not understand why it was social suicide to go to school like that. She refused to let me stay home.

Off to school I went. And all day, kids asked me, “What’s with the yellow forehead?” in Greek. To which I replied with a blank stare, “Um…what yellow forehead?” In my 10 year old brain I thought that was the smartest reaction. Complete denial. Of course, they all looked at me suspiciously and asked more questions. I stuck to my guns all day and walked around head held high. I’m lucky they didn’t make a mean nickname out of it. In a weird way, I embraced my turmeric face quite proudly even though I didn’t realize it at the time.

Luckily, the kids forgot about it after a week and my migraines eventually went away for good with repeated usage of mom’s magic concoction. This little mishap also became an inside joke for the Hukmani household – we would say, “Do I have turmeric on my face?” if we did something ridiculous instead of “Do I have egg on my face?”

As this random memory came back to me a couple of months ago, I hobbled into the kitchen injured ligaments and all. I made my mom’s miracle remedy cure for my knee, applied it generously on my knee and went to bed.

I woke up the next morning, swelling reduced and I was limping less. I proceeded to use it everyday and by the end of the week I was able to straighten my knee. While I’m not completely healed and it will take about 6 months or so, I continue to use her remedy and I keep getting better. To avoid any yellow discoloration of my knee, I apply it over kinesio tape and cover it up with a bandage so the color stays contained. Problem solved. To avoid smelling like a butter tikka, I just use less of it. You actually don’t need much of it. So easy.

It’s so interesting how things have a way of showing their true value later in life. Not only has my mom equipped her kids with a miracle cure so we rarely worry about minor illnesses, she randomly taught us to laugh at ourselves and not get embarrassed very easily. She taught us to embrace our turmeric face. I certainly have a good laugh every time I think of the ridiculous nature of my injury.

I invite you all to use my mom’s magic concoction physically and symbolically. Feel free to also say, “Do I have turmeric on my face?” and send me photos of the ridiculous things you do.

The Hukmani Guide to Traveling Like A Sophisticate And Not Looking Like a Hooligan

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My dad was very well traveled and did so with style. He often got upgraded to first class just based on his facial expressions. It was quite cool to see him in action. He believed that the secret to success was looking and acting your best while flying. You never knew who you might meet on an airplane.

He was often also mistaken for the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, while traveling. The picture above shows the uncanny resemblance. So, of course, he believed he owed it to the Indian public to always look his best. Sometimes people asked my dad for his autograph thinking he was the Prime Minister. My dad always graciously complied and even posed for photos. This was one of my favorite things about him. There are a lot of happy Indians out there who believe they have a photo with the Indian Prime Minister in a navy blue business suit, grey turban and regal posture. My dad knew how to pose for a photo.

He had a lot of rules for traveling like a sophisticate and not looking or acting like a hooligan. The common question he asked his family was, “Are you Hukmani or a Hooligan?”

I thought I’d share his travel guide with everyone, so you too can get upgraded to first class by your mere presence. His guide included a 11 step plan as all effective guides do…

1. Never wear jeans. Jeans are for gangsters. Never wear track pants. Track pants make you look like you have something to hide

2. Always wear a well fitted, structured blazer. It makes you look distinguished and like you might have a regular tailor. It is important for people to think you have your own tailor. If someone asks you if you have a tailor, always say “yes” (Btw, this applies generally in life too. Not just airplanes).

3. If someone asks you where you went to school, say “Oxford.” This is vague enough for people to be impressed and not ask too many questions. If they ask you what you went to school for, say “International Business.” This makes you seem responsible and worldly.

4. As soon as you board the airplane, introduce yourself to the first flight attendant you see, shake their hand firmly and ask for the pilot’s name. This makes you seem like you are distinguished and well traveled in that “oh I travel so much the pilot is a personal friend of mine” way

5. As soon you board, introduce yourself to your fellow passenger and let them know you’re a light sleeper. This makes you seem considerate and also discourages them from stealing from you. The latter is especially important if the fellow passenger is wearing jeans or track pants.

