The Magician in You

Tonight was my sister's wedding anniversary so I went out with her and my brother-in-law to a Middle Eastern joint to relax. He loves coffee so we got some Turkish coffee, which apparently is ridiculously strong (at least to someone that never drinks caffeine.) Needless to say I feel caffeine drunk right now. I could probably run outside and pick up my car if I wanted to do (my arms would probably rip off first but how crazy a story would that be?) Anyway the night got me to thinking about what I refer to as “everyday magic." It's funny how we as humans get super excited about big events in our life. We hype up for months proms, weddings, sporting events, parties, blah, blah, blah but when I think about my own life, the most memorable moments (the ones you would tell your kids about) are the off the cuff, simple moments, when people just made the most of life. You know what I mean when I say that? I was thinking about this when I was hanging out with my little cousins. An afternoon hanging with little kids is equivalent to the feeling I get at like five nights out partying. Okay, maybe that's an exaggeration but.... you get the idea. Instead of continuing this dissertation, I would like to tell you a story that is very dear to me that is along the same lines. An experience of “everyday magic” if you will. Are you ready? You better sit down for this….

It was the Summer….. yes, circa 2005 (if I remember correctly) in India.

I had been to the Motherland the year before so I was pretty well acquainted with the locals and such. We stay in a really small town. There are basically only two roads that are named after the larger towns they lead to. Everyone in the town knows one another and my family have lived there for many, many generations. Our house is right in the middle of the main road so many cars and people are constantly passing the house. It's kind of a funny dynamic for me because I can speak Konkani with my relatives but everyone else in the town speaks either Kannada or Thulu. I know many of the townspeople but communicate with them in really shitty Kannada or basically sign language (since no one there speaks English). I usually converse for about 30 seconds with people and we just laugh and enjoy the awkwardness. Anyway, that's the town in a nutshell.

It was the night before my cousin's wedding. He was really excited and a lot of people that had moved away from the tiny town were back for the wedding. Anyway, my cousins love music and they love dancing. We put on some hip beats in their upstairs bedroom and me and a bunch of cousins were getting our groove on. Steps that rivaled things seen on MTV's the Grind back in the day were engaged in. Lots of bhangra moves and such were also seen in that room. We danced and laughed for a while but we wanted to crank the music. Frankly my cousins wanted more space to get jiggy in. So the groom's brother suggested moving the boom box to the front patio (that is street side mind you). The groom (who is quite traditional) was really against the idea. We moved the boom box anyway. We were about to plug it in and my aunts and uncles came out and were really appalled at the idea. Here's some background on that:

The Konkanis (we're Konkanis) in the town are really traditional. When we would go to functions at the local school lots of other people would dance but the Konkanis would just sit and watch. They kept saying that only drunken people dance and even if you're not drunk, people will assume that you are drunk. Another funny thing people would say is that, "Alsheek, ami dance kurnachee. The Christians-ani kurche." Basically that only drunk people and Christians dance in the town. They didn't want to be labeled like that I guess. So the front yard was out of the question. So we sat around and didn't know what to do. The party was over...... for a bit. Out of no where my cousin runs over, plugs the stereo in and a few people start dancing. Then a few more people start dancing. Before I knew it, all my cousins and little cousins were all dancing. The older folks came out to tell us to stop but my cousins didn't listen. So my whole family was dancing outside, totally in the open. At this point, the people dancing were mainly teenagers. My uncle, who loves to dance comes over and asks me if I want to have a couple drinks at a local bar real quick. We run over to the bar with a couple others, get pretty happy and roll back.

As soon as we come back, the dancing is at an all time high. People are creating new dance moves and just really having fun. Then the magical moment happened. Folks from town walked over and started dancing too. Before I knew it all my cousins friends were dancing too and a ton of people were on the street watching everyone dance. By the end of the night, my uncles, aunts, and even older folks were dancing on the patio with no inhibitions. Such pure enjoyment.

Kind of a Footloose moment eh? You think Kenny Loggins was smiling somewhere? So why did that moment strike such a cord with me? I think because it didn't take anything to produce. It was not planned. No one was trying to be cool. No one cared about what other people thought. It was pure. How often can we say that about things we do? We're always worried about how well a night is going. We’re always worried about our expectations for a certain event. We're worried about what this girl or that guy is thinking. All those thoughts were lost in us. We were all alive for those few hours. That's magic.

