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Behind and Beyond the Veil

Month

April 2016

Goodnight, Sweet Prince

Prince performs during his 'Diamonds and Pearls Tour' at the Earl's Court Arena in London, Britain, June 15, 1992.   REUTERS/Dylan Martinez - RTX2B3WQ

In 1981, I was part of the first generation of MTV kids who would rush home and watch new videos. One day in 1983, I saw a video that was in direct opposition to the rock music I was listening to. I remember watching this beautiful black man with long hair, eyeliner, and purple trench coat. My sister described the music as “new wave” because that was the term of the time. That video inducted a “new wave” into my life. One that was more open to things that were different than what I was used to. At the time, I had no way of knowing the impact this video and this man would have on my life, forever altering and forever shaping it in ways I can’t even fathom.

That man, as the title of this blog indicates was Prince, the enchanting unicorn who deliberately defied labels and boundaries. Prince unwittingly became the composer of the soundtrack of my life. He unwittingly became the object of my affection (when I was thirteen I swore I would marry him), and my light in the darkness of trauma.

Over the years, everyone in my circle knew of my admiration and voracious consumption of anything Prince. Cousins from overseas would send pictures of him to me in the mail. I would buy any magazine that had his picture. These pictures were amalgamated together and mounted on the wall that infamously became known as the “Prince Wall.” When I went to college, I gingerly took every picture off the wall and meticulously placed them on a slab of cardboard and took the “Prince Wall” with me. I refused to leave him behind. In my college dorm, I made sure the first face I saw when I woke was Prince’s, as two posters adorned the wall right in front of me, leaving no room for any others. It was all about Prince.

Prince is the only artist I have seen four times in my life, and every time was different and a life experience. I was fifteen when I first saw him for the “Glam Slam” tour. I was in the second level of the now defunct Spectrum when I yelled out, “I love you!” With mic in hand he responded, “I love you, too, hun.” That was the closest in physical proximity I ever got to him.

In my times of melancholy, his music has pierced threw the armor I created to make it through and allowed me to feel what I needed to feel. I lost a beloved aunt in 2010, and I already had tickets to his concert in Madison Square Garden. My mother forced me to go, and I’m glad I did. For over two hours, I forgot my pain. I have created memories with members of my family who have gone to his shows with me. One of my brothers went to see Prince with me twice. My best friend came with me to a show one year just because she wanted to experience this part of my life with me. He played “The Beautiful Ones.” I got so excited and squeezed her arm so tightly, that I heard a muted, “Ow.” It is still a wonderful memory. Well, maybe not for her.

His lyrics and virtuosity as a musician have inspired me in my life. Too many of his songs have been imprinted on my consciousness to list here. His spirituality and ownership of his own life inspires me to this day. After his passing, I realized that he always lived his life exactly as he was, no matter if others understood or appreciated it. Only recently, have I learned to live this way.

For the rest of my life, I will be grateful to this man for his presence in the world, even if I never got the opportunity to meet him. He did what he was meant to do and shared his profound genius. Now that he has returned to his True Home and the True Home of us all, I can only say, “Good night, sweet Prince.” May you greet me at the dawn.

Until next time… look behind and beyond the veil…

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Speaking in Many Tongues

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Most of us who are first generation immigrants grow up surrounded by different languages. Most people from other countries speak more than one language. For me, any sort of access to knowledge is necessary and ongoing. Personally, I love being an amalgamation of cultures and identities. I love that I have familiarity with and can speak multiple languages. My adventures in multilingualism have ranged from the fearful to the comical to the sublime.

Being a fearful little girl, I used to get nervous speaking Punjabi. We were literally the only family in my neighborhood who spoke the language. I had my own brand of it that my family members could understand, but it was suspect if anyone else could. I made blatant errors that no one would correct because they didn’t want to discourage me. They probably figured I wouldn’t run into anybody else I had to speak with anyway, so it didn’t matter. What was really interesting was that I would be filled with anxiety when my father or my two uncles who lived near us would speak in Punjabi to me. I was afraid I wouldn’t understand them, or they wouldn’t understand me. My mother and my aunt were the only two people that I completely understood when they spoke to me in Punjabi and who I felt completely comfortable with when I spoke it. No butterflies flitted around in my stomach when I spoke Punjabi with them. I mentioned that to a professor I was working with once, and he actually said I could be a case study in anxiety in language acquisition or something of that sort. True story.

Now, I don’t have the anxiety because I just pick the language that will convey my meaning best. I have fun with my mistakes, too. I actually grew up in a household that snuck in vocabulary from a language that in no way resembles, Urdu, Hindi, or Punjabi: Swahili. So unknown to me, I used words from Swahili while speaking in Punjabi. I was following my family’s lead, but no one bothered to distinguish which words were Swahili and which were Punjabi. For this, I am grateful because it led me to one of my more comical foibles in my life. One time I was speaking with my Pakistani sister-in-law about a family of rabbits that had claimed squatter’s rights in her front yard. I referred to the rabbits as “sangora.” She had no idea what I was talking about. Then, I said, “You know, rabbit.” My cousin looked at me and said, “Sangora is Swahili.” No wonder, she didn’t know what I was talking about. Oh, well. I am happy that I literally know five words in Swahili.

