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Peaks and Valleys

I commend Nirmala Nataraj for writing the piece on sexuality (Journey to My Desire, India Currents, May 2014). I’ve felt that our community, like Nataraj says, is totally wound up on issues relating to sexuality. Just as she points out, we’ve been conditioned by all sorts of ideas about what “good” girls may do and how they may behave. Certainly I, too, am guilty of foisting some of those hand-me-down opinions about the “right” and “wrong” of sexuality on my children.

But the story didn’t satisfy me. It seemed like the writer was holding something back; it seemed like someone was doing OM on me and then, out of the blue, the person went off to take a call and make aloo subzi.

The piece was vague about what exactly Nataraj discovered in the practice of OM that transformed her inside out. The article did not explain how OM would give me both, sexual satisfaction as well as spiritual fulfillment. It was alluded to with no details.

And then the question, if it is not a climax but just ridges and peaks and valleys, what exactly is it? There was no map with legends, such as “You are here.” The devil, for me, is in the details. Obviously, I understand that OM is at a different level conceptually, but for folks like me at sea level, please enlighten us with a GPS, a printed map, or a walkie-talkie.

While Nataraj is a good writer, at several places in the article, she lost me. For example, and I quote: “Like tantra, OM suggests that we transform sex obsession into sex integration, and that the same time, we view the path of desire as a viable exploration, and  consider mundane experience and sensations as aspects of a much larger totality.” I consider myself a savvier reader than most, because I am always worrying about how a reader may understand me. Yet, in several places, I couldn’t make sense of her point.

The setup of the piece was not adequate. I would have been happier knowing what it was in her marriage that made her sexually dissatisfied? What expectations did she go in with about her partner? What experiences had she had with sex before marriage? Nataraj seems to be implying that marital happiness, conformance to social mores and sexual fulfillment are mutually exclusive.

At several points in the article, she hints that there were several things shaking up her marriage, not just sexual incompatibility. Yet, she gives her marriage only two years, not long enough, in my opinion, when hers was not an “arranged” marriage, i.e., she went into the marriage having known the man well, I would think. Again, I wasn’t given enough background.

The ending, too, seemed abrupt. I would have liked it better if she had disclosed that she was an OM teacher earlier.

Kalpana Mohan, Saratoga, CA

The Author Responds
I appreciate Kalpana’s thoughtful critique. To be honest, aside from the fact that some of the original details I included were edited from the piece, I felt that I had to censor myself considerably, because I was sensitive to the potential audience. I agree that the devil is in the details. But the details are tricky and multifaceted; they include a slew of things that make me even more of an outlier in the community. To speak to these things is important, of course, but in this arena, I’m still discovering my voice. For me, writing the piece was a significant and fairly scary step, a coming-out of sorts. Perhaps I didn’t do it as gracefully as I would have liked, but at the same time, it prompted curiosity and a desire for “more.” It led many Indian-Americans to look me up and read some of the more informative and personal pieces I have included, which are more explicit and give people an idea of the range of my experiences. That may well offer me the courage to go further and be more vulnerable about the details in future.
Nirmala Nataraj, El Cerrito, CA

Hiring and Inspiring
Regarding the editorial by Jaya Padmanabhan (Bock’s Analysis,  India Currents, May 2014), aside from pursuing a financially  lucrative career, what about encouraging our children to pursue what they enjoy doing, something that would make them happy—like writing!

Jana Seshadri, Bay Area, CA

I would treat Computer Science as just another language—like Mandarin, Spanish or English. It is the language of the future because just about everything is reflected on the Internet and will require some familiarity with it. It will make kids more employable, which is not a bad thing.

That said, the very same Laszlo Bock very wisely does not correlate fancy numbers and schools with job success. So, ultimately, if the child is not robotic in the quest for name brands with the relentlessly padding of resumes, the meaningless volunteering in exotic lands, the redundant internships (affirmation of the rich), where they learn zilch … he or she will do fine.

The New York Times article, “The Decline and Fall of the English Major” by Verlyn Klinkenborg is testament to the power of immersing oneself in the humanities and English in particular: “I find a vivid pressing sense of how much they need the skill they didn’t acquire earlier in life. They don’t call that skill the humanities. They don’t call it literature. They call it writing—the ability to distribute their thinking in the kinds of sentences that have a merit, even a literary merit, of their own.”

Renuka Pullat, Hillsborough, CA

It’s the story of every parent and every child. I think, deep inside, every child has an ideal, but every day that ideal gets tossed aside in order to meet the practical. Success in the humanities requires (typically) a lot of time; it’s a buildup of years of knowledge, rejection, disappointment. The practical constantly beats the ideal. San Francisco is in the throes of rising property values; if kids are going after their heart, the house they want is going to be in Watsonville, not in Pacific Heights. At least that’s what their parents are telling them.
To the point about the thinking itself. I think analysis in the humanities calls for logic, wisdom, honesty, life experience and some amount of fearlessness. Most kids, fresh out of college, simply aren’t ready for the demands of it. Computer science provides a far easier route in every way, even if there is a hole in the soul.
Kalpana Mohan, Saratoga, CA

With due deference to Bock, in spite of being a huge advocate of STEM pursuit, I entirely disagree with the premise that humanities and languages do not foster creative thought. In fact, humanities, English, philosophy, and history all require much creativity and logic. Humanities (English major) provide, as standard evidence, clarity of thought and expression, writing and analysis. I would think these are important for a job at Google.
As my younger sons are in the process of deciding majors and colleges, we have been reading and thinking about the importance of music, sports, and language in their overall grooming.

Shivakumar Raman, Bay Area, CA

Vandana Kumar

Vandana Kumar is a publishing executive with a 35-year track record in the industry. She leads the India Currents Foundation as President and CEO. As a new immigrant, she co-founded India Currents magazine...