Once in a lifetime


“That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet.”


That it will never come again

Is what makes life so sweet.

Believing what you don’t believe

Does not exhilarate.

– Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)



New York. 20. 10. 2010. If you ever get a chance, please take the Amtrak train from Montreal to New York in mid-October. It is certainly one of the most picturesque and magical rides you will ever take in this lifetime (or $ 60 well spent) – it is literally like winding through a painting enriched by spectacular fall colours and the breath-taking beauty of Lake Champlain along the shoreline of which and the Adirondack mountains the tracks traverse by. A long ride, but one that leaves you fulfilled and overwhelmed by the gorgeousness of nature’s colours and serenity; and the fragile-but-oh-so-beautiful gift of human life. As I’ve oft-repeated, it is one of those journeys that is a reminder once again that “We all have the right to feel sad at times, but we do not have the right to feel ungrateful.” Because, compared to what luck could have handed us, we are so, so fortunate………

The sweetness of life comes from days lived well, with the decision to follow the best of  rational ethics and integrity one is possible of practicing; of acts of love and kindness to others without losing wisdom or the logic to analyse and create and to think independently and not fall prey to hypocrites; the sweetness of life comes from the knowledge that at the end of each day the only person you need to stand before and answer to is your own conscience; to look back at a life led without hypocrisy, where you adhere to integrity if only for your own sake; and to know before you fall asleep each night that you have never knowingly hurt anyone for it takes very little to be kind, to think before you speak; to know that we are so lucky in comparison to far larger problems, injustices and sadness in the world and therefore to complain a little less and at times, a lot less; to know the truth of global realities and the reality of our own  strengths and weaknesses; to give a thank-you to the inventors and minds which made our infrastructures and taken-for-granted comforts possible; to thank the hearts of the gentle souls amongst us who are capable of healthy love; and to always remember that because life comes, but only once, to make the most of it.

Trust me on this one, for I’m on my fifth life now through four brushes with death in my past, and every day lived reminds me of life’s sweetness. We go through trials and troubles, fight back or climb out of abysses, but at the end it is only those who love the gift of Life and the responsibility of integrity and authenticity that gift entails, who know the pleasure of the sweetest of slumbers: the true exhilaration of a clear conscience and a life led without regrets. And with the strength to take full responsibility for every action you have committed or will commit once you have left the realm of childhood. The peace of mind for staying on-track on that one single choice? Priceless.

A typical view from the Montreal-New York train in Autumn. (photo by Kevin Ebi. livingwildnreness.com)

The Montreal to New York Amtrak route

Bicycle Alert: On the topic of land travel, check out the tales of an interesting and friendly young Franco-Swiss adventurer I met in Old Montreal who has been traveling along various continents of the world since the age of 32 on his bicycle for the last several years. He had just finished a tour across Central and South Asia and was setting off across America. Marco Ausderau : http://acrosscontinents.ch/Navigation/histoire-d-un-reve?set_language=fr&cl=fr

One of  the quotes that inspired him to embark on this long journey is Antoine de St. Exupery’s words: “Fait de ta vie un rêve et de ton rêve une réalité.”

Memories of Montreal – un petit film

Montreal, Canada. 10-10-’10. I have been busy with my travels these past  several days and shall be traveling for a few more to come…..and Internet access has been sporadic and minuscule, at best. One of the joys of traveling and reconnecting with old friends and places in general is the humane factor of touch, sight, sound and smell which the virtual world, no matter how rich it can be, can never equal. The virtual at the end, serves only as the medium – the conduit through which the essence of the real can be captured only in bits and pieces on a two-dimensional plane.

So until I find the time to write a more reflective or analytical post, I’m re-posting an older article and video which had been, in essence, a quick ode to a city that has always remained dear to my  heart. On this trip, as I packed up the remnants of my existence here and found closure on many levels, I understood with some poignancy that it was indeed “Goodbye Montreal” and “Hello New York” for good. Time flies, people change, precocious girls we knew from our work days get married, have children; men we knew who carried an intense fire for living look beaten and broken in the grind of work life and compromises….those who thought they would live a ‘James Bond’ existence wake up to a reality of  ‘The Office’ (ah! mid-life crisis, or should I say mid-life acceptance, for many a man.)  A girl who was a sworn spinster is now married in a big Greek wedding with a baby on the way. A good architect friend who had the worst year of his life in 2008, is now not only on his best year but has become a successful theatre-actor on the side. Another who I thought would forever remain timid and servile has broken free and has his own firm.  A man who I thought had crazy intensity  ended up truly being intensely mentally crazy when I saw him again after two years. A girl I thought would never lose her integrity, I found, has now sold her soul in the name of society’s cliched definition of success……

We meet many, we lose a few, we remain static with some, we grow for, with and at times, away from others.  And for some like myself, sometimes looking back I have to confess (as a private joke that a few friends will understand) by fluke, I certainly was ‘Saved by the Bell’  in October 2008 in Montreal. Had it not been so, I certainly might not have perhaps found myself in Cambridge and subsequently in New York City. Thank you, Antonio Stradivari!

Life goes on, time never waits and all that is left behind are memories…….Yet for some places and people looking back at them never quite brings clarity – like looking at one’s past and hoping to get a balanced vision – yet instead it feels akin to when you open an old book and find inside its pages a pressed exotic flower from long ago and its faint scents and faded colours prevent detached objectivity.

But: We move on, thus. We must. We look back – sometimes with 20-20 vision, and at times with visions still blurred and foggy. Yet we move on. Or at least try our best. Or hobble on. Or, if we are lucky, sail smoothly away.

And oh yes – one more thing – xkcd-style. Just for the heck of it (or maybe it’s just all these cafes selling baguettes here.)  Either way:



(originally posted on May 25, 2010)

This is a short and quick film I made to capture some moments at my favourite city where I lived and worked for many years as an architect. I made this to celebrate both Montreal’s unique poignancy AND vibrancy.

Location: The film is based on my photographs through my years in Montreal. The apartment featured is on Ridgewood Avenue where my balcony and windows opened out into the forest of the Mont Royal Summit, behind the gigantic St. Joseph’s Oratory featured both in the early part and in the closing shot of the film. The ‘summit forest’ is the highest point of the city at the bifurcating median of the eastern traditionally ‘French side’ from the western ‘English side’ though of course in reality the city is entirely mixed and diverse. My apartment’s location enabled an incomparable view of the surroundings as well as the seasonal changes of the magnificent trees in its forested backyard. I lived in two different apartments over the years on the same street though I lived in other areas of the city as well, including the Plateau Mont Royal neighbourhood, in downtown Montreal, on the east side near the Village and also in the historic suburb of Vieux Longueuil. I’ve had 7 addresses during my years in the city.

The office featured in the film is of my architecture mentor Dan Hanganu on Rue Dizier.  Its arched windows looked out into the art galleries of Rue St. Paul. The three friends in the ‘four architects’ photo are Anca, Lucia and Athena (and no, we are quite the opposite of the self-absorbed, shoe-crazy, man-hungry, navel-gazing ‘sex and the city’ hyper-materialistic girls.) I met them while working at the historic multi-disciplinary and multi-national architecture firm Le Groupe Arcop one of whose founding fathers had a fellowship in his name at McGill university which I had been awarded more than a decade ago, not knowing then that some day I would go on to work at the firm he had founded. There are other pictures here of friends who are dear to me. I have added quite a few well-known streets and landmarks of the city as well as those places that are personally meaningful and memorable.

The repetition of the sunflowers in the clip is not just a reminder of the lively kiosks and flower shops dotted around the town (and the little herb and flower corner of my balcony), but also a representation of the human potential and inclination to seek and search for joy in life despite how gray the skies may become at times and…….well, because sunflowers are my favourite blossoms. I always say that no matter how sad a moment may be, looking at a ‘happy sunflower’ brings back the smile on my face. They just seem to be such sprightly optimistic flowers, following the light of the sun….

Music: The featured musical pieces on this video are ‘Oblivion’ (violin – Joshua Bell; bandoneon – Carel Kraayenhof) & ‘All of Me’ by Jazz great Lester Young (tenor sax), Teddy Wilson (piano), Jo Jones (drums), Gene Ramey (bass). Since I wanted to capture the paradoxical ‘poignant joyousness’ of the city, the first half of the film includes a heartfelt piece ‘Oblivion’ played by the versatile virtuoso Bell (whose movie The Red Violin’s ending culminates in this city and who I met in Montreal, so I thought it would be appropriate to place his rendition.) The second half of the film picks up the tempo, rhythm and joie-de-vivre unique to this belle ville and reminiscent in a very jolly 1950s tune ‘All of Me’ (composed by Gerald Marks & Seymour Simons) played by the jazz legend  Lester Young – which captures the spirit of the famous International Jazz Festival that Montreal hosts every summer and also the ambiance of its many cafes, clubs, youth culture, its ‘book capital’ status and bicycle and pedestrian-friendly street life.

Additional photography: Almost all the photographs used here are my own. The ‘night vision’ shots though hazy, I felt captured the lights, music and movement better of the city’s nightlife and festivals than clean ‘perfect’ ones taken with a camera stand. There are around 5 pictures featured here taken from Montreal tourism. And out of the total 160 photographs used here – 12 are from the collections of two friends who are extremely talented professionals and have their own studios and should be credited – Jessica Petunia and Robin Cerutti who are both Montreal residents



The music in the video is beautiful when heard through the right speakers since a tiny mono speaker of a laptop cannot do justice to a big jazz band nor to a 1713 Stradivarius.

