Being an Immigrant - A Steep Learning Curve

"Where is the hot water tap?" I called the transit hotel front desk, feeling a bit idiotic. Perhaps that was one of my first questions fresh out of JFK airport, or was it LaGuardia? Here I was, a big city girl from Bombay, India, not quite sure how to work the faucets at the sink or in the shower. Yes, they were a puzzle - just one faucet, rather than two taps, one for hot water and one for cold.   

Like many immigrants, it was marriage that brought me to the US. When I immigrated, it was time to find work, pay rent, adjust to a husband (who had only known the US as home), and find my place in my in-laws' family. It meant discovering that big meals, three times a day, were non-existent; I learned that I spoke too loudly, and when I said I'd do something, or be someplace, by a certain time, I found out my husband expected just that. In India, 'tomorrow' had meant any day but today; 'soon' had meant eventually and 'now' had meant some time today. Yes, as you can guess, drama and miscommunication haunted the early days of my new marriage!  

That said, even as a new immigrant, I don't recall feeling like I was lost, or like didn't know what I had to do professionally.  In India, given the competitive spirit, and the challenges to getting even the simplest things done, we learn tenacity, by default. Given the relatively limited opportunities at the time, our environment instilled us with a sense of persistence and a willingness to hustle. So, I did just that.  I was writing as a freelancer within a couple of weeks. 

I worked evenings as a telemarketer, and was the third highest producer. The accent intrigued people. "Where are you from?" "Oh India?" "That must be so interesting." At the end of those conversations, I guess they felt obligated to make a purchase. While the accent may have been interesting, imagine my exchanges at the local Jewel-Osco grocery, asking if they carried lady fingers! Here it was okra not ladyfingers, eggplant not brinjal, and sidewalk versus pavement, sorry versus pardon, pajamas versus nightsuit, vacations versus holidays ...

My husband and I lived on campus, where he was an undergraduate. I took a class, too. One of my clearest memories, was when I was spelling my name, Naazish, at the registration desk. I pronounced the letter Z as 'Zed' and couldn't get why the lady didn't understand me. I repeated it a few times before deciding to write it out. "Ah, Zee," the woman said. "Yes, Zee," I sighed. 

In class, I was surprised to see students eating. When the bell rang, they'd leave even if the teacher was talking. Where was the respect? Speaking of surprises, winter was a shock. I hadn't experienced such freezing temperatures before and it took forever to dress, or undress for that matter. I had never had to wear so many layers in my entire life. My gloves didn't do justice at all. I still remember how much my fingers stung as I waited for the bus in the biting cold. Most importantly, I found out it was a bad idea to take short cuts across a field - the wind will freeze the marrow in your bones and, no, you will not get to a washroom in time. 

Over the weeks, I didn't know what was supposedly 'out of my league' so there were no doubts and fears to overcome. I pitched to write for the Chicago Tribune, Chicago's largest newspaper, and the dots connected! Within the year, that same naivete worked in my favor as I applied for an internship at Chicago Public Radio, and pitched commentaries for NPR successfully. 

What was hardest, however, was the emotional adjustment. Strange considering that my husband and I attended at least two dinner gatherings, each weekend. You see, the Indian immigrant community is large and yet small enough that everyone maintains their connections. I knew more people in my first month here than I ever did back in India. 

But though I felt welcome, and fit in seamlessly, there was that gnawing, emotional void. The need to connect at a deeper level, to be understood for who I was on the inside, a short-hand to one's heart and mind, was missing. New husband, new family, new social circle, not withstanding, the void came from not having connections at a deeper level, either intellectually or emotionally. There is something to be said about the comfort of cultural short-hand and common histories, growing up watching the same TV shows, sharing a similar sense of humor. In the early years here, I didn't have much of that.

My loneliness, perhaps, was magnified by the fact that my husband's elementary, middle and high schools were still a hop, skip and jump away. That his parent's home was still very much his own home. That he didn't have to carve into existence the relationships he wanted. It often fell to him to play the role that my aunts, siblings, parents and grand-parents had played in my life. My cheerleader, my rock of Gibraltar, he had to be all those things and no one had prepared him to do any of it. How could one man do what an entire family, an extended one for that matter, had done?

I became committed to creating the sense of security I had felt back home, nurturing confidants and cheerleaders could always depend on. It meant pushing myself to be vulnerable and wholly present in every relationship…just as I was naturally, in India. It meant realizing that I didn’t have to have the same interests, or even the same background, as some else to become close buddies. It meant realizing that age was no consideration when picking a friend. It meant being committed to friendship and being an accessible, good friend. And as I now see, it meant having patience. A garden grows slowly. The friends I made 20 years ago, are my inner circle, my emotional and intellectual sounding board, today. Given my loneliness from the early days, I have learned that spending time with close friends is important to my sense of well-being and vital to my existence.

Video Scripts Based on Input from All Stakeholders

For a series of videos that we are planning here at IFANCA, it's not me in my silo deciding what the script should entail. Rather it is me speaking to all the various departments who interact with our target audience and asking them what frequently asked questions come up in their conversations that we could perhaps address via our website and videos. Given that every company has limited resources, fretting out the most pertinent information that needs conveying, is what helped me decide what each video would comprise. It may be time consuming to cull this information but it's better than running with assumptions, especially since  meeting audience needs is truly the goal. Doing the research allows us to narrow our focus and trim scope down to what really needs to be done.  Having a solid 'why'  - That is the only way to avoid a redundant product.

So yes, this speaks once again to the idea that when you step outside your silo, you get better results.Aarron, noted author and leader of MailChimp's UX design shared a similar approach in an interview with

The Case for Getting Personal at Work

What is it about Facebook that's made it so addictive. Once upon a time, having to look at other people's travel pictures or children's photos was considered an experience to avoid. How things have changed with Facebook! What makes it addictive is the unfolding of stories - they give us the means to get to know each other personally.  According to the HBR article, Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams, getting to know your co-workers stories too can result in improved productivity.

What is America built on if not the Abe Lincoln “Log Cabin to White House” story about this country being the land of opportunity? The Rosa Parks story and the Emmett Till story have served as reminders of the injustices of segregation, better than statistics about hate crimes or discrimination, could ever. It was the story of the tenacity and courage of the 33 trapped Chilean miners that held the world's attention and its heart strings. Similarly, it was insufficient stories from flood hit Pakistan in June 2011, that resulted in the tragedy falling under the radar. 1/3rd of that nation was under water and more people died in those floods than the combined lives lost during the Tsunami, the Pakistan Earthquake in 2005 and the Haiti Earthquake. How many of us know that? These facts go to prove that story has the power to influence and the strength to mobilize or water down both relationships and movements. As Cohen and Prusak assert, this is true irrespective of whether a story is rooted in fact or fiction, or presented as a fable or as a comic book. When there are working groups with members who do not know each other well, divergent opinions could end up creating walls, bad feelings or hostility even. As we get to know each other’s stories, even seemingly inconsequential ones, we discover commonalities. Bonds form. Lunch room conversations slowly become the “connective tissue” that the chapter Sharing the Journey talks of. Over time, exchanging stories has the power to create a work environment where members feel safe enough to express divergent opinions, and take risks, without fear of being misunderstood or devalued. We have the potential to graduate from being working groups to Senge's synergized 'teams'. The trust underlying the exchange of stories, gifts individuals with the latitude to see fellow team members idiosyncrasies as just that, rather than as reasons to take umbrage. When interactions are only task oriented, the feeling of being connected that gives team members mutual leverage for use during negotiations or persuasion, is rarely forged. This is exacerbated when working virtually. Instead if we take a few lines in a few emails each week, to also discuss a book we’ve been reading or ask for advice on a non-work matter, we evolve from just being words on a screen. Instead we become someone the other can identify with at some level. We now become more willing to give each others perspective a platform, even if we may disagree with it. The act of simply being willing to hear the other out, conveys respect and oils the wheels of team work.

Why do we connect with some and not others

I have often wondered why we connect with some and not with others. I stumbled on Yasmin Ayyad's blog and believe I have found one component that takes us from Like to Love in any relationship. It comes down to feeling heard. As Yasmin puts it:
"We are people, and we need people. Sometimes no matter how much confidence we have, we need validation. We need support. Find those positive, encouraging people that are around you and talk to them. Let them fill you up with energy and power. They can help you accept whats coming your way and see the best parts about it."Quoted from Overcoming Your Fear Of Change

Do we really have "Friends" online?

