Thank you Aubrey—my Master Yoda.

Aubrey worked with me through a difficult time in my life. I suffered from a condition called PCOS—Poly Cystic Ovary Syndrome. I know, it sounds complicated and it is.

It’s a hormonal disorder that fucked my mood, gave me a beard, and made me gain weight despite hours of exercise. I felt awkward and unpretty for many years in my life. When I moved to the States, the condition and my confidence got worse.

You see, I never saw women with my color and body shape on billboards or on the streets. Yet, I was surrounded by fit bodies wherever I went. Unfortunately, I started doing to my body what no woman should ever do—compare!

Despite hours spent kickboxing, gyming, and running—the weight held me down. I took medication to balance the hormones everyday, but that couldn’t fix the problem, my doctor told me. Only exercise could cure it—if and only if I tried hard enough.

I tried hard—or may be I thought I did. But, the cysts were adamant. They stuck to my ovaries like a nasty disease. They grew larger and numerous every passing day. When things got real bad, I had painfully heavy periods for 15 days and sometimes a month. The hair on my skalp started thinning down and the skin on my face grew blotchy. If I didn’t arrest the problem soon enough, I could even lose fertility.

After some time it wasn’t about the weight alone—it was about feeling defeated. That’s when I met Aubrey.



Even though he’s my trainer I think of him as Master Yoda. He knows when to push me and when to hold back. He trains my body but talks to my mind, telling it to never to give up. He’s one of the few trainers I’ve met who lets me feel confident in my own skin. He reminds me of my first trainer in Brooklyn, a badass woman who could overturn truck tires with her hands. America has given me one thing for sure—a healthy relationship with exercise.

What I love about Aubrey is that despite being a guy, he’s in so many ways a bigger feminist than I. One day, when I sent him vidoes of a fitness model doing a challenging routine, he told me I had done better.

“Don’t go by the way she looks. Go by what’s on the inside,” Aubrey scolded me. “Think about the classes we do together. Or record them for yourself and see.”
“I know what you mean, but I would love to look like her.” I protested.
“I like training people with real bodies, real lives, and real schedules. People like you. I don’t train people who have 5 hours in a day, only to exercise. If I think you can do it, trust me you can.”

Master Yoda had spoken and this time I didn’t have any excuses.

Aubrey and I worked together for 6 months before my routine ultrasound appointment with my gynaecologist. When I got my scans I was as shocked as she. The doctor couldn’t see a single cyst on the images. I had not only dropped weight but my body fat percentage was down by 2.

“Are you sure you have this condition?” My doctor teased.
“I’ve had it for 7 years now! You sure you didn’t get my scans mixed up?” I replied, happy with disbelief.
“Been doing this for more than 7 years. These are your ovaries alright and they look beautiful.”
“You mean I don’t have PCOS—for real?”
“Looks like you did it,” she congratulated me.

And yes—we had done it together. Aubrey had worked by my side, patiently, telling me that he believed that I was a warrior. That he had never seen a girl as motivated as I. That when he recorded our sessions for his Instagram page, his followers were inspired by my example.

Two years ago, my mother told me to make a vision board for my future. To use it as a tool to imagine my future self. And if I truly believed in the change—mind, body, and soul—the change would happen. I had trashed the idea right away, not believing in the rituals of magical thinking.

But, all along, without my realizing—Aubrey had secretly become my vision board. He had become that voice inside my head, cancelling the noise and telling me to never quit. He made me believe that thin or fat—I was beautiful the way I was because I was strong. And together we had kicked PCOS in the butt. I was finally a real woman with a real body.

I had got my power back!

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Tiny footsteps into a strange, new world.

I wish I could begin this story with “Once upon a time.” But, if you follow my tale—you know it’s not about happily ever afters. It’s about a girl who had to forget about rainbows and unicorns altogether and grow up err…when she was already an adult.

You see there were no glass ceilings for me to shatter. Only a bubblegum version of real life stuck in my head. May be, it was the way I was brought up?

Growing up I was never friendly with my parents, even though they were super cool, liberal professors who allowed me to do whatever I wanted.

I grew up in a freethinking university campus in the heart of my city, on a delectable hill dotted with trees.

The campus included libraries, debating societies, theater and art.

I grew up with friends, colleagues and family who were like me.

I became the lion of my cubbyhole. The freedom, love and support I got were so omnipresent, I had no idea what life was like without them.

With no real battles to fight, I was keen to fight my parents. I always believed I was right, and was forever suspicious of their safe ways.