This is just a little personal ode to a city that has meant so much in my life and where, in many ways, an integral part of my mind, heart, soul and body will always remain, always belong, and live on through its multifarious memories.






Random Acts of Sunshine



Nothing starts a day better than a little dose of sunshine with the timeless music of Johann Sebastian Bach on the piano and the optimistic joy of sunflowers. This is the first of my ‘Random Acts’ short video series that I’m working on to celebrate the little pleasures  of life. And Bach and sunflowers have been two of my favourite ways to start a morning for as far back as I can remember……Perhaps, like the Himalayan mountains beckon my blood, as does the Mediterranean Sea, so do the sunflowers of Provence and the music of Bach.

My personal favourite in this collection of sunflower photos is the one of the sprightly lone helianthus bravely blooming at the edge of a grey sidewalk. A symbol of spunky joy indeed! I hope you like viewing this little piece as much as I loved making it, though of course Bach sounds its best when the speakers are good.

Please note that the last photo in the closing shot of the little child in the field has been taken by an exceptionally talented young lady Iryna Smolych from jossphoto.com who I hope to interview some day on my blog. Please watch this in the full screen mode. Happy mornings!

Random Acts of Sunshine. (full-screen it please.)


I do not know about you, but for me – music is one of the greatest affectors of my moods and state of being. I’ve just always had extremely sensitive ears (and an oversensitive nose – but that’s another story). My dad had to take me to several trips to an audiologist or ENT specialist when I was a kid because I’d complain of hearing everything too loudly or pick up sounds that others would not find disturbing, or sometimes not even notice.

Turns out my ears were indeed too sensitive and I was hearing frequencies and pitches beyond the normal range. Yes – the doc played and experimented with several tuning forks and for a while I became his pet ‘freak’ patient. I later wondered if my affinity for dogs and other animals came from this auditory anomaly.

As a little kid, I had the ability to pick up any music by ear and play it on the piano (an ability which alas, my parents never encouraged, pushing me into dance instead to tone down my ‘tomboyishnes’ – but a decision of theirs that still makes me a wee bit sad at times. ok – here’s more looking at you sunflowers! to forget that!) Anyway, the solution was to wear ear plugs for a while and carry them around at all times, but even to this day, I remain very sensitive to sound, pitch, tonality and my entire body jangles in pain if a certain piece of music is incongruous in context or time of day, or just plain bad. I also like music that is ‘pure’ – i.e. the instruments are real and tangible. Till date, I still am not crazy about digital ‘instruments’.

While I haven’t done a survey I wonder how many people are affected by sound deeply, intrinsically, achingly. It was no coincidence that later ‘Acoustic Design in Architecture’ (a great help when it comes to designing concert halls) became one of my favorite subjects and I’d end up even teaching that. 

I wonder if the liquid in our inner ears that maintain ‘balance’ in our body has something to do with our intrinsic sensitivity to sound and songs. Geek readers can check out this youtube video which explains how our ear processes sounds and how the fluid in our inner ears maintain our balance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vTiGskc1o48  (Don’t get spooked by the animated biological skinless face at the start – not a pleasant sight to see after the sunflowers.)

I also wonder why  certain styles or pieces of music feel so right in the morning and others only at night? In eastern cultures, classical music was composed and played according to the time of day as well as seasons of a year. I’m sure everyone has different preferences, yet somehow the ‘sameness’ of biology all across the human race perhaps leads to similar effects of different kinds of music on our bodies? I for one, love Bach in the morning. And certain pieces of Mozart. Even Debussy at times. Or Bill Evans playing ‘Here’s to that Rainy Day’. Afternoons, when I feel drowsy I don’t mind a torrid flamenco guitar tune or even a few jolly Gypsy Kings songs to wake me up – their sunny candor taking away the boredom at that time of day. Late sunny afternoons for some reason, stirs a craving for world music – Saif Keita singing songs from Mali, Bob Marley’s nasal wailing or the more classical variations of some old Bollywood song (the ones with tablas and drums), or even Brazilian carnaval rhythms. Exotic. Erotic in the essence of strange accents and exotic languages. Musical metaphors of imaginary (or real) afternoon sex in hot climates. Your lover’s sweat seeping in foreign soil. Where music and moving limbs and eyes surpass the necessity of comprehending language.

Evenings are for more somber or sensuous tunes in Jazz, or even lively big bands, poignant French ballads, or Django Reinhardt-esque brazen liveliness, or classical symphonies of Beethoven, Brahms and Tchaikovsky. And late at night, I love the pensive mood of Keith Jarrett, or melancholic versions of Jazz, and of course, the nocturnes of Chopin.  Dark nights are also for Pink Floyd, Jimi Henrix, Tool, the Scorpions, a few selected Rave beats, as well as some heavy Metal groups or songs I listen to. They seem so in sync with the mystery and terror of night, with madness and mania, fury and fire, or even just contemplation of the ‘dark side’ of psyches or moons or ‘crazy diamonds’ ;) I do not know if the ‘metal-at-night’ phenomenon is more out of a habit from the architecture-school days when pulling all-nighters was accompanied by the thrash of metal guitars – haunting, screaming thrusting one into werewolf-energy while drawing lines or making sketches in an inspired frenzy. But even without the architectural memory, I still find that genre very effective only at night.

Somehow friends who listen to the Goldberg variations in the night and Metal in the mornings seem to have it all topsy-turvy. In the open studio of my grad school, there were fellow-students who would jangle the hall with  either Judas Priest and Metallica in the early mornings or depressed ballads of Sarah Mclachlan. (Why couldn’t they hear them in earphones, instead of jangling the entire studio and all my nerves??! and I’d retreat back to that kid with sensitive ears, my state of mind anxious and muddied, wishing they would understand the subtlety of tender timid sunrays that ask for the joy of sunflowers, not the stench of death and skulls.)  

I have no problems with either thrashing, heavy and/or melancholic music at night, but mornings – ah sweet, sweet fresh clean innocent new mornings – please give me my Bach, and sunflowers, a good cup of tea, and soft, happy strums of the guitar, the sitar and the piano – and let me glide into the day reflective, alone in my thoughts, alone in the peaceful solitude of a morning-mind, and lapping up quiet exultant serenity……..

So – to those who like genial harmony and genus helianthus  in the mornings – here’s to Bach and sunflowers!

And if such indulgence in making ‘random acts’ videos and thoughts make me an idiot, so be it. There is a great quote by Bach: “If I decide to be an idiot, then I’ll be an idiot on my own accord. ” 


Mountain Madness



Much Madness is divinest Sense-
To a discerning Eye-
Much Sense-the starkest Madness-
‘Tis the Majority
In this, as All, prevail-
Assent- and you are sane-
Demur- you’re straightway dangerous-
And handled with a Chain-

– Emily Dickinson (1830 -1886)


My road trip to the West, with hopes to traverse through Montana this month was interrupted a few weeks back by a really bad car crash that completely ‘killed’ the car. Hit by a speeding angry 4 x 4 Dodge Truck. In Racine, Wisconsin on lake Michigan north of Chicago.

Saved by 1 foot of metal buffer – a complete T-collision and I’d have been dead smoked meat now. The hit was so bad that the car’s chassis broke in 2 parts. It really came out of nowhere. A deafening crash, Boom and I’m looking into an overpowering White Bright Light and smoke before my eyes which 2 seconds later I realize is my face in my white bright air bag and burning rubber. I’ve had brushes with death before but I’ve been thanking the safety engineers of Toyota and the inventor of the air bag and seat belt ever since this particular brush. The impact was so strong, the seat belt casing got ripped apart. No injuries, thankfully, though the mechanic thinks it’s a miracle given the impact and the fact that the front half of my car is gone. Had bought a new Toyota in 2006. R.I.P. mon voiture.

The truck driver was safe and sound, arrogant, strutting around, unapologetic despite speeding 30 miles over the speed limit and even to the policeman’s shock not once, that’s right, not once came over to ask how I was doing. Kind friendly mid-westerners from the residential neighbourhood where it occurred poured out. So in August, I’ve decided to celebrate life again and place only pictures…..a breather from the lengthy posts. Perhaps I was writing those long posts in July as ‘therapeutic’ writing after the crash. I’ll make a little video as some more self-invented therapy to recover further from the horror of death-so-close and as a little goodbye to the silver car that had served me so well and traveled thousands of miles from the Florida Keys whence I viewed tropical fishes in the South to the very North of Quebec close to Lac St.Jean national park areas, the fjords of Saguenay and the Taddoussac region where the giant whales live, and from Cape Cod in the east to Chicago……alas, its death occurred in Racine (‘Root’ in French) Wisconsin, but its metal and safety features saved my life.

Drive safe everyone! And watch out for crazy speeding drivers. And thank the unnamed, unseen automobile engineers who design cars so well these days, that if one gets lucky, one can still walk out of high-impact crashes without a scratch. And thank the ephemeral gift of life. So precious. So short.

