“Are You There Krishna? It’s Me, Reshma. Or Rachel. Or Whatever.: Essays on Talking to Ghosts, Accosting Celebrities, Getting High, Sexism, Race, and First-Generation Woes” by Rachel Khona
Blurb: Rachel knew even as a young child that she wasn’t like the rest of her Indian family. While her parents were plotting how she could make it into med school with her mediocre grades in chemistry and biology, she had other things on her mind, including such gems as:
· Why can’t she go to the temple on her period?
· Why don’t her Indian cousins like her?
· Why was it OK to be sexualized at a beauty pageant but not for herself?
· How can she straddle two cultures while retaining her sense of self?
· Why are women considered sluts and men considered studs?
· Why do people keep asking her if she was born in India?
· Should she wax down there?
· Why does she have crazy eyes?
After leaving home, Rachel got high in Amsterdam, met her pop singer idol in a bathroom, argued with a ghost, and got lost in the Pyrenees. But that didn’t stop her from questioning while men still tell her to smile. ‘Are You There Krishna? It’s Me, Reshma. Or Rachel. Or Whatever.’ weaves stories of Rachel’s life with observations on race, class, sex, feminism, and culture with humor and candor.
JUST A GIRL: YOGA, BINDIS, CULTURAL APPROPRIATION AND MY IDOL
My friends and I were lunching at a restaurant in Santa Monica when who comes in but Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale. Not too many people knew it, but Gwen Stefani was my secret best friend. As in, I knew we were best friends, she just didn’t know it. Yet. And now we were breathing the same fucking air. I hoped once we met she would realize how much fun I was and want to be my best friend too. We would have pillow fights and bedazzle our pants together. It would be pure unadulterated magic. A match made in heaven. Gwen and Gav were sitting three tables down from us in an otherwise empty restaurant. So I pretty much had an obstructed view of Gwen and her bright red lipstick.
“You guys!” I hissed to my friends.
“What is it?” Samantha asked.
“Where is she?” Samantha asked.
“The table behind us. Don’t look now!” Samantha and Selena both swiveled around to look immediately.
“Oh, that’s cool,” Selena responded. She returned to studying the menu.
“I’m sorry am I missing something? How can you guys be so calm at a time like this?”
“Honestly, I don’t think Gwen Stefani is that big of a deal,” Samantha responded, nonchalantly flipping her hair as perused the menu.
“Oh right, she’s not the fabulous fucking Jimmy Buffet,” I muttered. For some inexplicable reason, Samantha had a complete and total infatuation with Jimmy Buffet. How anyone could enjoy the music of someone who sang songs like “Cheeseburger in Paradise” and “Fruit Cakes” is beyond me.
The first time I saw the video for “Just a Girl” my brain almost exploded. After years of listening and watching men express themselves, it never occurred to me that women were largely missing from most of rock music. Though as a girl I often felt frustrated by my parents’ draconian Indian ways, my irritation was often only expressed by rebelling against everything they thought was appropriate, i.e. men with tattoos. I never actually freely vented my frustrations; I expressed vis-à-vis men.
I love the other female rock gods like Stevie Nicks, Joan Jett, and Janis Joplin. But I could relate to Gwen. Gwen was a rocker, yet still a girlie girl. She was tough, yet vulnerable. She was a total babe, yet angry. Before Gwen, the only angry women I ever saw were considered granola, crazy, or Alanis Morissette. Nothing wrong with any of those descriptions, but why can’t a pissed off chick just be a human expressing an emotion? I loved how she could strut around in red lipstick and pin curls while fronting a band and belting out lyrics about her ex-boyfriend. Through her music, she expressed sadness, vulnerability, rage, and frustration. Our culture teaches us by and large that angry women are bitchy and ugly and attractive women are pleasant and docile. But Gwen proved that wasn’t the case.
Plus, she wore bindis and had dated a cute Indian guy. Bonus points in my book. These days Gwen’s use of bindis might be deemed cultural appropriation by some, I never saw it that way. Cultural appropriation happens when one adopts part of a culture while dismissing other parts of it, stripping it of its cultural and religious context. Gwen had seriously dated Indian-American Tony Kanal for years. Her bindi-wearing seemed to come from a place of appreciating the culture of her boyfriend and less being trendy like girls at Coachella.
Besides bindis have pretty much lost all religious significance in India. Bindis are a fashion accessory among Indian women. If I wear one, I more concerned with whether it matches my sari or salwar kameez than my third eye. Now yoga, on the other hand, has been totally and completely hijacked.