But my dad, a social scientist in the best university back home, grew up in a part of the country infested by rioting, corruption and poverty. His childhood was spent in a tiny room, overstuffed with brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles.

They were all being supported by his father.

My mom grew up in a tiny, insignificant village, where girls are married off at the age of 16 and go to school just to pass the time. She is now a professor of Japanese language and literature, as well as a writer and translator.

I was intelligent and hard-working. That made me want to chase my dreams in art, literature and writing in America. I had also recently married a guy I loved who lived in the US.

I was so excited to enter this new phase of life that I didn’t know I would continue to look back for a long time.

Just to get started, there were many “firsts” to encounter.

I had never traveled independently, lived alone, cooked for myself on a daily basis, did laundry, figured out my finances, figured out medical insurances, thought about loans or been married.

Here I was, in an alien land, about to learn the ropes of life in a completely different culture.



I had a crash course in becoming an adult in the first few months after I moved to Syracuse to pursue a professional digital journalism program.

I had to find an apartment to live in, but I didn’t know what to look for. I was impatient, so I ended up going for a bad, expensive option.

The roof leaked, sanitation was substandard, my bedroom window opened to a dumpster and before I knew it, I had a bedbug infestation. I had to find a lawyer to break my lease and get me out of that living hell.

The thing is, I was terrified of what would happen if I couldn’t fix it.

I was living away from my husband, so I would take a five-hour Greyhound bus ride to Brooklyn every Friday to meet him. Between a hectic graduate school schedule and travel, I had no time for him.

The worst Syracuse winter—coupled with unsafe city grounds where poverty and homelessness are serious concerns—made staying outdoors after dark dangerous. I would think back to the days when I would shut my parents up every time they offered advice on night outs.

During this strenuous time, it was my parents’ phone calls that gave me the strength to continue on.

I was so overwhelmed with my daily trials and tribulations, that I couldn’t see beyond my selfish needs.

It was then that I realized my parents had always been there for me, battling through their lives, fears and doubts, without ever letting me notice their tired eyes.

I was entering a new phase of my life.

It started with a phone call to my mom, asking her how she was. Understanding her existence, her hopes and her fears gave me a fresh perspective.

My dad and I started writing long emails to each other, and often connected on Skype in a way we had never connected in person. I began to understand the struggles of a man in his 50s.

I finally got to find out his dreams and anxieties.

It was in these moments that I pushed myself to actually listen.

It’s not important to figure everything out and speed through your days. It’s important to stand still and assimilate who you are and where you are headed.

Conversations with my parents opened that door.

After one year of staying away, I went back to my country for a short visit.

I felt eternally grateful for the twinkles in mom and dad’s patient eyes as they sat there, listening to the stories of my life in a new country.

Then, I quickly shut up and made them talk.

This time, I listened.


This story was first published on Elite Daily under the title “Why you can’t begin to know your parents until you know yourself,” authored by me.

Where are you from?

My friend and I had just stepped out of the cinema hall. It had been a perfect evening—a good movie, wind in the hair, popcorn—lots of it.

We’d watched Crazy Rich Asians, starring Constance Wu, my latest crush. She’s featured in Time’s 100 Most Influential. I forget which year. But, they say she waited tables for many, while auditioning for roles she never got.

“When Eddie Huang’s book was made into a TV show called Fresh Off the Boat, Constance got famous.” I fill my friend in with Hollywood trivia as we look for a taxi in the middle of the night.

“So, she really waited tables?” My friend asks, surprised.

“Yep, for eight years!” I reply.

“She’s a brilliant actor. Funny how no one could see that?”

(I think my friend feels bad for her. I don’t.)

“May be, because she’s Asian?” I try and answer his question. “But that’s not what she likes to tell herself. She’s a proud woman, who hates making excuses.”

I admire the choices Constance has made in her life. She is fierce. She speaks her mind. And even though she’s a big star, she chooses every role to shine light on people forced to live in the shadows.

I have watched her every interview. Perhaps, in the hope that some of her magic will rub off on me.

Fresh Off the Boat—is it?” My friend interrupts my reverie. He is new to the States, full of many questions. He doesn’t get what the expression means.

A pedestrian standing right behind us butts in.

“How was the film?” The eavesdropper is curious.
“Good. I enjoyed it.” I give him a funny look. “Was just telling my friend here what ‘fresh off the….” I am quiet for a moment.