So since I couldn’t take pictures of Montana, I decided to celebrate here instead memories from earlier trips to mountain worlds. Among my six ethnic mixes covering both Northern and Southern European lands and the Mediterranean Waters and Dead Sea, I also have the presence of the mountain worlds of the northern Himalayas in my mix…..the call of the mountains is very strong in my blood, and a passion for mountaineering and ice-climbing. So strong was the call to dwell in the mountains, I’d ended up being a Buddhist monk for 3 months in my early 20s up in the mountains – not so much for any religious reasons but because I figured the best way for free boarding and lodging in the most breathtaking views of the Himalayas was to be a monk instead of the restricted weeks of shivering treks and flimsy tents that as mountaineers we have to brave. These are pictures from some of my favourite climbing ranges through the years – the Kumaon range of the Himalayas, India (bordering Tibet), the Kanchenjunga range (in Sikkim bordering Nepal which has the third highest mountain peak of the world), Bhutan, Ladakh and closer home, the ranges in Canada.

I usually don’t take too many photographs as I like recording pictures like movies in my mind instead (an anomaly which is both a blessing and a curse – especially when it comes to being unable to forget.) But these trips have always overwhelmed me with the sheer beauty and scale of the magnitude of the landscapes – pictures in my mind which I hope never to forget and hold with possessive passion. Mountain worlds dotted with terraced hills, tall trees, monasteries, enchanted forests, mountain lakes and days and nights in hard core mountaineering. There’s no other way to put it – I madly love mountain lands and some day, I will go to Montana, though this trip got interrupted.

Upwards & Onward! (as one brave lady on my blogroll always says.) No matter how dampening the downers in life may be…And mountains are a reminder that it’s possible to walk in the clouds. And climb every cliff. With your own sweat and determination (and, er…piolets and crampons.) After every storm in life. And breathe again the fresh air of freedom…….and thank one’s luck each time one does so. To be born on this planet. For the gift of human life. And the responsibilities it entails.


Ladakh – the highest plateau of the world




A monastery in Ladakh at night


A gorge in the Kumaon range


The Kumaon range of the Himalayas – on the way to the Kafni & Pindhari Glaciers



Approaching the peak – the 16 day uphill climb gets closer to the final leg up the summit



Celebrating my b’day in June with a Himalayan trek. 1997. (My lucky climbing sweater – I’ve had it for more than a decade. And wear it in the last leg of every climb through the years.)


Terraced valley in Sikkim


The breathtaking Kanchengyao around lake Gurudongmar in northern Sikkim.  The Kanchenjunga is one of my favourite ranges for mountaineering, apart from the Kumaon range. Its highest peak has a 28,169 ft elevation. The 2.75 sq. mile state of Sikkim is home to the red panda.



Kanchenjunga range viewed near Darjeeling…a call of the wild I cannot deny.



minus 25 degree celsius – the walk before the ice climb. 2008.



Ice, Ice! (this picture is in Canada not in the Himalayas)



Raphael – our ‘lead’ climber



My parka and three layers of clothing to keep the cold out, but the exercise still makes one sweat



Fire on ice


Guillaume reaches on


2006. We’re envious of those who have shoes with inbuilt spikes ;)


The rest of us use old-fashioned external crampons on our shoes….


Banff…in the summer



Bhutanese monastery in the Himalayas


Perched on the rocks…


at the edge of a cliff…location, location – that’s what helps monks with the meditation ;-)


Mountain Magnolia


Kumaon range. Near Nanda devi peak


On and..


on and on.


The team on one of the climbs


A little rest, at last.  Un petit plaisir de la vie avec du thé chaud sur la glace


Uttarakhand Nanda Devi


” It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” – Sir Edmund Hillary



A small update: By coincidence, Randall Munroe put up this cartoon 2 weeks after this post on his XKCD website. It just seemed to tie in so well with the ED quote and near-death-car-crash I’d started this with, thought I’d place his cartoon:

xkcd _ the carriage


A flock of Anser Indicus. These birds fly the highest altitudes on the planet, even migrating in flights above Mt. Everest.

Note: I am currently on a two-month trip driving from the U.S. east coast starting from Boston through to the mid-west and the western States. I’ll be in the Chicago area for quite  a while hoping to photograph many of Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings, have already passed through small Amish towns in rural Pennsylvania, farm fields in Indiana, waved from a float as part of a 4th of July parade in a town in Wisconsin for a lark thanks to a strong-willed lovely lady who runs a dance academy (and pictures I hope to upload later should I find time – especially of innocent children and a fantastic Star Wars float), and then at some point will hopefully be off for a trip through the mountains and national parks in the Wyoming and Montana area and further. There will be long and deliberate stretches of time when I’ll be without any internet connection, far away from the world of humans,  so the blog posts will be sporadic and infrequent this summer. Have fun all, watching the World Cup semis & finals!  I’d love to see a Dutch-German one (my mom’s maiden family name is Dutsch – if that’s a clue ;-), but any other combos would be great too!

* * *

As I post this today my heart is heavy with the appalling news of the mother Sakineh Ashtiani in Iran who is hours away from being stoned to death by a religious and judicial system that defies logic and humanity. It is a horrible blend of anger and helplessness one feels and wonders how can actions such as these be prevented from a grassroots level? How many more innocent lives will be taken as words are spoken, protests made in faraway lands yet little action is actually taken to prevent the deed? As people go about their daily lives obsessing about Blahniks and Benzes, bashing and insulting each other on virtual message boards, or picking on old objective harmless male film critics in liberal western countries to yell ‘misogyny’, this horrendous act of jaw-dropping REAL & ACTUAL misogyny and injustice will occur today. And like ostriches, heads will be buried in sands of escapism while Ashtiani’s serene face will be battered with stones of hatred and unfathomable injustice. Any society/societies in the world that allow evil like this to occur and yet claim the presence of some almighty benevolent God/Gods should do a check-up of their core values and rational mental faculties or rather lack thereof – for acts like these seem to be nothing more than ideologies used to profit the unchecked bullying by psychopaths.


I post the rest with heavy hands



This is a poem I wrote to myself when I was 19 years old. It was part of a series of poems I wrote as an answer to personal ponderings. It was long before I had any boyfriend or would even fall in love – so the words were coming purely from the ways of social dogmas, facing bullying by the ‘mean girls’ and the general ways in which following one’s own ethics or callings or work or other hobbies were perceived by many others who understood the ‘language of groups’ much better than the voices of individualism. And for the times I didn’t give up and just focused on my goals no matter how tough it was. The words of the poem constituted my anthem and elixir through which I drank in strength when I needed it. (I’d started writing poetry as a kid but the early ones were mostly about nature, the skies and quizzical observations of human characteristics viewed during social events.)

Many years have passed and through time, despite their youthful and naive determination, whenever I read these words again, they  bring back the same sense of empowerment I’d felt while writing them. Later in my mid-20s, a beloved teacher from back in school asking for contributions to fill in the alumni publication liked this poem so much that it now stays framed on the wall in the entrance lobby of my former all-girls high school.  The words were not based on fantasy but on the reality of the life I had lived till then and the world I’d observed. And these words are not just for me, I share them freely and lovingly with every girl who has strived for strength and self-reliance no matter what she has faced in life, and no matter how many times she has been pushed down for having a sense of will and self-esteem – full, unfettered and vibrant within.

This is an anthem I now dedicate several years later from the time I first wrote it to every woman in the world and through the ages  who has stood for rational ethics for humanity and the natural world; to every woman who believed in her intellect and intelligence enough to seek answers through FACTS and truths based on reality rather than blindly follow irrational myths or ideologies; To every woman who has been mocked, ridiculed, bullied, insulted, pushed down, tortured for simply being herself and trying to do good even when it seemed to be against all odds; To every woman who has never ever indulged in using vampire hooks to induce pity, shame and guilt in others to ‘rescue’ her nor bullied and controlled others to cater to her whims, but has instead lifted herself up in life through her own hard work, self-reliance, logic and confidence without using human props;

To every strong willed truly brave activist who has fought for women’s rights in countries where misogyny is intrinsic to its religion and laws; To every woman in a free country who knows these truths and counts her blessings unlike those who use hooks on good people, instead of doing real good in the world or understanding the pain of women who face REAL and not fake suffering;

To every innocent girl in more free countries who has paid the price of being misunderstood or pigeonholed due to the conniving girls in men’s pasts, even as she held out her kindness, logic and patience in return and watched it being torn to shreds but was able to walk away with her dignity and compassion intact when she realized you can give unconditionally only to those who are ready to receive; To every girl who has faced apathy or cruelty from either men or women in return for her empathy or innocence and still never became bitter nor lost her ability to laugh;

To every girl who is a realist about her own flaws and weaknesses and strives for self-improvement and is open to objective criticism instead of becoming delusional or wallowing in her weaknesses; to every girl in a free country who stands for rational goodness and knows the power of inner strength, without making herself some sacrificial lamb but rather chooses quiet non-abrasive confidence and fortitude over giving in to victimhood, no matter how hard her trials are;

To every woman in a suppressed patriarchal Islamic country who has fought for her and her sisters’ rights, for they are in many ways the toughest and bravest feminists of all, and make the cushioned-liberal-arts-type-so-called-‘feminists’ here look like self-centred jokes and rightly so;

