Living in New York in the time of coronavirus

New York has become the epicenter of coronavirus cases and it’s scary to see how it has affected life here. The city has virtually come to a standstill. It’s stressful but there is one thing in particular that annoys me while I go through this experience.

My friends and family who live elsewhere reach out to me and they lead with some version of this: “I saw the number of cases in New York. So scary dude, are you ok?”

I truly hate this opening.

As a journalist, I cover this story every day. I know the numbers. As a New Yorker, I live it every day. I know it’s scary.

In fact, it’s very hard to forget the numbers or forget that it’s scary, even for a minute.

No matter what part of the world you’re living in right now, you’ve probably felt the impact of coronavirus. In all probability, you are living or have lived under some variant of a lockdown. So you’ll understand what I say next.

Staying indoors all day is difficult but the thought of stepping out is also frightening. I don’t know what surface I’ll touch that could give me the virus. Will it be the door knob to get in and out of my apartment? Or the card machine at the grocers’ so I can buy food? Or will it be the food itself because someone with the virus touched that packet of apples but left it on the rack because they decided they didn’t want to buy it after all.

The constant state of fear or paranoia extends much further than that. You don’t trust people in your own neighborhood. Everyone walks far away from each other, which, at first, is great. They’re social distancing and that’s what you want them to do. But you also know how scared people are of one another. They’re all thinking about how someone might get too close and give them the disease.

Being scared of going out, living in the city, the state, the neighborhood, you live in is something you never quite understand until you’re forced to. It’s heartbreaking.

So yes, it’s very hard to forget the numbers, to forget that it’s scary.

The hope is to forget it for just one moment and live (indoors) like it’s just another day I’m taking for myself. Perhaps the next time when someone reached out, they’ll just ask me how I’m doing without the reminder.

Coronavirus might make me feel stuck but here’s things I’m thankful for

I hope you’re all hanging in there. It’s going to be a long ride and an unprecedented experience for the whole world. It’s weird to be writing a second positive post in a row. Don’t worry, I’m still cynical and sick of it but I have to share the rare, good things.

  1. New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo gives daily updates on coronavirus. During one such briefing, he called for mental health experts to volunteer their services to help people manage their mental well-being. I was blown away by the fact that this was given a consideration and he has consistently provided updates on this part of their work ever since. Granted that my knowledge about mental health affairs in India might be getting outdated but I have not yet seen any government-issued guidelines in India on mental health in the time of coronavirus. It’s just amazing to see the NY state government step up and be the progressive entity that I’ve always thought it was.
  2. Organized action. This gets complicated and layered and forgive me for not being more nuanced. Yes, testing rolled in slowly, supplies are short, etc. and that is all extremely worrisome. But on a big-picture level, I still admire the way statewide actions are implemented here and taken seriously by people. I know there’s a lot of panic buying going on around the world, some are dismissing the severity of the situation and refusing to practice caution. But it’s heartening to watch people around me listen, maintain social distance and such.
  3. Health care workers and all “essential” workers, who have always been essential but are now on the frontlines. Their work and courage is extremely appreciated.
  4. Before India went under lockdown, I sent a text on my two family group chats out of self-inflicted anxiety and panic. I never engage in those groups so this was a big deal. I even called friends. I told everyone to put their house maids on a two-weeks paid leave. Not having help is a terrifying concept in any Indian household. The salary bit is easier because if they were to make that decision because they would want the help to come back after two weeks and the salary ensures that. I did receive slight pushback but surprisingly, in a day or two, everyone came around. Even my grandparents *called me* to tell me they’d done it. I have never been more proud. It’s comforting to know that they’re listening to me and taking this seriously.
  5. I’m also thankful for my mum calling me every day. I never have anything new to tell her and sometimes, she calls when I’m in the middle of work but damn, she makes time for me every night and I appreciate her.
  6. My friends, especially the ones in India. It’s more important than ever to lean on each other so we can get through this isolating time. We have to physically distance ourselves but remind each other that we’re all there for each other. My friends video call me, watch movies with me and play app games with me, no matter where in the world they are, no matter the time. I’m extremely grateful.

There’s probably more. I’m just going to end this here though. Stay safe and stay indoors, folks.