I think back to college. I went to tons of parties, went to tons of events, and had a ridiculous amount of fun. What do I remember though? Not the formals. Not the fancy dinners or crazy nights but I vividly remember all the nights when me and my fraternity brothers would sit in a circle for hours and play music with pots, pans, cups, and our hands while other people would come and dance in the middle of the circle. People who are shy. People who don’t even like dancing. People who felt safe to come outside their comfort zone. That's magic.

I guess we get so caught up in our routine and focus so much on these big events in our lives. We put unrealistic expectations on them that they can't live up to and all the while what we're really looking for is all around us in the people in our lives. Those moments when you get to act like a kid again. Those moments when you just sit around with you family the entire night and just act goofy. Those moments when you stay up all night just talking to a friend. All magic. I guess the best way to think about it is that most of our memories are like an Etch-a-Sketch drawing. Well developed at times, but after time and newer events they fade out. Magical moments are those moments in time that are vividly painted into our minds. So next time you get caught up in the anticipation for an event or are out with friends, remember that fancy dinners, posh clubs, and crazy vacations are great and often needed but in the end the “magic” we all seek is free.

Who Do You Want to Be?

I went to a wedding recently where the groom's friends were ripping on him for always using Excel spreadsheets to make important decisions in his life. Over the year he put together these elaborate Excel files to decide which college to go to, which cars to buy, and as crazy as it sounds, he even put together a spreadsheet to decide whether or not to marry his wife. Most people in the audience were extremely weirded out and perhaps some of the uncles were impressed at his number crunching skills. Anyway, I was intrigued by the idea of quantifying life choices.

When I was in middle school, I was introduced into the world of Final Fantasy III for Super Nintendo. As funny as it sounds, the music, storyline, and gameplay are things that I am still reminded of all the time today. Final Fantasy falls into the genre of "Role Playing Game." For those not in tune with all things nerdy, Role Playing Games or RPGs are games where you usually start with a weak, simple character and throughout the game attempt the gain experience in all sorts of facets of the game world. At the outset of the game, you can't defeat any enemies and basically are able to succeed at nothing. So you try to get your character experience with fighting, magic, healing, or one of many other characteristics that makes each character special. So with some time, you have a couple characters that you have developed with different skills and expertise. Now, after marinating on the Excel spreadsheet idea for a while, the world of Final Fantasy III popped into my head.

(LIGHTBULB) Why not think of your life and your world in the same way you think of the character you control in a RPG. Develop yourself the same way you develop each character. Realize that each character is different and make choices based on what best suits your strengths. Think long-term but understand the baby steps and experience needed to develop each characteristic. And so my friends the RPG Lifestyle was born....

People hear me talking about the RPG Lifestyle all the time but usually think I'm just crazy. Here's the idea: One day, me and some buddies sat down and identified 4 or 5 characteristics that we would like to be better at. Some of the main categories were Communication (with family, friends, ladies, random people), Finance (spending, saving, investing), Home Economics (laundry and ironing, cooking, etc.), Image (personal hygiene, fashion), Fitness and Information (newspapers, books, etc.). Anyway this is a general summary of our brainstorms. Now each person makes a spreadsheet with each category and fills in the category with the subcategories. An elaborate point system was created and with each successful task completed you could move toward moving up in experience in that column. For example, maybe you get 5 points for every new dish you cook and 1 point for every repeat dish. For every 20 points, you move up a level in the Cooking Category.

Anyway, I was on the brink of launching this RPG Lifestyle to a test group to see what would happen but the point system got super complicated and difficult to understand. I'm working on it, so when it makes sense again I would love some volunteers.

Here's the point to this rant though:

Just by sitting down and creating these categories, my life changed. I wanted to try out the RPG Lifestyle because I could see my future. Two years from now I might have a sweet job and live in a fun place but as for ME and all the facets about ME, they were on a very static path. That needed to change so chalked something up with my friends and finished scoring systems for Fitness and Communication. Now I chose an arbitrary 5 points for every workout and some other random number for every personal email I sent to friends. The result: For about a month, I would wake up in the morning and literally be thinking, "Vaman, let's rack up some points today man." I would actually feel awesome when I had 10 freaking points or more by noon. It made my day feel worthwhile and I felt accomplished. I am a very competitive person too and this scoring system really brought about a game type feel to life. I was actively trying to make myself better and I could see my progress. It also forced me to think about what I was weak at and how I wanted to develop. I felt in control of my characteristics and I could decide how well-rounded I was to be. I felt empowered again.