To every woman in a science and technology field who just a few decades ago was not even allowed admissions in these fields because they were women, but who have worked hard and never given up in professions where men still dominate and the women who have made it have worked doubly, nay – triply hard; To all those silent women in science and technology and all other professions where the products of their work are seen but not their faces; nor their presence hardly ever written about;

To every woman who has seeked and celebrated the inner strength of her individual being and never craved for hollow power over others; To every woman who understands the value of genuine love – glorious, enlightening, all-accepting, and the value of true kindness and empathy even when messages around her loudly scream to embrace frivolity, fakeness and shallow vacuousness;

To every woman who faced choices in life and chose her integrity and goodness each time no matter how hard or lonely that road was; To every woman who has the strength to speak up the truth, if only for her own conscience, no matter how difficult that seems because she knows that the truth does set one free;

To every woman who has never lost her sense of practicality, pragmatism and optimism no matter how hard the knocks of life may  be, no matter how many dreams have broken, and has used her experience to shape her own character and resolve and help others in return, rather than fish for excuses; and dared to dream again; To every woman who rose in life through self reliance and not by piggy-back riding or using others;

To every girl who has cried alone through a dark cruel night when there were no arms to comfort her even when she asked for help on the rare occasion; and even when it seemed the walls were collapsing till somehow with the last drop of her strength she lifted herself, battled and channeled the darkness into creativity and stood up straight holding her head up high again; To every girl who from childhood has sensed an overpowering ‘sense of Life and of love and learning’ – hard to express in words, but a soaring of one’s ‘spirit’ – as though life is important and there is much to learn and LIVE for, not merely exist; much to be curious about; much to be happy about despite all the downers life might have;

To every girl who has celebrated the beauty, innocence and goodness that lie either oblivious or obvious in the world but can be recognized and seen only by those eyes which have never nor ever will cross to the side of malice, jealousy, bitterness nor evil; To every girl who experienced an indescribable sense of joy within herself just being her own authentic self without ever giving up her tenderness or love or sense of ethical justice or a passion for knowledge – and found that that very self-assurance which is her inbuilt essence seems to incite something weird in others who go to lengths to push that down or lay traps to suck it dry; To every girl who never let those trappers clip her wings or kill her joy or lose herself to their diminishing mockery; To every girl and woman who never gave up and knew deeply and completely the immeasurable freedom and possibilities of rational goodness and inner strength;

To every girl who no matter what fears she had to confront, learned to be cautious but never, never to be afraid or cowardly.

And to every man who had the ability to recognize and love a girl like that, and was open to receive her love in return because he felt that same way inside about life as well. And felt confident in his own self-respect to know he deserved to share that sense of joy and peace. And recognized and cherished the difference between that adventure of living from the complacency of existing. And the love and strength it takes to create or fight for ethical justice rather than destroy or choose cowardice-disguised-as-apathy.

To every person who has dared.



“You got to be strong, girl.
So dry those tears
Remove those fears,
BELIEVE in your own confidence
To reach out for the right:
For you have to be strong,
To point out the wrong,
And though you’ll be called a fool
And told to follow rules
Set by prisoned minds,
Just stay above and cool,
Don’t lose that Fire
of faith that sustains the true spirit of life in you.

You got to be strong, girl,
They’ll hurt you a lot and crush you to depths, 
But bounce back again with renewed strength, with added confidence,
Cry out your heart if you feel like, and after you’ve cleansed yourself
Surge ahead to a new tomorrow,
With a light so brilliant it can blind those who try to extinguish
that fire in your soul;

For who can keep underwater a sparkling bubble of air
With myriad colours surrounding its unbreakable shell?

For life is filled with challenges and there are those who can and who cannot overcome every hurdle
And you know you belong to the former;
And although you might be left dangling from the end of a rope or a clifftop,
So what? You can make new footholds and sprout new wings
And fly up above the hilltop.

When you know you are right and truthful
And done nothing to regret,
Why live in the past and the future – you’ve got the Present,
So make the best.
There’s a time for every wisdom
And the search for self-realization,
Or the pursuit of True freedom –
Was always frowned upon.
But you can smile at every mile –
‘cause you know, girl:
That when the road is long, you’ve got to be strong.
But when they tribe to make it longer –
You know it’s because you ARE stronger.”


Racqueting on a Grass Court

(The following post ‘Racqueting on a Grass Court’  was originally posted in April 2010)

DOUBLE FAULT: How to fill that hole in your soul with everything other than healthy self-esteem and self-reliance:


The ‘perfect’ Cosmo-Girl (base pic of the lampoon via ‘Inredimazing’ – I changed the text a bit)

0-15: I have often wondered: When was the last time the media showed as a true real-life inspirational figure a smart, sexy, kind, level-headed, brilliant, beautiful (in and out) and emotionally healthy woman? With good taste in books , art and music and style. Especially one that a young girl could emulate as a role model?

Today, the images of women the media bombards you with as a cultural norm and “normalcy” seem like an anthology of bimbos and borderlines. (And I don’t mean actresses. At least, most accomplished actresses went to film  and theatre school and have talent and self-made wealth and some among them, such as Jodie Foster and Natalie Portman have other university degrees to boot. There are extremely grounded ones like Hilary Swank, Charlize Theron, Julia Stiles and Jorja Fox. And the quotes of the beautiful Sophia Loren and Katherine Hepburn portray an incredibly wise philosophy about life.)

I mean the women who gained their fame through little real talent or work, but rather through undignified notoriety.

Today anyone, it seems can sashay into the limelight through scandal, sex tapes and/or being the ‘other’ woman. Or popping out multiple octo-kids or getting pregnant as a teen for some ‘reality’ show. (ok – there’s nothing inherently wrong about making private ‘sex tapes’ or even being the ‘other woman’ (I’m not judgmental that way) – but claiming ‘fame’ on that basis alone with no real talent or accomplishment of your own is just plain crass and  idiotic.) Or  if you are an out-of-work ‘celebrity’ by crying aloud some sad ‘victim’ story. Give me a break – instead of their weight battles about how much food they gobbled or threw up – go take a trip to some war zone or some suppressed country and then you’ll know what TRUE suffering and victimization of women is in those parts.

As a young girl I used to have posters of Steffi Graf on the walls of my room. And one of Valentina Tereshkova., the first woman in space. I was also a huge admirer of the physicist and chemist Marie Curie but they didn’t make posters of her ;-) (And though I did have a stunning pin-up of Marilyn Monroe, my mother had made sure to tell me about the instability in her personal life, so I could admire her beauty, but not her turbulence.)

Speeches by Indira Gandhi and Margaret Thatcher were  often in the news. And I went through a phase where I read all about the concept of Shakti (Sanskrit for ‘to be able’ and part of the Shiva-Shakti , or male-female duality) or the feminine form of creativity and energy which existed in a state of svātantrya, or ‘self-reliance’ with ‘a dependence on no-one yet being interdependent with the entire universe.’ The concept of Shakti was symbolized in the goddesses in Hinduism whose multifarious forms denoted the versatile roles  a woman could have  all-in-one – magnificently draped in red and gold, with each hand holding an instrument signifying the multiple tasks she could perform – as a scholar, musician, warrior, lover, mother, wife, businesswoman, explorer, compassionate giver and many more. And apparently ‘practicing symbolic hand-gestures’ with the hand that was empty!  (A certain rebellious gesture?) I thought that was a cool departure from the patriarchal sad or stern-faced ‘Gods’ and ‘saints’ whose portraits adorned the corridors and chapel of my all-girls’ Catholic private school. (As a mix of six different ethnicities I was exposed to many different religions – Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and hence saw the pros and cons of all – so I have to say I’m a non-religious atheist more in the school of thought of the rationalists like Dennett, Russell and one of my heroes – Carl Sagan.)

Anyway, in my room Fraulein Graf ruled the walls.  I would be glued  to the TV every time she played. I’d scour sports-mags to find her photos. And I used to think back then, and still do, that Steffi embodied smarts, health, self-made wealth through her talent; she was an avid reader of Hemingway, Vonnegut and other good writers; loved dogs, horses and at one time was the highest donor to the World Wild Life Fund for Nature; and then went on to start her own non-profit charity Children of Tomorrow  (for those traumatized by war) without making a media circus. And was not tabloid-crazy but rather maintained a quiet dignity about her private life. (And also had a good eye for furniture design.)

My other role models included women I personally knew and came across in life who combined femininity and feminism in a beautiful way. Who were dignified, intelligent, strong, self-assured but had not compromised their empathy, softness, kindness and feminine skills that are unique to womanhood. Women who I considered as ‘complete.’ And balanced.

Steffi Graf – An inspirational individualist & a versatile winner. Her posters adorned my walls in my teenage years:

15-30 : Yes – I truly wish there were more role models for women these days – those who combined humour, smarts, attractiveness, kindness, empathy AND rationality AND integrity. And were mentally balanced and humble.  The ‘options’ the media presents are usually the airhead busty bimbos OR the pathologically narcissistic she-men ruthless-corporate-bitch-prototype OR the dowdy-intellectual-angry-feminist-male-basher OR the crazy-sexually-rampant-artist-suffering-from-borderline-personality-disorder OR the dumb-girly-girl-Cosmo-worshipper OR the new-age-pseudoscience-worshiping-post-hippie OR the perennially-depressed-nagging-anorexic-or-overweight-arty-girl-with-issues OR those nauseating real-housewife-of-some-county-type OR the heart-of-gold-stripper OR the-rescue-me-single-mom (whether they need rescuing or it’s just a hook.) My random in-jest or perhaps true guesses for the reasons behind the glamorization of borderline, narcissistic and/or histrionic women in the media are:

(A)   Most neurotic, nerdy screenwriters are magnets for attracting women with BPD/HPD. The initial hooking-game, the crazy sex, the push-pull dynamics, the manipulations/lying/cheating/screaming. That’s why they feature so much in film and TV scripts and dramas. (Hmmm – in fact guess what? That is a fact: http://gettinbetter.com/award.html  Drama – queens sell drama. Who knew? ;)

(B)   Most female bosses in show-biz might be narcissistic.