Americans taught me something in what has been an extremely garbage 2020

Reader, in the beginning of February, I fractured my foot.

But this post is not about the multiple fractures or the insane health care system in America, all of which I’m definitely not happy about.

It’s about something about the western culture that I learned as I lay in bed day after day.  Indians and western people react very differently when their friends or family land in such a crisis.

Let’s start with the concept of space. In many ways, as you’ll gather from my previous posts, I have leaned hard into the concept. I like having personal space. But every time I think I’ve wrapped my head around how it works for people here, I learn something new and it beguiles me on a whole new level.

So many of my friends reacted with concern when they heard about what had happened but they let me figure it out for myself — visit to the urgent care, ordering food, schlepping around on crutches, all of that. In India, I’ve always known people to come out to help in whatever way they can and fill the space around you so you don’t have to be alone.

At first, I was really mad. I won’t even be subtle about it. I also felt really lonely. Only the people who I consider closest to me knew about my situation and yet nobody asked me if I needed help in doing any of those primary things? But I see it so differently in retrospect. I needed the time to tell my family about what had happened. I needed to eat. I needed to wear something that would make life easier in my splinter and my crutches. I needed to figure out what I needed and what to ask for.

When my friends came around to check in on me, I actually had a better grasp on what I needed and how it was going. Some got me food, some got me pain killers, both of which I direly needed.

This brings me to the next things I noted. People bring food when they want to help. I always thought it was funny and slightly strange when I saw movies and TV shows where people showed up to funerals with food. I always thought you need company and sympathy. Now, that I am embedded in this culture, I think it’s quite fitting. We’re all adults trying to balance a life, so being around and available 24/7 is not an option. I was pretty incapable of doing anything for myself. Food goes a long way to help.

Finally, I learned was that if I need help, I must ask. People are not mind readers. Their jobs and lives don’t revolve around me. But they mean well and if you need something, ask. People will show up. Sometimes, the most unexpected people show up in the most unexpected ways.

Outside of the culture stuff, this whole incident was an exercise in character building. I’m not even trying to spin some positive crap, it’s true. It taught me to exercise more patience with people, not give a crap about things I can’t control and to be open to all the ways in which people showed up. I also learned to be as independent and self-sufficient as I can be while also taking care of myself in the time of adversity. I have always considered myself an independent woman but I can’t be independent only when it’s easy. I learned what worked for me and that when I can’t go any further, I need to stop trying to be a hero, be kind to myself and ask for help.

I don’t wish a fracture on anyone and if I could, of course I wouldn’t choose to live through this again. Fractures are not fun. And the day I finally went back to work, I was told that coronavirus had struck the city and I needed to go back to being cooped in the house. My character building has had it and I’m frustrated. But I have surprisingly lived through the fracture period and come out of it counting my blessings and I’m happier for it.

Being stuck at home in the time of coronavirus still sucks though. (Had to end on a grudging note, folks. That’s the mood of the times.)

How do you make friends?

Picture this:

Your long-time friend, not super close but good enough friend, has moved to another country. It’s been a while now and she visits. You ask her to meet. But because there isn’t enough time to meet everyone personally, she decides on a date, time and place for you and everyone else she knows and wants to meet in the city to come say hi. Now, the place and time works perfectly for you but you realize you’d only know her and nobody else who you’ll have to socialize with. Would you go?

My theory says that depending on whether you’re Indian or American, it’s extremely likely that your answers will differ.

If you’re Indian, you’ll make this observation, probably feel reluctant and text her personally, outside of the group chat, to see if she can arrange for another time to catch up. And you’re more inclined to not go at all than to subject yourself to socializing with strangers.

If you’re American, you probably won’t think much of it and go there, get a beer and chat with your friend and everyone else you’re around. How much you chat and how open you are obviously depends on how outgoing you are but situations like these are probably very regular.

I realized this over my trip to India this time. I do not have any extremely close friends left in Delhi. They’ve all moved away. So the people I catch up with are my casual friends. I wouldn’t be sad over missing anyone but would love to see most of them if I can. And what I have realized is that the situation I described above would totally work in America, more specifically New York. I see this all the time. I go to things like these all the time. But in India, I heard from many people that they probably won’t be into such a thing.

