The Harper Lee Novels

I’m trying a new type of post today. I’ve done People I Met posts (obviously) and some Places I Went posts, and today I’m going to start a series called Books I Read. I’ll be writing about books I bought, books I’m starting, and my thoughts after I have read them.

I grew up loving reading and I’m constantly trying to make more space for it in my life, so I think this will be a good way to make me read more – especially if other people get involved! I have added the Goodreads widget on the right side so you can see what I am currently reading. When I finish a book, I will publish a post on my review of it. Typically I am reading 2-3 books at once. Right now, for example, I am listening to New York: The Novel as my slower, travel/ work read on Audible, while I am about to restart To Kill a Mockingbird again as my quick, bedtime read. I’m always looking for new things to read (fantasy, fiction, historical fiction, and non-fiction are all great) so please leave me your suggestions in the comments below!

Harper Lee is such an iconic author even though she only published one book in her lifetime!

Harper Lee is such an iconic author even though she only published one book until now!

Harper Lee’s second (secret) novel has just been released and it is a sequel to her acclaimed novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. The new novel, Go Set a Watchman, centers on a 26-year-old Scout and an aging Atticus. I originally read To Kill a Mockingbird in middle school or high school and I remember instantly thinking of it as one of the best books I had ever read. The story made you think, the characters were likable, and the prose was extremely well-written. Harper Lee holds a special place for me because she has the same birthday as my grandfather (April 28, 1926) who is also an author and the first storyteller in my life. It has been a long time since I read TKAM, though, and although I want to dive into Go Set a Watchman, I have decided to quickly reread the original book first.

There has been a lot of controversy over Go Set a Watchman being published because Ms. Lee’s decision to publish the novel (which she had written long ago) came after decades of vowing never to publish another book, and after she suffered a debilitating stroke. What do you think of Harper-Collins going ahead and publishing the book? I think that even if Ms. Lee did not originally want to share this new picture of her iconic characters with a larger audience, it’s alright to share it with them now. It has been so long since TKAM was published and the image of those characters as they were in TKAM is so ingrained in readers’ heads that I feel like it will never leave. Reading GSAW will just be like a bonus, the way JK Rowling continues to provide additional information about the Harry Potter universe. (Obviously Ms. Lee is providing us with a whole new novel, but I think it’s the same idea.)

Are you planning on reading Go Set a Watchman? If so, let’s read it together! I am hoping to finish rereading TKAM by Friday the 24th (I’ll tweet when I do), and then I’ll start GSAW right away. Let me know if you’re reading with me below, and also leave your thoughts on these books and suggestions for what I should read next! Thanks! 🙂

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The NYC Street Fair

I love that New York goes so out of its way to bring elements of rural life into its whirling metropolis. Whenever you look, especially in summer, there is a lush park, bustling farmer’s market, or vibrant street fair to be found, nestled right into those mad-dash streets. My favorite days in this city have been the ones when I stroll down the avenues, walking 50-80 blocks at a time, and just explore the things around me. I had one such excursion up Lexington Avenue this past weekend.

My journey actually started on the West Side, at Gotham West Market’s Blue Bottle Coffee, where I was meeting a friend for a drink. There, we discovered some free post-cards with a post-box and a sign with an offer to mail them for you. One of of my goals for this year is to send more snail-mail, so I really liked the idea. We each mailed a postcard, and I kept a couple more that I feel might have inspired the rest of my day.

Sometimes all you need is a simple reminder.

Sometimes all you need is a simple reminder.

I hadn’t explored Lexington Avenue in midtown too much at that point, so I decided to walk it. Right at the start of my journey, I discovered a new little Indian clothing store in Murray Hill called “Vintage India“. Most of the items were goods I would never bother buying in the US, since I can find more variety and cheaper prices in India, but the shop was colorful and fragrant and I was drawn in. (Plus it reminded me of a shop that we used to visit in college called Mexicali Blues, so there was a nostalgia factor.) I discovered a bin of $10 paayal (silver tinkling anklets) and was immediately sold.

I had a pair of these when I was younger and I love the idea of wearing them again... nostalgia is clearly highly effective on me.

I had a pair of these when I was younger and I love the idea of wearing them again… nostalgia is clearly a highly effective sales tactic on me.

From there, I kept walking up Lex, right into a street fair. I have been to several street fairs around the city, but I particularly liked this one because there was more than just food. The stalls all around me were selling jewelry, clothing, plants, and carpets – with a bit of imagination I could picture myself in a foreign marketplace, picking up things that I would have described as a child as “treasures”. I gave myself a cash budget for the day, and set off on my street fair adventure.