6. If seated in economy look gracious but just a little uncomfortable as in, “I don’t really belong here but I am making the best of it.” My dad believed this was key in getting upgraded to first class

7. If watching a movie, ensure it is a movie of substance, preferably with a political conspiracy. My dad called these “Political Thrillers” No animated movies, rom coms or movies about finding yourself. These are meant for home viewing only. (Little known fact, my dad secretly LOVED movies about little children having adventures or better yet misunderstood dogs finally saving the day. I often found him watching these on Sunday mornings. I might have even caught a tear or two in his eyes)

8. If a Political Thriller isn’t available, read the Financial Times, The Economist or Wall Street Journal. If your fellow passenger is in a blazer as well, quote something out loud to them in an indignant “can you believe this? Our economy is is certainly in for a toss!” manner. This is the key to starting a business conversation and using words like “toss” and “pish posh” really make you sound like you went to Oxford

9. Change into sleepwear if on a long overnight flight. Do not sleep in your blazer. Only my dad never called his sleepwear PJs. In my house, we called PJs  “a night suit” and the top and bottom had to match or you were deemed a hooligan. My dad always changed from his business suit into a night suit if he was on a red eye.

10. Have an elegant and vintage looking gift in your carry on luggage like a  miniature wall clock or sophisticated regal figurine like an eagle

11. When about to de-board the plane ask that this gift be delivered to the pilot as a thank you for getting us to our destination on time (if giving the miniature wall clock) or compliment his smooth flying talents (if gifting the eagle figurine). This ensures the pilot remembers you and soon you will be on a first name basis.

I hope this short but effective list inspires you. I will admit I have yet to follow this guide to its entirety. Perhaps we can do this together one day. Next time you’re traveling with me, let’s ask ourselves, “What would Mr. Hukmani do?” and do that. Then ask ourselves “What would a hooligan do?” and not do that. Maybe we too will find ourselves on first name basis with the pilot, watching a Political Thriller in our night suits in first class.

The Curious Habits of Kimono Clad Dad

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This week would’ve been my dad’s 85th birthday. As always, I find peace and calmness in writing. Reminiscing with my family, I came across a photo from when we lived in Kuwait. It was a photo of my dad in a kimono and I remembered the year when my dad would put on a kimono every weekend, go about the house happily singing, cooking and giving sage advice.

Btw, a bit of useless information – back then weekends in Kuwait were Thu-Fri not Sat-Sun. In Islam, Friday is a holy day so that was part of our weekend. Till the age of 10 I couldn’t relate to Sunday blues. We had Friday blues and Thursday was the best day of the week.

But I digress. I’m sure you’re all wondering, “Why was your dad in a kimono every weekend?”

When we lived in Kuwait, my dad worked for Pioneer (anyone remember the gigantic Pioneer hi fi systems??). This meant that he would travel to Japan regularly for work. During his visits he would immerse himself in Japanese culture and bring us presents like books on Japanese proverbs and beautiful paintings. Our home was influenced by Japanese decor in a big way. We were big into Japan.

He would also invite his Japanese colleagues and their families over to our house. He would spend hours discussing Japanese philosophy. In fact, my first baby sitting job was for a Japanese baby named Saku who was super cute and had an obsession with sitting in cardboard boxes. I was told by his parents to always have a cardboard box handy and line it with newspapers. Saku also came with a baby leash. Perhaps his parents really wanted a puppy.

Saku’s parents gifted my dad a kimono one year and my dad was thrilled. He decided this would be his weekend attire. So every Thu morning I would wake up to kimono clad dad. Kimono clad dad had curious habits that only commenced once the kimono was on. This included:

1. Serving “candy” that tasted like seaweed and/or fish. Now this wasn’t actually candy just delicious Japanese snacks. My dad called it exotic “candy” so as children we thought all candy tasted a bit fishy and would stay away from it. This was his way of controlling our sugar intake. To this day, the first mental image I have when I see any kind of candy is a fish. The first time I came across Swedish Fish in the US, it was an extremely poetic and emotional moment for me.

2. Cooking Red Cabbage. All day. I’m not sure how many of you have cooked red cabbage for hours but it has a really terrible smell. This has nothing to do with my dad’s appreciation for Japanese culture. He was just convinced that red cabbage had many health benefits so he would take every opportunity to serve it. He put it in stews, curries and even made red cabbage ice cream once. That was not a good day. It was not sweet because he was trying to control our sugar intake.

3. Singing songs about light. My dad was a religious man and often sang serious songs about God. During the year of the kimono, he would switch things up a bit over weekends and sing happy, silly songs about light in general. He did this while cooking red cabbage. I think he was trying to distract himself from the smell.

