Language and Identity: The Case of Punjabi

My last name is a giveaway: I’m a Punjabi. But I’ve never lived in the Punjab and I have yet to master its language. The story of my attempts to do so reveals familiar struggles—by people like you and me—to fashion an identity, no matter where we live, whether in India or elsewhere. As aContinue reading “Language and Identity: The Case of Punjabi”

Fearful Reveries, Penal Colonies and Death in the Dark Ocean

In Everyman (Vintage, 2006), Philip Roth writes of his central protagonist’s fears that intrude into an otherwise idyllic sojourn by the sea: The only unsettling moments were at night, when they walked along the beach together. The dark sea rolling in with its momentous thud and the sky lavish with stars made Phoebe rapturous but frightenedContinue reading “Fearful Reveries, Penal Colonies and Death in the Dark Ocean”

From a Safe Distance: Reading about Mountaineering

Reading books about mountaineering–written by mountaineers–reminds me of reading books about physics written by physicists. In both cases, I’ve flirted–ever so lightly–with the subject matter: in the case of physics, I’ve done high-school physics, taken a graduate level class in mathematical methods for physicists, taught myself the basic mathematical foundations of quantum mechanics, read philosophyContinue reading “From a Safe Distance: Reading about Mountaineering”

The White Rim Overlook in Canyonlands National Park

Last August, my wife and I visited the Canyonlands National Park in Utah. We had driven to Moab the day before and put ourselves up in a small motel on its outskirts. A day’s hiking in Canyonlands lay ahead; we planned to spend in it the park’s elevated northern Islands in the Sky section, takingContinue reading “The White Rim Overlook in Canyonlands National Park”

On First and Second Languages – III

In this ongoing series of posts on partially mastered languages and my frustrating relationships with them, I’ve written about German and Spanish. Today, I come to the most vexed alliance of all, the one with Punjabi. My last name is a giveaway: I’m a Punjabi. But I’ve never lived in the Punjab. I did, however,Continue reading “On First and Second Languages – III”

On First and Second Languages – III

In the first post of this series, I described my relationship with English and Hindi/Urdu/Hindustani; in the second, that with German. The story in today’s post–that of Spanish in my life–is similar to the German tale: partial fluency, a long-standing, constantly procastinated commitment to formal study. The distinctive contrast lies in the nature of theContinue reading “On First and Second Languages – III”

The Revealing Game of Time Machine Travel

For some time now my favorite ‘after-dinner game’ has been to ask my respondents the following questions: If you had a time-machine, where and when in the past would you go? And when you arrived, would you rather be a fly on the wall that merely observes the action or would you want to jumpContinue reading “The Revealing Game of Time Machine Travel”

A Boy’s Favorite Iron Horses

The domain of transportation often introduces us to dramatic, otherworldly creatures: the precision engineered soaring airliner, the majestic ship cleaving through oceans, the sleek automobile whizzing down highways. The steam locomotive was one of its most distinguished representatives; it quickly became, across country and culture and time, the vehicle–no pun intended–for a very particular romanticContinue reading “A Boy’s Favorite Iron Horses”

An Independence Day of Sorts: Beginning a Migration

15 August 1947 is Independence Day in India. It is also my father-in-law’s birthday, a midnight’s child. And it is the day I left India–in 1987, forty years later–to migrate to the US. My ‘migration’–such as it was–consists of pretty standard fare: I began as a graduate student, armed with an admission letter to aContinue reading “An Independence Day of Sorts: Beginning a Migration”

On Meeting a Veteran

I have lived in New York City through the ten years that the twin wars of our time, the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan, have been waged. In that time, I’ve met a few members of the armed forces who have served in those operations. (Their willingness to talk about their experience has varied: someContinue reading “On Meeting a Veteran”