The first stall I came to had what seemed like hundreds of long, bronze-chained lockets hanging down from its railing.

Something about this feels magical to me... like it belongs in a dusty old antique store out of a novel.

Something about this feels magical to me… like it belongs in a dusty old antique store out of a novel.

When I looked closer, I realized they were clocks. I chose one with pretty engraving and bought it for $8. I love the look of pendants on long chains, and this piece felt timeless (no pun intended).

A little treasure

A little treasure

As I kept walking, I saw a few stalls with colorful cotton clothing. I am on the look out for comfortable, good quality but affordable harem pants, so I was intrigued. As I looked through the racks at one stall, some beautiful figurines caught my eye. I could instantly tell that they were from South Asia. I spoke to the seller, Anil, who confirmed that he was Nepali.

Anil making a sale to another customer

Anil making a sale to another customer

He showed me the various pieces he had depicting Hindu and Buddhist deities and we talked about his childhood in Darjeeling. In the end, I bought this beautiful Buddhist wall-hanging for $20.

I thought this was Shiva at first, but then Anil told me it is actually a female form of Buddha

I thought this was Shiva at first, but then Anil told me it is actually a female form of Buddha

Next, I spotted a $3 jewelry stall – how could I resist looking? I found these earrings and this locket amongst all the choices:

A locket and a sweet pair of earrings – 2/$5 and totally worth it!

A locket and a sweet pair of earrings – 2 for $5 and totally worth it!

Finally, I decided I really wanted to look for something different that I would not normally buy. I had to walk for a bit longer, but I found a man who was selling beautiful plants.

A little bonsai garden in the middle of NYC

A little bonsai garden in the middle of NYC

I asked him what was required to take care of bonsai (I definitely do not have a green thumb) and how much they cost. I assumed it would be very complicated and expensive. However, the seller explained the care process to me – just submerging the roots in water 2-3 times a week and keeping in indirect sunlight – and sold me this Chinese elm for just $18.

The elm apparently signifies balance and harmony and is supposed to be a good

The elm apparently signifies balance and harmony and is supposed to be a good “beginner’s bonsai”.

The seller was so kind that as I was packing up my purchase, he told me to wait and brought me this gorgeous orchid for free (he gave me instructions on taking care of it too, of course!):

First orchid I've ever owned... hopefully I can keep it alive!

First orchid I’ve ever owned… hopefully I can keep it alive!

Days like these make me so happy because I feel like I can have an adventure right in my own city. It makes me want to discover what else New York has to offer and to go and explore other places the same way.

What’s the best adventure you’ve had in your city? How do you like to explore new places?

Hillary Clinton

It’s taken me a few days to figure out what I want to say in this post. All week, when my friends have asked me what it was like to see Hillary Clinton, I’ve told them it was “amazing”. In fact, I even posted this Instagram picture and caption:

And seeing Secretary Clinton was amazing – in that it was very cool to see a woman whom I’ve admired and supported for so long in the flesh. It was awe-inspiring to be in the presence of someone who has traveled so much and represented the U.S. on such a massive scale, who has weathered a world of scandal thanks to her husband and come out on top, and who, somehow, still managed to seem like someone’s wonderful grandma.

But in terms of an event, or a chance to get to know your candidate, it was disappointing. The event was three hours long but Hillary was on stage fore barely half an hour of it. Most of the time it felt like we were at a strange concert where DJ Cassidy was playing great music but most people felt too awkward to really dance. Olivia Wilde came out to introduce Hillary, which was awesome in theory (House, M.D. is my all-time favorite show), but again felt stunted and “campaign-y” – she could have been acting out a role.

Olivia Wilde (aka Thirteen) introduces Mrs. Clinton

When Hillary finally came out, I did love everything she had to say. She talked about issues that are very much in the national spotlight, but also highlighted issues that aren’t talked about enough. That’s what I liked about her in the last run for presidency too – she doesn’t only speak about the “hot-ticket” items. She talked about having universal pre-kindergarten, which would make a such a long-term difference in the development of this country and its people. She spoke about how excited she was to meet her granddaughter, Charlotte, but she felt that, “you should not have to be the granddaughter of a former president or a former secretary to have opportunities.” She talked about the need for mental health issues to fall into the realm of open dialogue – for the crazy healthcare system surrounding it to be cleaned up and simplified, and for the stigma to be wiped away. She spoke about how people often feel embarrassed asking for help so she said,  “So during this campaign I’m going to talk about substance abuse. I’m going to talk about mental health.” She spoke about how this country is built upon basic bargains – like if you work hard you’ll have opportunities. The themes of the Clinton Global Initiative (making long-term commitments) and her own book/phrase (“It Takes a Village“) rang through her message without her overtly mentioning them. “At the end of the day, what really matters is how we treat each other. I’m going to try to remember that, I want you to remember that.” That was my favorite thing she said, because it’s such a simple a true message, and not the kind of thing you’d necessarily expect to be the message of a campaign speech today.

