The Rich Vegetarian

An Examined Life

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You are in an elevator, or on an escalator. And there is another person who gets on. You catch a glimpse of him from the corner of your eye, then look away. You don’t want to be caught staring. You don’t exactly know how he looks. You couldn’t pick him out of a crowd if you had to.

But there is a spark there, a faint bit of electricity in the air.

Of course, you look away. But you are so aware of his presence. The awareness lingers on in the atmosphere, like a sprite of sorts. The charge feels real, more real than you or him or the escalator or elevator.

The elevator comes to a halt. You step out, then he does… and both of you go your respective directions.

And just like that a magical moment came into being, shimmered for a few moments in the humid Atlanta air, and disappeared into hazy imagination.

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Write like an American

A few days ago, I was feeling rather sorry for myself.

Sorry that I never learned writing formally. That I didn’t ever learn composition. That I simply began writing one cold December (or January?) day — sad, lonely, homesick. That I, despite having written diligently in English all my life, still fumble for words, phrases. That I get tons of “likes” from my Indian friends but very few from my American ones.

Perhaps my writing only appeals to Indians? Because I write in a typically Indian-born-American-resident-writing-in-English manner?

(Does any kind of writing have universal appeal? Why am I bothered?)

But then it occurred to me that this is the perhaps the best time for a “hybrid” writer like me. My writing cannot be divorced from who I am. It can be read and appreciated only on its own terms. I cannot write like an American. Because all my writing is personal, it is inextricably tied to my life, my personal narrative, and all the little-big stories I carry within me. And that is perhaps its biggest strength.

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Locking Eyes

This evening, as I drove home from work, I passed a white van. “State Prisoners” was inscribed prominently on the front and back. I couldn’t recall the last time I had seen a vehicle of this kind. I wondered if it was actually transporting any prisoners.

I got a little ahead, and looked again. There were two men inside, dressed in white. One was middle-aged and white, looking out at the traffic. Behind him sat a young, handsome black guy wearing a headset. He had large eyes and thick eyebrows, a prominent nose. And he looked straight at me.

I couldn’t look away. I had sunglasses on, so I felt somewhat comfortable looking right back. His gaze didn’t waver. Neither did mine.

The van moved ahead, and I kept pace with it.

Again we drew level, and I found him looking at me. I returned the gaze.

The traffic moved swiftly, and the van sped forward. I fell back, and lost my place in the traffic.

I prayed silently, let me catch up with him again. I removed my sunglasses.

The traffic continued to flow forward, and again I caught up with the van. There was a lane separating our two vehicles, but there were few cars, and I was able to look right at him. He looked back at me. He had a direct and open expression. It wasn’t unfriendly. There was no question in his eyes, or any curiosity. It was a clear, simple look. And I was able to reciprocate the simplicity.

It felt special, this brief interaction. Later I wondered, should I have smiled? Given a thumbs-up, a tiny wave, perhaps?

In hindsight, I am happy that I did nothing to spoil the moment.

Not for a single instant did I “feel sorry” for the young handsome man. Neither did I feel intimidated locking eyes with him. (I am not always comfortable looking into another’s eyes; it feels too direct for my comfort.)

What did I hope to convey? That I was sympathetic? That I hoped things would improve for him? Or did I mean to send a blessing?

None of the above, actually. I was caught in a brief moment of sharing, and I was able to participate fully. And I came away from that interaction, feeling strangely intimate and connected.