Tag Archives: friends

Connecting’s Parvesh Cheena Acts to Quell Xenophobia

Being connected is crucial in the time of the 2020 pandemic!

We all have been through a strange time period. When the virus came to our shore, everything shut down in shock. The initial week or two of isolation was like an extended holiday. For those of us who could stay home without having to work, this was an escape from reality. We divulged in home-cooked meals, lazy afternoons, boisterous evenings filled with board games, binge-watching TV shows, or reading. At my home, we fashioned our timetable around morning yoga, the adulation of Hercule Poirot, long meandering walks up the mountain, boomerangs of plated food, categorizing the flora and fauna around us. Despite Covid 19 raging in the world around us and contrary to health guidelines, We longed to take a break from ourselves and to connect with our friends. Misery seeks company! The human angst and the hysterical response to the global tragedy appear to be the premise of the show.

The plot of NBC’s Connecting urges us to be aware of our diversity as a country and how we got there. The NBC original showcases American history and our civil rights. So we hope to be informed in a lighter vein as we follow the lives of six friends. The show is innovating in the use of Zoom, filming the actors in their own homes. The time period is through early March 2020 and it will take us through our surreal day to day experience in the United States through our Presidential elections. 

I am sure all of us remember our early experiences of fumbling with zoom, from connecting and using gallery mode to changing backgrounds and sharing screens and all the faux pas. I am certain we are going to find it very relatable and hilarious like the Saturday Night Live skits about Zoom Call, Zoom Church, and Zoom Catchup. Most of us are on tenterhooks about not getting infected but at the same time, we are becoming Zoom savvy not wanting to be out of step with our fellow men! My experiences connecting with my grandson in India are interesting enough to fill a book because of the time difference, spottiness of the internet, his interest in playing games on the phone while talking to me, and lately a fuzzy camera because of disinfecting the phone with sanitizer.

Actor, Parvesh Cheena.

Parvesh Cheena told me that he was absolutely delighted to be accepted in the series, Connecting, on his birthday. The gregarious actor plays “Pradeep” a gay man who lives in Los Angeles with his adopted children. He shares his exertions on home-schooling his defiant brood with his friends, while his friends share their domestic woes, breakups, and other dramatic personal events. Parvesh has modeled his character after his college roommate who has adopted children. 

While doing the series, Parvesh realized that society is better equipped to deal with the previous pandemics (the Bubonic Plague of the 1600s, the Influenza of the 1950s, and even the SAARS of 2009 ) because of our access to the internet and social media. We can smile and laugh on video chats, offer our condolences, and give virtual hugs, but I reminded him that in older times, people had access to books and creative geniuses like the Bard churned out King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra.

As an Indian, I am proud of young people breaking the conventional career choices of our generation and finding their niche in acting, dance, literature, music, and politics. I wanted to study interior design but my persuasive father made a compelling argument for me to become a physician. It has been a rewarding profession but my creative instincts have found an outlet in the arts that covers the walls of my home.

So I agree with Cheena’s encouraging words: “It’s never too late to try!”  

He is an interesting person in his own words composed of “a quarter “Chicago” pizza” and in my words “three-quarters of bonhomie, gratitude, and ebullience”. It is hard to come across someone who is authentic and polite. I was intrigued by his journey as an actor. You might remember him from Outsourced as the preposterous busybody Gupta and as Sunil Odhav in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Parvesh recalls that he had to invent himself into an Indian culture that he was not familiar with. His parents came from North India in the 1970s in the time of Nixon and Lyndon Johnson but Parvesh was born in the US. At that time, scientists and engineers from the East were building America, and yet actors were not mainstream. Indians were depicted as a cabby, a waiter, or a doctor, so Gupta in Outsourced, although not culturally accurate, heralded a change.

I shared my experience with him from the 1990s, when strangers in New York would ask me if I knew a “Rajiv” in Los Angeles. Or was it okay to take the chicken out of my tomato broth or would I eat dessert as my main course? I was often floored by such quixotic questions but Parvesh has a generous response to this inane curiosity. He says, “People are just trying to connect.”