So if Hillary was so great, why was I disappointed?

“…and God Bless the United States!”

It’s because as much as I wanted to hear and did agree with Hillary’s campaign platforms, I didn’t want to just see “campaign Hillary”. Attending the event felt like I went to a sad concert and then watched Hillary Clinton give a speech on TV. I had thought that for $100, on the night of the first fiscal deadline, I would get at least a longer speech from her, or at least more speeches from her supporters. Everyone who spoke kept mentioning that Zach Braff and Uzo Aduba were in the audience – why didn’t they speak themselves? Why didn’t we hear more from the volunteers who work in her campaign headquarters, especially given that it’s based in New York?

I understand that in today’s world, political advisors (and politicians themselves, in turn) are extremely wary of doing anything where they can’t control the outcome. Any situation can be spun. But what I feel like they (and a lot of people trying to use today’s instant, Internet-driven culture to their advantage) fail to understand is that its authenticity and honesty that works. An example from the fashion/beauty world – sure those air-brushed models get a lot of admirers, but look at how the untouched, un-photoshopped pictures that occasionally come out are celebrated!

This is not to say that Secretary Clinton came off at all as artificial. Just… tailored. I kept feeling like there was so much more she could have said on any given point and so many questions the audience could have asked her that would go deeper than any interview she’ll give in the coming months. Now I’m not sure if this blog post will ever reach the right eyes or if the political pundit behind those eyes would even care, but here is my challenge to Secretary Clinton and to all the candidates running for office in 2016:

Give the people a chance to actually talk to their candidates. Let them interact. Let them ask questions. The beauty of today’s world is that the lay person has the ability to talk to anybody in the world, regardless of whether they are famous or powerful. People love that. Take advantage of that. I realize it’s scary – what if someone asks a question you don’t have a perfectly scripted answer for? What if someone says something awkward or embarrassing? It’s the world of the internet – every video clip lasts forever! But you’re running to be the leader of a great nation. You’re running to represent this country on a global scale and you will (and have) faced unexpected questions from world leaders and swarthy media-people – much more intimidating, I would think, than your average constituent. I’m sure any question I could ask you would be easier than what Brianna Keilar will present you with tomorrow. Don’t just talk to the people, speak with them. Have real conversations, in person. Don’t try to play the internet game – just be real and the internet will automatically love you for it.

Readers, please let me know what you think in the comments below. If you agree and would like this election to be about real dialogue and not just constructed sound-bites, please share this post on your own social media and with the candidates you want to have dialogue with. I think it applies no matter what your political leaning. Thanks!

Sorted Food

This past Sunday, Sorted Food, one of the most popular cooking channels on Youtube, hosted a meet up in Central Park. It was a grand conclusion to their #LostAndHungry tour across the US and was done in the typical Sorted fashion – lots of British banter, lots food talk, and lots of real, engaged interaction with viewers.

Me with the iconic Sorted mini-fridge!

Me with the iconic Sorted mini-fridge!

The day was supposed to start around 10 am, but Ben, Barry, Jamie, and Mike arrived around 9:30 to a handful of viewers. I was glad that I’d gotten there early too because it meant that I was able to have a conversation with Ben about their journey through the US. Ben is the actual trained chef of the group, so it was also cool to talk to him about things like a great dish versus a great dining meal and how your experience of food is so predicated on things that surround it – whether you cooked the meal or bought it, who your company is, what setting you’re in, etc.

Me with Ben Ebbrell, the chef behind Sorted Food

Me with Ben Ebbrell, the chef behind Sorted Food

“If you asked me what my favorite dishes on this trip were, I could probably list five, but if you asked me what my favorite dining experiences were I could probably also list five, but they would be an entirely different list than the first set.”

At 10 am, the guys gave (and filmed) an intro for the crowd, which had now swelled to probably about 80. We all split off into four groups (one with each member of the Sorted team) and we went off on an adventure to find food. I was in Mike’s team, and our task was to find something sweet. We were in my neck of the woods on the Upper East Side, so I immediately thought of taking the group to “O Merveilleux“, a darling little French café and pastry shop where Proma and I often like to go to work during the day. As we walked, I got to meet some of the other attendees. One lady was visiting with her husband and daughter from San Francisco and happened to be in town for the meet-up. She told me she had grown up in France and taught me the correct way to pronounce merveilleux (Proma and I always just call it “the bakery”) and recommended a pastry called chouquette from Maison Kayser. As the day went on, I also got to talk to other viewers and find out about their favorite food spots in the city. One viewer, Emily Tan, is a food photographer and gave me tips on using my new DSLR. It was cool to meet people over this random shared interest that we had all come to independently.

