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Why You Need to be a Better Person

This blog post is about why you should be a better person in a relationship.

We are often told,’ if you love me, you will accept me for what I am’. While there is truth to that, we all have our faults.

And we are not as much of an island as we think we are. When we are in a relationship, the basic purpose is to give our loved one the best, most loving, caring experience they can have.

It is critical to know: our relationship with ourselves defines our relationship with our partner. If we are harsh and critical ourselves, our partner will receive the harshness or criticism. If we are impatient and unforgiving, our partner will experience the impatience and judgement.

Its not even the interpersonal relationship outside you that I am speaking of. Inside you. Do you have spaces, quiet, peace? Do you know what feels like? If you don’t, ask. A friend will demonstrate, or I will.

But you haven’t said anything explicitly to your partner, you say.

But ah, say I. You need to make yourself better because your beloved lives in you.

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A Moose and A Biryani

My parents in Alaska are Ray and Vivian Menaker. Vivian passed away from cancer a few years ago, and Ray last year. They were among the finest people I have known, the grandparents of the Alaskan environmental movement, helped set up the Alaskan bald eagle preserve, and were formative influences in my life.

I met them when I went up to do an GIS and web design internship at the Alaska Clean Water Alliance. Vivian was on the board of the organization, and I stayed with Ray and Vivian, and was never the same for that experience.

Haines is a small town upstream of Juneau, the capital of Alaska, along the Lynn Canal. Its small, but cruise ships would stop along this little port town. Once Ray pointed to a cruise ship and said, that cruise ship is using more electricity than the entire town of Haines. And in this tiny town, this young Indian girl of 23 found a home.

thimbleberryI used to wake up and go have a thimbleberry/ raspberry breakfast in their thimbleberry or raspberry bushes, Vivian grew her own produce in a lovely garden she constructed from scratch. I would fetch eggs (as would the town of Haines) from their double-storey chicken coop, clean chicken shit, chop wood (we had a wood stove), stayed with them in a house they pretty much built with their own hands. Vivian would make me cherry pie from cherries that I plucked from their cherry tree, and the finest granola in the world (both Vivian and I loved nuts).

Ray taught me how to drive a stick shift. Once when we came from driving into town, I ran and opened his door for him. And before getting out of the car, he looked down at the ground. And I asked, what are you looking for? He said, I don’t see the red carpet.

We had salmon caught fresh in the Alaskan waters. Vivian had installed a hand-cranked milling machine in her wall, and she would pour wheat into it, and flour would come out the other end. She would then make dough and put it in their bread maker and we would have the softest, warmest bread, best had with melted butter and Alaskan winters. We would wake up to the smell of a house infused with the smell of freshly baked bread. They never locked their home, or their car. Ray read stories every Saturday from across the world, and Vivian would listen to every story he read, back at home, over the radio.

For their 50th wedding anniversary, they snuck me into town at 3 am with eight feet of snow on the ground. The entire town showed up to give them a surprise wedding anniversary party.

2010-05-09 23.38.02You have to know this about them: Ray had a Gandhian charkha and he would spin stuff into yarn. By stuff I mean wool, yes, but the good people of Haines, Alaska, would also give him hair from their huskies, and he would spin that into yarn. And Vivian had a giant loom in one room, from which she would spin it into cloth. And these two wore bathrobes spun by Ray, and woven by Vivian all their lives.

I have always heard them say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to each other, and never once witnessed a fight. I once asked Ray, curious, Ray, how come you two never fight? What happens if you want one thing and Vivian another? Well, he said, in his slow drawl, then it doesn’t get done. Ray would say, Vivian and I have divided responsibilities around this house, Vivian does all the work, and I am perfectly willing to let her. (Which wasn’t quite true, since he did an equal amount of work). They went for walks in the evening, with Vivian holding onto Ray’s arm. He was gallant, and he would always offer his arm to Vivian.

And here is the most remarkable story: when I met Ray last, I was warned that he had lost his memory. When I visited him at Haines Assisted Living, he indeed didn’t recognize me, and he was as polite as he was to everyone. This is what he looked like when I saw him:

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So I decided to cook for everyone at the facility. Since I was in Alaska, guess what I cooked? I made biryani, but what kind? You’d never guess! Moose. I made moose biryani (I had never made biryani before). And this is the little miracle that occurred.