On one hand, I get it. Friend groups in India are very close and closed too. Fluid circles are not that common. I have grown up valuing these close bonds. But as an adult, if you’re not moving around in circles, how do you meet people? How do you make new friends?

And funnily enough, I have the same question as an adult in New York but for a very different reason. In America, friend groups are pretty open. You’re invited to things and you can socialize with strangers and have a good time. But it’s very hard to convert that into a real friendship and get close to someone over time.

I don’t have anything profound to say here except that culture stuff in a new country and old is always a work in progress, friends.

giphy

New York has no time

Have I ever said bad things about New York on this blog? I don’t think so. Well, there’s a first for everything so here we go: Nobody has time for anybody in New York. And it’s not a people thing. Shit people exist everywhere, people say they’re too busy everywhere, yes, but believe me. It’s a New York thing.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the term “New York minute,” which is basically the frenzied pace of lives we live here. It’s exciting and all when you think about how we hop from work to an after-work dinner/drink with friends to maybe another thing (I would never but some people do) and then fall asleep.

But it’s not exciting at all in other ways.

Dating, for example, is harder. People have time to do things. They lead full, exciting lives. But spending time with you, getting to know you is not one of those things they spend time on. So it’s harder to cultivate connections.

The funny thing is that even if you’re not from New York, you will take no time in partaking in this habit when you move in. I count myself in this. I just don’t have the bandwidth to think about random strangers and the good qualities in them that I might like. My parents warn me this will ruin my life and while I don’t build my life around the aspiration to date or marry, I guess they’re right in the broader sense of things.

Friends are unicorns — hard to find. Wait, no, that’s a romantic partner.

Well, friends are slightly easier to find than unicorns, but that’s not saying much. So far, my friend circle is made up of people I went to grad school with, people I know from India and three people who decided to befriend me at work in three different years. India and grad school is ok because I wasn’t working and you’re around the same people all the time, so it’s fertile ground for friendships to breed. But the work friends? I thought it would be over the minute I quit or they quit but it’s still going on, so you know, it might be akin to unicorn business but it’s impossible. Three new friends in three years in pretty decent? For New York, it’s pretty darn good, I’d say. I guess a good part of my time goes in making sure I don’t lose these few friends I have because truly, they’re all I have in this country/city.

Oh by the way, if you’re new in a city and especially if you’re new in THIS CITY, you should listen to this NPR episode about how to make and keep friends.

The next on this list of bad things that happen when you live in a New York minute should be the lack of patience but I’m from Delhi and I never had any of it to begin with so I’ll skip that.

Basically, born a New Yorker or not, if you live in this city, you will live in New York minutes and that’s all you get. Forgive me now for I must go, my New York minute writing this was long up and now I must run to work.

 

 

Where Are Your Manners?

Have you ever wondered if you have lost your manners or people never learnt them? Yes, manners are subjective. People can’t agree on the same etiquette living on the same street, it’s hard to expect uniformity when you go halfway across the world. Still, some people do.

Someone I know since I high school — we have seen each other only once after graduating — recently moved to the West Coast. We got back in touch and when he decided to come to New York, I agreed to host him.

I’ve hosted a couple friends since I’ve lived here but this was a very strange time. My friend, let’s call him B, arrives and he expected the kind of guest treatment that I have never given or expected from anyone.

Fun fact #3: My parents raised me to be an extremely cultured and polite guest. I must always behave when I go to someone else’s house, pick up after myself, not ask for anything until really necessary, not expect much, be polite and self-sufficient. I’m a low-maintenance guest, if you will. And I like that. In fact, I’ve taken that to a whole other level in In America, I’ve become much, much more independent and hate to impose as a guest. I always promise my host that I’ll be out of their hair.

First, B makes the executive decision to come during the week, not the weekend. Then, he insisted that I take days off work and show him around the city. He also asked me to prepare an itinerary for him and when he was out and about in the city, he called me at work several times to make real time spending decisions for him. “Is the tourist guy asking for the right price in exchange for entry tickets to two tourist spots? And by the way, should I go to the Top of the Rock as you suggested on World Trade Center, as he suggests?” It looked like last night’s work of writing an itinerary down for him, going through it several times and emphasizing why he should go to Top of the Rock wasn’t enough.