I'd agree that friendship is “a distinctively personal relationship that is grounded in a concern on the part of each friend for the welfare of the other, for the others sake, and that involves some degree of intimacy." It's someone who actually cares, who likes you for you, makes you laugh, is a shoulder to cry on, makes you feel comfortable about who you are. I would add it's someone who knows your moods, who listens, who understands and loves you despite your flaws. It is certainly not someone you choose to have in your life simply to be able to say you have a friend, or simply because you've shared 25 FB posts with or twenty tweets with. It is not someone you choose to call 'friend' because you need to fill that gnawing void created by a lack of real, physical meaningful interactions that forge tried and tested "I'll always be there for you" friendships. Real Friends pull on our heart strings.
Our online networks do comprise friends whom we have made the effort to actively include in our joys and sorrows, and are part of a real life, mutual support system. The rest of the people we know online are acquaintances for whom we may want the best, to whom we may blurt every thought that comes to mind, but if tomorrow they disappeared, we'd perhaps notice their absence, without necessarily missing their presence.

Once upon a time at Confab – Ariad Communications

And before there was Content Marketing World this year, there was The 2012 Confab Conference, which I missed.

 Once upon a time at Confab blogs Deb Smyth. "If I had to choose one session that really stood out to me, however, it was “The Art of the Quest: How Your Mission Drives Your Content,” presented by Matt Thompson, Editorial Product Manager, Project Argo, NPR," she begins. Read on....

Tips from Content Marketing World 2012 – Ariad Communications

The recent Content Marketing World 2012 conference was time and money well spent. From learning more on the use of visuals to how to Facebook more effectively as a marketer, there was so much to wrap one's mind around. Here are fellow attendee Lana Chen's Tips from Content Marketing World 2012 – Ariad Communications and Marnie Kramarich's thoughts Minding the gap: Content Marketing World.

Next: Summary of ideas from the panel I spoke on.

What Captures Your Attention Controls Your Life - Kare Anderson - Harvard Business Review

What Captures Your Attention Controls Your Life - Kare Anderson - Harvard Business Review

Who'd have thought that a Harvard Business Review article would lead to some soul searching.  But that's exactly what has happened. "Giving and receiving undivided attention, even briefly, is the least that one individual can do for another — and sometimes the most," writes Kare Anderson, who is also author of Say it Better. "And yet, attending to others doesn't just help them — it helps us, by evoking responses that help the listener feel cared for, useful, and connected to the larger world. Paying attention may be an individual effort, but ....simply gazing steadily and warmly at that person, nodding at times and reiterating what you heard will activate an empathic, mirror-neuron response in both of you."  

Heeding Anderson's recommendation to become aware of where we are focusing our attention,But that's exactly what has happened. For a few days now, I've become increasingly aware that while I may be in the same room as my kids, I'm not always present. In choosing to be preoccupied or only half available, or half listening, I've realized that it's not just them I'm robbing of an emotional bond but myself too. Love, relationships, emotional bonds are about connecting and in order to connect we need to be fully present. This article, though applicable to our work life too, solidified that thought for me.

Perhaps this explains how we fall in love, too. Feeling loved is nothing less than feeling heard, listened to, cared for - all byproducts of being given focused attention. If you've been there, you know just how lucky you were to have made the journey - those all too fleeting moments of actually feeling heard. Moments that don't come by so easily once you factor inthe onslaught of our daily lives, the many distractions and diversions in our day.  For me, there is only one solution. To set aside family time, to treat those moments together as non-negotiable and to guard it ferociously from the needling interference of life's many to-do lists, phone calls, pings and texts.  

So you have Big Data but how does one gain insight from it?

Just to Clarify: Stories are the Last Mile in Big Data: Conventional wisdom says that in order to understand anything in business, you need to track it. When it comes to sales, logistics, customer...

Digital Transformation: How a 162-Year Old Company Moves Like A Start-Up at Social Media Week (#SMWChicago)

Sitting through the American Express presentation, Digital Transformation: How a 162-Year Old Company Moves Like A Start-Up at Social Media Week (#SMWChicago) last week, brought home so much of what we learned in both Paul Leonardi's class and with Nosh Contractor. "As the world moved online, the needs of merchants and cardmembers changed to social, local, mobile and so, American Express evolved their marketing strategies to meet these emerging needs." Dave Wolf, Vice President, Global Business & Market Development, American Express discussed Am Ex's "recent launches with Facebook and foursquare as well as a game-changing tool they call “Go Social” which allows merchants to instantly create a social media marketing strategy." As he explained how a financial company and a really old one at that had adopted social media and created such a vibrant online presence, I couldn't help but think that this sounded too much like IDEO, Google and Pixar. There had to be cross-functional teams and a flat hierarchy where information could flow across specializations, without the challenge of silo's. I asked Dave as much and yep, that was exactly the case. Another nugget of wisdom, we'd picked up in the MSC was that if there was C-Suite support for an idea, viola!, things happened. This was just as true of Am Ex. as it was for IDEO.

If you've been reading this blog, it may seem like cross functional teams, open floor plans, flat hierarchies are pretty much all I learned at the MSC! That's really not the case, of course, but in a world so keen on innovation and the next big thing, if only we adopted these methods, bright ideas and their seamless execution may not seem so far fetched a possibility.

Next stop? Crisis Communications in the Social Age with Todd Bleacher, Communications Director Boeing @Boeing and Kathy Fieweger, Executive Vice President and Midwest General Manager, MWW Group @KatFieweger.Search for conversations about it at #smwmww 
Follow me @yarkhan, or

Nigel Marsh: How to make work-life balance work | Video on

My dream is to be a presenter at a TED Conference. Perhaps it should be the goal I set for the "Wish List" we are to create for Nosh Contractor's class. Here's an interesting talk : "Work-life balance, says Nigel Marsh, is too important to be left in the hands of your employer. At TEDxSydney, Marsh lays out an ideal day balanced between family time, personal time and productivity -- and offers some stirring encouragement to make it happen."  And while we're talking about success at work it, one of the keys to it lies in the breadth and depth of your smile. Ron Gutman talks about this simple yet powerful act. 


The Fallacy of One Monolithic Culture, Tribe, Nation

MSC Blog of Northwestern University: One Monolithic Culture, Tribe, Nation: "Monolithic is defined as constituting one, undifferentiated whole; exhibiting uniformity. I wonder where we got the idea that peoples, nati..."

Jihad Vs McWorld. A Case of Intellectual Lethargy?...

MSC Blog of Northwestern University: Jihad Vs McWorld. A Case of Intellectual Lethargy?...: "Perhaps academics need a black and white viewfinder in order to fit their theories into neatly preconceived categories. Or at least ..."

Of Puppet Strings and Master Manipulators

MSC Blog of Northwestern University: Of Puppet Strings and Master Manipulators: "The Myth of Global Ethnic Conflict by John R. Bowen should become required reading for all and sundry, and especially those in foreign ..."

Halal Comes to Campus Via Food Service Express

Food Service Express (FSE), the parent company of, has been presenting webinars and speaking at Muslim Students Association (MSA) conferences on successfully approaching campus administrators to bring halal to campus dining services. This January 28-30, 2011, Food Service Express will be addressing the subject at the MSA Conference at Ohio State University. Entitled “Digging Deep: Cultivating the Seeds of Leadership”, the goal of this conference is to effect positive change by increasing awareness of civil manners, improving the spiritual self, and fostering productive activism. FSE will be presenting three different topics related to Halal and Campus Dining Services on Saturday, Jan 29th, 11:15- 12:00 & 3:15-4:00, and Sunday, Jan 30th 10:30-11:15.

FSE President, Mr. Tymchuck, will be doing workshops and speaking on "Productive Activism: Increasing the Availability of Halal Foods on Campus" at the Conference. These will cover how students can learn to sharpen their leadership skills and gain an understanding of the thought processes used by leaders to reach desired goals. Building consensus among Muslim students, assembling an enthusiastic team, gathering pertinent data to build your case for halal, approaching the campus Dining Services, fostering continuous leadership and even publicizing accomplishments in the local media will be other topics addressed by Mr. Tymchuck. A ‘Leadership’ packet with these materials, including step-by-step activities, will be distributed to all workshop attendees. On November 6, 2010, Food Service Express and presented a similar workshop at the Chicago wide MSA conference.

Debating Dry Writing.....Oops I mean Globalization

My post on Facebook last night was along these lines: “I now know where the late night study munchies come from. If your reading is dry you eat both to procrastinate and to keep from falling asleep. Further, the drier the reading, the more you tend to procrastinate and the later and later into the night it gets!”

YES, the reading this quarter has me begging to me rescued. “Planet of Slums” by Mike Davis and “The Global Traffic in Human Organs”, though backed by tomes of research, is swaths of dry writing delivered in monotones. Could someone please read to me out of a phone directory, instead?