I am trying to explain the word used for people like me to a person who could’ve prolly used it. I don’t want to point fingers at the stranger. The situation is a comic paradox. I cannot help but laugh.

“Just telling him what I am,” I say with a wink. Then I look at the stranger’s face, trying to figure out where he’s from.

Before I can gather my thoughts, he breaks into laughter.

There are reasons why I love New York City. This is one of them. Everyone here is from someplace else. We are a city of FOBs—and proud of it.



Beauty and the Beast

The dog park is a great equalizer. I know that now. I have a dog that I take to a park everyday. I’d say he’s a rather cute looking Goldador who manages to turn heads wherever we go. I won’t be lying when I say I treat him like arm candy, every time I step out.

Ravishing blondes and gorgeous men routinely stop to pet my dog. But he’s not always that lucky in the park. In the dog world, the fattest Corgi could charm the sexiest poodle. The laziest retriever could interest a dominating pug. The noisiest Yorkie could chat up a sober Shiba. The rules are a bit uncanny. So, my dog despite his adorable looks and athletic wit, is sometimes left bouncing in the periphery of a canine carnival.

Sometimes through my dog, I encounter emotions I’d never understand as a human. I’m sure, I’m not the only one. Like that other day when a beautiful young man was trying to socialize his dog at the park. He knew how to chat everyone up. His dog, not so much. It was a beefy Pit-bull. Deep brown eyes, broad shoulders and all—but then I have a soft spot for Pit-bulls. I wasn’t sure how others in the park felt. They kept their pooches at a wary distance.

The man in any social scenario would’ve been the center of everyone’s gaze. But here he was circling the group of dogs…umm…like a creep. May be his dog was too strange for the other fellows. Dare I say a little on the ugly side? Though relentless in his pursuit, his pit-bull faced constant rejection.

The man was clearly new to the experience of being left out. Good looking men with the gift of gab are rarely so awkward. He had no rehearsed lines to wiggle out of the situation. All he could do, was stand in the corner, pretending it didn’t hurt at all.



Should’ve, Would’ve, Could’ve…

When I was a little girl, I lived on a university campus where my parents were professors. The campus was cut off from the city by gates and guards. If on one side of the university wall there was traffic, pollution, congestion—on the other were lush green fields, tall trees, libraries and schools—where students and teachers could coexist in a safe space.

Naturally, my parents were okay with me taking walks  by myself by the time I was 13. So, I would get up at 7 in the morning, put on my jogging shoes, and run all the way to the campus gate with my best friend. The road that took me to the end of my daily circuit was one of the most picturesque in the entire university. It was dotted with Eucalyptus trees on one side and Bougainvillea flowers that cascaded like waterfalls, on the other.

One day, when my friend was down with flu, I decided to go running by myself. The biggest hurdles I could possibly encounter were untimely rain (since it was the rainy season) or street dogs that sometimes chased us home. But, I had faced these scenarios earlier, without much trouble. So, I strapped on my jogging shoes and happily ventured out.

When I reached the half-way mark, I slowed down to catch my breath. A small group of students, who were out on a jog like me, overtook me just then. They were a bunch of guys from another country. I could tell by the sound of their accents that seemed peculiar to my ears and the fashion of their clothes that I had never seen before.

Each year, our university took in a sizable chunk of students from all over the world. Our  chancellor believed that it added to the diversity on campus. In exchange, it allowed foreign nationals to learn our local language and customs.

As these students crossed my path, they muttered something amongst themselves and I thought I heard them laugh. I suddenly grew wary of their presence. Were they laughing at me? Could it have been my overactive imagination? For all you know, they were simply sharing a joke amongst themselves. So, I resumed jogging, without giving heed to my paranoia. This time I overtook them as I gained pace on my way back home.

Ten minutes into my run, I started to feel the burn in my muscles. I had pushed myself little too hard in the last mile. I needed to slow down and stretch my body. I approached a bench on the sidewalk and bent over to relieve the pain in my legs. In the meanwhile, I saw the same group of guys, catching up.

As I watched them jog toward me from a distance, I tried to guess their age. It seemed like they were 25-year-olds. They were all much taller than men from my country. They had broader shoulders, athletic bodies, and different colored hair. I curiously studied their appearance and wondered if I found them attractive.

As they approached, I self-consciously pulled my gaze away. That’s when I felt it land right next to my feet. I could’ve been wrong about it once, but it happened twice, then thrice—white, foamy spit collected from their mouths hurled in my direction.