(C)   Most fashion magazines have tons of gay men on their staff who care very little about what ‘type’ of woman they are promoting as long as the shoes and clothes look good on her. (I do have many dear close gay friends, and do know this for a fact.)

(D)  You have to be drawn to attention and drama to throw out your problems and skin to the media – so if you seek notoriety you actually DO get rewarded for it – because the crowds love the freak show! It sells! Money & the masses rule over ‘quality’! No surprises there.

I cannot even remember the last time I saw a balanced intelligent woman in the  media in the last several years. Maybe Tina Fey? Rachel Maddow? Norah Jones (before she went revengeful after her recent heartbreak?) Danica McKellar (who’s talented, sexy, grounded and a brilliant math whiz and writer.) Or the introverted and down-to-earth violin virtuoso Hilary Hahn who is smart, witty, beautiful, super-talented, supports philosophical and rational ethics and writes very well on her online diaries? Why don’t they give women scientists more coverage? The only ones who seem to actually embody some good or interesting qualities are fictional: Amelie Poulain, Lara Croft, Uhura, Lisa Simpson, Elizabeth Bennett.

A few good inspiring women all seem to be fictional fantasies but are based on the small minority of women who have avoided extinction:

The shy, quirky, introverted do-gooder Amelie from the movie “Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain


The kick-ass, no-nonsense, smart, sexy archaeologist & adventurer Lara Croft (and yes – I’m a Tomb Raider gamer since 1999.)


The role of Star Trek’s gifted communications officer Uhura Nyota was not only a trailblazer for women of colour when she first appeared in the 1960s, but the 2009 version shows a brilliant, attractive and confident geek -girl who also combines empathy and tender understanding as evidenced in her relation with the logical and stoic Mr. Spock.


Lisa Simpson is a pretty good role model for geeky girls who’re into books, jazz, environmental ethics, political awareness & maintain their own individuality without succumbing to peer pressure.


The elegant, outspoken, independent Elizabeth Bennett from Jane Austen’s Victorian classic ‘Pride and Prejudice’ still embodies the timeless essence of a soft-feminine-yet-strong-intelligent woman with a dignified sense of self.

When did goodness-with-brains-and-beauty-and-talent-and-dignity become boring? I think when that combo became a minority and in order to ‘sell’ you had to present women who represented the loud masses. Hence the idiot-ization of womanhood. Or the glamorization and fake-beautification of frivolity. On one  increasingly extreme corner is where plastic surgery is considered normal. During my two years in Florida, I was horrified how rampant cosmetic surgery was. Ads promoting it were more common on the radio than weather reports. In fact, I even thought at one point that on South Beach’s Ocean Drive where people would loudly honk in the slow rubber-necking traffic, they should sell bumper stickers or have traffic signs that read ‘Honk if Your Boobs are Real’ in order to ensure quiet.

Then there is its anti-movement which is another extreme and equally illogical. This extreme promotes that even if you eat insanely, do not exercise and do not wish to make any attempts to be pleasing even to the man you love (and spend the days in ill-fitting jogging pants and smelly t-shirts and consider cooking as ‘demeaning’ and shaving hairy legs as ‘suppression’) – you should be accepted as ‘beautiful,’, ‘healthy’ and cherished and respected, by virtue of being a woman alone – and hell should have no fury like a woman scorned for not being called ‘beautiful’ EVEN if she truly, factually, visually, mentally isn’t!   i.e. Feelings have to become Facts by cognitive dissonance and all shapes and sizes – not due to genetic predisposition – but due to unhealthy diets should be considered ‘beautiful’ in an orgy of political correctness. And Woe betide the man who follows his evolutionary instinct to find a certain hip-to-waist ratio attractive and can’t get turned on by wobbly pears and apples! ‘Accept my shapeless body as beautiful, or else prepare for my wrath!! Don’t you dare watch those Victoria Secret’s models!! Stop responding to your male hormones!! Submit to me alone! Respect! Restrain! Reassure! ’

So in either case, an Extreme rules each end and is glorified : either utter prudishness or gutter promiscuity, either armed combat or wanton wombat, either the she-man or the gossip-girl, either the Bible-nut or the Satan-‘slut’ – and no one seems to question – where is the middle point? The balance? The equilibrium which does not swing to polar opposites? That  feels neither the need to be  exhaustingly needy nor the need to be exhaustively controlling? That stable mid-point where you neither need to prove nor preen, but just enjoy being your own authentic self? A complete, healthy, confident woman?

But if the ‘feeling, hyper-ventilating’ girls are over-represented in society and in the media, where then are the ‘thinking’ women hiding? Locked up in ivory towers where the class bullies from high school will never get them again? Or introverted and shy like Amelie, just wishing to quietly go about their lives helping others; or adventurous in their solitude and travels like Lara Croft.

I will write more about my thoughts on ‘thinking’ women another day. (And whether it works or not, what I found out about my own Briggs-Meyers personality ‘type’ –INTJ (bordering on INTP & INFJ traits as well)- after years, literally years of puzzling why ‘introverted thinking’ women were a minority. If these tests and typologies work, then only 0.0075% of women , i.e. 0.5% of 1.5% of the total population who test as being so, belong to the type INTJ [Introverted Intuitive Thinking Judging] and it seems the majority of women in the world are Extroverted, Sensing and Feeling as opposed to ‘Thinking’. Note: Everyone thinks and feels, but ‘feeling’ here means decisions based more on emotional (subjective-feeling-based) reasoning instead of rational (objective-fact-based) reasoning. In the past, INTJ women were probably burnt off as witches for being independent thinkers and not following the crowd but their own concepts.)

30-40, DEUCE: Before I walk off the court, here’s an example of what kind of ‘pain’ is thrown out as a claim check to pity these days….it is sometimes so ridiculous, one has to laugh! And who can you blame when Cosmo-girl and some entitled-self-absorbed-‘real’(a.k.a so good at faking, it feels real)-housewives-of-tanning-salon-orange-skin-county type idiotic reality shows are teaching young girls how to leech off men or rather how to learn the art of being the ‘professional victim’ or the ‘entitled princess.’

Here is a link to an article from a rather humourous (and healing) site I recently discovered run by a Rene-Magritte-loving, Bill-Maher-loving, witty,  no-nonsense, non-sappy woman therapist who decided to finally have the guts to point out that in many instances women’s ‘rights’ have been pushed to the point of unjustified and unfair entitlement and misused to the point of male-abuse. And that a lot of our shallow media messages – as well as the pathological lack of empathy in such women – are teaching them to behave like spoilt, entitled ‘victims’ (even when they aren’t real victims) and getting away with screaming, abusing, controlling and whipping their partners to pamper to every whim of theirs. This particular article is hilarious as it shows how in the present economy, women who, well, shall we say married for the perks, are now lamenting that they can no longer afford their overpriced cocktails and Jimmy Choos now that their Wall Street husbands have lost their ‘sheen’? And Oh! Isn’t that such a tragedy? Here is an excerpt from Dr. Palmatier’s article. ‘I Ain’t Saying She’s a Gold Digger: Entitled Wall Street Wives Bail on Their Husbands’

“According to the New York Times article, It’s the Economy, Girlfriend: “Once it was seen as a blessing in certain circles to have a wealthy, powerful partner who would leave you alone with the credit card while he was busy brokering deals. Now, many Wall Street wives, girlfriends and, increasingly, exes, are living the curse of cutbacks in nanny hours and reservations at Masa or Megu. And that credit card? Canceled.”

Wow, where do I begin? How about their seemingly gross lack of emotional support for men whom they supposedly love? Instead of helping their husbands and boyfriends, they’ve formed a “support group” where they mourn the loss of their carefree shopping sprees and weekends in the Hamptons. The craziest thing about this gaggle of entitled, shallow women is that they actually take themselves seriously. I’m waiting for their televised charity benefit, “Blahniks for Selfish Chicks.”

For the full article and a fuller laugh, go here (really worth it!) : http://shrink4men.wordpress.com/2009/01/28/gold-digger-entitled-wall-street-wives-bailing-on-their-husbands/

ADVANTAGE, GAME, TIEBREAK: Now, I’m not saying that ‘pain and sorrow’ does not exist for many women in the world. We have come a long way through the efforts of trailblazers and pioneers who have fought for the equality and rights many take for granted today, and whose names are less remembered than the ubiquitous names of many airheads that dominate the news on a regular basis.

But as I had written earlier(We all have the right to feel sad at times, but we do not have the right to feel ungrateful) there are different degrees, types and intensities of pain and anyone who has taken the time to educate herself on global problems will know that such horrible acts of injustice, misogyny and abuse go on towards women in many parts of the world that the damsels born in wealthier and more democratic countries should thank their lucky stars that they live here.