Now, Ray had never had Indian food before he met me. He had never met an Indian before. And he’d never had biryani before. I set a plate before him, he took a bite, frowned, looked up, and asked, you wouldn’t be Vasu Primlani, would you? HE didn’t remember me, but his palate did! From a dish he’d never had before! Not only did he remember, he remembered that he forgot! He said, ‘Now I feel like such an idiot for not remembering you.’

Ray and Vivian Menaker, good people become immortal, and you will live in my heart for my entire life. I love you, and you, and Alaska will always be my home.

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The President has good taste

o I met the President. He’s actually an erudite, very sweet man.

People asked me, what will you do after you receive the award? I say, I’ll hold my hand out for a second award. They told me in advance I was going to get the award (you know, to make sure I was in town, prepare logistics etcetera) with the caveat that I not tell anyone. Do you know how HARD it was to keep THAT secret, the motherlode of all secrets, for all that time? I ended up cracking a little and telling people I had good news, and they’d ask eagerly, what good news (even some assumptions around children and pregnancy), I’d say, I can’t say. That earned me a few choice expletives.

SO, I say, I’ll hold out my hand for a second award, for NOT TELLING!!

The ceremony was imposing, which you can see here. Just scroll down, and you’ll see the video. Make you proud. It made me proud.

Oh, why did I get it? For being AWESOME, dude! For promoting the cause of women, through everything I do: standup comedy, business school professor, somatic practitioner, triathlete.

The Nari Shakti award is the highest and most prestigious award given to women by the President of India. And I am the first comedian EVER to receive it. EVER.

Thank you to Minister Maneka Gandhi and her office, the Ministry of Women and Child Development, for initiating and instituting this award.

And thank you, President Mukherjee. You have EXCELLENT taste.

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The Quickest Way to Be a Buddha

CyclingMy perfect Sunday began on Saturday night.

A dear friend and artist, Siraj ji called and asked me to join the Delhi Cyclothon for the Yamuna river. Yes, I said, I have to get back into cycling.

The next morning, the winter was setting in, and I sat pondering on my bed if I wanted to go. Finally got up, put air in my tires, donned my cycling gear, and woke up on my bicycle.

40 km of cycling with friends – Gaurav Wadhwa, Siraj Saxena, Aman Puri, such beautiful men. There were children who were on their unicycles, grown girls on tiny cycles (Siraj ji said it looked like they were riding mice, the modern Cinderella). And being in the aero position on my bicycle.

Came home, slept immediately, got up at 2:30 pm, hungry. Ate a little something, took a much-deserved bath, took off on my somatic therapy appointment. We spoke mostly, I didn’t do so much body work. She said, what you say is not just words, its so real, so tangible. I think the word she was looking for is ‘embody’ that truth. It’s a big word in somatic therapy. She laughed and choked at something else I said.

Which brings me to why I am writing this post. It feels SO good to DO good. To implement goodness, not just be an armchair good person. To make a difference in someone’s life, to put someone back together, to restore her faith in herself. To look into someone’s eyes, and say, I believe in you. And I don’t do it for her as much as I do it for myself – its my need to actualize myself.

All through that perfect Sunday, people made me smile. Two children carefully walking their grandfather to a restaurant despite the downpour. One woman saying, ‘oh that car is beautifully parked’. And I carried that joy with me. When I was driving, the car beside me honked three times. Normally I get annoyed with unnecessary honking, but this was clearly a message. I looked over, they lowered their window and said, you have a puncture, and pointed to the injured tire. I thanked them, and got my puncture repaired by a careful sardarji, who tested and tested again. I carried that joy of giving with me through this perfect Sunday.

Its surprising how few people know and practice this. My friends know this full well. I once asked a favor of my friend Cynthia Henderson. She responded with: thank you for the privilege of assisting you.

The best way to have friends is to be a friend. The greatest happiness in the world is in making others happy. The quickest way to be a Buddha is by giving with your entire being.

Oh, and- a 40 km bike ride doesn’t hurt, either.