At the end of the day, Parvesh imagines himself as a storyteller rather than an actor. He was happy to share that the first role he played on stage was in his school play where he was cast as King George the III. Although the only word he spoke was “hmm”,  he fondly recalls how his Nani made him a red cape lined with gold. Ever since that time he dreamed of connecting with a wider audience! He is ecstatic to represent mainstream Indian Americans because he wants to raise awareness about other ethnic groups in society. He is acting to quell xenophobia. 

I know that Parvesh has a golden future as a comedian. Comedy is a difficult genre because it requires clever material, timing, and an honest perspective. He has a natural talent for it and I was touched by the positive energy exuding from Mr. Cheena in Connecting, restored by a cup of coffee. He was just a regular down-to-earth guy in Los Angeles, requesting everyone to “mask up” and stay safe.  I was a pathologist/ correspondent listening to him in my parked car outside the hospital and we were connecting so effortlessly on a gorgeous fall day. Since our interview, I have already recommended the show to many of my friends and I am excited to see their Halloween episode on October 31. Hope all of you do the same – social distancing while CONNECTING.


Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India, and works as a pathologist in Decatur Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home, and art. She has written two books: My Light Reflections and Flow through my Heart. She is a regular contributor to NPR’s Sundial Writers Corner.

A Confession: Unbiased Bias

This is a confession.

I have always considered myself an empathetic chap, fully able to understand other people’s points of view. And believed in their freedom to voice them, however radically different or downright stupid they may be, till Mr. Trump showed up. Took maybe a year or two for this thing to bloom by watching my designated TV Channels, till I got infected with this new bug of intolerance – if Chacko is a supporter of Trump, I don’t want to have anything to do with Chacko.

I practiced this for some time till out of the blue the unthinkable happened – some of the folks I deeply respected emerged as T-supporters. My policy of shunning T-people came to a screeching halt and I called for an emergency top brass internal review of this tricky matter. We met in our basement bar, Tomatin on-the-rocks, and me.

While deliberating on the why, how, how come, etc. an old Hindi song dropped by:

Ye, kyaa hua, Kaisay hua
Kab hua, Kyon hua

After a while, my innards started to get attacked by a gnawing doubt – maybe I am wrong. I mean, these are really good people, who genuinely help their fellow beings, and some of them I even try to emulate. How can they be right and I be wrong in a matter that is as clear as black and white. Purely accident, I mean the pun. Drove me to think maybe am missing something and so our session ended with no conclusive findings but decided to keep collecting more perspectives.

The revelation came during a weekend when my Mother-in-Law was visiting us. I was at the kitchen island in the company of the ladies, gingerly cutting ladies-finger lengthwise and overhearing the mother-daughter banter. My wife was asking her something about a ménage-a-trois involving Indra, Ahalya, and Gauthama and the clarification Amma was giving was too complicated for me to digest, but her rejoinder at the end of explaining was a no-brainer – “Anita, these stories in our epics are not just to enjoy their story value, these have lessons we can use in our lives.” My flickering mental tube light suddenly stood still, shining its full 100 Wattage.

I think it was a Zen Buddhist who said, When a man cutting wood gets enlightenment, he continues to cut wood. I continued to cut the green
vegetables but my mind was on Drona, Bhishma, and Karna. All noble characters and stayed so till the end, in the eyes of Vyasa. And this is in spite of staying on the dark side with the Kauravas, for whatever pre-existing conditions, to borrow the popular medical parlance. And we all look up to them as good souls.

That’s when I realized the embarrassing shift that had happened in my neurons over the past few years. Like in the Crusades period in Europe, I came to embrace the mantra “if you are not with me, you are against me.” I wonder what happened to my favorite Henry R. Luce’s journalistic principle, “I will write against my opponents, but I will willingly die fighting for their right to voice their opinion.”

My opinion about Mr. T remains the same and I will continue on the side of the Pandavas, fighting for the soul of the country. But the dismal thoughts I had about my near and dear supporting the wrong guy have been resolved and I feel relieved now, having circled back to my normal self – able to stand in the opposing teams camp and sympathize with them. When close friends and colleagues that I look up to are supporting Big T, they are merely taking a political stand. Me and those folks – we still share the same long term values, only our opinions differ and as we all know, by the grace of God, opinions are not unbreakable, they are always reversible.