Once we got to our destination, Mike bought us all some macarons and gingerbread cookies to share.

Mike examining the fare at O Merveilleux

Mike and some viewers examining the fare at O Merveilleux

Mike and I showing of the macarons

Mike and I showing off the macarons

As the day went on, we went to more local spots including Two Little Red Hens (where we sampled a divine Brooklyn Blackout Cake), Orwasher’s Bakery (where we admired their display of freshly baked breads), and Maison Kayser (where I finally got to try the delicious little chouquettes).

Beautiful, mouth-watering pastries at Maison Kayser

Beautiful, mouth-watering pastries at Maison Kayser

We also stopped by Cascabel Taqueria for my favorite spicy guacamole and tostada to balance out all the sweetness and went downtown to check out the Pride parade that was happening that day.

We were only at the Pride parade briefly, but we spotted Lea DeLaria from Orange is the New Black

We were only at the Pride parade briefly, but we spotted Lea DeLaria from Orange is the New Black

Along the way, I got to talk to Mike about his experiences in the US. He talked about driving through the western part of the country and trying a proper Louisiana crawfish boil in a viewer’s home (see the video). He told me he used to be a school music and drama teacher. He said he missed a traditional British breakfast, so I recommended Jones Wood Foundry for their bangers and mash. He was planning on visiting Boston on his own after NYC so I told him to go to Quincy Market and have a real clam chowder. (The guys had tried it in San Francisco, which, to a Boston girl, really doesn’t count.) It was very cool to be able to have real conversations over a few hours with Mike, instead of just a quick hi, hug, and a selfie like I imagine most meet-and-greets are. (I’ll try to post about my experience meeting Marcus Butler soon.)

With Barry and Jamie at the end of the day

With Barry and Jamie at the end of the day

It was incredible to me how friendly and easy to talk to all the guys were. I feel like if I were in their shoes, I might be nervous about meeting and having to interact with so many unknown people at once. When I stepped back, it was odd but awesome to have someone who I essentially think of as a ‘celebrity’ I watch on a show interacting with me, in ‘my space’, just because I brought him there, like it was normal. In the moment, though, it felt completely natural. I guess that’s the magic of the Sorted mission though. It’s just good people coming together over good food. What does it matter if they know each other or not? Why can’t we just meet some strangers with a common interest and have a good time? It doesn’t and we can. Good people + good food = good time. Simple and delicious.

Proma, Radhika, and Rads

I came out of college feeling like I didn’t need any more friends. I’m not sure if that sounds conceited or tragic, but I felt that I had a few really good friends, and while I was happy to meet and hang out with other people, I didn’t need to keep searching for people to share everything with. I spent my first year and a half in New York operating under this plan. I met some great people but, for whatever reason, didn’t allow myself to get close to anyone new. Life tends to work in funny ways though, and last summer, I met Proma, Radhika, and Rads.

I have been dancing with Ajna Dance Company since I first moved to New York. Last summer, two new girls joined – Proma and Radhika. Proma, I had actually met when I was 16, through some childhood friends. I had always felt we would get along (largely based on shared obsessions with Harry Potter and dance). Radhika was bubbly and came over to learn the Ajna choreography. We met Rads through Proma and together, the four of us quickly became friends.

Proma & Radhika posing for me as we make our weekly connection through Grand Central Station on our way home from rehearsal.

What I love about our little ‘crew’ (we call ourselves “Uptown Funk” – sorry not sorry) is how easy it is. We’re different ages, but all mid-twenties, we have very different personalities, yet we tend to be on similar wavelengths, we have a variety of interests, but we all push each other creatively. (Writing about Jasmine and my psychic experience was largely thanks to their encouragement to keep writing.) Best of all, I know I can rely on them.

We’re in such constant communication that in some ways, the most difficult part of my trip to Chicago last week was not being able to unwind with them at the end of the day. (Naturally, I saw them as soon as I got back, hah.)

Rads taking a mirror selfie of us the night before I left for Chicago.