The RPG Lifestyle is still in the works and the first experiment shall be launched soon I hope. It's a way of life. I would love if some of you wanted to help out. One idea was to keep track of points and levels online so everyone involved could motivate one another to get better. I think there is some communal potential there. More than that though I really think that the RPG Lifestyle can make our routine and banal lives fun again. We get into these boring routines and kind of forget that we can be as dynamic as we wish. Stay on the lookout for the RPG Lifestyle Launch and between now and then marinate on this..... Who do you want to be?

A Giant Kingdom of Little Things

Being two sleeps away from my sister coming home for A WEEK, I can't help but think about all the little, tiny (at the time insignificant to them) things my sisters did and said to me when I was a youngin' that has had a profound affect on me. They were all little things that my sisters probably don't even remember doing but were that significant to me. I realize as I get older, that our little actions can have a profound influence on the people around us (sometimes even people we don't realize are around us).

Being the baby in the family there is 8 years between my oldest sister and me and 4 years between my middle sister and me. I know lots of other folks with a similar family structure and the result was the oldest and middle child being close or the middle and youngest child being close. Anyhow, ever since I can remember my sisters were never too cool for me. When I was in elementary school, my oldest sister would take me everywhere with her. She would even take me out with her friends. She would take me bowling when they went bowling. She would take me to housewarming parties. She would even have her guy friends come over and play basketball with me. I can't tell you how cool this made me feel hanging out with REAL high school kids! As I grew older, my oldest sister left for college and I became a middle schooler. My middle sister would take me to high school events with her and really got me interested in volunteering. She even said something to me back then that I still think about all the time. She drilled into me that I should never do anything to make my resume look better, if my heart is not into it. To always do things because I truly want to do them. The point here is not to get all cheesy or give my sisters any props..... sorry. The point is when you're in the midst of things you don't realize how profound an influence you can have on the people around you.

So what was the result of my sisters' actions? You better believe when I was in high school I wanted to return the favor to the other kids around me ten-fold! Whether it was the freshmen when I was a senior (not the freshmen girls... don't worry) or the little Konkani kids at family parties..... I still feel like I owe them something because of the way I was treated by older people around me when I was growing up.

Besides random family acts of random kindness, marshmallows, and rainbows this idea of the profoundness of little actions goes much further. I went to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama about 4 years ago in Mountain View, California. He said many, many profound and amazing things. Many people were moved to tears (as was I) and he had a special aura about him. Yet above all of this, the one thing that I will always remember about his speech.... not the big words..... not his final statement... but the fact that every time someone changed the glass of water on his podium, he stopped his lecture, turned his head and personally thanked the person that brought the glass of water. An hour lecture and his ten second action, spoke louder to me than anything he actually said.

While in Vegas last week, I met a guy (who's now a good buddy) who at first impression was an angry looking dude with tattoos and dreads. We went to the local store together to buy some candy and gum. He reached the counter and his total was something like $2.15. He dug 3 bucks out of his jean pocket and threw it down on the counter. Almost before the bills hit the counter, he quickly picked up the money, organized it, and instead placed it in the cashier's hand. When no one was watching, he decided to do the polite, helpful thing. To me that says more about his character than someone who is outwardly gregarious all of the time.

How about the time when a new acquaintance not only remembered your name but actually said it? What about when that lady or fella you had your eye on said your name for the firs time? Ooooh Weee. How about when you visit family and they make your favorite dish for you without you asking? How about the random email your friend sent you just to say they were thinking about you? Huh? How about that?

Randomly one day on the way home from high school my senior year, I saw one of my friend's little brothers walking home. Anyway, I stopped my car and picked him up since his house was on my way home. He was a freshman at the time and a super-duper sweet kid. I dropped him off and he thanked me, even though I didn't really do anything. A year later at Stanford, I got a hand-written letter from him and in the letter he wrote that he remembered how I had helped him out that day. Now that is a special example but I didn't really do anything and he still remembers it. The little things are so profound much of the time because they're things that people do inherently. They're not looking for the ends but rather are just acting natural. I know that I have had awful days when just seeing a little kid waving to me or having a friend run up to me to say hi has totally changed my mood.