The readings gave me pause, for a rather unlikely reason. I was once considering an MA in Public Policy. If this is the tone that Public Policy readings are made up of, and I suspect they are, what a long grind THAT would have been. And my other consideration, law school. Hmmm..ditto!

Given this scenario, you can imagine my relief when I began reading “Debating Globalization” by Micklethwait. I am referring not to its content but its conservational tone, too. Michlethwait’s writing is liberally peppered with sarcasm and hyperbole. His word choices give the impression that these are his opinions albeit backed by research. “Slap controls on, Grasping fingers, carted off to an asylum, knuckleheads in the Boardroom, illiterates in Hollywood, two-weeks worth of penny-pinching vacations.” However, since you are made so aware of his inherent bias, you can take his opinions with a dose of salt. I just think : at least the article is readable and that means there’s a chance of learning something from it. Dry academic papers sound authoritative and important but wading through them or effortlessly absorbing their wisdom is another story altogether!

“Debating Globalization” talks of failing oligopolies propped up as businesses thanks to government support. General Motors comes to mind instantly. I voted for Obama but I did not vote for the rescue of GM and poorly handled businesses like theirs. Written in favor of globalization the article, however, acknowledges that by no means is globalization all good. It simply states that the good outweighs the bad, on average. If you were an unemployed Tea-Partier right now, you wouldn’t quite agree. If you were a family member of the tens of thousands of Indian farmers who 've committed suicide thanks to the changing climate – both literal and economic, you wouldn't agree either.

But like most things, doesn’t the answer to whether globalization is good or bad, depend on whom you ask and the context ? Call centers in India: For locals there, it's good. Increasing disrespect to parents, looser morals and materialism on steroids thanks to the independence these jobs bring: Bad.

Like any condition, there are pro’s and con’s. Gobalization is no different and the benefits will come with a price tag. The question then becomes, what are we willing to do to mitigate the risks and avert the potential negatives, not just for ourselves but our friends and neighbors across the yard, the border, and those across the seas? What are the buffers we - the global community - must be willing to put in place to break a potentially catastrophic fall?”

Questioning Theories

This week's readings were on "How to Motivate Your Problem People" and "the Tools of Cooperation and Change." “Culture is a pattern of shared assumptions that was learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough ….to be taught … as the correct way to perceive, think and feel in relation to those problems.” This is a quote from "The Tools of Cooperation and Change". According to the author, corporate culture is created as a result of the repeated use of successful approaches to a problem. I had instead assumed the opposite - that vision and culture molded the problem solving approaches taken. Here is the definition of the Google Culture: “.. we still maintain a small company feel. Our commitment to innovation depends on everyone being comfortable sharing ideas and opinions. Every employee is a hands-on contributor, and everyone wears several hats. Because we believe that each Googler is an equally important part of our success, no one hesitates to pose questions directly to Larry or Sergey in our weekly all-hands (“TGIF”) meetings.” Based on this nugget, wouldn't one think that companies first determine a vision, and a culture, and that in turn influences the problem solving approaches chosen. 2) “Behind most cynics is a frustrated idealist,” “a paradigm shift” or “walk in the other’s shoes” seems to summarize Nicholson’s approach in "How to Motivate Your Problem People". While his suggestions are theoretically good, I wonder if they can be executed with success given the human element involved? For instance, how often have members in a family been able to resolve new or existing issues with siblings or parents, if they've had a tenuous relationship to begin with? I doubt a work situation can be any easier. Nicholson even suggests that bosses ask around to get insights into any personal matters that may be affecting an employees work habits. Errr..How much trust would be left if an employee were to discover that their boss had been asking questions about their personal issues, from co-workers? I'd love to read actual case studies about situations where these author's recommended theories were used successfully. Any thoughts, folks ?

"8 Ways to Build Collaborative Teams" Inspires

The Decision Making and Leadership readings are invariably a mixed bag. They are meant to be. Last week's read "Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams" was inspiring and authentic in more ways than one. The study looked at huge companies with truly large, diverse, far flung teams to make its case. In taking seemingly ‘too big’ companies as case studies, it was able to drive home the point that if collaborative efforts and team spirit could be fostered here, it surely could be done with relatively smaller teams and relatively smaller companies. Having worked extensively in a virtual environment myself, every point made by the authors rang true. Face-to-Face interaction, even small doses of it at regular intervals, can make all the difference. Most employees can recognize at least a few of these "tips" playing out at their own companies, no matter the industry or organization’s size. From open floor plans to offices campuses that mimic a town to HR sponsored events where employees can socialize to job rotation - these concrete ideas can be emulated or inspire variations. Google, in fact, shares some of these very features. Those in upper management, including the founders, are always accessible to answer questions and have conversations, fostering a sense of “ we are all in this together”. Further, its offices are on "college like-campuses", with plenty of room for social interaction. A local family owned business, that a member of my family works for, fosters this ‘we’re all family” feeling. Come Thanksgiving, all employees receive a check for a turkey purchase, in "thanks". At its annual Holiday Party, the keynote address and annual overview of the company's doings are delivered by a sprightly old lady. She is the grand-mother of the current Company President and the grand-daughter of the original founder of the company. There certainly were benefits from HR investing in relationships, for all the reasons listed in this article. My favorite examples though were Nokia and BP’s job rotation initiative. Job Rotation at BP probably fostered collaboration because it is easier to see another’s perspective ( and empathize with their challenges) if you’ve been in their shoes at some stage. Also, imagine the dollars, time and opportunities salvaged when Nokia’s mentors not only point out whom new employees should build relationships with, but facilitate those interactions with paid time/ travel, and information as to what one can discuss with the other. Truly some very cool ideas!

Its All Coming Together

I didn't think there would be a time within the first quarter itself where I'd piece together insights from the various readings, into one big picture. With my last reading for Leadership that milestone has been reached! Surprise, Surprise! “Effectiveness can be learned and must be learned,” says Peter Drucker, as his concluding statement in What Makes an Effective Leader. That opinion is loaded with hope and his article effectively outlines ways to make that goal a reality. He breaks down the traits that he believes comprise an effective leader into their various components so that you aren’t just being told to “Take Responsibility for Communicating” or “Make Meetings Productive” but are also told what specific actions must be taken to achieve those ends. His approach seemed to take a page out of our previous reading, ….Meaningful Feedback by Sloan Weitzel, which advocated that feedback is meaningful only if behaviors and attitudes are dissected into their components and then shared. His point about effective managers focusing on opportunities rather than problems was also reminiscent of "The Art of Appreciative Inquiry" which emphasizes focusing on what’s going well and unleashing energy to achieve the various possibilities. From ‘Effective Meetings’ to ‘Taking Responsibility for Decisions’ to Knowledge Sharing, Drucker wisely chooses to address the most likely ‘bumps’ to be encountered, irrespective of the size or industry of an organization. What he leaves out, whether it’s about formal procedures for group decision making or pertaining to the psychology of people, have been covered in "Why It’s So Hard to Be Fair" and the other readings we have done so far. While Collins’ findings on Level 5 Leadership may not resonate with every reader, it does seem plausible that a leader who doesn’t seek to hog the limelight, distributes credit to his team for successes and looks to himself when there are failures, could be an effective leader. When you distribute credit to others you are, in effect, bolstering their own sense of pride in their work. The resulting impact could be similar to that experienced by staffers when appreciative inquiry is employed. When you are looking inward and holding yourself responsible for failures, it goes back to the ideas espoused by Senge, to first evaluate how our actions and choices may affect the choices and actions of others, rather than holding them responsible, by default, for things gone awry. Together, the selection of articles complement each other well. All in all, an insightful read for those beginning to look at organizations and their inner workings.