He also asked me to make dinner the night he got in and then said he was too full to eat. I’m not a clean freak but he left his stuff all over the house, the blankets, the bowls he ate from, etc. It felt like I was expected to pick up after him if I wanted to make sure my other flatmates weren’t inconvenienced and as if I was supposed to spoon-feed him.

Talk about a tough guest. But I didn’t have any of it. Which brings me to my hosting manners.

Fun fact #2: Growing up, my mom set an example for me to be an ever-present host, who goes out of her way to take care of a guest’s needs. She works and is also super domestic, the kind of a superwoman, who thinks of every little detail. Luxury gyms take years to figure out how to take care of their guest’s every little need, but mom just knows. (Sorry, I’ve been exercising lately.)

In short, be an extremely kind host but don’t be the guest that expects grand gestures.

Here’s how a dinner situation would play out, for example.

Guests play coy with their food serving. They talk small portions on their plate. And your role as a guest is to insist on a second serving. If the guest accepts the second serving, then it indicates that the food was genuinely good. If the guest takes a big portion on the plate to start with, that makes the host happy, too. But guests shouldn’t shock them with a full plate with no space. Unless, you’re at a wedding, in which case, feel free to go crazy.

3 idiots

Go crazy with the serving at weddings. Scene from “3 Idiots”.

But I digress.

Fun Fact #3: I’m nothing like my mom or the Indian super host. When I came to America, I realized that hosts take a hands-off approach. Here, people typically don’t like you hovering over them. Especially when they visit a city like New York, they want some independence to do what they want and go wherever they want without a chaperone. A couple years ago, I had also noticed how kids feel free to pry into the their host’s fridge to get whatever food they want, instead of asking. It felt really weird to me because my mom always taught me to ask. But it works brilliantly, actually, given the extreme paucity of time in everyone’s lives. And now, with the culture change, I’m a hands-off host. It’s perfect.

I like that I can give my guest a couch and then they will suit themselves as they most prefer, without me having to stress about what they like, what would be best and worrying about feeding them every second and making sure their needs are catered to. I know they’ll be fine and if they can’t find something, they’ll ask. I’m not aspiring to be a superwoman in this domain, I guess.

So with my friend, I gave him suggestions for places he should check out and he was free to improvise as he went. But I refused to take days off work because the U.S. isn’t very generous with vacation days and he isn’t a close friend or family. Needless to say, his high expectations and my unwillingness to meet them strained the situation a bit. I needed him to independently go around the city and respect my time and not disturb me at work for random things. He wanted me to be his best friend and show him everything.

I like to think that it’s not all culture change. Maybe this is the universal style and it’s how all millennial hosts like to roll. I need for money to afford food and a roof over my head, for which I need to work.

Now, I feel like a bit of a jerk. So, I need some answers from you. I expect they will differ depending on where you’ve grown up, where you live and what your culture is but tell me:

  1. When you visit someone’s house, do you expect them to be around all the time to take care of you? Or do you expect them to go about their day and you’ll be fine?
  2. When you host someone, do you make sure you go out of your way to make their stay comfortable? Or do you go about your day because you don’t want to be overbearing?
  3. Do you take days off work to hang around with your guest? No matter how distant or close they are?
  4. Assuming that your guest is not your closest friend or family, what are some needs you take care of for your guest before and while they’re visiting?

I might also need to rethink this policy of letting anyone I know crash on my couch.

The New Year Post

Happy New year everyone! I hope you ushered in 2019 in your special ways.

Before writing this post, I looked up what I wrote last year. I said 2017 had been a rough year and that was true. I wrote I was going to be working on managing stress in 2018. And I did. But boy, that was tougher than expected. In managing stress, I uncovered a much deeper emotion instability in me that I worked hard on dealing with. I opened a can of worms at first, it seemed. I dealt with high levels of anxiety, my insecurities and fears came out in full force. But now, I feel better.

I said I’d meditate. That didn’t quite work out because it’s such a tough habit to form. What’s surprisingly easier is exercise and giving up caffeine which gave me more control over my body and emotions. So one step forward right?

I also traveled. But yet again, things don’t go as planned. Instead of New Orleans, Montreal and Denver, I made it to Texas twice. That’s got to count for something right? For what it’s worth, I might actually make it to New Orleans this year.

