"Keep working on a plan. Make no little plans. Make the biggest you can think of, and spend the rest of your life carrying it out." Harry S. Truman

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

National Novel Writing Month

Tomorrow begins the National Novel Writing Month. I enrolled in the India chapter. I don't know what I can achieve, precisely during a time when I'm supposed to work full time on a translation that I've basically ignored for the past 6 weeks, but if I don't try, I'll never know. Even if I only manage to write 5000 words, it will be 5000 words, and with them, all the thinking, plotting, brainstorming that goes with the actual process of writing, so what is there to loose?

If I try to be realistic, I would like to write at least 500 words each day. It's got to be doable, come on. And 500 words per 30 days is 15000 words! And who knows, there might be some days when I'll be able to write more than 500 words. So, we'll see. I don't want to put too much pressure upon myself or I'll end up all deflated and depressed if I don't meet the challenge. Easy is the rule of the game, here. Well, the official one, anyway.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

And here It is...

"A tear on the face of eternity", said the poet Tagore.

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Of course, it's just another picture of the Taj Mahal, but that one was taken by good old me, so that makes it quite special, right?

The Taj Mahal is as magically beautiful as I hoped it would be. And the rest of the trip - Fatehpur Sikri, Barathpur and Jaipur - was great also. The north of India is very different from the South, where we live.

I really like that picture for some reason. The lady is holding her baby on her lap, the way Indian mothers and Indian ayahs - nannies - do it. Legs crossed, the child nested safely in the middle of that warm, perfect cradle. They feed them that way, they put them to sleep that way, slowly shaking one leg. I'd never seen that anywhere before, but I'm so used to it, now, that it feels totally obvious and natural - as long as you can sit like that for more than a few minutes, which of course I cannot.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Off to see the Taj Mahal !

This blog will be quiet for a week. We're off to Delhi, and then on to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal, and we'll end our little trip in Jaipur, Rajasthan. We've been in India for a little over three years now, and even though we've been around the country a bit, we are yet to visit what everyone rushes to see first : the famous Taj Mahal. I can't wait.

More after I return...

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Book Question of the Week on Shen's Blog

Anyone interested in multicultural literature ought to read Shen's Blog. Over the summer, they had a fascinating 6-weeks series titled "Crossing Cultural Borders." And now, they've come up with an interesting game called "Book Question of The Week." This week, the question is about conflict and anyone is invited to choose a picture book title - it doesn't have to be a multicultural book - and play.

I chose Monsoon by Uma Krishnaswami. I loved the atmosphere and lyrical quality of the book when I first read it. Now that I've experienced that longing for the rains to finally break the sky and bring an end to the blistering heat and dryness, I can appreciate it even better.

Want to think of a picture book title - before you know the question - and play bookish games with other book lovers?

This blog is 6 months old !

Already! And I'm so glad I ignored my reservations and went ahead with this project. It's been a lot of fun, and it has also somehow changed the way I look at every day life. As a writer, I tend to look at pretty much everything with a leech's attitude. Let's be honest: that's what writers are like. Everything can be used as fodder for a story. But creating this blog has turned this strong tendency into a way of life. Because I also have a big flaw - well, OK, maybe two or three, but we won't go there, today: I tend to live so much in my mind, in a world of my own making, that I sometimes forget to look at the world around me. Or I look at it, but in a passive way. I still struggle with the "how" and "when" and "ways" to channel all that energy and turn it into stories, but the process is under way. And now, I'm constantly on the alert, because what will not be used for a story can be used for the blog. So, once I got over the first few weeks' anxiety over being able to post something on a regular basis, I really started enjoying this blogging thing. And I've made new friends, too, and I'm sure it's only the beginning. So, happy anniversary!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Haleem in Hyderabad

Yesterday, I finally tasted the famous Haleem of Hyderabad.

During the holy month of Ramadan, most observant Muslims get up before sunrise to eat and pray, and then fast until the sun sets.

All over the city of Hyderabad, food stalls have sprung up to offer the famous Haleem, traditionally used to break the fast.