On the flip side, there are those in this country who feel one language is enough, especially if that language is English. Most people in this country only speak English. Most of the rest of the world speak at least two languages. I have run into people who wear their monolingualism like a badge of honor and take a self-righteous approach to it. I remember a grocery store clerk who said, “There’s no need to learn another language because most of the world speaks English.” I just stayed quiet. I was just trying to get groceries, not trying to subdue the stereotypical American arrogance. If I was, I would have told him that actually most of the world speaks Mandarin. The second most spoken language is Spanish. English is actually third. My fellow Americans, let me take this moment to say that it is not just our culture and language that is the be all and end all for the world. Many other cultures and languages thrive and are as valid ours.

For this reason, I am so grateful for my exposure to and familiarity with other languages. Learning Urdu poetry has been a delight because I get to dissect a language I am still learning. The nuances and uses of different words are so fulfilling to learn. Before I’m done, I intend to speak fluently in Urdu and Spanish. I plan to be fully literate in both languages at some point, as well. I’m not sure when or how I will do it but it is an adventure I look forward to. That is exactly how I see my exposure to and lifelong learning of other languages.

Until next time… look behind and beyond the veil…

For the Love of Creativity

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From the time I was a little girl, I loved to read. I would read every book I could get my hands on and just want more. Even now, I make sure I make time to read every day. I remember going through my brother’s records. He seemed to have everything, mostly rock, which is a big part of why I listen to rock music to this day. Back then, I would write but get so immersed in perfection, that it wasn’t fun. Only recently have I gotten out of that habit. Now, I just write because it feeds my soul. No other way to say it. As a matter of fact, creativity in general feeds my soul. Whether it be art, music, or of course, literature, I find myself transported into the minds and emotions of those who create.

Admittedly, I know very little about art. Some people like Andy Warhol who are considered brilliant innovators, do very little for me. Sometimes, I’m not sure why it’s even art because I don’t see craft or skill in certain works. Campbell’s soup cans? That’s really art? However, when I do connect with a piece, I get a feeling in my heart that I can’t even describe. I imagine it’s part exhilaration and part admiration that another human being could create what I am seeing before me. I had this exact feeling when I saw Picasso’s “Three Musicians” painting in person for the first time. First of all, I didn’t realize just how big it is. It’s a small mural. I was so overcome that I had to sit and stare at it for a few minutes. I don’t think I’ve had that feeling since. Picasso fascinates me because he could create art across mediums. He sculpted and did ceramics. To this day, I marvel at his genius and continue to be awed by it.

Music overall, is another creative medium that pulls me in and retains me. I love different genres. I am a Prince fan until I die and for a few days after that. Led Zeppelin is my favorite band of all time. Frequently, I watch interviews with Robert Plant, the lead singer of Led Zeppelin, and he talks about his various projects that are separate from his former band. I understand he’s moved on in his life and musically, but the impact that music has had on my life is astronomical. At this point, the surviving members of Led Zeppelin are almost blasé about how much impact their music has had around the world. Many of the songs are amazing just by the musicianship. But more than that, these songs play like a soundtrack to my life. “Over the Hills and Far Away” evokes memories of the only family trip we ever took. “Down by the Seaside” conjures memories of that same trip and my late brother. Countless songs inspire memories of him. “The Rain Song” and “Thank You” are two of the most timeless love ballads of all time. So many other genres of music and so many other songs inspire different emotions at different times. It’s all a confirmation and celebration of life.

Similarly, literature has resonated with me my entire life. I remember my oldest sister discussing books with siblings who were studying certain ones in school and being fascinated by different stories. She had an extensive library, and I remember at thirteen reading my first Shakespeare play, Much Ado about Nothing. Even at that age, I loved Beatrice and would laugh out loud at her taunts at Benedick. They were the anti-couple but the intelligence and strength of both characters have always stayed with me. This first reading instilled a love for Shakespeare which results in pilgrimages to Stratford-upon-Avon whenever I am in England. Authors like J.K. Rowling and J.R.R Tolkien are masters at crafting literary worlds. At one time, this reverence for the written word made me very selective about when I would write. I was constantly judging myself and inadvertently stifling my own creativity.

Now, I have learned to approach writing the same way I approach all creativity: with love. I have embarked on creating my own literary worlds. When I write, more and more, I just experience exhilaration and feed off of it. Creativity is the lifeblood in my veins. Creativity is the soul of life… Mine, at least.

Until next time… look behind and beyond the veil…

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