I think we have the power to have profound positive affects on one another and we don't utilize it enough. So should you email a random person everyday? Should you leave a note on your friend's car for them to find on their way to work? Should you take that youngster under your wing and show them some direction? Perhaps. In about 10 minutes, think about how many peoples' moods you might change. Little actions with a profound impact. Think about it…

The Family

Is there something that you think about everyday? What is it? Marriage? Your job? Not wanting to workout today? Before college, my answer most likely would have been either femaliens or my future. Within the last few years, without a doubt the answer is my family in India. Sometimes it's when I get out of the shower in the morning. Sometimes it's right before I go to bed at night. Sometimes it's even a familiar smell that enters my nose. Regardless of what's going on... they are on my mind at some point each and everyday. I bring this up because my concept of "family" has evolved greatly throughout my life and exponentially over the last 3 or 4 weeks.

Growing up, I didn't really have any relatives in the States and those few we did have, we were not close to by any means. So family meant parents, grandmas, and my two older sisters. We went to India every four years so as a youngster I was never super close to my relatives in the Motherland. The first evolution of my concept of family came towards the end of the time period that historians will come to call the The VLoveless Era (also known as Junior year at Stanford). I was stressed about ladies, school and my future. I forgot how to enjoy the little things in life. I forgot who I was and where I came from. I decided to spend a quarter in India with

my relatives and was forever changed at the core. For the first time, I felt like I knew where I came from. I felt like I was apart of something bigger than myself. I felt the enjoyment of people again rather than material things. I returned to school and the concept of family felt bigger than ever to me. Yet the evolution was not stable.

Fast forward to a couple months ago. I sadly realized that once I start working full-time, trips to India are going to become extremely infrequent. Without interaction and the occasional touch, people move on with their lives. With this still on my mind everyday, I found myself at the Konkani Convention in Canada. During a youth seminar, I was trying to explain to everyone what the Konkani community has come to mean to me. It was at that moment that I realized that the community had fulfilled that void in me that yearned for an extended family. I began to think about my sisters and what constitutes "family." For those that know the Kamath Kids, we're like 3 peas in a pod but when we're not together we rarely have time to talk to one another. My sister in New York, I see maybe once a year (if that). But when we see one another it's as if no time has passed. So are family people that you can be apart from and yet reunite in stride? That's what blew my mind. Many of the Konkani kids I see maybe once a year (if that) but that's exactly how I feel about them. I think about many of them on the daily. Many have had an enormous influence on my life. So is that not family? (Konkanis! ----->)

If my head had not already been affected, I began to think about my friends growing up and my college buddies. Many of them have had gigantic influences on my music tastes, the way I dance, the way I view the world, sports I like, the girls I'm into, etc. They are also a huge part of the person I have become and when it comes down to it, they are VLove. So these people are also family right? I was getting overwhelmed. Apparently I have more family then friends? Anyway, the last evolution of family was yet to occur.

Two weeks ago, after what felt like a family vacation with some Konkanis, my buddy invited me to join his clothing company for a fashion conference in Las Vegas. Now..... the crazy part about this offer is that my buddy refers to his family as a Dynasty and refers to everyone involved with the company as The Family. Anyway, I was really flattered that he thought so highly of me to invite me to spend a week with The Family in a rented house in Las Vegas. I was going to stay in a house with about 20 people I had never met and who all thought of one another as family. For those that have known me for a long time, I'm sure you have forgotten how awkward I am especially around people I don't know. So I arrived to the house to find that I was so different than people in the house. I'm not that fashionable. I'm Indian. My hair is disheveled much of the time. Many of them grew up together or were related. In other words I was completely and utterly awkward. One week later, that house shook my thoughts about family again. The actual convention was filled with glitz, glamour, infinite video-ho looking ladies, celebrities...... but none of that even sticks to my mind. What was profound.... what was glorious was the dedication the members of The Family showed my buddy. Many of them refused to go out at night because they were here to focus on business (mind you many of them were 20-24 year old men in Las Vegas). Many of them offered to stay in to watch the kids so my buddy could enjoy himself. Many of them didn't have enough money to make it to Vegas but came anyway. They weren't all related. They weren't being paid. It was all love for the future of The Family. Anyway throughout the week they showed me a lot of love, told me they felt blessed to have me a part of the group, and really pushed the limits of what I believed could be family. They don't do it for accolades or money but for each other. That really struck a cord with me and I wish they knew how they affected me.

(<---------- The Esfac'e Family and Me)

Family isn't about blood. You might not talk to your family everyday but when you're around them nothing has changed. Family makes you feel apart of something bigger than yourself even when you're by yourself. Family helps us rise up and reach that much higher than we could have by ourselves. Family is selfless in its love. I feel very blessed that my family continues to grow in my mind... how about yours?