Why Your Story Matters at Work

By Naazish YarKhan, Class of 2010

What is America built on if not the Abe Lincoln “Log Cabin to White House” story about this country being the land of opportunity? The Rosa Parks story and the Emmet Till story have served as reminders of the injustices of segregation, better than statistics about hate crimes or discrimination, could ever. It was the story of the tenacity and courage of the 33 trapped Chilean miners that held the world's attention and its heart strings. Similarly, it was insufficient stories from flood hit Pakistan this June, that resulted in the tragedy falling under the radar. 1/3rd of that nation was under water and more people died in those floods than the combined lives lost during the Tsunami, the Pakistan Earthquake in 2005 and the Haiti Earthquake. How many of us know that? These facts go to prove that story has the power to influence and the strength to mobilize or water down both relationships and movements. As Cohen and Prusak assert, this is true irrespective of whether a story is rooted in fact or fiction, or presented as a fable or as a comic book. When there are working groups with members who do not know each other well, divergent opinions could end up creating walls, bad feelings or hostility even. As we get to know each other’s stories, even seemingly inconsequential ones, we discover commonalities. Bonds form. Lunch room conversations slowly become the “connective tissue” that the chapter Sharing the Journey talks of. Over time, exchanging stories has the power to create a work environment where members feel safe enough to express divergent opinions, and take risks, without fear of being misunderstood or devalued. We have the potential to graduate from being working groups to Senge's synergized 'teams'. The trust underlying the exchange of stories, gifts individuals the latitude to see fellow team members idiosyncrasies as just that, rather than as reasons to take umbrage. When interactions are only task oriented, the feeling of being connected that gives team members mutual leverage for use during negotiations or persuasion, is rarely forged. This is exacerbated when working virtually. Instead if we take a few lines in a few emails each week, to also discuss a book we’ve been reading or ask for advice on a non-work matter, we evolve from just being words on a screen. Instead we become someone the other can identify with at some level. We now become more willing to give each others perspective a platform, even if we may disagree with it. The act of simply being willing to hear the other out, conveys respect and oils the wheels of team work.

Time Flies When You Are Having Fun

The quarter has ended only too quickly. I feel there is still so much more that we could learn from both the Decision Making and Leadership class and the one on Change Management. Did we learn a lot? Yes, we definitely did. Did all the writing and reading we did in Decision Making help? Absolutely. It helped internalize everything that much more. I hear my next elective has as much homework and reading and while I know it will make juggling homework, children and work deadlines all that more challenging, I also feel that maybe the only way to actually internalize the volumes we are learning. The class party at Gio was really fun. It was the same people we spend our entire day with at school, but a change in atmosphere, seems to bring out our softer sides. It was truly a pleasure to hang out and enjoy each others company. I am so going to miss the intellectual stimulation, the camaraderie come July. And to think I wouldn't have known of the program if it weren't for my colleague and MSC Alum Maria Omar. Thanks Maria! I owe you big time!

Women's Wages - A Vicious Cycle

One of my final readings reviews were "Women and the Labyrinth of Leadership" and "Diversity and Community in the 21st Century". Both were surprising at many levels. Reading "Women and the Labyrinth of Leadership", I was struck by the causal relationship drawn between the use of the metaphor of the glass ceiling and its impact on solutions proposed. I would never have realized that metaphors were that loaded. The labyrinth, I agree, is a more accurate metaphor. However, it fails to reflect a vicious cycle. Women are paid less, so when choices have to be made as to who should cut hours, or drop their career, to care for an elderly parent, raise kids or move when a spouse changes jobs, women take the hit. That reinforces every assumption about women in the workforce and the cycle continues. I think one of the root causes that women are paid less has much to do with how parenting is viewed. Since women tend to be the maincaregivers, I advocate a paradigm shift when attaching a value to parenting. Women would not be paid less than men, or considered second choice for a job, if parenting were given an economic value. Rather than see it as a ‘drain’, parenthood should be acknowledged as no less than the very fuel for tomorrow’s economic engine; an ‘incubator’ for the next generation of great leaders. Absentee parenting, instead, should be deemed a drain on the promise of a bright future. Parenting requires team building, negotiation, decision-making, compromise, multi-tasking, long hours, and working under stressful conditions. The years spent as a full time parent should be given equal if not more importance, as a job in the “official” workplace, rather than a gap in one’s career.

Quick Picks and Must Reads

The holiday season in Chicago really isn't about relaxing by the fireplace and snuggling into a good book, despite visions of the same. Nonetheless, these are the books that you've got to add to your wish list, if you have a sliver of time to read. If you'd rather not read why I treasure them, perhaps it would suffice to say that all of them have received rave reviews on

I began 2010 with Charlene Baumbich's Stray Affections. I read it on a 36 hour, transatlantic journey back to Chicago after visiting with my parents in Muscat, Oman. It is always gut wrenching to leave my parents who live continents away. This trip back was particularly hard. My sister had had a fall and had broken her wrist. She had to have rods inserted into her arm to hold her bones together. Further, my parents had just completed a tiring house move. Stray Affections become my antidote to tears on the long flights back. Don't let the title fool you - this isn't a mush and gush romance. It is a warm chick flick in a book and left me with a lingering sense of well-being and hope. It also became the first 'grown up book' I shared with my tween daughter, as opposed to the many Young Adult books she reads that I find more adult than Young Adult. Both of us loved Baumbich for the same reasons and discovered a great author to bond over. We're waiting for days off from school - for both of us - to begin reading Baumbich's latest, Divine Appointments.

Switching gears from heartwarming to intellectually stimulating, I suggest Palmer's Let Your Life Speak. People either love it or hate it. I have one word for this little gem: Potent. I read it as part of my Masters in Communications at Northwestern this Fall. At 100 pages or so, give this book a chance. It may very well alter how you look at life. Also, part of my course work is Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely - it too falls in that same category. I've only just begun it and every time I put it down, it seems to call my name. It's the kind of book you wish you could devote all day to.

Now what if I told you there was a book that acknowledges that our obsession for all that bling "yields environmental destruction and social inequity" but also "fuels creativity, the desire for discovery, and needed economic development. Properly channeled, the treasure impulse might actually propel us toward a fairer and better world." That is precisely the stuff of Treasures of the Earth: Need, Greed, and a Sustainable Future by Essex Junction, Vermont resident and University of Vermont professor, Saleem Ali.
Saleem H. Ali is pro-consumption and pro-environment."--Forbes Magazine.

Saleem Ali thinks like an environmentalist, a diplomat, a wealthy industrialist, an impoverished villager, a government regulator, a product innovator, and a father. To him, environmental conservation can succeed only if vying factions communicate and collaborate. - National Geographic

This is the kind of book my dad would love to dissect with me, my kids and any one who'd care to listen. Infact, all these books open a window to a world that you didn't know existed. Narnia for the thinker in you.

Next on my reading list is Barefoot in Baghdad by Manal Omar, a Washington D.C resident. As co-founder of Refugee Assistance Programs ( RAP), here in Chicago, I'm all too familiar with the fallout of war, right here in our backyard. There are scores of Iraqi's who've been displaced since the US decided to invade Iraq. As US refugees, the Iraqi people struggle below the poverty line, determined to make it in this city we call home. Again, two thumbs up for Barefoot in Baghdad which falls into the same category as Other Side of the Sky by Farah Ahmedi.

Farah Ahmedi, a Wheaton IL resident and former Afghan refugee was mentored by my good friend and fellow do-gooder, Alyce Litz who is a Board Member of Love Christian Clearing House. Rarely do you find such a courageous read. If you're having a bad day or are living through a nightmare, read this book. Not only will it jolt you into a reality that little children in many, many nations live through, it will also give you that shot in the arm you so need. So if you think I'm attracted to just gloom and doom, it could not be further from the truth. I know there is a God, and I know He is a better friend to us than we can ever be to ourselves. That in a nutshell has always been my philosophy. If that little girl, Farah Ahmedi, could do it despite a leg lost to land mines, three years in a German hospital without any family by her side, despite all her trials.. so can you. There is a time for self-doubt and helplessness and there is a time to recognize that there usually is a light at the end of a horrific tunnel. This is a book that will help you make that leap.

As I always say, pick a book that matters. Let it challenge you, touch you, make you to grow. After all, we only have so much time.

Lessons Learned

It’s Christmas Day and we’ve spent it with family and friends. It has also been a day where I am trying to get back into school mode and am actually back to reading some of the suggested readings that I could not quite get to during school. So much so that when my husband, who has the week off, suggested a road trip, I shook my head. Besides what I haven't read last term, I must also read at least some of the books assigned for the Winter quarter while I have the time. With a house move looming and full time work on the horizon, I can’t be irresponsible when blessed with time. You see, I’ve learned my lesson.

I have paid the price when I “put off for tomorrow what I could do today” and then had a totally unexpected crazy busy week, which left me careening on the edge of insanity, playing catch up. Oh how I kicked myself for not having used my down time to get reading or homework done – to get that rip taken care of before it became a tear. The scenario repeated itself once or twice before I learned my lesson. But better late than never, it eventually became a ‘learning experience’ .