You cannot compare your ‘victim-hood’ of a non-matching purse-with-shoes to the rape and poverty that goes on in some very real places in the world. And even if you are luckier for the country you live in, this is not to say that abuse, abandonment and other emotional/physical traumas don’t take place here either. But you have to get a grounded perspective depending on how real your pain really is, and that you do not exaggerate imagined hurt. If you have faced real, tangible trauma then that is extremely sad and needs to be healed. But if your ‘trauma’ comes from truly superficial frivolities, please do a check-up for selfishness and shallow-self-centredness.

I have myself  been attacked on the streets twice here, in North America (and I won’t even go into the incidents that I braved in some other parts of the world.)  My family was an ocean away so I did not even have the luxury of recuperating under loving care, but had to find my strength from within. I have overcome the physical pain and the mental trauma and identified them as isolated incidents. I have not gone around holding out my pain as some claim check to pity or to lash out at every man because he happens to belong to the same gender as the attacker on the street. And I have faced emotional trauma too in other instances, but I’ve learned, grown and strengthened from them, as I have found quite a few other women do the same. So it surprises me to no end when I see some girls or women kicking, screaming and crying because their mascara is smudged or their hairstyle got perturbed or their boyfriend is late or if he hasn’t called them with tele-marketeer frequency. Geez – Get some perspective of reality!

Healthy, seemingly strong women are not impervious to pain. We feel ‘pain’ too, often deeply and intensely – only we have learned through our own rationality and work and creativity to channel it into productive positivism after understanding it, instead of wallowing in it.

Rational or more reflective women use their own pain to churn out positivity and introspection, and if possible help others gain perspective. Our self-respect stops us from doing ‘save me’ tactics and games. Our ‘grounded-ness’ or rather, an honest appraisal of our own flaws and strengths prevents us from becoming self-delusional, or worse, deluding others. We are vulnerable and definitely sometimes need a man’s help and hand too – only we understand it in a sane, free, respectful way – not as the cunning vampirish ‘rescue’ hook-and-suck which professional victims like to play and which we are incapable of.

Just like I’ve seen in life that some of the toughest, strongest men are vulnerable inside, so are the strong women. They are very vulnerable and in touch with their feelings too, but perhaps a bit more private about it. Except they have learned to solve problems through their own intellect and learned to laugh and be free and happy.

And what does society do? Instead of rewarding them for their strength and goodness, they bend over backwards to ‘reward’, and ‘understand’ and ‘rescue’ the manipulators and liars who can play ‘victim’ over the smallest petty problem. This might be a capitalist country but it practices ‘emotional socialism’ more than any other! And bullies and men/women with issues and insecurities take full advantage of it. While the givers and emotionally healthy men and women are punished and flogged till they can give no more and are exhausted; and till more fresh healthy givers to suck blood and empathy from arrive. Careful! Don’t get Stockholm Syndrome by falling in love with and defending emotional abusers!

This may sound harsh, but it has to be said like it is. Because the truth is that the end-result of the ‘training’ of young girls and women to not work on their self-reliance and self-awareness, but instead to be frivolous, materialistic, manipulative, dependent, shallow, greedy and get influenced by stupid magazines and media-shows takes the toll when they in turn teach those ‘values’ to their own daughters or find men they can whip and manipulate to be their sugar-daddies or slaves-of-surrender. And the cycle of emotional abuse in relationships begins again. So the shallow ‘tips and tricks’ that are taught and learned – in short to be dumb-greedy-manipulative at the end definitely devour souls and self-esteem. In addition to brains, of course.

6-7, 2-0: I’ve often thought there should be a movement to launch a magazine titled ‘Thinking Women’. For and by thinking women.

If I had to sum up most of the shallower women’s magazines, soaps and shows that are out there, all their articles and episodes can be neatly divided into two categories :  (1) How to GET a man. (2) How to GET OVER a man.

Or in other words – how to remain constantly insecure. And jump in and out of relationships instead of finding yourself first.

Or ‘Flirt. Fuck. Fight. Flight.’ The art of flipping out or freaking out for finding froggy princes.

Or ‘Re-Open. Ride. Roost. Till you get Ring. Then – Rant, Rave, Regurgitate. Then -Rinse, Repeat.’ Period. And that’s not a pun, although I’m inclined to say that the message that most vacuous and manipulative women seem to wish to propagate through their words and actions is: “How to crave and scream and complain in a permanent PMS-mode.”

And then there’s that male-bashing as a justification to bad moods. The only men who pay the price  for the PMS-permanency are the kinder, gentler men. The men who are truly nasty continue to remain so. And the good men end up paying the price for the bad apples. Just as good women end up paying the price for the misconceptions created by the malevolent ones.

6-7, 6-3, 6-0: True femininity does not have to come at the expense of feminism. Nor intellect at the expense of beauty. Why can’t a woman be intelligent, self-assured, intellectual and at the same time sexy, soft and feminine? A balance, sans extremes.

Does my stand make me an anti-feminist? Not at all. As a woman in a technical field with almost 90% men not only am I quietly and more strongly doing something for gender equality through my profession, my sympathies lie with those women who are smart, kind, strong, rational and know the value of both inner and outer beauty and are true representatives of what as individuals they can achieve. Individual women who embody authenticity and integrity, rare as they may be in our society today. And I salute them.

But to those women I’ve called out on their ‘act’ here who want to show bitchiness, craziness, irrational rage, emotions and entitlement and idiocy as some ‘norm’ of being ‘womanly’ in some circle of sappy greedy sinister sisterhood – sorry – you are the real betrayers of your gender and an insult to what being a complete woman, or a Woman of Substance truly means to be.

And that means playing life with a strong,  fair forehand. No self-delusion, no self-denial. No games. No tricks. For the only ‘games’  should be on the tennis court.  Game, Set, Match-point.  And you don’t have to be either super-rich nor famous to be a winner, for the only ‘spectator’ you need applause from is your own authentic sense of self.

True self-confidence is when you need no one else’s approval except your own to feel good about yourself. And in the long sweaty tournament of life, it takes a real champion to win with true integrity. Consistently. Their numbers may be few, but they are the ones who are true upholders of the responsibility entailed in being a complete, real, versatile woman. I have a feeling Fraulein Forehand would agree with that.

*  *  *

“One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes… and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.” Eleanor Roosevelt


Related posts:

(1) Punishing an ENTIRE team ’cause a woman engineer was both whipper-smart AND gorgeous. (The ridiculous University of Waterloo incident.)

(2) Saltationism of Silliness (Monty Python’s Silly Walks vs. the heinous cruelty of what goes behind fashion’s fur products.)

(3) Sweatshops for your Sex and the City Too.

And now for something completely different…

The Four Mothers


The Moth, For sure


her  soFter  MouTh


rose (eros), Fur, heM,  hotT  ( strictly from the perspective of how a dad views ‘mom’ – his wife)

Generally, I do not ‘observe’ a date just because some group at some point decided to designate a certain day of the year to commemorate some cause or event, either real or invented and which years or centuries later Hallmark decided to capitalize upon and for which hundreds and thousands of flowers are plucked and bundled up. Nor do I think that people who are truly important in our lives and to whom we owe a lot should be wished and remembered only on the one day our  calendar has demarcated us to. But some ‘designated days’ perhaps are named after those people without whom we would not have popped out into this world. Literally.

So since I’d thought of writing about these women some day in any case, I thought that it would be only appropriate that I send them a virtual salute on Mother’s Day. And I’ll keep it short ’cause even before I completed this paragraph my geeky mind had veered off into all the different connotations of the word and somehow I’d found myself wiki-ing the word ‘mother‘ and its translations in different languages. But, thankfully, I’m back after that meandering away from the Mother ship.

I have four mothers in my life. There is no other way to put it. And no, my father did not marry four times. In fact he is still married to the woman who gave birth to me. I have four mothers because I  received love and learned from four women through different stages of my life. And since I lived in different cities and countries where my birth mother wasn’t always physically present, I had my other mother-figures as surrogates by accidental meetings. But because of these four very special, very wonderful women I have learned so much about love, about life, about learning and logic and limericks and laughter, it would seem unfair to say that one was less influential than the other.

To this day they love me, and I love them incredibly. And so this is my little ode to each of them. Though I am inclined to not cite their names, more so because I am very private in person, I still feel I should. When out there in the media, so many shallow women battle to get their names in and mentioned through acts of notoriety, I’d rather put forth instead the names (or at least parts of the names) of four authentic, beautiful, brilliant , humble and truly good-hearted women. I have used the maiden name for my mother here, and for the  other two the family name they go by, and only the last lady mentioned here took on her husband’s family name.


Mom no. 1 (A. Dutsch): My birth mother. The one who shaped my first perceptions of the world around me. Gentle, calm, confident, beautiful and rational-to-an-extreme. A blend of four ethnicities. A doctorate in philosophy with a major in mathematics and a minor in political science.  A perfect 100% score in mathematics in her high school graduation. Former math professor and teacher. And also a yoga teacher for a while. Still practices yoga daily and can do envious 180 degree splits and twist her body like a pretzel. The one due to whom I was exposed to books of both western and eastern philosophies early on, particularly Russell, Nietzsche and Aurobindo. To books of math, physics, paintings, puzzles. And M.C. Escher – her favourite. The one who made sure I ate healthy meals; who encouraged my fascination for jigsaws, riddles, Lego, scrabble, gymnastics, ballet, science books, Tintin & Asterix comics and trivia-quiz books (while my dad was only too happy to teach me about car engines and geologic rocks on Sundays).

