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I always had this perception that in order to write a memoir — or at least a good memoir, the kind that will be of value to the disinterested reader — the writer has to have some distance from the material. In my opinion, memoirs are usually just ego-trips of the writer. My life — So interesting. My thoughts — So nuanced. My feelings — So evocative. My writing — So poetic.

I was quite certain that we could not write directly from our feelings, but only the memory of our remembrances. How else to find the necessary ironic distance…


Do you think you dislike what’s going on around you ?” the guy asked, hardly a week into the daily Boston commute. He had seen me reading a wall street journal article about the upcoming election next year, the seemingly vast divide amongst the populace, and was probably soliciting a nuanced opinion of a brown guy on the state of Americas — or he was just amusing himself during the long commute.

We had barely settled into a meandering hello a while ago. The commute was still an hour to go.

Coming on strong for an early morning commute, I…


At some indistinct point, the grey pre-dawn fades into bright white, and the sun is up, albeit invisibly behind a bank of clouds. People — whoever they are, from whichever tribe — shake hands, hug, and say, “We have turned the year!” We do it, too, much to the bafflement of the children, who are now immersed in a fantasy in which the stones are dragons and they are their keepers. There is no distinct moment of release. It’s reminiscent of a missed orgasm — the long, intent, breath-holding buildup that comes to nothing much. The significance is the same…


May,” he says again, tilting his head as he looks at me. The gesture is supposed to be a prompt for me to finally realize what I have been missing all along, to say — Yes, of course, that’s it!

Instead, I stare at him, blankly.

Just weeks before she passed away, Hetali and I had visited an astrologer purely on a whim. It was her birthday, we were walking back from Jogeshwari, an upcoming suburb in Bombay after eating some street food and had stopped at a small tin-roofed place where an Indian pandit had taken root.

“Come, let’s…


What does it feel like to take a human life?”

I had once asked a guy who had committed not one, but two murders. This was a time when I was in college and knew him because my friends described it in intricate detail. He shrugged.

Years later, when a friend calls me one day and tells me about a family in the diamond market that is about to renounce the world — take Diksha — I put aside everything else and go to meet them.

They are the other extreme — they are Jains. They are becoming monks in…


Mona and Mary lived on the second floor of a former fire station in Fremont, probably a couple of miles away from my apartment, on a block-long street wedged between two main drags that represented, in near-Dickensian fashion, the city’s socioeconomic cleft. In one direction was a chaotic plaza — a convocation of commuters, the rose vendors, and soft-eyed drunks. On the other side was Mowry Street, a living diorama of gorgeous new homes overlooking the valley.

The apartment was cozy and welcoming, full of strange artifacts: a bookcase hammered on the wall at a slight angle, a walk-in closet…


Very early Friday morning, long before dawn, Amber was back at her desk. The girls were sleeping, she hoped. Her routine was to call the city hospitals and emergency rooms searching for someone not yet identified, to see if a voice might pick up the line instead of the automated bots. She hoped that someone would take the information, deliver the miracle that she thought was slowly slipping away — To hear the doctor or nurse rush back, semi out of breath yet ecstatic, and to exclaim, Yes, Yes he’s here. He fits that description. He answers to that name…


At a birthday party north of the Panhandle, my Portuguese office friend Mona’s roommate, Mary, sat down beside me and struck up a conversation. I felt, all of a sudden, very handsome and interesting. Never in my life had I pulled a girl across a crowded room.

Later, I would learn that this was just Mary’s approach to social gatherings: as a software marketing executive who hung out almost exclusively with people who had majored in the humanities, she was sensitive to outsiders, predisposed to seek out and engage the person who looked most bored at a party. I had…


“Are you sure you want to pass judgment this early before the week is over?”I blurted out slightly red in the face and we both laughed.

I am in London running a weeklong workshop on a new retail banking software that we developed and are now selling to one of the biggest banks in London.

There are around 15 people and I am taking questions from multiple sides and working through them. The fact that I flew in on the red-eye last night is starting to catch up with me slightly but I am feeling confident.

As usual, I have…


A man approached me today asking if I knew where a certain street was.

He was what’s called here in South Africa “colored” meaning of mixed ancestry — indigenous Khoisan people and European settlers. Dressed in a reflective jacket and overalls, he was slightly grubby, shabby, and sweaty. At first, I thought he wanted money and I hurried to my car, lowering my gaze to avoid him. But he just wanted directions.

“Sorry,” I said, after taking a look at the paper he handed me, “I don’t know where this is.”

And as I drove away, it occurred to me…

Z S

Life is represented by two distinct sets of people: The people who live it and the people who observe them. These are their stories.

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