‘Get it done when you have a chance, even if it’s not urgent’ has become my motto. So I fill the gas tank in my car when I have a chance, without waiting for it to get really low. I no longer wait for it to run almost empty. After all, who knows when there may be an emergency and I absolutely need a full tank of gas and have no time to stop at a gas station. Similarly, I purchase stamps as soon as I run out of them without waiting to actually need them, and I’ve taken to buying milk in bulk even before the current batch in my fridge runs out. I hang the parking permit in my car days before I head off to campus and yes, I’ve even requested some of the texts we need during the quarter via interlibrary loan since my library didn’t carry them.
Forearmed has become my Northwestern-earned newest strategy. Still, I realize, there’s a ways to go before I pat myself on the shoulder. After all, I am currently down to my last parking permit when I could have replenished the lot, without leaving it to the last minute. Ah, yes. There is always room for improvement. And that is precisely what New Year’s Resolutions are for….

There are More Ways Than One To Milk a (Cash) Cow

I didn't have to take notes in my Communication in the Global Workplace class - my first for the quarter ! Having been raised on international news and as a global citizen and from India to boot, many of the Prof's references were all too familiar.

To share something from my own readings, and my industry, here are some stats/figures re: The US and Global Muslim consumer market. Valued at USD $2.1 Trillion annually, the Muslim consumer is the latest "it" market, worldwide. Companies such as Nestle, Abbott Nutritionals, Tom's of Maine, Pfizer and other big wigs are already on that bandwagon.
"While Saudi women comprise only 14.4 percent of the labor force, they have more than 40 percent of all bank accounts, she noted. In fact, Dr. AlMunajjed added, women in Saudi Arabia are financial powerhouses and control $16 billion in banks inside the Kingdom." - Washington Report on the Middle East

As Prof. would agree, having a businessperson's perspective means actively looking beyond the "if it bleeds, it leads" media race for ratings. There are definitely more ways than one to milk a cow! Just ask Nestle, my clients and
Food Navigator


She was born to a Sicilian father and Puerto Rican mother, both Roman Catholic. Her ethnic heritage also meant growing up to enjoy culinary feasts for the senses and the soul - authentically delicious Sicilian style pizzas, lasagna, meatballs, Puerto Rican rice and beans, chicken, meat pies and custard desserts - just to name a few.
What becomes of those appetites and indulgences when one embraces Islam, which means also adopting its guidelines with regard to food which has no room for pork, pork-based products, alcohol and foods with alcohol as an ingredient?

I spoke to Yvonne M. Maffei, Editor, of DesPlaines, IL who embraced Islam and its dietary laws which include avoiding meats that aren’t slaughtered in the appropriate Islamic way. “Eating things like chicken, lamb and beef at most restaurants was a challenge,” says Yvonne. “Instead, I resorted to eating only vegetarian dishes, but quickly tired of that. I finally decided that I should learn how to make our favorite dishes, even the complicated ones. Although I had always known how to cook well, I really hadn't studied the techniques necessary to make such things as a roasted duck or homemade yogurt, for example. Once I did, I felt able to make really delicious food normally found only at restaurants.”
So what exactly are the special requirements people need to keep in mind when turning a non-halal recipe into a halal one? “As the best chefs say and do, you must "taste, taste, taste" your food as you cook. This allows one to know if a dish is turning out well. If a recipe calls for wine, I simply substitute it with a high quality 100% pure grape juice (white or grape depending on what type of wine the original recipe calls for). For most pork dishes, I will substitute any meat I think will go well in its place and then adjust cooking temperatures and times for the meat I've selected.”

Baking is a different story, however, because following directions exactly is critical to the success of the recipe. “However, I was told by Chef Sebastien Cannone, at the French Pastry School here in Chicago, that one could just leave out alcohol in baking because it is mostly used for flavor. So, for example if I choose a cookie recipe that calls for rum to be added for flavor, I simply leave it out and follow the recipe without that ingredient.”

Publishing a cookbook is one of her aspirations but Yvonne Maffei could very well be the next Rachel Ray. She’s interested in a TV show as a halal chef. “ I am passionate about all aspects of food- selecting, cooking and teaching about culinary arts, and of course all about the halal factor of food. I think Muslims today, especially those living in the U.S., are ready to explore dishes from areas of the world that are not traditionally related to Muslim lands, such as Italian or Mexican. They want to try new things but can't necessarily do that in restaurants because the food is not halal, so they're interested in learning how to substitute elements of these and other cuisines (for example French food where wine is heavily used) and make certain dishes halal.”

Statistics from the food industry in USA and Canada show that halal is slowly becoming a choice amongst Non-Muslims too. bears testimony to that as well. “The non-Muslims who frequent my blog are very open-minded about other cultures and often times visit my site because they have seen a Middle Eastern recipe they've found to be interesting. For some of them,, is the first time they've learned about what it means to cook and eat halal foods. The responses have all been so positive, making it very encouraging to know that foodies around the world have a common interest in quality food untouched by the chemicals, preservatives and processing techniques that are not good for us.”
“More and more people want to learn how to cook for themselves in order to feed their families on a budget as opposed to spending money for expensive, unhealthy meals at restaurants,” says Yvonne. “I hope that my blog offers some ideas for preparing one's kitchen for healthy and quick cooking as well as recipes that are tasty and well-explained so that anyone can make them.”

The interest in halal, according to a recent study by Packaged Foods, is also buoyed by the ever increasing appreciation of whole, organic and all natural foods. Not all halal meat comes from grass-fed, free range or antibiotic free animals. Still Crescent Chicken and Taqwa Eco Food are a beginning. “If meat is truly halal, then it is inherently organic, natural, humanely-treated and properly fed before showing up on one's dinner plate,” says Yvonne. “Once more and more people learn about halal and know they can buy products that are true to the term halal, they may buy halal meats not only for religious purposes but also out of a conscientious decision to eat healthier and more environmentally-sound products.”


I had the pleasure of listening to Tania James read from her novel, Atlas of Unknowns, a few weeks ago. The few paragraphs she chose, had me hooked. The entire novel, now that I've completed it, didn't disappoint either. Set in New York and Kerela, India, it kept me engrossed to the very last page! Given my increasingly short attention span, that is saying alot! Here is a book I didn't skim through!

Tania James, 28, has degrees from Harvard and Columbia and this is her debut novel. Until recently, one of her grandmothers was under the impression that she was on her way to becoming a Supreme Court Justice. Instead, Tania found herself becoming a novelist! Not a bad detour, many of us would think!

I had some questions for Tania, some of them as a reader and others as a fellow writer working on a novel ! Enjoy!

Q. At the heart of Atlas are two sisters named Anju and Linno, and in a way, two close female friends, Gracie and Bird. Are your sisters the inspiration for the bond between Anju and Linno?

A. Yes, I have two sisters—one older and one younger—and we are very close. I wouldn’t say that any one sister directly correllates with Anju or Linno, but I do think that the depth and intensity of my sisterly relationships have influenced the relationship between Anju and Linno. I also have this (maybe erroneous) theory that the dynamic among 3 sisters is very different from the dynamic between 2, because in a trio, one sister can act as a safety valve. So when two out of three are fighting (Sister A refuses to hand over the TV remote to Sister B), Sister C can diffuse the situation by suggesting a game of UNO. Between Anju and Linno, there is no such safety valve (nor is there UNO), and so there arises a silence between them, a tension more difficult to surmount.

Q: Was there alot of research you had to do for the book?

A: I once went to Jackson Heights, in Queens, to interview a group of threaders at an Indian beauty salon for the New York Times. The newspaper ultimately took a very compressed version of our conversation, but the pages and pages of transcripts kept me wondering about those women, the salon, their neighborhood. I began looking through archived articles on Jackson Heights, ones that mentioned South Asian immigration in particular. One of the first articles I read involved the abuse of the legal system by fraudulent lawyers, who offered illegal aliens a fantastically swift path to citizenship, basically in exchange for the client’s life savings. Of course those clients ended up broke and unable, as non-citizens, to report their grievances. And it seemed to me that this was exactly the kind of thing that might befall one of my characters.

Probably the most complicated world to navigate was that of the American immigration system, despite all the time I spent scouring official websites that purported to make things clear. In the end, what saved me was a conversation or two with an immigration law expert named Arlene Lyons who set me straight on the messy ins and outs of the system. And in retrospect, questioning her was probably a safer route than emailing Homeland Security to see just what an illegal alien can get away with these days.

Q) With the publishing business folding in on itself these days, what advice do you have for aspring authors? Would you suggest self-publishing?

It seems to me that the pursuit of writing a beautiful thing shouldn't be a fairweather pursuit, and as you mentioned, the publishing industry is currently undergoing some ungodly weather. I think it helps to be working on something while you're waiting to hear back from an agent or a publisher or a literary magazine. It keeps your mind focused on evaluating your writing, rather than evaluating your rejection letters, which may sometimes be based on economic factors, rather than the merit of the writing. (That said, as a former slush pile reader, I can't stress enough the importance of taking your time with the writing process, and sending out work that is as good as it can be.) I don't know too much about self-publishing, but have heard of success stories, though each of those success stories involved a massive amount of work on the part of the writer to get their work and their name out there, a more grassroots effort.