The mom who was tolerant and accommodating of every little wounded bird and animal and critter I’d ‘rescue’ and bring home as a pet; who made me a member of a library at age 7 giving in to my incessant pleas; who attended every major event of my academic and cultural milestones to show her support and love: my first dance performance, every theatrical play I featured in later, my photo-shoots (‘just to make sure the photographer doesn’t take advantage of you!’), my music concerts, my award ceremonies for various quiz and debating contests, when I graduated from architecture school as valedictorian and snagged both the gold medals; at the inauguration of the first project I designed from the company I’d started, the look in her eyes when I showed her my work was the best fee a young architect could get.  

The one who was strict towards me at times telling me I could have a boyfriend only after I graduated from university.  The one who stayed up late in the nights when I’d pull all nighters at work just in case I needed something. The one who went up to the Himalayas later to convince me to not become a monk in the mountains nor quit through escapism; the one who decided to learn and master the Russian language at age 40 ‘for a lark’ and ended up acing her class. The one who finally reconciled with my hobby for extreme sports and mountaineering. (I think now sometimes how she did it…I wonder how I’d feel if I ever had a child and knew that he/she  did high-risk acts.)

Efficient, ordered, introspective. A woman who abhors guilt-and-pity-inducing-displays by adults and yet is an immensely generous donor to animal shelters and for sponsoring street children. Quietly and privately and anonymously. And still loves roller coasters and amusement park rides.

The mother who briefly teared up for only the second  time I saw her cry in my life when I boarded the plane to go far away from home. The one who cheered as I won four fellowships in grad school.  The one who would exasperate me at times reminding me of the writers, doctors, mathematicians and Euro-socialist politicians from her side of the family. That our “genes kick in sooner or later, until we use  our Will to shape our futures.”  The one who would call me ‘impractical’ because I’d follow my heart; till the day she finally admitted I was more intelligent than her and made good decisions.

The one who sent me long philosophical hand-written letters, who called in to check once every 2 weeks, who has a tendency to never display her own needs partly out of self-discipline and partly out of pride to never show  her vulnerability. Yet almost telepathically calls me when she ‘senses’ something’s wrong at my end. The one who is so darn rational, unemotional and unruffled, at times I suspected this year that she might have a mild touch of Asperger’s. Who took so effortlessly to her first laptop late in her life without even any instruction manual that I had the aha moment that my mother all along had been an ubergeek born before her times.

The one who had told me to “be strong, don’t cry” so forcefully and repeatedly every time I’d come home after facing bullying in school, that it took me years before I learned to not be so Spock-like stoic, but take time to quietly cry if I did feel sad. The one who follows her head more than her heart (except when she had fallen in love with my dad at 18). The mom I have never ever seen screaming, yelling, raging or ranting. Nor ever fight with my father. Not one single day for all the years I have known her. The one who is calm and strength and stability personified. Whose girlish feminine voice belies the undisturbed steel inside.

The woman with an age-and-gravity-defying bosom (genes I’ve hopefully inherited.).

The one who loves discussing about science, philosophy, the inter-connections of the world around us, yoga, the problem with religious and medical quacks, sees the ridiculousness of most forms of ritualism and bursts out laughing at those…..the one who told me and often repeats: “There is no compromise to personal dignity.” (Please check the ‘AFTERTHOUGHTS’ addition at the end for a more ‘human’ painting that represents my mother.)


Mom no. 2 (R. Zimberg): Funny, fiery, feisty, optimistic, freckled,  petite, bursting-with-chutzpah redheaded Rochelle. Where do I begin?

She took me into her house  on Dudley Avenue one windy grey November night when I had to move out from two very cruel roommates during grad school. My landlady, my friend, my mentor on financial acumen, my part-time surrogate mom – to me and to many other girls who by an incredible luck in life ended up as her tenants.

A former Director of the association of Canadian municipalities for her entire province. Former Liberal Party of Canada member and election candidate. Breast-cancer survivor and proud of it. Avid golfer; dragon-boat-rower; Entrepreneur. Art-collector. Aunt to many kids, godmother to others. Never got married. An infectious laugh that brings a room to life. Canadian. Australian. Russian-Jewish. Had two cats, Peanut and Pi – the latter who lived for a record 24 years. Open, adventurous (at 23 she went off for over a year hitch-hiking all through Europe and the Middle East after catching a Dutch freighter from the port of Montreal after a visit to the Expo and later went on to  scale the Tibetan mountains at the age of 65) and  traveled widely. Went off for 3 years in 2006 to start up and work as a principal in a school in China. Wrote a series of ‘postcards’ about all her travels from Mongolia to Vietnam and everything in between.

Rochelle, who would leave treats for me when I’d come back home from long nights at the studio; who told me that a man ‘unwinds’ in front of the TV and a woman unwinds in a bubble bath jacuzzi.  Rochelle – who drove me many times to the airport when I’d just be about to miss my flights; Rochelle – who taught me all the tricks and trades of good financial decisions, investments and financial independence and security; Rochelle – who loved hosting dinner parties with great panache, candles, silverware and all the works; Rochelle – who held me tightly as I cried inconsolably the evening my very first boyfriend broke my heart and when I was done crying I looked out at the yellow-pink sky after a storm and saw a rainbow and solemnly announced to her that ‘This rainbow is my new beginning’ and she said with all her chutzpah – “There you go, girl. Never, never have regrets in life; and never look back, only ahead.” Rochelle  who– when I in order not to be noticed too much after an incident in grad school had started dressing dowdy – stopped me in front of the mirror one morning on the way out and told me: “Now listen. Never, never give up your personality and never dress dowdy just to appease those who are insecure. If you are a lady and other women get jealous of that, that’s their problem. And if men get attracted because of how you look, that’s their problem too. Promise me that you won’t lose who you are because of those who like to bully a good girl.” And then she made me change back from the shapeless gray smock I was wearing to an elegant red blouse – one of my favourite colours.

Whenever I come across any good-hearted young girl who has moved to or is visiting Canada, and if she needs some help or advice, my heart goes out to her like an older sister. When one lovely girl I met last year wanted to thank me, I told her it wasn’t necessary – I was only passing on Rochelle’s legacy. For once I had been alone and naive and because of her I had been safe from a storm. And even to this day I can call her when I want and talk to her about my life. My work. My dilemmas. Or lament why I tended to get attracted to insanely intelligent eccentric men,  who would mostly turn out  to be  Jewish. And she would let out her characteristic  laugh and say: “Oy vey! as long as you can deal with the Mother!”

Update (2010): Since writing this article, Rochelle went off on a two year stint in Egypt taking up another school Principal assignment. The revolution in Egypt started and she had to run to Israel for security. After her return to Canada, she will soon be off to Arizona.  Her adventures continue……


Mom no. 3 (S. Brien): I fell in love with Sylvie at first sight. Completely. Irrevocably. Unfathomably. Not because she resembled a Raphael-esque version of a Marilyn Monroe but with higher cheek bones, not because she was the mother of the Frenchman I was with at the time and would stay with for many years, and not because of her poise and elegance. It was because of a powerful connection to a heart that was softly, beautifully, unconditionally good. Pure unadulterated Goodness. That stood out at our first meeting. The first hug. The first smile. We recognized something in each other that I still cannot find the words to explain.

She was the mother I still consider as the one who gave me the softest, warmest kind of unconditional love. My real mother loves me unconditionally too, but as I’d mentioned she is rational and ruled-by-her head. Sylvie was all heart. She took me into her family like a long-lost daughter. She told me that she’d always wanted a daughter, after her 3 sons, and had gone as far as trying to adopt a girl (which never happened as some corrupted officials of the country from where she was adopting, as she later found out, had stolen the money and bungled the process.) Sylvie herself had been adopted. Along with her twin sibling and two other children by a kind dentist and his wife.

Sometimes, when I need courage and/or inspiration in life I think of her personal story of strength and resolve. Her life itself, which I will not talk about, was like the fantastic plot-line of a novel – one that she herself should write a book about someday – as she had transformed from a mother-of-twins-at-19 to a lawyer to a best-selling author in French both for adult and children’s books. She became the first woman  and only the second writer from Quebec that the exclusive French publishing house Gallimard had signed up and her books are widely read in both Quebec and France. Currently one of her books is being made into a film. When you hear a young girl on French TV say that her favourite young-adult writers are J.K. Rowling and Sylvie Brien, you know that you’re writing something that young teens love to read. Albeit the French market is very small.

In the last few years she has already produced 20 books and now makes her living as a writer. Complete with a cottage in the picturesque Laurentian mountains which she recently acquired. But when I’d met her she was still practicing law. A workplace accident that forced her to take rest for a year made her decide to write her first book and there was no looking back. The first book I still think was her best – a story about a woman’s journey through time and of love and loss, written with an extremely elegant  literary flourish.