Jayant Kamicheril was born in East Africa and did his schooling in Kumarakom, Kerala. For the past 22 years, he has been working in technical sales for the food industry and lives in Reading, PA. 

Ageism is the New Sexism

Ageism is the new sexism that women start facing as early as 30

When I decided to write this article, I swear the inspiration came from an honest place. I turned 30 a couple of months ago and I have had a series of epiphanies induced by the people around me and their invasive commentaries on my life choices in the past few months. At first, that is what inspired me to pen my feelings down.

But to my surprise, there are more than 135K #turning30 posts on Instagram and almost all the top, as well as recent posts, are from women. So, this post is not going to be a personal rant anymore. I am forced to think that in the eyes of the society, for women, is turning 30 an achievement or is it some kind of a (biological) alarm? I don’t understand what it is but one thing is very clear from the thousands of posts on social media and numerous blogs on the internet, and not to mention the mausis of Indian mohallas– turning 30 is supposed to be some sort of a big deal. My question is why? 

Pop culture and its influence

I am a huge Friends fan and data proves that so are millions of other people all over the world. So, I am hoping this analogy will work. 

One of the reasons, they say, why Friends is still relevant is because the characters seem real and the audience resonates with them. Interestingly, all Friends characters had no clue where their lives were headed when they turned 30. Joey had an unstable and barely successful acting career and a series of flings but no serious relationships. Rachel was just starting in her career sorting hangers at a store after resigning from waitressing, Phoebe was a freelancing masseuse who had never had a serious relationship. And, don’t even get me started on Ross- divorced twice with major intimacy issues. Chandler and Monica were the only ones who’d found each other in their early thirties. 

British songwriter Lily Allen talks about a woman approaching her thirties in her song “22”. She sings: “It’s sad but society indeed says her life is already over, there’s nothing to do and there’s nothing to say.”

While this song is barely a decade old, the notion of a woman’s life being over at thirty sounds archaic to me! In fact, I believe that our lives only start by the time we turn thirty. Think about it, we spend our 20s finishing college and trying to find employment. So, how is it fair to say that a woman’s life is over at 30? Or, even to expect that she should “settle down” by that age?

So much for changing times and progressive societies 

We all like to believe that times are changing and that we live in a better and progressive society, but is that really true? 

The advocates of “everything is a bed of roses” will pull out studies comparing the lives of women in their 30s during the 1960s versus women in the present day, to show how women above thirty are now “allowed to go out, have fewer children and even pursue a career”!

But is that real progress? Did you know that it was as recent as 2015 when for the first time, married women were better educated than their husbands? But despite that fact, 72% of the time, a wife earns less than her husband of the same age.

However, instead of focusing on real issues like gender disparity, wage inequality and lack of opportunities in the employment sector for women, society likes to focus on “things a woman should do by the time she turns 30”.

I chanced upon hundreds of articles about women turning thirty. From “are you eating right”, “do you have the right wardrobe” to “did you find yourself a husband” to “here’s why you should bear a child right now”- I found a range of “knowledge imparting” articles. Funnily enough, I could barely find articles advising men on marriage, fatherhood or ageing.

Present Day

From the pressure of being married by this age to the constant reminder of the (oh so annoying biological clock) – the stereotypes associated with women approaching the age of 30 are archaic and need to go away.

I want to believe that we are a “woke” society outside of the virtual walls of social media feeds as well. I want to be able to decide things for myself. And, I definitely don’t want strangers advising me on my personal life and how I should be entirely dedicated to procreation because I am 30 and “it is already too late”!

Can we please stop with all the ageism and sexism, and let women just live their lives; or is that too much to ask?

Surabhi, a former Delhi Doordarshan presenter, is a journalist based in Singapore. She is the author of ‘Nascent Wings’ and ‘Saturated Agitation’ and has contributed to more than 15 anthologies in English and Hindi in India and Singapore. Surabhi’s work has appeared in various publications in India, Singapore and around the world. Website | Blog | Instagram