I did manage to read 12 books. This year, I’ll try to be up at 14. Let’s see if I can make it work.

I did not learn any more French than I already knew.

But I did learn that goals are better than resolutions. They’re not promises to keep everyday but some improvement to strive for. So here’s what I have for 2019:

  1. I overeat. And I want to control that. It shouldn’t be surprising given how big meal portions are in this country. Sometimes, I can’t get the food packed so I always try to finish it instead of wasting it. Overeating started that way. Then I just got used to how stuffed I felt and I liked the feeling. As soon as I felt I could eat more, I would. So this year, I’ll try to eat mindfully.
  2. I’ll write more. I’m a writer, not just for this blog but as a journalist. I produce podcasts but I need to really work on putting more of my writing out there in the world and on this blog. So I hope I can work on that more.
  3. Be productive but the type that brings value, not just the type that fills time. I have always thought about how being an immigrant means I spend so much of my disposable time dealing with transition stress and paperwork. I only have so much energy left to use emotionally and in terms of tangible work. So I want to focus on using it right.

I think these are fair goals. What are yours?

We’re Not In India Anymore

I had never withdrawn money before coming to America.

That is neither representative of a typical twenty-year-old in India nor does it mean I was a brat demanding money from my parents whenever I needed it. It just means I came from a cash economy where I didn’t need a card, and that my dad never trusted me with a debit card anyway.

It doesn’t stop there. Learning to live in America has given me a lot of firsts. The third world and first world problem tropes feel very warped in my head.

Think about it. If I were living in India right now, chances are I’d still have the comforts of house help for cleaning the dishes, mopping the floors, and perhaps even preparing all three meals for each day. My only concern in life would be my job. Sounds comfortable, right? The catch is that I’d be living with my parents and/or living off of my parents. So I would never know what part of that comfortable life was my own doing and what life skills I was capable off.

Life in America? I work, cook, do my own groceries, clean, maintain friendships here and relationships back home. There is no house help because who can afford that anyway? I recently also made my own furniture because apparently, that’s what life is like here, and basically live a fully-functioning life at the cost of extreme exhaustion. I have to stay on top of my game to make sure I don’t starve to death the day I come home from work late and there’s nothing in the fridge ready to eat or to cook. I also figured out the tax paperwork of a whole new country and filed it on my own for two years in running. It’s a lot of work. A lot of my time of day is gone not investing in my work and in furthering my career, which makes me question how productive you can be here. Where did the first-world luxury go? And if I do have a semblance of first-world luxury, then what does it enable me to do?

My mom laughs every time she hears about how I keep up with life here.

20180704_213830[1]

The 4th of July fireworks remind me of home and Diwali.

The reason I bring up all of this is because I’m starting to feel like the excuse that I didn’t grow up here is getting old. It doesn’t work anymore. It’s still a 100 percent true and still 100% explains a 100% of why I don’t have the same experiential education like most people do my age. Like when I was supposed to pack up my desk belongings in a cardboard box because my office was moving to a new space and I felt like I didn’t know how to do it because I didn’t grow up here. It felt completely dumb to think that because I just had to tape the cardboard into a box, but never having done it before and never having seen my parents pack things to move in a cardboard box to move before (not in my conscious memory), I felt like this was not something I knew and it wouldn’t be something I would have to deal with if I was still in India. Why I feel dumb about using the growing up explanation here is because I should know it, right? Or everyone has to learn it or do it at some point. So I should stop using that explanation as an excuse for everything.

And that’s when I realized. A lot of experiences in my adult life are happening for the first time now and it just happens to be in America. It would be done differently, sure. But I’m still growing up… Can I still say that when I’m 24? Well, let’s say, I’m still experiencing new things.

On that note, I’ve also come to the realization that it may also be that India is also doing things differently from how I’ve known it to be. Because my knowledge of India is now three years out of date and I have no way to keep evolving it unless I go back to live there for a good, long period again. So my knowledge of India is embedded in nostalgia. And that’s soon going to be too old to be functional. *Gulp*

Moving to another country has both, short-term and long-term consequences. I’ve seen the short term stuff. But I’ve always seen India as a given constant of my life. I guess this is the beginning of the long-term consequences and part one of the realization that I’m not in India anymore.