4. Taking an awesome photo. He looked great in his kimono and knew it. The photo included says it all.

5. Gifts for me from the stationery closet. My dad had an entire closet dedicated only to stationery. It was extremely organized and well stacked. During the weekend, if I was good, I got a gift from the stationery closet like an eraser, a pencil – and once I was older an ink pen. This is why I love walking through the aisles of Staples and get excited when a stack of new note pads arrive at my day job.

I’m not sure why my dad stopped kimono weekends. I loved the activities. Not the red cabbage. Maybe I’ll start having friends over to sing songs of light and gift each stationery. Bring back the weekend activities. Not the red cabbage.

Thank you for the comedy

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December has come to be bittersweet for me these past 3 years. On one hand, my dad’s passing has brought me closer to my family and their acceptance that I will always do things a little “differently” from them- or as my mom puts it “I accept you as the American in the family….” On the other hand, there is guilt of not having appreciated moments that are now like magical gifts. Life’s embarrassing moments make for comedic relief in the future. Acceptance and comedy is how I plan to start 2016.

I still remember how cool I felt the day I was getting ready for my first job interview in Cyprus. 21, thinking I knew everything, I randomly applied to the first company I found on the internet that had a vacancy, offered health benefits and promises of travel. I put on the only grown up black blazer I owned and practiced my first professional handshake in front of the mirror. This was going to be great.

I should have known something was up when I saw my dad also getting ready and casually announcing that he would drive me to my interview. Anyone who knew him, knew there was nothing casual about him.

Feeling optimistic, I agreed. So off we went. He was extremely quiet on the drive which was also unlike him. Usually, there would be a lecture on the value of the Lira (Cyprus currency) and to ensure I didn’t tarnish the Hukmani name in anyway.

As we approached our destination, my heart skipped a beat. This was an interview I had landed on my own and I was going to get it. I didn’t really care about much else.

Just then, he announced, “I am coming upstairs with you. God knows where you found these people. I have to make sure they don’t demoralize you in anyway”  I was dumbstruck. My mind started to race. “Demoralize me? What does that even mean???”  I thought to myself. Thoughts of bailing started to rush through my mind.

But the need to prove to myself I could do this prevailed. So in we went. Together. For my interview. Dad in tow. Like my bodyguard. And he sat right outside the conference room staring sternly at everyone while I tried to convince everyone that I was independent, strong and could travel by myself if needed.

The interesting part was no one said anything. Not even a single comment. Everyone acted normal like all women bring their dads to their interviews. Maybe they thought I was the beloved daughter of an Indian mobster.

The Indian mafia must be why I got that job that day. That and my solid handshake. And the silver lining? I made friends immediately. On my first day, my friend Tonia came up to me, introduced herself and asked me seriously “So, why did your dad come to your interview? Are you a baby?” There is nothing like addressing things head on to know you’re going to be ok. That job lasted 4 years and this incident was a source of laughs on many occasions. You’re welcome, random company I found on the internet.

In turn, over the years, my dad loved bragging to everyone about how he found me my first job with a renowned company he located after careful research. Sure, let’s go with that. After a while, I also realized he came with me because he was terrified I didn’t need him anymore.

I will always need you dad. Thank you for the comedy.

 

How to “own it” in NYC according to my dad

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Recently, I found a couple of photos of my dad from when he first visited NYC. It was around the time my nephew was born and he had just discovered that all three of his daughters would be moving here and there was nothing he could do about it. Before we did, he wanted to make sure he checked things out. He said it was only to meet his new grandson but we knew it was more than that. 

He lived here for 6 months and would walk around for hours exploring the city, taking notes, making judgements, shaking his head and generally feeling he knew better than everyone he met. Everyone.

The night before I was leaving he took me aside and said, “I’ve got some do’s and don’ts for you. Here is how you own it in the city.” Of course, I was intrigued. My dad had never used expressions like “own it” before.

How to “own it” in the city, according to him, went something like this:

  • Eat a lot of Chinese food for lunch and early bird special dinner. The food is cheap and if you go to one place often enough, they’ll give you a discount
  • If a man whistles at you on the street, tell a policeman
  • If someone throws garbage on the street, tell a policeman
  • If you get lost, show no fear. Keep a straight face. Ask a policeman
  • People scream, fight, argue at subway stations. Report it to a policeman
  • Wear turtlenecks to work. All “successful” women I see in NYC wear turtlenecks
  • If it is snows, tell your boss you’re going home. Your safety is of the utmost importance
  • Leave work once it starts to get dark and go home
  • Leave any place you’re at once it starts to get dark, unless it’s your sister’s house
  • Stay away from Times Square. Never go to Times Square
  • Women wear very short dresses all year round in NYC no matter how cold it is. Don’t be one of them. Their parents taught them nothing
  • Carry plastic bags in case you have to throw up. Don’t do it on the street like others. They’re hooligans. Are you a hooligan?

I wish I remembered all of them. There were a lot. Living without my dad is hard. Remembering and writing about him easy and cathartic. Miss you dad.

The Best Ugliest Jeans

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When I was 14, I desperately wanted a pair of jeans. I had never worn a pair before then. My dad was against them and said, “Only gangsters wear jeans.”

With my dad pleading, crying and throwing tantrums never worked. The silent treatment didn’t work either because he believed anyone under 30 shouldn’t talk too much anyway – so that always backfired.

What did work were written requests in letter or essay form. He loved those. So I did just that. Wrote him a letter titled, “Why I NEED jeans,” one day and left it on his pillow just before school.

A week passed and there was no mention of it. That drove me crazy but I knew him well enough to not pester him. This is very hard when you’re 14 and believe that the root of all your social problems in school is because you’re the only one who doesn’t wear jeans.

10 days later, I came home to two things. One of them was a pair of jeans! My very first pair! The other were notes and comments about my writing style which I completely bypassed. I finally had a pair of jeans. My life would be perfect from this point on.

This is a good place to mention these were probably the world’s ugliest jeans. The extreme tapered cut resulted in a very tight leg bottom; so tight around my ankles such that it often felt like it was cutting my circulation. That wasn’t the worst of it. The waist had no belt loops. Instead, there were two wide flap like ropes on either side that I needed to pull to fit my waist, much like a potato sack. The flaps, once pulled, just hung out on either side of my waist and moved about vigorously when I walked. They definitely attracted a lot of attention on a windy day. They could easily have been the world’s noisiest jeans too.

I still wore those jeans every other day for an entire year even though the waist flaps often got caught on door knobs. I hated them, I loved them, they didn’t solve any of my problems. But it was the first time my dad had let go of his stringent rules and taken my opinion into consideration. I had a whole list of letters I intended to leave on his pillow right before school. To me this was a new beginning.

 

Why Indians Make The Best Motorcycle Passengers

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If you’re an Indian who’s lived in India, you already know the why this is true. Indians really do make the best motorcycle passengers.

Here’s why. There’s no such thing as a passive motorcycle passenger in India. If you’re going to hop on, you have a job to do. You can’t just sit back and enjoy the ride if you’re in a city. You’re the co-pilot.

Firstly, no one uses left or right turn signals in India on any motor vehicle. We use hand signals to indicate our intention to turn. That’s your job, as the passenger, while the biker navigates through the two, three, four wheelers and live stock.

Secondly, you have to be ready to yell at those who ignore your intent to turn and swear at them until they get out of the way. When I lived in India, I swore like a sailor. You cannot show fear or hesitation. Waving your fists about is also very effective. In addition, if the hand turn signals don’t work, there is one hand gesture that works quite effectively, especially if you’re a woman and no one is expecting it. I never look like I would swear much less make rude hand gestures so no one sees me coming.

Finally, if you’re a woman, the swearing and aggression also comes in handy with “eve teasers.” Eve teasers is a term that exists primarily in India and Pakistan and is used to describe those men who harass women because they exist and because the opportunity presented itself. On motorcycles, in schools, at the bus stop, in the world. Motorcycles can be an easy target for obvious reasons. This is where the co-pilot needs to be ready. Ready with screams and swears. Ready to fight, wave your fists about and defend our right to be in this world. It’s a matter of pride. Then we ride off into the sunset feeling a sense of accomplishment.

So the next time, you’re in need of an engaged, effusive passenger on your bike and you find yourself next to an Indian willing to help, thank your lucky stars – especially if the Indian is a woman.

Getting Back On The Motorcycle

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I love motorcycles. I love everything about them. From the way they look to the way they sound to the wonderful feeling of riding in the wind to the courteous nod of acknowledgment that all oncoming bikers are expected to give each other. If you’re the proud owner of a motorcycle, you know what I’m talking about. In fact, any serious relationship I’ve ever been in, the man always owned a motorcycle. I guess we all have a type.

I should point out here that I don’t actually know how to ride one. This is also the perfect time to declare that I am the one of the world’s best motorcycle passengers (For details on this, read my other post, “Why Indians Make The Best Motorcycle Passengers.”).

This is interesting given that when I was 12, I was hit by a motorcycle traveling at high speed. My friends and I were crossing the street and the biker thought he wouldn’t need to slow down for us. That we would cross by the time he got to us. He was wrong. Not only did he hit me, he went flying in the air and I stopped the bike in its tracks (I was a thick-skinned little kid back then). We both hit the ground, lost consciousness and when I came to, I had lots of bruises most embarrassing of which was a big fat lip. It looked like botched plastic surgery. Nothing too life threatening, just enough emotional scars to have nightmares for a few weeks. I was very lucky.

In time, my fat lip went back to normal and I stopped having nightmares. My heart skipped a teeny tiny beat when I crossed the street (it still does) but all in all I didn’t act traumatized.

Until I moved to India for college where most people my age had motorcycles, scooters or mopeds because cars are too expensive. All my college buddies had motorcycles or knew how to ride one; except for me.

I thought I was over it, until one day one of my girlfriends needed me to run an errand with her. She said “Hop on! Let’s go.”  For a brief moment, I just stood there. I didn’t want to seem uncool but I kept thinking, “What if I fall off or get hurt again? What if we hit a cow? What if we hit a dog? A homeless child? A horse? What if an auto rickshaw runs into us? What if there is a 60 second torrential downpour?” All valid questions in India.

Just then a scooter passed us with a family of four. Dad riding, mom in a sari, perched sideways with baby in tow and little boy standing in front of the dad. A typical happy Indian family putting me to shame. How annoying. I decided I had no choice but to straddle on and say in an over dramatic tone “Let’s go.”

Initially, I was nervous and genuinely believed that I would fall off. Then I found myself starting to relax. With the insane traffic in India, we weren’t going that fast and there are millions of distractions. This allowed me to get accustomed to the idea and we avoided running to the aforementioned dogs, cows, children and horses. Luckily there was no short lived torrential downpour either. In the midst of all chaos that ensues on Indian motorways, I felt surprisingly calm.

Slowly, as we rode out of the city, and started to pick up speed, I realized that it was actually quite comforting to glide and lean with the motorcycle as it went around corners. To let go instead of resist. To just trust and be in the moment instead of over thinking it. In that moment, I felt extremely carefree.

This is why I love motorcycles and feel at home on them. To me, they’re symbolic of overcoming a fear and getting back on the horse (or this case on the motorcycle). Of course, it definitely helps that motorcycles are sexy. But whenever, something scares me, I just visualize a carefree ride on a motorcycle and it makes me feel better.

Why Your Parents Should Be There When You Get Laid Off

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I’ve had a revelation. We grown ups are too grown up. We try to solve all our problems ourselves, we try to be strong, we try to be independent. It’s supposed to be a part of being an adult, right?

But then I think back to those times, as a child, when my parents bailed me out of things and how they worked wonders for me. That got me thinking. Why don’t we rely on that more? Your parents are your best publicity agents. They believe in you (well most parents) and they talk you up like you’re the best thing since 100 calorie snack packs. Indian parents especially do that. Children are a matter of extreme pride and extreme shame to Indian parents. When they’re proud of you, they brag about you like the world is ending. When they’re ashamed of you, it doesn’t matter. They just lie and talk you up, thereby saving face and the family name. It’s actually quite brilliant, if put to good use.

That’s what led me to believe I should have my parents with me when I’m about to lose a job. We’ve all been there. I’ve been laid off three times in my life. It’s like a punch in the stomach.

Here’s why I think I’m on to something. When I was 5, we lived in Kuwait and all the Hukmani children went to “The New Indian School” It was a rite of passage. It was a source of pride. There was another school called “The Indian School” but that wasn’t good enough for my parents.

The issue with ‘The New Indian School” was it was hard to get into. No matter what age you were. My first experience with the school was an entrance exam for Kindergarten. If I didn’t pass, I didn’t get in. The entrance exam had two parts. Write the entire alphabet. Count to 10. Seemed a bit ridiculous because that’s what you’re supposed to learn in Kindergarten.

Oh well. My parents taught me the alphabet. They taught me to count. We practiced and trained every day. It was like a Rocky movie. Finally, I was ready. I was going to get it. The Hukmani name depended on me.

We showed up the day of my entrance exam and walked into the school where a very tall, scary looking woman was waiting for us. Actually, she easily could’ve been beautiful and lovely but, in my head, I remember her as Maleficent. She rounded us clueless 5 year olds up, without our parents, marched us to a classroom, got us seated and locked the door. Yes, locked the door. She then announced, “There is a paper and pencil on your desk. Write the alphabet. When you’re done, come to me and count to 10. Begin….NOW!!”

I was terrified. It was the first time I had been separated from my parents. I just stared at the blank paper and started sweating. Reluctantly, I wrote “A, B…” and then my mind went as blank as the paper.  So I asked the kid in front of me, “Hey what comes after B?”  He looked at me for a while and and then said “D.” I wrote that down and stared at it. “A, B, D…”  I knew that wasn’t right. But I couldn’t remember what came after B. I started panicking. Either this kid was just as lost as me or he had brilliantly sabotaged me.

So I started crying. The kind of crying where kids scrunch their eyes really tight, open their mouth wide and then wail at the top of their lungs till they are out of breath. I don’t know what Maleficent thought of me but next thing I knew she had taken me out of the dungeon and reunited me with my parents. She also told them I didn’t know the alphabet and I had failed. I wouldn’t be getting into “The New Indian School.”

I remember that day like it was yesterday. My parents saw red. They comforted me for a moment and then barged into the principals office. I’d never seen them that angry before. They yelled at the Principal and told him I was the smartest 5 year old he was ever going to meet. That I was sweet and an amazing person too. They yelled at him, till he gave in and allowed me to retake the test the next day. Not behind locked doors but in his office with my parents sitting next to me. Then my parents and I went out for ice cream.

The next day, we showed up at the Principal’s office, each parent standing on either side like my bodyguards and the Principal said “Begin…”

I aced it. I not only knew my alphabet, I counted to 15 and drew a dog on the paper when I was done and named it “Tommy.” The fact that my parents believed in me had a profound effect on me. I was a rockstar that day. I got into “The New Indian School.”  Then we went out for ice cream again.

I think my parents and your parents could still do that for you. I really do. So next time, you’re getting laid off or let go, tell the pour soul who in charge of giving you the bad news, “Wait…I can’t do this without my parents.” Then let them come in and yell at whoever is in charge till they change their mind because you are, in fact, amazing. I bet we’ll never have to involuntarily clear out our desks again. Then go out for ice cream.

My 9/11 Story: The Land of the Perfect Pancake

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Sitting in front of the TV, age 6, mouth open and barely eating my dinner, I watched the quintessential American sitcom with my parents.  A mother called out to her kids for Sunday breakfast; pancakes, of course. Living in Cyprus, that was the first time I had ever ‘seen’ a pancake.  For some reason, I was mesmerized by its shape and texture, and blurted out in front of my parents ‘I just know I’m going to like pancakes.’  My father stared at me, perplexed, but never one to shy away from a challenge he took it upon himself to create the perfect pancake for his youngest daughter.

I never realized this at the time, but that offhand comment brought about one of my favorite memories from my childhood; the summer of the pancake.  True to his word, my dad spent that entire summer creating the perfect pancake.  He tried various ingredients and cooking methods (at one point even deep frying the pancake out of sheer frustration, even though he very well knew a pancake was never deep fried).  But my reaction was always the same. I would take one bite, shake my head and say ‘That’s not it.’  Of course, that was usually followed by the same complaint ‘How do you know? You’ve never been to America or tasted a real pancake’ my dad would ask loudly.  To which I would always reply with as much wisdom a 6 year old pull could off ‘I…just..know.’

At the end of that summer he gave up. But I continued to dream of the pancake for the rest of the year and the day I’d move to the US.  Years passed and I forgot about it. I moved countries, tried all kinds of exotic foods and generally had a blast. Then finally, in 2001, I moved to the US (specifically NYC) to join my sister who had moved here a year earlier.

I didn’t choose the best day to move to NYC. My first day in NYC (and the US) turned out to be Sept 11, 2001. Despite the fear and chaos around me, to this day, I am still impressed by the empathy of New Yorkers who would overhear my sister telling her friends ‘This is her first day in the US’ and come over to tell me ‘Sorry you caught us on a bad day. Don’t leave. New York’s a great place to live!’

That was a day unlike any other and we were one of the fortunate ones to get out unharmed. My sister and her friends were able to get hold of a car and drive out of the city. As we drove out of NYC into NJ, my sister suggested we stop at a diner and get something to eat.  Sitting at a typical American diner, thankful to be alive, memories of my childhood came flooding back when I opened the menu and saw ‘Pancakes’ on the menu. I knew what I wanted to order.

That was my first day in the US and the first day I had an American pancake – which tasted exactly how I expected it to taste and looked exactly how I had seen on TV.  There sitting in an American diner, with my first American friends whose optimism amazed me, I felt a sense of calm wash over me. I knew I belonged.

That was 13 years ago. I am still living in the US and loving it (as the jingle of McDonalds goes). Now a proud American citizen, I often look back to my first day and try to remember, if I had any doubts or regrets about my move.  I didn’t.  Even on Sept 11, a day of devastation, I knew I was here to stay. I knew I had finally come home.

Life Lessons For An 8 Year Old

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Lately, I think a lot about my dad’s life lessons and what they meant. It’s ironic how, sometimes, you have to lose someone so important in your life to realize the impact they really had.

My mantra in life has always been: Red and Laughter. (Well, until I was old enough to drink. Now it’s Red, Laughter and Whisky). But I can’t take credit for the “Red and Laughter” bit. My dad taught me that when I was 8.

See I was quite an angry 8 year old and walked around snarling, growling, and kicking things for most of the day. I believe there were a couple of shop lifting incidents too (gasp!). I was the brat that put all brats to shame. I can’t remember why. Maybe my braids were too tight. But my dad wasn’t very happy about that and would say, “What happened here? You were my little angel from the ages of 0-7.5!”  (those questions sound especially endearing if you imagine his Indian accent in your head).

So he decided it was time to re-progam me; so to speak. Now my dad loved to write religious rhyming poetry and would recite them to anyone who would ask, not ask or happen to be crossing the street outside our house. He was very creative and a clever rhymer.

He wrote me a poem addressed to God which I was told I had recite out loud every night. I wish I still had it and remembered every word. It started out with “Bless me with true light…” but ended with rhyming verses making promises of fun, honesty, smiling in the sun, being a good girl and making one person laugh everyday. There was also P.S. at the end of the poem from my dad. It said “ You are going to wear red more. Your mother says it looks nice on you and people like you more when you wear red- Love, Your Father. The All Believing One.”

That wasn’t all. An hour before bed, for the next month, would now be my quiet hour. I had to reflect for the first half hour in silence and then for the next half hour recite my poem out loud until I knew it, until it sunk in and until I wasn’t grumpy anymore. As you can imagine it was torture. Anyone who’s ever been 8 knows that the last hour before bed is the most magical time in a child’s life. It’s the hour where anything is possible, when you remember all the very important stories you have to play out before you go to sleep and, in my case, when I followed my brothers around hoping to learn something new. I was convinced they knew everything about anything.

At first, I’d kick my feet out, pout and not do it. But my dad would just wait and sit there with me at the foot of my bed. Then I’d finally give in and start “Bless me with true light….,” make my promises and go to bed. For a month. Every night. The longest month of my life.

Of course it worked. Well almost. From this point, I now kicked my feet out when I was bored (It’s been pointed out to me that I still do that as an adult when I’m bored). But I wasn’t as grumpy anymore. I bet I was happier because I got my magic hour before bed back.

The key is: I’ve stuck to my promise without realizing it. I’ve made one person laugh every day. I’ve worn red a lot. I never forgot.

To this day, I get stressed if I look back at my day and realize I didn’t make someone laugh today. So during that hour before bed, when all the magic happens, I reach out to a friend or my family and make someone laugh, if I haven’t already. During the hour when anything is possible. It’s a great way to make and keep the friends you really like, attract the boys you really like and get jobs you really want.

I also wear red a lot and have been wearing red during some of the best moments of my life: My interviews where I got the job, my first crush, my first promotion, my first race, when I fell in love, when I bought my first car, when I had my first whisky. Just like dad said, people are also nicer to me when I wear red.

​​Dad’s life lessons. So simple. So effective. Who knew?