My teenage mind could not comprehend what had just transpired. May be, I reasoned they were just spitting on the ground to clear their throats. Sometimes when people are exhausted with exercise, spit gathers up and you need to throw it out to clear up the passage. I had seen my brother do that on the football field. May be, it was simply that?


But, why did the three of them do it at that same exact spot, by my feet? Was it something they had talked about? Was this the joke they were in on? I stood there soaked in my sweat drenched clothes, paralyzed by something I could not understand.

I am still not sure what really happened? Over the years, I have allowed memory and time to smudge the details of that November morning.

But, for several months in my dreams after, I remember trying to find my own resolution. In one dream, I could see myself running faster so that the boys never caught up. In another, my best friend never had flu, so we were together when the incident happened. We teamed up against my assailants and took them to task. In another, I caught up with the boys, blocked their way, looked straight into their eyes, and demanded an apology.

In another, as we wake up to this new world, I wonder, could there be a #metoo for this too?

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“Until one day, when I decided to wear lipstick…”

Privilege has no color. But when you have privilege, no matter what you are—white, brown, black, or yellow—you are blind to it.

I know—I was.

When I lived in my own country, I had it all—the right twang of English, the right profession, the right social class, and the right color of skin. I wasn’t the fairest of all, but was fairer than most. So, I never understood why some of my friends, even an inch darker felt invisible.

“It’s all in your head,” I’d tell them. “It’s not others, it’s you. You’ve convinced yourself that you’re un-pretty.”

Then I crossed oceans, hopped continents, and found myself in a land where melanin had several more shades. And I ranked pretty damn low on the spectrum. I wasn’t the darkest of all, but was darker than most. The only difference was, I didn’t know it yet. I had grown up thinking that I was fair, so that’s how I thought the world saw me as well.

Until one day, when I decided to wear lipstick to work. I never put on makeup usually. But, this day I felt like dressing up. I pulled out a new shade of red I had recently purchased and spread it across my smile. When I entered office, everyone took notice. Either it was the right color or it was cause I looked different. But, when heads turned and I got compliments, I knew I was looking good.

It was 10 past 9. The day was off to a good start, when my boss walked in. She was a wonderful woman whom I admired. She gave me my assignment for the day and another look.

“You look beautiful,” she said. “That lipstick looks perfect on your skin color.”

The high that I had been riding all morning came crashing to a resounding low. All day long, her words kept ringing in my ear—what did she really mean? What is the color of my skin? 

I looked around at the faces of my colleagues and then mine reflected in the window pane—a tiny island swept by an ocean of white. That day, was the day, I discovered my color.

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“Don’t think…just run for your life.”

Moving to a new country has been a unique experience. At first everything was different—good different. There were new places to see, new things to do, new foods to eat…the list of ‘new’ was endless.

So, one day I decided to venture out with my camera to capture the world I saw. I had the eyes of a toddler—full of wonder. I started by photographing bridges, buildings, lakes, but what caught my attention were faces. Faces that I had seen before in my country, but they were now wrapped in different color.

As a foreigner, I felt timid pointing my lens at strangers in a strange land. So, I stuck to crowded city roads and caught my subjects when they weren’t looking. As I clicked away, my fear began to dissipate and I grew more confident.

Then, I saw an old man—his face sculpted with wrinkles, his eyes lost in contemplation, his body scrawny yet strong. I wanted to photograph him up close but I was scared to ask permission. It just so happened that he was standing in front of a mural. All I had to do was pretend that I was capturing the graffiti than him. A friend had given me tips on avoiding similar pitfalls of street photography.

“What if someone got real mad if I took a photo without permission?” I’d inquired.

“In that case,” my friend said in a serious voice, “Don’t think. Pick up your camera and just run for your life!”

Now, that I had photographed people on streets all day, I found his advice cowardly. I was happy with my results and happier that this man’s portrait was going to be the high point of my excursion. Little did I know that a woman standing right behind had seen me capture a dozen shots of my unsuspecting subject. Without batting an eyelid, she walked up to him and snitched.

“This girl has been secretly taking photos of you. You should do something.”

I wanted to say something in my defense, but I was caught off guard. I saw the confusion on the old man’s face. His face now wrinkled into a smoldering stare. He was clearly unhappy about my intrusion. He picked himself up on his walking stick and started walking toward me.

In that moment I could have done a million things. But, my friend’s words came to my rescue. I picked up my camera, turned around, and ran the fastest I ever could.

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