Yoga is a 5000 + year Hindu practice that is just part of a larger system of beliefs that includes adherence to nonviolence, meditation, chanting, devotional love to God, and selfless action. Yoga is not about “sweating out the toxins,” (which is a make-believe concept anyway, that’s why you have a liver folks). It’s not meant to make you a size 2, though if it does get you into shape good for you. Yoga is not just about spouting off vague quotes (“live authentically”) or realizing you managed to stay calm when your dog took a dump in your shoe. The physical part of yoga was designed to prepare the body for long hours of meditation. The ultimate goal of the practice is union with the God and liberation from the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.
In the proliferation and spread of yoga studios, yoga has become watered down, simplified, and in many cases whitewashed. People on Yelp whine about too much “chanting” or a class not being enough exercise, not understanding the true roots and meaning of this Hindu practice. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s awesome that so many people practice yoga. But please for the love of all that is holy, stop whitewashing it. It’s a Hindu practice. It’s a religious practice. Try to get something out of it besides stronger arms.
But anywhoozle, I am seriously digressing here. The point is I love Gwen. I wanted desperately to be her. Or just be her best friend.
I had to do something. But what? I didn’t want to be one of those annoying fans that bugged someone while they were eating. I’ve got it! I would wait until they are done with their meals and they go outside. I would sneak behind them and then I would ask Gavin to take a picture of Gwen and me. That way his cooties would be on my camera too, and I could sell it on eBay.
I picked at my arugula salad while I stole glances at Gwen. What was she eating? How did her lip color stay so fresh after eating? Did she use MAC? How often does she dye her roots? What are they talking about? Did she notice me? Has she realized yet that we are secret best friends?
After what seemed like two centuries had passed, the waiter finally handed them the bill. They settled up and got ready to leave. I quickly prepared myself with my camera in hand. I got up and stealthily tiptoed behind Gwen, expecting to go outside. Except Gavin made a right towards the door and walked outside, while Gwen veered left for the bathroom.
Now what? Was I seriously going to follow her to the bathroom? Was I that girl? And who was going to take the picture? There was no one in the restaurant. Oh fuck it, I thought. I’ve come this far. I decided to bite the bullet and talk to her.
Or maybe I should bust out into song to break the ice. I could see it now. I would sing one line, and Gwen would sing the other. We would harmonize together, and the whole restaurant would get up and mosh/dance.
But then again, I’m tone deaf. Maybe I should just ask her for a photo.
“Excuse me, Gwen I’m a huge fan, can I get a picture with you?”
“Um, sure,” Gwen replied looking surprised. She didn’t look terribly thrilled, which I found rather odd. Didn’t Gwen realize we were BFFs? Well even if she didn’t know, I bought every No Doubt album, so I figured she best suck it up and take a pic with me.
“Who’s going to take the picture?” she asked. I think she secretly hoped no one would come to my rescue. I couldn’t believe she wasn’t as stoked as I was to take a picture.
“Uh…” I looked around, hoping beyond hope that someone a waiter, a busboy, or I don’t know, King Neptune would come out of the nearby Pacific Ocean and snap our pic. Right at that moment, a little eighty-five-year-old lady hobbled around the corner heading towards the bathroom.
“Excuse me! Can you please take a picture of us?” I asked her with glee.
“Oh, I’m so sorry dear I can’t because of my arthritis. You see—-”
“OK fine whatever.” The old bat.
I turned to Gwen. “I’ll just take it myself.”
“OK.” I put the camera in my right hand and held it out as far as I could and stood on my tiptoes. As I’m 5’1, and Gwen is like 5’9, the height difference was significant, even though I was wearing two-inch heels.
“Sure dude no problem.” She turned and walked into the bathroom.
Now what do I do? I wondered. I didn’t want to seem like I was solely there to get her picture. We were secret best friends, but she clearly refuses to acknowledge our relationship. Well, fuck it, I’m over it. I don’t need her. For all she knew, I was on my way to the bathroom, and I happened to bump into her with my camera. And what if I had to pee too? It’s not like I am sitting around stalking celebrities all day. I can’t believe she would think I am just there to get her stupid picture.
So I walked into the two-stall bathroom to pee too. Gwen was peeing. Omigod, I could hear Gwen Stefani peeing! I felt a warmth engulf my heart. I never thought my life would be so glamorous! So what if we weren’t best friends? I had heard Gwen Stefani piss into a porcelain bowl. My life was now complete.
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When she’s not writing or designing, she is busy drinking wine and singing off key, bike riding, pretending she’s friends with Mindy Kaling and Amy Poehler, eating absurd amounts of cheese, or listening to rock music at an appallingly loud volume. Sometimes all at once.
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