It is from Sylvie that I learned the most how beautifully a woman could combine femininity and feminism (that of inner-strength and intrinsic self-worth, not the angry ideological kind), to have kick-ass time management and organizational skills and yet retain soft-loving-kindness. To manage to be a mother, wife, writer, traveler without losing any of her strength to her delicate appearance. One day an evening a few years back, I was passing by a book store on a street in downtown Montreal and saw the store window lined with her books and a huge picture of her. The book ‘Les Templiers du Nouveau Monde,’ had been written a year before the Da Vinci Code and was a work of literature unlike the latter, but the curiosity of the Templars increased by the Code had boosted the sales of her book. Sylvie was very embarrassed about it and wished the timing had been different.

It was weird when I saw her poster – to me she was the woman who would bake the best banana cake at Christmas and serve a meal to remember every time I went to her place, but to the buyers in the store she was ‘an author’ for whose signed copies they had lined up. She’d take me along at times to her book readings and launches. She does not like driving and has a hard-to-resist vulnerability that belies her inner will. It is truly strange how when you know someone on a personal level, their public persona is something you can never get used to. Another book of hers went on to  get chosen by the UNESCO to  represent Montreal when the city was declared the world book capital in 2006. She has told me many times to write my own books and said it was an injustice to one’s heart to let words and thoughts remain unexpressed. “The first book is always autobiographical,” she said. “Therapeutic. And after that you are set free.”

The  French literary world may view her as a successful writer for youth and adults, but to me she will always remain Sylvie, the soft, kind, loving mother who always wore her heart and vulnerability on her sleeve for me, who hugged me the day I went crying to her over my lost cat, the one who understood the cruelty of the world to women with good hearts, the one who always baked a cake for me on my birthdays and gave a thoughtful present on Christmas (including the very first bottle of French perfume anyone had ever gifted me), the one who took my side over her own son when he’d make errors,  the one who even after I was no longer with her son warmly  invited me to stay over at her house when I had moved away from Montreal and no longer had a place of my own to stay in the city on a visit back there, the one who told me that she loves me so much that the bond she and I share would always be there, no matter who I chose to be with. That some connections of love can never be broken because they are framed not by blood and legal ties, but by ‘the language of the heart.’ And by the recognition of inherent goodness.


Mom no. 4 (A. Hanganu): At Le Groupe Arcop, Anca was called the ‘resident nut.’ Lovingly of course. The first impression when I saw her at my first job at a Montreal firm (after my free-lance days) was of a woman who was unique. And exceptionally different in every which way. Stunningly beautiful. With the saddest, craziest pair of green eyes that saw right through you. Intelligent and talented to the point of insanity. And eccentric. Oh yes! Eccentric.

I told her years later that even though she was much older, I had felt an attraction to her first that had been strongly, alarmingly, almost sexual. (Nothing of that sort materialized in reality, for those with imaginative minds reading this ;-)

Anca, who could dine with kings and heads of state at building inaugurations like an elegant fashionista in the most refined locales of the world, then fly off in a rickety helicopter to do a project all on her own for a school in rural Bangladesh, then go off to exotic lands like Tajikistan, forests in Madagascar, tea gardens in Darjeeling and war zones in Afghanistan.  She possessed the stubbornness of a mule, the courage of a lioness and the litheness of a gazelle. A mother to two gorgeous daughters. Today at 62, her works and designs as an award-winning architect are splattered through the world.

The firm paired us up almost immediately in the year 2000. “She’s a very difficult woman to work with,” said Bruce, a senior partner, “but for some reason she likes you a lot and you seem to get her. Yes, in fact you seem to get along very well with her. Damn, I think she loves you.”

The question was – how could I not get along with her?

This was a woman after my own heart. Free. Feminine. Fearless. And incredibly, yes, incredibly, unfathomably kind. The same Anca, who could grab a contractor on site by his collar and speak to him like a man over some construction  issue, could delay a meeting at work if she had to help some stranger on the street or fight for a social cause where someone had faced injustice. Her work in the world included as much architecture as it did social justice. Especially for the women in forgotten parts. With an abhorrence for publicity and an adherence to only her integrity. To write of her works would take an entire post so I will not include them here.

With her I had spent countless hours at the office, pouring in cups of coffee and poring over drawings till 4 in the morning at times.  Accompanied her to crazy places and sites and discussed design with the passionate fire that had kept us in the profession despite all its trials and tribulations. Straight lines, sinewed curves, drafting, daftness, defiance, devotion. We would often describe the thrill we got as we created concepts and designs to an orgasmic experience. It was largely due to my proximity and dialogues with her that I got released to be free with the sexual metaphors that are used in the architectural workplace. Anca was uninhibited. Wild -yet-principled. Never cared for the status quo nor gave a damn for protocol. She still remains that way.

Those long nights of work, dinners at sushi restaurants, little gifts she would bring for me from her travels, free discussions about sex, philosophy, life, love, those caring, loving, wild, free, gypsy eyes…..it is always with a twinge that I remember both the exhaustion and exhilaration of working, working and designing with her, before she sent me to work for her famous and even more eccentric husband as he asked her if he could ‘borrow’ me at his firm.

I never understood how she loved him the way she did, and one day I understood when I felt that for someone else. When I did, I told her husband words he said he will never forget: and which had made him cry: “I often used to wonder how your wife can love you as she does, no matter the difficulties and disappointments you have given to her in Life, although you are a genius at your Work. Most would say she’s a fool to love you the way she does. But the truth is, and it shows in her eyes, she stays by your side as your greatest supporter, your deepest lover and your most faithful friend simply because she loves you. Immensely. Her love is so complete that it never edits out any part of you. She had once said to me that when you had married her she had told you that she would love you just the way you were and you never had to change a thing. I can see now how she lived up to her words. Once, when I had asked her how she could put up with all your moods and ways, she had told me laughingly – “It’s so easy!! People like to complicate things and look for all sorts of intellectual, philosophical, material and psychological explanations; but the simple truth is that when you love someone completely and unconditionally, it all becomes easy. SO easy!!” And she had laughed in her carefree and mad way. I used to wonder what force kept her going. But now I understand that when love is real and based on acceptance and not expectation – nothing, that’s right, nothing that that person says or does, no matter how his moods sway, all of him is taken in by the love you hold for him. That love like that lives, inspires and redeems for itself.”

Yes, it was understanding Anca and her unique way of perceiving the world that made me decipher something very powerful in life. A lesson even more important than the work and the architecture that had bound us intrinsically together and lived through our joint designs in sandstone and steel. silk and stucco. Anca my work-Mother who taught me what real love, talent, passion, artistry, invincibility and eccentricity truly are and why those qualities when added with everything else makes a woman so remarkably unique.


Here’s to my four mothers! The scientist-philosopher, the leader-entrepreneur, the poet-planner and the architect-activist.  Definitely the four most important and influential women in my world who taught me lessons on love, life, logic, language, laughter and learning. I wonder sometimes if life chooses our mothers for us or we choose the mothers in our life…in any case I feel incredibly blessed to have had both. A happy day to my quartet maternelle – and to all the kind, loving, wonderful mothers around the world…

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I realised this evening after publishing this post that M.C. Escher is my mother’s favourite artist along with Dali and Picasso, so the Escher etching represents more her mind or her mode of thinking, but it does not represent her femininity. So I chose two paintings which to me capture my mother’s essence the most and her favourite colour blue; her high level of comfort with her body;  her love for the ocean; the way my father whose hobbies included photography would capture her in his photos in earlier days; and the way I myself had photographed her once draped only in blue fabric. The woman in ‘Le Magie Noir’ represents more her calmness – her abstract, yet complex mathematical way of thinking while the one in ‘La robe du soir’ is more of my first memories of her physical appearance and her long hair. It had to be Magritte because if Escher is the ‘harder’ representation of her mind, Magritte  is definitely her softer,  mysterious side.

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Note: When I had started this blog I had promised myself that this would cover topics that were not just reflective and thought-provoking, but that in the process of sensitivities, the harder and not-so-pretty facts of life would not be omitted. So in light of the day, I’d like to point out that those of us who are lucky in life to have had good moms, consider yourself exceptionally fortunate. Unfortunately for some people, and I hope that is a real minority, this may not be the case….Long before neuroscience and experimental psychology found how stress-and-fear related hormones like cortisol in our systems can be permanently affected by the way a mother loves/or does not love her children, and how so much of our mothers’ behaviour affects our psychology later in life, Sigmund Freud had already found the connection between mothers and children in the shaping of our future patterns and choices in life. So in order to keep the truth objective, and to leave it to the reader to continue their own research should they want, I have attached this link about a new book that has hit the stands ‘Mean Mothers’ by Pegg Streep and its related article : ‘Freud was right : Mean mothers can scar for life.’ For those of us with good mothers who were not affected by BPD, NPD, HPD and other mood/empathy disorders please feel lucky, very very lucky. And perhaps that itself is enough reason to wish your mother warmly today and at many other times through the year.

Also – Rebecca Walker- the daughter of famed feminist Alice Walker – writes how her mother’s fanatical ideologies tore them apart, and how her mother’s public persona of a woman’s rights activist was sharply contrasted by the reality of how ruthless, emotionally withholding and narcissistic she was in her private life towards her own daughter. A must-read : http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1021293/How-mothers-fanatical-feminist-views-tore-apart-daughter-The-Color-Purple-author.html