Q) What is the hardest part about getting a book into print?

For me, it was acquiring an agent, only because it seemed the scariest part. Suddenly, I was no longer in a workshop, receiving single-spaced letters of critique about my work. I was sending my work out to strangers, for the most part, and it seemed a make-or-break moment. Somehow I ended up with my dream agent, Nicole Aragi, and it's meant everything to have her in my corner.

Q) Besides the eloquent writing, what were the qualities that helped sell your book to an agent and then publishing house?

I think that in literary fiction, it all comes down to the writing. I guess I can't speak for my agent or my editor, but I do know that they are utterly passionate about the books they love and about bringing those books into the world, so I can't imagine them making judgments based on anything else. That said, certain elements in a cover letter to an agent/publisher can help, like having publications in literary magazines. Sometimes an agent may contact you based on something they've seen in a literary magazine. But ultimately, the book you're trying to sell to an agent/publisher has to stand on its own merit.

Curry Is Thicker Than H20 says author, Jasmine D'Costa

Summer is just around the corner and, just in time for Kirti, the South Asian Literary Festival to be held in Chicago this June, I'm getting up to speed on my reading of South Asian North American writers. I'll be interviewing them and doing reviews of their books all summer long, so stay tuned!

I began Jasmine D'Costa's collection of short stories Curry Is Thicker Than Water(sold on but not yet on, expecting to read fare that's now oh-so-typical about the sub-continent and those of us from it. It tends to be realistic fiction set in India, tales about "immigrant angst" or about growing up brown in a white world.

D'Costa, a recent immigrant to Canada, however, surprised me. Her stories are set in India, but also have an element of the fantastical, reminding me of Salman Rushdie (who, too, is of South Asian extract) and his novel, Haroun and the Sea of Stories. Costa's writing is pithy and her characters stay with you long after you're done reading, but don't say I didn't warn you -- a suspension of disbelief maybe a prerequisite.

Readers have said her writing is evocative of R.K Narayan's work. "That is an immense compliment, though a bit of a stretch I would think," says D'Costa.

An excerpt:

In the meantime, no one knew what to do with the elephant sprawled on the highway. It was about 8 p.m. Finally, when word went round that the road was blocked, the traffic was diverted. The police summoned a vet from a nearby veterinary clinic. A very reluctant man who had only treated little Pomeranian dogs in his career arrived on the spot. He looked at the animal from a distance, bobbing his head in all directions puzzled. All governmental offices were closed and they did not know under whose jurisdiction the elephant fell. The municipal offices were closed and the forest officers could not be located. "Tomorrow," they thought, "tomorrow someone will decide how to go ahead. Maybe the elephant will just wake up and walk away." Meanwhile, unconcerned with their dilemma, the elephant lay like dead. Meanwhile, unconcerned with their dilemma, the elephant lay like dead. That night, Anand, who slept on the sidewalk nearby, walked up to the elephant. He sat on his haunches, curious to see an elephant at such close quarters.

"Sit down with me," the elephant said. Anand was afraid for his sanity. He had been hearing voices in his head for several weeks now and thought he was going insane. He looked at the elephant and thought he imagined a wink.

1) The stories are very different from each other and from what one has begun to expect of tales set in India. How did you decide to write this particular selection? Are they rooted in reality? Were you going for fantastical? For instance, the story about the elephant?

Jasmine: I have written a novel in very advanced stages of completion but felt that it should not be the first book I put out there. I keep writing small stories in between my work, and I thought perhaps a book of short stories would be more appropriate for my first book. It allows for variety, completion in short bursts of creativity and also captures my thoughts between times of writing a novel. I come from Bombay, where a writer will never dry up for want of stories.

I think all the stories have at least one element of truth and even the fantastical stories have the settings and cultural ethos that is very real and authentic. That makes the fantasy more real in a way. In the instance of the elephant, I had no story when I put the title, "Elephant on the Highway," on the paper and stared at it. All I knew at the time is the elephant in Kandivali in Bombay excited me so much that whenever I saw it I believed my day would go well. So he did merit a story. But the story itself just flowed without thought or planning and once they assumed a character, I was the elephant and the beggar in turns, having very enjoyable long streetcar rides, talking to each other in my head.

2) Was the elephant in Kandivali real?

Jasmine: Yes the elephant is real but, of course, the scenarios are all hypotheses in the event the elephant had really decided to sit it out on the highway.

3) What were the most challenging parts of putting this collection together?

Jasmine: I think some stories were more of a challenge and took longer to write because they had very many elements to them. "Eggs" and "Cobras and Pigs, Holy Cow!" were more complex and contain more complex ideas and structure. They also have sensitive areas that I had to wonder if it may arouse animosity. However, I am more at peace now that the feedback has not been negative. While controversies sell, they also hurt, and I feel I would like to get across ideas, entertain, etc. without hurting.

Many readers have got back to me saying they enjoyed it and one reviewer out of Halifax said he loved it and gave it to his mother, who loved it, so he thinks it deserves the highest praise and tells me that it will be in the Essential Summer Reading Guide of Halifax magazine. Most of them said that it was such an easy read and yet so philosophical. I think that as writers we are only as good as our readers, for they take the work beyond us.

4) What advice do you have for other aspiring writers?

Jasmine: Keep writing was the advice Austin Clarke gave and I think that is about the smartest thing I could say, too, to other writers.

5) The keep writing advice is easier said than done! How did you structure your day to make the time?

Jasmine: I write in the streetcar on little cards, I write in my head, I write in notebooks at events, I type into idea files that I store in my computer and when I am ready I sit and type continuously, sometimes even as much as 5,000 to 6,000 words a day. Passion and joy is important.

What can keep you going in hard times and motivate one to continue is one's faith and passion in what they are doing. So you need to be passionate and take joy from the writing.

6) Any details about getting a publisher or agent? What was involved in that, and it's an uphill battle so what are some tips to keep others going?

Jasmine: Once I decided I would be writing and acting, I set out about researching the two industries and acquiring skills, networking and meeting the industry and taking courses in acting. I joined writing groups, and am now the president of the Writers and Editors Network. I had taken creative writing courses in India and was always in touch with writing, though it was economics, banking and corporate finance, it still disciplined me on how to organize my mind and thoughts and put them on paper.

I would say it is very important to know the industry very well, understand that there is no glamor about what most people think is "creation." It is about the product and the marketing of the product that is the issue here and the major gains go to the person who invests the money. If the publisher puts in funds, then he takes more than the writer, and stores who invest in infrastructure make the money. So to writers who are looking at this being their main income will have to be more realistic and be willing to do a lot of marketing of their product or have a plan B to fall back on.

I approached the publisher directly without an agent, because I felt that at my age I want every thing as of yesterday rather than languish, waiting for things to happen with publishers and agents taking their own time. I did not want to hand over my life to the pace of the industry. I was, of course, lucky to get a publisher to take me on. But I am never one to curl up and die.

5) Do you have another novel or collection of stories in the works?

Jasmine: I am completing my book "Saving Ali" (working title, of course) and will hope to have it out next spring. The narrator is the 16-year-old Catholic girl Anna in my story "The Guest in my Grandfather's House." The story is set in the 1992 Hindu-Muslim riots in Bombay.

6) And what's your life's story?

Jasmine: I left India and moved to Canada in 2004, not for a better life but for life itself. I did it for adventure I do know that moving at 46 and starting life is an adventure itself. But I decided when I came here to do all that I am passionate about. Here I am an actor and a writer. In India, I was a banker and also guest faculty in one of India's top management schools. I have a Ph.D., and a post-graduate degree in banking and finance. I have moved from a comfortable life to one of hardship, but it's very gratifying to be able to follow your passion.

Our lives' narratives are neither singular nor linear and, like everyone else, I have multiple biographies. Through my childhood and growing up in India, any pursuit that did not put food on the table was considered a hobby. So of course, the more urgent need to earn a living suppressed my deeper desire to write. I earned a doctoral degree, and spent several years as a banker; but through it all, I felt trapped in a secure world that made me push the things I really wanted to do for "later." Moving to Canada was the best thing I could do, for this dream -- I am now a writer.

This is my "later."

Title: Curry Is Thicker Than Water
ISBN: 978-0-9783793-9-1
Publisher:Bookland Press Inc.