 

Tourist-ing With a Tourist

The fact that I haven’t been to many iconic spots in New York City doesn’t strike me as odd as much as it does to my friends. Perhaps because everyone who moves to New York generally covers them all in the first couple days for the Facebook and Instagram likes. My friend asked me how to get to the Statue of Liberty and I still don’t know.

But I covered one spot last weekend. My friend was visiting and of course he wanted to see everything iconic. And this time, I was surprisingly enthusiastic about it. Why? Because going to the Top of the Rock was actually exciting and it was my birthday and it’s okay to do these one-off things.

The verdict? It was TOTALLY worth it.

20181110_190807[1]

See what I mean?

We decided to go here instead of the Empire State Building because we wanted to *see* it along with other things. And while we didn’t get to see Central Park because it gets so dark by 5pm, it is visible from there, not from Empire State. So Top of the Rock wins. It’s also cheaper.

After going here, I was also open to watching a Broadway show. Those are so expensive but what the hell, right? Also, I now know that you have to book a tour to the Statue of Liberty ahead of time and you can’t just show up like I prefer to. I hate waiting in lines.

While I didn’t end up going to a Broadway show, I did book myself a visit to the New-York Historical Society Museum and Library. It’s got an exhibition going on: “Harry Potter: A History of Magic. Perks of living in this city. Can’t wait! I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

p.s Now that I’m actually open to touristy stuff, maybe you could write to me asking if I’ve checked out the things you’ve been eyeing, and maybe I would have. If I haven’t, maybe I would actually be open to it, and I’ll report back to you. Try me.

 

One of who?

In America, my first instinct was to blend in. That seemed easy.

Life in Delhi is very diverse economically, religiously, linguistically, and you can insert endless criteria here. When you grow up with the background I did, life is quite cosmopolitan. An English-medium school to teach me impeccable English, parents to keep me grounded in all things Hindi (movies, music) and “Indian” (culture, etiquette) and friends to show me the “western” world I can access with English (music, sitcoms) and more. With this cosmopolitan upbringing, came this sense of pride that I can fit in anywhere I go, naive as that perception I might have been. But it holds true, at least on the surface of things.

I got to America and I counted on this cosmopolitan, international component to help me blend in. I was one of them.

There were little things that gave me away, like when I said “thrice.” And admittedly, I felt flushed every time words gave me away. It wasn’t about being American, it was just about being similar.

But then I saw my other non-American peers being so completely different, making fun of America and being comfortable with it. I felt surprised, not just at their attitude but also at my reaction that was amazed and impressed that there was a space to do that. As I got closer to my British and Australian friends, I realized how we were a little more similar, and I also felt more comfortable in standing out. I was not like one of them and it was ok. I didn’t have to be. This gave way to a stronger understanding. I wasn’t one of the British and Australian folks either.

I was my own person. And I felt very comfortable with it.

Time passed and with that sense of comfort, I realized I wasn’t looking around and really noticing the company I had. In most rooms, I was the only Indian girl. Race is a whole different conversation to be had, but with me, I brought a completely new set of references, culture, problems, opportunities, perspectives. Everyone talked about being a 90’s kid, but when they were referring to singing along Madonna and TLC, I thought about dancing to all the songs of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Dil Toh Pagal Hai. I wasn’t able to establish kinship with anyone based on what I know and where I came from. Perhaps, that’s why conversations and coming across as one of them was important so bridging the gaps became more of a joyous activity than hard work.

Maybe all my woke friends will feel differently and slightly judge me for this but as a twenty year old coming to America, I really didn’t think I was very different and it didn’t matter too much that I was around a very American, pre-dominantly white circle of friends for the longest time. Today, I feel differently. I still value each and every friend I have made along the way, but having Indian friends around means so much.

I recently celebrated Diwali with Indian friends and I felt like I was with a family. I wasn’t explaining what we do in India, we were all together celebrating the day that we all knew was important. I have celebrated four Diwalis here and this one was the first with Indian friends and the best I’ve had.

aviary-image-1541653847902

My friends really went the extra mile

Every day, I value being around Indian friends more. I don’t know why I didn’t seek more out earlier. All is not lost yet, I’m glad I came around.