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Prepared with wheat, lentils, lamb, spices and pure ghee (clarified butter), it is cooked for at least 10 hours in a bhatti (an oven made of mud), until it gets its paste-like consistency.

Another example of modernity cohabiting with tradition in India, it is, this year, possible to order haleem on the Internet or over the phone. You pay with a credit card, and it will be delivered all over India in less than 48 hours.


I went to the old city thinking we were going to sit somewhere, order a portion of haleem, and proceed to eat. What can I say ? I was born and brought up in Europe, where one sits at the table to eat, and then lingers on as long as possible in order to digest and enjoy coffee and good conversation, and it would seem that the number of years spent abroad cannot have any influence on that particular habit. I'm forever surprised when I see people eat and go.

Anyway, we arrived in front of Pista House, THE best Haleem outlet, according to my friend, Piush, and it didn't take me long to realize that we were going to eat the famous dish standing in the middle of the crowd. We made our way through the dozens of motorcycles parked in front of Pista House, and there, as I looked around with big eyes, and started taking pictures - I know, the perfect tourist: must be a vocation -my friend swiftly caught the attention of one of the young men delivering haleem to the crowd, and before I noticed anything, the guy was back with two bowls.

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Here is our speedy waiter...


And here is my haleem...


So? Haleem tastes good. Haleem is also as rich as anyone can imagine. I was advised to squeeze lemon on the pasty mixture, and I did, then wiped my hand on the paper napkin, trying to get rid of the shreds of paper that stuck to my fingers, and I ate with the little plastic spoon provided. I really liked it, but I could never have finished the whole bowl.

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And here is Piush, balancing bowl and paper napkins.

There weren't many women, almost none, actually. They were probably home, cooking dinner. Because haleem is like an appetizer, something to break the fast. Later, everyone has a big meal at home.

Piush proceeded to order more haleem for all her friends in Delhi and Bengalore, so they could partake in the festive mood, and we left. I would have liked to stay longer, but the kids were waiting at home, my husband was on his way back from the airport, and my friend also has a child to take care of. But at least, I got to experience another little slice of real Hyderabady life. Standing.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

More thoughts and questions about anti-racist parenting from the point of view of a white mother

I've been reading more blogs written by multi-racial parents over the past few days. Basically, anyone interested in these issues, anyone concerned by them, parents of multiracial kids, parents who've adopted children from other races, seem to agree on a number of things: Racism is difficult to fight because it's everywhere, it's such a part of the social fabric that it permeates every aspect of life: it's on TV (and that's why we don't receive any TV channel in our home. We own a TV and we watch DVDs that we have chosen); it's in books; it's on the shelves of every toy store (I loved reading posts of parents sharing my concern about the supremacy of blond Barbies, and the dearth of dolls representing multiracial children,) etc.

Things start getting a little more difficult when the issue of whiteness comes into play. Basically, are white people capable of fighting racism? And it should be understood that the white people I'm referring to are not those who deny the existence of racism (that's another issue altogether), but white people who recognize that racism is a major problem and are willing and ready to do what's necessary to eradicate it from the world.

I'm a white person and I belong to that second category. I agree that white supremacy is hard to destroy. It sucks. The white supremacist approach to society allowed slavery and colonialism to happen. And it perverted the thinking of generations of people all over the world. If I cannot drive in the streets of India without seeing huge billboards advertising soaps or skin products that will make your skin "fair" - read lighter, whiter - it's because for so long, the people of India were made to believe that white was better, white was where the power/the money are. And they still believe it. It's everywhere. Before coming to India, I lived in Nigeria, where women destroy their skins in their attempts to make it lighter. For the same reasons. And I could go on and on. Yes, white supremacy has done some horrible things to the world. I agree. Now, what ?

I am white, but I'm not a racist. Or rather, I am white, but I'm not consciously a racist. By that, I mean that I understand how growing up as a white person in a dominantly white society is bound to have perverted some of my thinking, IN SPITE OF MYSELF. I'm aware and I want to fight my white outlook on things as much as possible. I want to live my life with open eyes, and an open mind and heart. I want it, first and foremost, because I hate injustice. Injustice makes me sick and angry and disgusted. That's who I am, who I've always been. Now, to that, I have to add the responsibility of being the mother of two bi-racial children who may, some day, face prejudice.

I read a comment somewhere that said : "being actively anti-racist for white people often means attacking their own privileges." This, to me, feels like an over-simplification of a very complex issue. I will not deny feeling sometimes defensive. It's hard, being part of a majority that's acted badly. Just ask the generations of Germans who came AFTER the Second World War. They had/have not participated in the Nazi horror, and most of them felt/feel? very much ashamed, but they still had/have? to bear that terrible legacy. Why? Because they happened to be born in the country where it all started, where it all developped, where it was all allowed to happen. Feeling defensive is natural and I'm also aware of that. But how could I possibly give a damn about seeing my white privileges attacked, if these privileges have the power to hurt other people, especially my own children?

My kids are what matters, much more than my need to voice politically correct ideas and to feel good because I know that I’m right. What I want is for them to be happy persons, well balanced. I don’t want them to be eternally angry at the world because I don’t think that will make them happy. Not to say that a healthy dose of angry criticism is not sometimes - often? - necessary. But anger is not the emotion I want to instill into my children’s souls at such a young age. And I’m weary of hammering concepts – however proper and correct they may be - into their young brains. I'd prefer a softer approach.

So, once more, I’m NOT rejecting the concept of being actively anti-racist. Of course not. Rather, I wonder what being an active anti-racist parent actually means? How do mothers/parents go about being actively anti-racist in the BEST, LESS DAMAGING way for their children, without being too forceful and obvious, without the subject of race becoming an issue? I mean, we are all part of the human race, and ideally, that should be the beginning and the end of the discussion.

For some people, it may seem as if I’m taking the easy way out. I'm not so sure. I’m searching. I’m questioning. I’m spending time writing in this blog, reading. If I look around our home, I also realize that we have created an environment which is as multicultural as it can possibly be. My husband and I have travelled and lived in many countries and it shows on our walls, in our furniture, on our books and CD shelves and even in our wardrobes. Is that enough? I'd like to think that it is, but of course, I can't be sure. Time only will tell. In the meantime, I can only keep searching and wondering. Most probably I’ll blunder my way along, but isn’t parenting (white, brown, black and all the shades in between) a massive and humbling circle of trials and blunders, anyway?

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

My first video : it could only be someone singing !

I found this on Mary Hershey's blog and after watching it three times, I decided I needed it right here, on my blog. First, because I've never posted a video, so I had to at least try - I can't believe I found the way to copy the link and I'm still not entirely sure it will actually appear on the blog. But most of all because this little film is immensely inspiring, it makes your eyes all misty, your heart goes boom-boom-boom, and it's about a guy singing opera. Now, if there is something in life that I love as much as reading, writing and books, it's opera. I just had to have that video handy and ready.

Monday, October 8, 2007

How does a white mother best prepare her bi-racial children to face issues of racism?

I've been guilty of procrastinating an awful lot, lately. I have a good excuse, mind you. The number of interesting blogs out there is simply mind blogging, euh, no, boggling. Anyway, I came across an interesting new one - for me - titled My Sky - Multiracial Family Life

Of course, the question raised was bound to hold my interest: how important is racial identity?

I could not help but add a comment, and as I wrote it, I realized, once more, the extraordinary magnitude and complexity of the issue: are white people as aware as they should be of the need to actively fight racism?

Actually, having now lived in India for a while, with a Black husband who's had to deal with the blatant racism of people barely darker than he is, I wish I could widen the debate, because the white/non-white approach seems to reduce it. But of course, that would make things even more confusing... as if they weren't already.

There was an interesting conversation on the same topic on Alvina Ling's blog, last year.

My interest in the issue is two-fold. First, I can't imagine not fighting racism for simple human reasons. Racism is NOT acceptable, period. The fact that I married someone from a different race had basically no incidence on that statement. I was always shocked by racism. Did marrying a black person make me more aware of racism in general ? Frankly, I'm not sure. We met in New York, ten years ago, and lived in Park Slope, Brooklyn, which was home to a wonderfully diverse population of artists, mixed-race couples, same-sex couples, etc, etc. Whenever we went to France, I never felt that people were bothered or shocked to see us together - now, I'm NOT saying that France has no problems of racism, far from it. But, again, I never felt directly concerned or threatened by any particular racist attitude towards us. My take on the issue was basically that racism must be fought at all costs, and that means racism coming from anyone. I read books about that because I'm curious. And that was it. But then, of course, I realized that if we were to have children, I would have to think long and hard about how being bi-racial might affect them. I'm the type who searches for answers in books. I always have. I have dozens of books on races, racism, color issues, and raising bi-racial children, on my shelves. And so, I started approaching the issue a bit differently: as the mother of children who may suffer from racism, some day.

This is where things become far more complicated. Because it's very, very hard to get out of one's white skin. Even when that white skin belongs to a person whose natural inclination is too denounce and cry in outrage against any form of injustice, and racism is one of the worst forms of injustice there is, it is extremely difficult to view the world through eyes that are not coloured by our whiteness. It takes an active decision. It is a conscious choice. And even then, we'll need to fight a natural tendency to overlook things, to maybe shrug and overlook a situation that we'll think is borderline, but that the person who is not white will judge hurtful or unacceptable.

But as a mother, I want to protect my children. Of course, I want to prepare them for the times they might have to fight prejudice. But I don't want to traumatize them with heart-breaking stories of slavery and inhuman suffering. Not before they are a little older, a little stronger. I do realize that avoiding an issue in hopes that it will not present itself is not a good option. I have read to them all the books I could find about diversity, about the beauty of living in a world with children of different colors. I tell them frequently that their skin color is gorgeous. When I comb their hair, I tell them how I love all those lovely curls. And I suppose that the fact that we live outside of the US, in an expatriate and multicultural community, also makes it easier for us. And yet, when I read posts like the aforementioned one, I can't help but wonder if I'm doing enough.

Time shall tell, I suppose. My second-grader asks more and more questions, and probably, questions about race will soon pop up, and I'll know the time has come to tackle that issue. But, frankly, I'm in no hurry. And I don't know if it's because I'm a mother who'd rather avoid painful, difficult issues, or because I'm a white mother who'd rather avoid painful, difficult issues.

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Cybils 2007 : Nominate your favorite books

Nominations are now open for the Cybils 2007. The only literary awards by bloggers, they're seeking nominations in eight genres:

Fantasy/Science Fiction
Fiction Picture Books
Graphic Novels
Middle Grade Fiction
Non-Fiction: Middle Grade and Young Adult
Non-Fiction Picture Books
Young Adult Fiction

The books must have been published in 2007. And we can only submit one title per category. Anyone with an email can participate, and we have until November 21 to post our favorite titles.

I'm off to work on my own list. Not so easy, when you live thousands of miles away. The books I read are not necessarily books that came out this year. I don't get my books at the library or in bookstores because the latter tend to carry mainly hugely successful books - of course, Harry Potter, all the Enyd Blytons, pretty much anything by Roald Dahl, and Meg Cabot is also very big, around here. So, I tend to browse on Amazon.com, I jot down titles that I gather in conversations with other writers, or while reading blogs, and these books are not always the last ones that came out.

I just finished A Wrinke in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle, which I thoroughly enjoyed, even though I'm not usually a big fantasy reader. I've read three Junie B. Jones, and going over The Magic Tree House series with my daughter - in a French translation because I want her to develop her reading skills in French, too. I also read Younguncle comes to Town, by Vandana Singh, and loved the light humor, the Indian setting, and the wonderful cast of characters - the baby is especially irresistible, and I like the mother who speaks in Capital Letters, the grand-father who rides his cow as if it were the fastest horse alive, etc. None of these were published this year. No matter, I will try and participate.

How about you? Of all the books published in 2007 that you've read, which are your favorites? Go add your choice(s) on the Cybils blog.