Released just a month ago, the reviews for Haunting Bombay , so far, have been pretty. Written by Shilpa Agarwal, Haunting Bombay is the winner of the First Words Literary Prize for South Asian Writers, and parallels are being drawn to the mysticism of Isabelle Allende and the spirituality of Toni Morrison as they are to the writings of other authors of South Asian heritage. "Agarwal's work will definitely appeal to fans of Monica Ali and Jhumpa Lahiri...but it retains a fresh, original feel that will draw in new readers with its own literary merit," says Library Journal.

Personally, I am surprised it took so long for a ghost story to be set in India. After all, it's a country teeming with belief in the supernatural, ghosts and witches. As kids we grew up hearing that we'd be taken away by them if we didn't behave, and there's always a family or two who've had prayers done to ward off the evil eye.

Set in post-colonial India, Agarwal weaves together literary fiction, a mystery, and haunting supernatural spirits in a story of power and powerlessness, voice and silence. The novel is a tale of three generations of the wealthy Mittal ( no relation to the Mittal Steel Multi-Billionaires!) family who have buried a tragic history and the ghosts of the past who rise up to haunt them, illuminating their deepest fears and desires and underscoring the singular power of utterance.

I had a tete-a-tete with the author:

Q: HAUNTING BOMBAY breaks with the tradition of the South Asian-American novel. How did you decide to go in that direction?

Shilpa: My book is an exploration of how the privileged can hear the voices of the dispossessed - about what sacrifices and risks must be taken in order to actually hear. The ghosts are metaphors for the dispossessed, those who have little or no power in a family, community, or nation. The novel has very suspenseful and eerie moments but it is also full of humor and lightness, especially in the interaction between the members of the Mittal household. I would say that it expands the boundaries of the Indian or South Asian novel. When I was researching ghost stories, I discovered fairy legends, mystical traditions, references to ghosts in the ancient religious texts, and a 115-year old English translation of Sanskrit Vampire stories which I've woven into my novel. There is such a rich tradition of the supernatural in India yet I didn't find any other English-language South Asian authors who were writing about it. Readers instead have connected my writing to the mystical and magical literary traditions of South American writers Isabelle Allende and Gabriel García Márquez.

Q: Without giving it away completely, can you tell us more about the novel?

Shilpa: Yes - the story opens with the drowning but as it unfolds and the ghost begins to haunt the household, the Mittal family's tangled memories of that drowning day - of where and what theywere doing when the child died - are revealed. The family and the servants all have secret desires and motivations - the ayah who was dismissed was in love with someone in the household, the father illicitly visits drinking dens while his children sleep, the driver maintains a relationship with an aging prostitute in the red-light district, one of the housemaids despised the ayah and so forth. There are a number of characters who could have been involved in the child's death. My protagonist's journey is about finding the truth of what happened but also finding the courage to face that truth because often times truth itself can be terrifying.

Q: Why did you set the story in 1960?

Shilpa: At the moment of India's Independence in 1947, Prime Minister Nehru had talked about how the nation, suppressed by centuries of invasion and colonialism, at long last finding utterance. I wanted to set my novel thirteen years after this moment, as the nation moved into its adolescence to explore this idea of finding utterance - of a national consciousness informed by the voices of the underclass. I also set it in the 60s because I wanted to weave in my parents' stories of their youth. My mom's family were refugees during the partitioning of India and I wanted to show both the loss and sense of hope at that time.

Q: As a mom of elementary school age kids with aspirations to get a novel published myself, I'm in awe of how you pulled it off. You have such young children yourself and still managed to get the words out each day.

Shilpa: I started writing the novel when I was pregnant with my first child. After that, I had to write in snatches of time - when my child napped, when I didn't feel utterly exhausted by sleepless nights and changing diapers and newborn colic. After my children began to sleep through the night, I began to write early in the mornings before dawn because that was the only time of day I could lose myself in my writing without fear of distraction. That time of day also lent itself to expanding my imagination especially in the supernatural realm - it was pitch black outside and eerily quiet in my office except for the clicking of my fingers on the keyboard. The most important thing for me was having a disciplined schedule, writing every day even if I didn't feel like it.

Q: The supernatural nature of your book lends itself to film. Have you thought about HAUNTING BOMBAY, the movie?

Shilpa: Yes, I'm very interested in developing a screenplay. One friend described the 'movie version' of my book as a "cross between Mira Nair and M. Night"!

Q: Are you working on your next book?

Shilpa: Yes I am. I am intrigued by the idea of crossings and in HAUNTING BOMBAY, I explore the crossing of the centers of powers with the peripheries and the intersection of the living and the dead. My second book also brings in mystical and magical elements but explores the crossing ofthe realms of heaven and earth.

Readers can reach the author via, and


Last week, I was both humbled and honored to have received the “Inspiring Woman Award”, given by the Muslim Women’s Alliance in Chicago, for volunteering with the refugee population, and mobilizing my community to join me with their time and money. As elated as I was, I believe being my brother's keeper is a reward in itself. It has given my life meaning and purpose. My volunteering is also about knowing that, as a Muslim and a human being, Allah expects no less of me.
As I spoke to a room of 250 women, I recalled Sura Rahman of the Quran where Allah mentions his signs--the food we eat, our days and nights- and then asks, "Which of the favors of your Lord will you deny?" The question is repeated 31 times. Yes. Which are His favors can we deny?

There is no doubt in my mind that we will be asked to account for how we showed our thanks for His blessings. Volunteering is my way of trying to be answerable to God.

He will ask us to account for how we used the peace and prosperity he has blessed us with, He will ask us what we did with our good health, He will ask us how we put our ability to read and write towards making His earth a better place to live in. Or how we thanked Him for the hot water that runs through our taps. All these are luxuries for most people in the world.

He will ask us how we thanked Him for the fact that our children don't cower in fright when they hear a plane go by or that they go to bed each night, without crying themselves to sleep because they're hungry and there's no food to eat.
Giving back, for my children, is becoming second nature as well. One November night they slept outdoors in Chicago’s cold winter as part of “Sleep Out Saturday”, to raise awareness and funds for the homeless. My ten year old, Taskeen, had asked for donations, as she went trick or treating, that year. The kids have raked yards for senior citizens and they’ve helped deliver Meals-on-Wheels. In school, for an assignment titled “What would you do if you were given $100?” My first grader Yousuf wrote, “I’d give it to the kids in Palestine because they’re injured and dying and have no medicines.” As a parent I know I must be doing something right.

Through our choices with time and money, I’ve shown my children, that nobody can do everything but everyone can do something. As they say, Action Springs Not From Thought, but from Readiness for Responsibility. If each of us made a commitment to one or two instances of volunteering a month, how much lighter the world’s burdens would be. And to make that a reality, volunteering cannot be viewed as a choice. Rather it is a responsibility and bearing it well, that is what will make all the difference.

Author Examines The Lives of Muslims Post 9/11

Award-winning author, Shaila Abdullah's new novel Saffron Dreams offers readers a chance to explore the tragedy of 2001 from an uncommon viewpoint.

"I looked on as day after day the media tried, sentenced, and hung my faith," writes Shaila Abdullah in her brand new book, Saffron Dreams, being released online today. "I witnessed the lynching of a religion and race again and again. What proof did I have of the innocence of the rest of us?" I couldn't have expressed it better myself ! As Muslims, we've watched helplessly as all things Muslim and Islam have come under fire. The treatment meted to Barack Hussein Obama, for being born to a Muslim father, made us cringe. Shaila Abdullah awakens us to a story of a culture in shock. An award-winning Pakistani-American author, her writing focuses on the strengths and weaknesses of Pakistani women and their often unconventional choices in life.

Set in New York, the novel leads the readers through a soul-searching and at times gut-wrenching journey of its protagonist. Arissa Illahi, a Muslim artist and writer has everything going for her -- a devoted husband and a much-anticipated child on the way. After her husband's death in the collapse of the World Trade Center, the discovery of his manuscript marks Arissa's reconnection to life. Her unborn son and the unfinished novel fuse in her mind into one life-defining project that becomes, at once, the struggle for her emotional survival and the redemption of her race.

The geopolitical concerns that have drawn Islam and the West into many conflicts since 2001 have also generated a thirst for multicultural literature -- fiction and nonfiction, with a Muslim angle. At a time when much of the world associates Islamic culture with oppression and terror, the new genre is tackling such universal themes as love, hope, and women's issues. In Saffron Dreams, Abdullah captures the essence of ordinary Muslims who create nothing newsworthy and power no conflicts to be of any value to the media.