I realize that we sound like typical 20-something’s from NYC – all inside jokes, texting threads, and cutesy group names. But these girls encourage me more than any of my other friends ever have to chase my creative goals, and that makes them really special. Plus, I swear we’ve only all gone for mani-pedis together once. 🙂

I’m interested to know what other people’s experiences have been. Have you made an unexpected connection or a new friendship recently? Do you expect to or do you think you’ve already made your “lifelong friendships”? Let me know in the comments below!

Me

Home is a funny concept. For most of my life, “home” was wherever my parents and brother were living. India was also referred to as “home”, especially by curious white Americans who wanted to know where I was “really from”. Now, home is starting to feel like New York City. (I try not to say this outright to my mother too often.)

Mummy in the hotel room: We are currently on a trip, and she is a familiar sight in an unfamiliar place

 
I knew relatively few people when I moved to NYC. It’s a place where my friends are truly just mine, and my apartment is just filled and decorated with my whimsies. None of it has been curated for me by family members or a school. I realize that for some people this is the exact opposite of “home”, but I’m really loving meeting new people with fresh thoughts – it just feels right. I have a wonderful little niché of friends (we call ourselves “Uptown Funk” – hah) and I like that I’m in a place where I can meet people from so many different walks of life. 

This blog was created because I want to take full advantage of that. I find that in life, and especially in a large city like NYC, it’s easy to get stuck in your own social bubble. I’m hoping that by keeping this blog, I’ll be more inspired to go out and explore the world, meet new people, and keep writing. In that vein, I’ve decided to take on the challenges of Blogging 101 and Photography 101 – a blog post and a photograph every day. I’m hoping it will get me back into the swing of writing for the public – and that it will help me create a little “home away from home” on the Internet. 

Are you taking part in Blogging 101 or Photography 101? If so, comment below and I’ll check out your posts! 

The Week of Celebrities

The week started out fairly normally. I had heard that the movie “How to be Single” was going to be filming 30 seconds from my apartment so I knew there was the vague chance of a celebrity sighting. I’ve seen a couple famous people in New York before, so although I was excited, I wasn’t freaking out. The only person I really cared about seeing in the HTBS cast was Rebel Wilson, but I figured the chance of it happening was slim since she’s Pitch Perfect 2 came out just last week and she might get mobbed. The filming was supposed to happen Monday morning but I was wrapped up in work all day and didn’t end up stepping out until 6 pm. Lo and behold, I walked out of my apartment and there was Rebel Wilson happily smiling and taking endless selfies with a mob of middle-schoolers. Just as I paused to consider trying to take a picture with her, she was called away by the film people. It was just perfect lucky timing that I saw her. 

The next day, when I was traveling on business and sure the high point of my week had passed, I got a message from my dance company’s director, Minila, about a special opportunity. We had been invited to NBC to dance with Nick Cannon for Red Nose Day. My mind was blown. Ajna has been offered some cool opportunities in the past, but this to me was a sign that people are really starting to take notice of us.

I flew back into the city on Wednesday evening and switched immediately into dance mode. We were at 30 Rock until late in the night, but when Nick finally came over and danced with us, it was exhilarating.

On Friday, my friends and I had made plans to go see “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” on Broadway. I’d been wanting to see this play since Neil Patrick Harris had starred in it but hadn’t yet gotten around to it. There have been a string of talented Hedwigs but when I saw a billboard advertising that Darren Criss is the current star, I knew I had to make the time. I’ve thought of Darren as immensely talented and down-to-earth for a long time – from watching him in “A Very Potter Musical” to clips from “Glee” all the way to his features in Tyler Oakley videos on YouTube. One of the friends that I had planned with, Proma, knew Darren from working with him on AVPM, and thought that we might be able to get in to see him. I wasn’t sure it would happen because her plans were uncertain until the last minute, and we didn’t know what kind of security Darren would be surrounded with. I should have known, though, after the week I was having, that it would all work out.
Darren was somehow even more down-to-earth than I’d expected. He was instantly thrilled to see Proma and very giving. He chatted with us about the show and the many moods of Hedwig (he called her “She” like it was someone he knew rather than a character he plays), and took us to his dressing room for a pictures. His wardrobe man and manager were also very friendly.

This week has been utterly surreal. In one week I encountered three celebrities in 3 completely unrelated events and in 3 very different ways. The first was basically a chance event – the kind of thing you’re told to expect, living in New York. The second was borne of the work my dance company has done over the past two and a half years. And the third was a result of making friends with some really talented and interesting people. All of it makes me love the City more than ever. And I find that the reason I’m thrilled has very little to do with celebrity. It’s really more that I know now that the things I’ve always wanted – surrounding myself with people leading interesting lives, achieving my creative goals, and living and interesting life myself are all things that are accessible.