Her first book, Beyond the Cayenne Wall, is a collection of stories about Pakistani women struggling to find their individualities despite the barriers imposed by society.The book received the Norumbega Jury Prize for Outstanding Fiction and the DIY Award among other accolades. Abdullah also received a Hobson Foundation grant for Saffron Dreams. She has published several short stories, articles, and essays for various publications, including Women's Own, She, Fashion Collection, Sulekha, and Dallas Child. She is a seasoned print, web, and multimedia designer as well. Abdullah lives with her family in Austin, Texas and is a member of the Texas Writers' League.

If you liked the movie Khuda Key Liye aka In the Name of God, you'll love this book!


By Naazish YarKhan

When I was deciding on a husband, one of my criteria was that my spouse be the kind of guy who'd never hit me. A calm temperament was absolutely essential. My husband claims I had low standards. Wouldn't I expect personal safety in any marriage, he teased? Growing up in India in the 90's, news reports of brides being torched to death by their in-laws for bringing an insufficient dowry, and hearing of maids being slapped around by their drunken spouses, was commonplace. Alas, no, marital violence really wasn't something unheard of.

This week, with Aasiya Hassan's frightful beheading at the hands of her husband, Founder and CEO of Bridges TV, my fear didn't seem out of place. My South Asian community is in shock. Blogs are abuzz claiming that this is yet another of example of how barbaric Muslims are and how my kind shouldn't be allowed into the USA - Their venomous rantings leap off the screen.

Anger rises in my chest. Aasiya Hassan's murder is not about Muslims or Pakistanis or South Asians. It's about Domestic Violence. Each day, more than 600 families call the National Domestic Violence Hotline in America. They all can't possibly be Muslim, can they? Why don't people focus on the issue, instead of making this about ethnicity and religion? I want to scream.

Domestic violence happens amongst American Christians, American Jews, American Atheists, as much as it happens in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh or amongst American Muslims. I could roll statistics off my tongue but, even as I recall those numbers, I know I harbor a dirty secret. Aasiya Hassan's murder is not about the teachings of our faiths but it is about how many, in both the Muslim and Hindu communities, treat domestic violence.

Yes it's true that domestic violence cuts across all barriers. But we, as a community, are guilty of averting our eyes, labeling domestic violence a "personal" problem, advising our girls to be "patient", coaxing them to "work it out". Leaders in the community, especially women leaders, lecture women ad nauseum on the values of covering up one's husbands faults. We teach our daughters that some marriage is better than no marriage. Muzzamil Hassan had been divorced twice before, both times on grounds of domestic violence. Was there no one in the community who could have spoken up to warn Aasiya ? Or, like some parents, were Asiya's folks just eager to get a daughter off their hands, just as they would a burden?

When South Asian women do muster the courage to complain of abuse, they are not always believed, or they find they don't have their family's support. Some learn that they are bringing shame to their parents and families, that they will become pariahs. Even educated, earning women are taught to fear what society will say, and are told to worry that their children will be seen as off-springs of a broken home. Self-sacrifice and martyrdom are glorified.

Watching the “Changeling”, I couldn't help but think how one mother's heartbreak eventually led to so many positive changes. Asiya's murder is horrific, but perhaps her story will give our community reason for pause and hasten countless other womens' journey's out of violence.

Witty, Quick, UnStoppable - The Man and His Novel. Presenting Laugh Riot "The Poison Pen"

One-on-One with Mr. Laugh Riot, Greg Beesch (, author of The Poison Pen, self-described man of "twisted steel and sex appeal", dis-ser of all things 'traditional publishing model', and creator of a most 'impeccable' ;) role model for boys ( and girls ) ages 15 to 115. And a holler to all you kids in the UK! Swap your Enid Blyton's and your Mallory Towers and dig into some Americana Boarding School lore instead! Buy it at,, and

Questions for the author? Email:

Q: Could you give us something in the way of a bio?
A: Born a Taurus. I’m 42, 5’10”, 175 pounds of twisted steel and sex appeal, my eyes are blue and of such a vivid intensity that women swoon. I have curly brown hair which is a little long right now, not of Kramer-esque or manfro levels but getting into the Mike Brady of Brady Bunch fame season 3 level. I live in Arizona, I’m married to a spectacular woman and I have two daughters.

Q: Is your first book?
A: First book, yes. First piece of fiction I’ve written since I had to write an essay for a college admissions application back in high school.

Q: How would you describe it?
A: The single greatest book about teen sedition ever written, absolutely a classic among any genre that includes the descriptor ‘boarding school’, most definitely highly entertaining, of a certainty a total laugh riot, highly probably a vacation or beach reading essential, really just an infinitely enjoyable escapist faerie tale.

Q: Sedition and subversive behavior are main themes in your book, why?
A: They go part and parcel of the teen experience, especially for a boy, especially coming of age in America. Sedition and subversive behavior are key human traits when confronted by tyranny of any kind, that is, not just governmentally sponsored tyranny. The United States has a fine tradition, both before and especially after its creation, of its citizenry writing for the purpose of good old fashion mayhem.

Q: Is your book appropriate for, let’s say, a 15 or 16 year old?
A: I would say yes. It does have some profanity, but let’s face it, nothing that a 13 or 14 year old hasn’t heard at school. There is no sex, though there is a lot of teen romance, and almost no violence although the main character breaks just about every school and social rule there is, but, of course, in a very funny way.

Q: Alright, since it was your first novel, was it a difficult process writing it?
A: No, not at all, like falling off a bike when you’re bombed out of your gourd on home vinted strawberry wine. One of the funniest and easiest endeavors I’ve ever attempted and it made me a much much better typist, which is always a bonus.

Q: Let’s continue on. What qualifications do you have as a writer?
A: Qualifications? I have a B.A. in Political Science and an MBA from Arizona State University and 20 years of work experience writing some of the most sublime memos, proposals, business plans, emails, and miscellaneous missives since the invention of the written word, kid you NOT.

Q: Yes, well, most people who are writers have a degree in literature, maybe and MFA, a list of previous writing.
A: Oh, so by qualifications you mean an arbitrary set of criteria determined by as small group of lower order life forms?

Q: No, I mean-
A: I’ll put my MBA against anyone’s MFA anytime.

Q: Most people would not put an MBA as a criteria for qualification for writing a novel.
A: Of course, because analytical rigor is as foreign to the publishing industry as . . . well, an analogy of appropriate magnitude eludes me at the moment. The publishing industry mystifies the process, you know, ‘Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain’, to the detriment of book sales and reading in general in the United States.

Q: What writers have been influential?
A: P.G. Wodehouse, first and foremost. I think that despite the sheer volume of his works he is almost completely unknown in the mainstream US, which is kind of funny since he invented the character of Jeeves, the butler, and that reference is known but not Wodehouse himself.

Q: Others?
A: Old school influences would be Evelyn Waugh, Ambrose Bierce, and Mark Twain. More modern would be Hunter Thompson, Tom Wolfe, Philip Caputo off the top of my pointy head.

Q: No Bukowski?
A: Oh sure.

Q: Let’s talk about the nascent prep/boarding school genre, as you refer to it, you have mentioned Tobias Wolff’s Old School and Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep. When did you read those and were they an inspiration or an influence when writing The Poison Pen of Aberdeen Prep.
A: I read Old School about the time I was finishing up The Poison Pen and really loved it, but Old School is literary, The Poison Pen is fun, the tone in The Poison Pen is definitely more Wodehouse than Wolff.

Q: When you first describe The Poison Pen to me you said, ‘If Wodehouse rewrote Prep and made sedition the theme, that would be The Poison Pen’. So Prep was an influence also?
A: Oh yeah, I read Prep about nine months after reading Old School. I was in the Newark airport and saw it at a book kiosk, I bought it and spent the entire plane ride (four hours) reading it. When I landed back in Phoenix I wanted to sit in the car in the parking garage and finish it.

Q: What about it-
A: I related to the setting, that is, boarding school. I related to the emotional travails of the main character, Lee Fiora, that is, the self consciousness, the doubt, you know, all the teen turmoil, but as much as I loved the character I hated the plot, well, really the last 30 pages. I mean, I was depressed when I finished it, I wanted more for her, I wanted some triumph
Q: You decided to self-publish, why?

A: Going about the process of getting the book publish, that is, researching agents and publishing houses, reviewing submission procedures and forms, writing and submitting query letters, I came to realize that from a business process perspective the publishing industry was broken. To put it quite simply, there was an enormous entrenched bureaucracy in between me, as the author of a book, and the buying consumer. I saw no reason why I should buy into what I recognized as a broken business model (see my website SoI tossed out any idea of going through an agent or publishing house and once freed of that artificial constraint and then examining the numerous technological options I decided I would self publish.
Q: Where is the book available?
A: Through,, and

Q: And what is your website again?
A: Absolutely,, the greatest book website in existence. Questions for the author? Email: