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Letters to the Editor: 1/11/2021

Letters to the Editor: 1/11/2021

Dear India Currents,

First and foremost, I would like to tell my farmers’ brothers/sisters that we feel your pain and anguish. I am writing this letter to make a plea that there should be a long term thinking to lift lots of farmers. This can happen when farmers take control of their produce and sell value-added end product directly to consumers bypassing all middlemen (Government or private). If the farmers set up a co-operative that buys their produce at the same MSP prices; store it in the silos, convert it to products consumed, selling them pre-packaged.

Here are some examples:

Atta (flour), Sooji, Maida, Chapatti/Phulkas, Paronthas (Aloo, Methi, Saada, etc.), Halwa, Sliced Bread, etc.

As the co-operative generates income, other products can be added to its offerings. I have the success of Amul Dairy in my mind when proposing it. Amul started with milk, added butter, ghee, cheese, ice cream, etc. and today there are a plethora of products marketed under that brand. Such a venture will make the farmers less dependent on government policies or profit-driven private sector making them masters of their produce and destiny. We can emulate the business model of Baba Ramdev for Ayurvedic products. 

Bhupinder Singh 


If you would like your opinion or perspective expressed at India Currents, do not hesitate to contact editor@indiacurrents.com with a submission or note. 

Of Sesame and Jaggery, A Friendly Tilgool

Of Sesame and Jaggery, A Friendly Tilgool

Arriving in a new country can burden a person with a new set of expectations. The burden of assimilating in a new culture, while maintaining old traditions comes to mind. As I began this acculturation while raising my family, I found myself trying to balance – fostering our age-old cultural traditions while shielding my children from cultural conflict. That forced me to reflect on the purpose of traditions that we blindly follow, and the different socio-political context where we now practice them. I wanted to pay attention to the pride that we felt in celebrating our beloved festivals in this foreign land. It can be hard to recreate the atmosphere, sights, and smells associated with a festival when the neighboring community does not partake in the tradition. We had to sparingly choose meaningful traditions without compromising fun.

We routinely celebrated Diwali and Ganesh Chaturthi at home, to which we added the festival of Makar Sankranti. This special holiday marks the transition of the Sun into Capricorn (Makar) on its celestial path. It generally falls on January 14th each year and was celebrated at my parents’ home with gusto. The nuances of how it is celebrated dates back hundreds of years, when farmers exchanged their crops with neighbors in the spirit of sharing and committing to friendship.

Kalpana’s grandchildren celebrating Makar Sankranti

In the Indian state of Maharashtra, sugarcane, garbanzo beans, carrots, and other crops are harvested in the winter months. Jaggery made from sugarcane is used abundantly in a variety of treats. During my childhood, on the day of Makar Sankranti, I remember filling small clay pots with a piece of sugarcane, a carrot, a few unshelled garbanzo beans, and a sweet ball-shaped ladoo made with sesame seeds and jaggery. I would then visit my friends in the neighborhood to trade these pots with them while saying, “Tilgool ghya ani goad bola,” (‘Accept these sweets and utter sweet words.’) The underlying thought is to forgive and forget the past ill-feelings, resolve conflicts, speak sweetly and remain friends. At that time, it just seemed like a good past time, but as I reflect on it, I think it is a very sweet tradition that reminds us to look beyond trivial quarrels and continue to build those bonds of friendship.

Replicating this tradition in the US presented multiple challenges, so I adopted another tradition, one I grew up with, of inviting female friends to a Haldi-kumkum (turmeric and vermillion) gathering. It was much like a high tea party. Along with tea and snacks, each woman received haldi-kumkum, a flower, tilgool ladoo, a sugar crystal candy made with sesame seed, and a gift. This gift was referred to as “a loot”. Traditionally, back home, the loot would be bangles, combs, bindis, or kitchen tools. In the US, the loot would be kitchen towels, a set of bowls, or similar items, but always included sharing the special significance of tilgool with my friends. My daughter and I enjoyed this gathering year after year.

In Gujarat where I grew up, the local Gujarati community’s tradition is to fly kites on Sankranti. To prepare for this day, children and adults would strengthen their kite’s strings with home-made starch to participate in a “Kite War”! A strong string can defend their own kite while attacking someone else’s as kites soar and glide in the sky from every direction. Early morning, families would gather on terraces, streets, and parks to launch their kites. The skies dotted with kites, the jubilant, full-throated repetitive roar of “eh kattaaaa” (cut!), would echo throughout the neighborhood. As this innocent, triumphant cry echoed all around, kids looking for free-falling kites would dash madly to grab them. Nothing could stop them from invading other people’s homes, gardens, and trees to get their freebies. Even today I remember this day with nostalgia and long to return to my childhood.

My choice to celebrate Makar Sankranti stems from the fact that humans have a natural tendency to belong, to share, to bond with others. The need was there when farmers shared their crops with each other nurturing solidarity; that demand is even stronger today, with our country bitterly divided from the lack of understanding of different cultures creating fault lines within our humanity. When these faults are under stress, seismic waves of doubts and clashes within communities produce fear and animosity. Sankranti can relieve that stress to a degree.

Pondering over my haldi-kumkum gatherings, I wish I had expanded my guest list to include non-Indian friends to share our culture, customs, and traditions. I would have done my small part to find common ground between cultures, and nurture unity among humans. We could belong to a world living under one sky traveling without boundaries, stealing each other’s kites while cheering the loot shared and received. It is not difficult to imagine the change a friendly tilgool can make.

There is a saying in my mother tongue Marathi:  If you have just one sesame seed, share it with seven others. It’s the characteristic of the sesame seed to create warmth in one’s body when consumed. On this upcoming Makar Sankranti, let’s share tilgool, and extend a warm hand of friendship.


Kalpana Gokhale is a retired Cupertino Union School District teacher. She enjoys being a grandmother to her four grandchildren, cooking their favorite foods, playing with them, while she continues to read and write for her personal growth.

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Chennai Ran Out of Water: Part 1

Chennai Ran Out of Water: Part 1

India Currents, in collaboration with bioGraphic and the California Academy of Sciences, is publishing a 3 part series on Chennai’s relationship with water. To reduce flooding and bridge droughts, India’s southern coastal metropolis is using ancient knowledge, community action, and wetlands restoration to better harness its monsoon rains.

Half the story

From a minivan on the shoulder of Old Mahabalipuram Road on the south side of Chennai, hemmed in by honking trucks and autorickshaws, we watch a painted stork (Mycteria leucocephala) move with studied dignity through the long grasses of Pallikaranai Marsh. With each step, knee flexing toward the rear, the webbed foot closes, then spreads open again to find purchase on the soft land. As it tips toward a fish, striped white-and-black tail feathers spread, flashing a surprising red whoosh. Nearby an endangered spot-billed pelican (Pelecanus philippensis) swirls in for a landing, green-backed herons (Butorides striata) fish, and gray-headed swamphens (Porphyrio poliocephalus) tend to young among cattails and sedges—just a few of the 349 species of flora and fauna found here. We are watching from the vehicle because, with the traffic hurtling by, it’s not safe to get out. It’s a claustrophobic feeling—for myself, but more so for this delicate ecosystem. Just across the marsh, not far away, a network of power lines, buildings, and roads stretch beyond view.

In the last 50 years, this marsh has been literally decimated, losing 90 percent of its area to malls, restaurants, hotels, hospitals, and information technology firms. It’s part of a global problem. Over the past three centuries, 85 percent of the world’s marshes, sloughs, swamps, fens, and bogs have been drained, filled in, and built or planted upon. The relatively new IT corridor here is an echo of California’s Silicon Valley, where Google and Facebook squat on filled-in marsh. Over the past few decades, Chennai has sprawled into India’s fourth-largest city, from 48 square kilometers (18.5 square miles) in 1980 to more than 426 square kilometers (165 square miles) today.

And that development has not just harmed Pallikaranai Marsh. The natural landscape on which Chennai was built is particularly rich in water. Pallikaranai is linked hydrologically with a complex system of rivers, backwaters, coastal estuaries, mangrove forests, and ancient human-built lakes in a mosaic of movement—freshwater, brackish, salt—that once covered 186 square kilometers (72 square miles). But an assessment by a local NGO, Care Earth Trust, found that Chennai lost 62 percent of its wetlands between 1980 and 2010. That destruction has depleted habitat for wildlife and spawned dueling water problems for the people of Chennai.

In summer 2019, Chennai grabbed international headlines when it ran out of water. Government trucks made deliveries to roadside tanks, where people queued with vessels and occasionally brawled, resulting in at least one death. When I visited in mid-November, water trucks still plied the streets. But 2019 wasn’t an anomaly. Over the past two decades, Chennai has regularly run out of water during summer months. That’s because paved surfaces throughout the city prevent rain from being absorbed and replenishing groundwater that could be used during the dry season, says Balaji Narasimhan, a professor of engineering who specializes in hydrology at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras. The simple fact is, Chennai shouldn’t be running out of water at all. During its few months of monsoon, the city actually receives 1.5 times more rainfall than it consumes annually. But today’s water managers do their best to rush rain away in stormwater drains and canals, moving it rapidly out to sea. When they need water later, they turn to dwindling groundwater, distant supplies, and desalination plants.

During monsoon rains, water often floods vast swaths of the city. Among Chennai residents, more emotionally and politically jarring than routine water scarcity was the 2015 flood that killed at least 470 people, displaced hundreds of thousands, and left many stranded in their homes for weeks. Ironically, it was likely the local mindset of water scarcity that made the flood more deadly. As writer Krupa Ge documents in her book about the flood, Rivers Remember, reservoir managers were reluctant to release stored water ahead of the monsoon rains; when they finally recognized the threat, they discharged too much, too fast.

In addition to poorly planned development, climate change is also exacerbating these water swings. The city has seen increasingly frequent and intense cycles of both flooding and drought over the past two decades. As moderate rain fell early last December and streets began to flood, one local aptly captured Chennai’s dysfunctional relationship with water in a tweet: “till last week, the residents were booking water tankers and from today they will book rescue boats. What a city!”

These bifurcated water disasters are all the more tragic because early Tamil people, whose cultural and linguistic heritage continues proudly in today’s residents, developed an elegant system for capturing the precipitation that fell during monsoons, saving it for the dry season. Their method also replenished groundwater and minimized erosion from heavy rains. And it supported rather than devastated wetland habitats. 

Back to the future?

Beneath the peepal (Ficus religiosa) and tamarind (Tamarindus indica) trees, amongst the flower stalls and idli restaurants, greater Chennai’s 11 million people go about their business as cows and dogs wander and nap at will, and jungle crows (Corvus culminatus), Oriental magpie-robins (Copsychus saularis), and dragonflies swirl above the fray. Chennai is more chill than the northern megalopolises Delhi and Mumbai, but it shares that quintessentially Indian sheen of chaos that, upon longer observation, reveals an innate order. An unspoken dialogue of push and pull among countless beings following their individual paths somehow manages to keep the whole in a constant state of flow.

Image of Oriental Magpie in Chennai by Dhritiman Mukherjee.

Non-human lives, though, have less and less space to exist across India, where 1.4 billion—with a “b”—people jostle to survive and thrive in a land area one-third the size of the United States. Even so, solutions to this inherent tension don’t have to be an either/or. Reclaiming some of the ancient ways, restoring flow paths and space for water on the land, could provide greater water resiliency for humans and other organisms alike. Today a loose team of people in government, academia, and NGOs are working toward that vision.

The 2015 flood forced the city to acknowledge that poor development planning played a role in amplifying its water disasters. The Dutch office of International Water Affairs advised officials on flood recovery, underscoring that message. The following year, it offered them the opportunity to participate in a multi-year design and development program, called Water as Leverage, in partnership with local water experts and communities. Together they produced two reports that linked existing projects and laid out new ones that would conserve and restore natural and human-built water systems across the entire watershed. The aim was to harness nature, because protecting and restoring natural ecosystems and organisms is a way to also provide resources that people need. 

This concept is part of a “slow water” movement that’s beginning to take hold around the world. Generally speaking, modern humans have forgotten that water’s true nature is to flex with the rhythms of the earth, expanding and retreating in an eternal dance upon the land. In our many attempts to control nature, we’ve sped up water, channeled it, and rushed it away. We’ve forgotten the fact that when we give water a chance to linger on the landscape, floods are softened, water is stored, and natural systems are sustained. Champions of the slow water movement think that the key to greater resilience, particularly in the face of climate change, is a kind of de-engineering that reclaims space for water to pause on land, supporting natural and human-made communities. 

Although it may seem like an unimaginable challenge to restore space for water within a densely inhabited city, many experts think it’s possible. It requires thinking differently. Unlike standard gray infrastructure—dams, levees, stormwater tanks—slow water approaches typically involve many small projects scattered across a landscape that each absorb and hold some water. This dispersed approach is similar to the way that solar panels on every house can add up to a significant amount of electricity generation. 

That any natural water arteries still remain in Chennai is thanks in significant part to Jayshree Vencatesan, a 50-something biologist who founded the NGO Care Earth Trust in 2001 to protect Pallikaranai Marsh and other bodies of water around Chennai. When she began, “people said it was the stupidest thing anyone could do,” she says. “But if people challenge me, saying you cannot do a bit of work, I will take it up.” Based on her years of accumulated knowledge, in 2014 Vencatesan documented the cascading system of 61 wetlands and ancient human-built water bodies across the watershed that drain into Pallikaranai and later juxtaposed them with time-series maps showing what’s been lost. Catalyzing public awareness, her findings were the basis for a ruling by the Honorable High Court of Madras to prohibit further encroachment on wetlands by development, and to implement a state plan to restore some of these ecosystems.

Vencatesan and Care Earth Trust have been heavily involved with the Dutch-local Water as Leverage initiative. Initially, she says, “the government was amused” by the groups’ presentations, given the officials’ general bias in favor of the more typical development approaches of desalination plants, dikes, and filling in wetlands to “reclaim” land. But “when they looked at the final proposal, they were taken by … the in-depth understanding about the city and its hydrology,” she says. This initiative, the court ruling, and other recent events have put the city on course for change. “Until now, nature has been treated in Chennai as an externality, never factored into urban planning.” As this revolutionary shift takes shape, she predicts that sand dunes, marshes and other wetlands, and remnant patches of dry forest will once again become “the natural buffers to the city’s shocks.”

To be continued next week…


Erica Gies is an independent journalist who covers science and the environment from Victoria, British Columbia, and San Francisco, California. Her work appears in the New York Times, Scientific American, Nature, Ensia, The Economist, bioGraphic, National Geographic, and other outlets.

Photographs by Dhritiman Mukherjee.

This story originally appeared in bioGraphic, an online magazine about nature and sustainability powered by the California Academy of Sciences.

Coolie No. 1, Another 2020 Disappointment

Coolie No. 1, Another 2020 Disappointment

I interviewed the poised and reticent Shikha Talsania in mid-December for Coolie No 1, starring Varun Dhawan and Sara Ali Khan in the lead. Normally I would have posted the review based on her comments but she did not reveal anything about the movie other than quoting  “it’s a refreshed version” and “ a family movie”.

So, I watched the movie on Christmas Day with my family. Although I had forgotten the scene by scene roll out of the 1995 blockbuster, the raving zest of Govinda, his side-splitting interactions with Kader Khan as Hoshiarchand. The credulous “Barbie-like’ mannerisms of Karisma Kapoor had left a mental imprint. Twenty-five years ago, I remember borrowing the VCD tape from a street vendor in Manhattan over a long holiday weekend, watching it with my friends and being flabbergasted by the song “Main to ladki ghuma raha tha...Tujhe mirchi lagi toh main kya karoon?” At the same time marveling as to how the lyrics-tune beat combo “Husn hai suhana ishq hai deewana had created a cult-like appeal.

As I watched the 2020 David Dhavan remake, I was catapulted back into the frenzied hip-hop of the roaring 90s! Apart from that, the new movie was unable to cast a spell. Varun Dhavan is a handsome and talented actor who has cast a spell in Badri Ki Dulhaniya and other films. Sara Ali Khan is glammed up (though costumes are not tasteful) but her acting skills are untapped. I wish David Dhavan would have reimagined the storyline after a quarter of a century! If he is thinking of vesting money and energy in remaking other Govinda movies with Varun, he must rethink it. 

There are a myriad of stories and current real-life issues to be explored and presented to the audience in commercially successful cinema. I hope to see Varun, Sara, Shikha, and other stars cast in original socio-economic-political narratives to entertain and enlighten the audiences. If the lure of “rags to riches” theme is too hypnotic to ignore then there are stories like that of Ambani, a son of a village school teacher, and Narendra Modi selling tea at Vadnagar railway station. Although the remake has a backstory, it could have been more creative! Bollywood must come to grips with the fact that the 2020 filmgoer finds it ludicrous to believe that a change of costume can conjure a completely different identity, whether that be of twin or not.

The story is as follows: Humiliated by a mercenary hotelier, Jeffrey Rozario (Paresh Rawal), matchmaker Jai Kishan (Jaaved Jaaferi) avenges himself by introducing a railway coolie Raju (Varun Dhawan) as Kunwar Raj Pratap. Raju is smitten by the photograph of Jeffrey’s daughter Sarah (Sara Ali Khan). Sarah gullibly believes Raju’s tall tales. It might have been more interesting to see the daughter Anju (Shikha Talsania) marry Raju’s friend Deepak (Sahil Vaid) rather than team up with a fictional twin of Raju. 

If the movie was made as an homage to the original, it falls short. If it was made to erase the original from our memory, it fails hopelessly. Govinda’s unexpected words, irrational antics, and outlandish costumes are unforgettable, as are his bona fide dance moves in those loose trousers! Govinda pulled off a con in Coolie No 1 by holding the audience spellbound but Varun Dhawan’s over-rehearsed expressions and mimicry failed to tickle the funny bone. Paresh Rawal’s limericks, or Rajpal Yadav and Javed Jaffrey’s pranks did not do the trick either. I feel that the entire cast was so much in awe of Govinda’s comedic high jinks and they lacked the oomph to overshadow the original Coolie No 1. It’s like comparing an original Indian soda to the same soda in a fancier bottle but with more sugar and less fizz! Although the songs will be good for zoom zumba the movie fails to dazzle! Coolie No 1(2020) is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, and Hotstar.

 


Monita Soni has one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, and the other in her birth home India. Writing is a contemplative practice for Monita Soni. Monita has published many poems, essays, and two books: My Light Reflections and Flow Through My Heart. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM.

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Smoke In a Bottle: That Which Colors the Mind

Smoke In a Bottle: That Which Colors the Mind

(Featured image: Zakir Hussain (left) and Ali Akbar Khan (right) in the 1970s)

It was May 29, 1970, at the Family Dog, a venue located at the edge of a deteriorating amusement park on San Francisco’s Great Highway, where a decidedly psychedelic crowd was spellbound by Indian music legends Ustad Ali Akbar Khan (sarod), 19-year-old Zakir Hussain (tabla), and Indranil Bhattacharya (sitar).

In the control booth, on the stage and wriggling through the crowd in constant movement was genius sound engineer and recorder Owsley Stanley, lovingly known as Bear. Owsley was an alchemist, a philosopher, a scientist famous for the sounds he amplified and the acid he created. He believed in the transformative power of Indian classical music and understood that mastery of it demanded the highest level of dedication and discipline. The night in question would satisfy a quest of Bear’s – to work with the great Ali Akbar Khan, an artist he fiercely respected.

Now, for the first time in 50 years, this sumptuous concert will be made available as the sixth release from Owsley’s storied archive, entitled Bear’s Sonic Journals: That Which Colors the Mind.   

“This is a historical concert that gives a potent glimpse into the blending of cultures, energy, and magic that was made possible here in the Bay Area,” says son of Ali Akbar Khan, Alam Khan.

“The Family Dog was more of an enterprise than a place,” commented Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart, a venture made real through the resolve of concert promoter Chet Helms and run on the fuel of great music, psychedelics, a cosmic light show, and the raw energy of its youthful audience. The Pied Piper behind both the sound and psychedelics was Owsley Stanley.

“I remember this short man,” shared Zakir Hussain, “wearing glasses with curly hair, running around the stage madly setting up microphone stands and cables while talking a hundred miles a minute about his concept of recording. I did not understand Bear Owsley at that time. What he was speaking did not make sense to me but I later came to realize he was one of the original audiophile recording engineers of his time. He set the bar.” Needless to say, Bear was in good company that night.

That Which Colors the Mind - Album Cover

That Which Colors the Mind – Album Cover

 The 2-CD set, released in partnership with The Ali Akbar College of Music, includes frame-worthy original cover art by Chris Gallen, unpublished photographs, and an extensive 28-page booklet with notes featuring new interviews from Ali Akbar Khan’s family and colleagues.

All proceeds support the continued work of The Owsley Stanley Foundation, a 501c(3) non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of “Bear’s Sonic Journals”, Owsley’s archive of more than 1,300 live concert soundboard recordings from the 1960s,1970s, and 1980s, including recordings by Miles Davis, Johnny Cash, The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Fleetwood Mac, Janis Joplin, and more than 80 other artists across nearly every musical idiom.

Then and now, Ali Akbar Khan, or Khansahib, is considered one of the world’s greatest musicians. “He gave new direction to the instrumental interpretation of the ancient Indian ragas.  He transformed the way sarod is played now and is singularly responsible for giving a new voice and an expansion of language to sarod. In my humble opinion,” stated Hussain, “he is without exception the most important Indian instrumentalist of the 20th century.” Hussain, who has himself been internationally recognized for his musical genius and heralded as one of India’s national treasures, points out his youth in this recording. “I was a young whippersnapper out to impress the hell out of the audience. The technique was all-important; playing fast, strong, and loud was the goal.”

Of Indranil Bhattacharya, Hussain expounded, “He was a dear friend and colleague in India, an exceptional sitarist, the student of Khansahib’s father Allaudin Khan and the son of one of the most well-known composers for theater and film in Kolkata.”

That Which Colors the Mind is a musical time machine, a rare recording with a quality and weight so tactile it fills space up like smoke in a bottle. “This is an intimate telling of the Indian music story”, recounts Hussain, “music as understood, interpreted and conversed by us, 3 musicians. There was a thousand-year-old sound behind us as we played, but it was fresh and new on that day because of the spontaneous interaction in the telling amongst us. It had a meditative quality, to be listened to with focus and calmness.” 

Get the soundtrack today by visiting the Owsley Stanley Foundation page!


Anisa Qureshi is a writer, filmmaker, strategist, consultant, and adventurer. She is the daughter of Indian music legend, Zakir Hussain. 

The First Indian Cinematic Comic Book Universe

The First Indian Cinematic Comic Book Universe

The world cannot get enough of superheroes. Superheroes dominate the entertainment industry from comic books and graphic novels to films and streaming services. But there is also a groundswell from the international audience for inclusion and diversity.

Since 2013, Yali Dream Creations has been producing graphic novels revolving around Indian characters, Indian locales, and Indian issues. Key titles for Yali Dream Creations include graphic novels like The Caravan, The Village, and Rakshak: A Hero Among Us, all of which represent Indian culture.

Comic, The Caravan

Comic, The Caravan

Like so many creative intellectual properties, fans of these books want to see translations of these characters onto film. To fulfill this need, Asvin Srivatsangam, the company’s CEO and co-founder, recently announced the company’s expansion of Yali Dream Works. An offshoot of Yali Dream Creations, Yali Dream Works will handle adapting, producing, and distributing Yali Dream Creations’ various literary works into feature films and series for streaming service platforms.

US-based Asvin Srivatsangam has partnered with noted Bombay-based producer, Vivek Rangachari, to blend American Hollywood with Indian Bollywood to create stories that will appeal to Indian audiences and provide a window into Indian culture to a worldwide audience. Rangachari is an advocate for Indian studios generating their own superhero-style content for the Indian population. Rangachari connected with Srivatsangam after reading Yali Dream Creations’ graphic novels, seeing the potential for film adaptations.  

Rangachari elaborated in a virtual Comic-Con panel, “The genres and type of movies are very different from what we were doing in the conventional sense of making films. So, we thought that let’s spin it off in a different venture which concentrates on the superhero genre, horror, thriller, etc. because that’s a different space we’re looking at…That was the reason why we decided to spin it off into a different entity altogether to cater to a certain segment of the audience.”

The first graphic novel slated for feature film adaptation under Yali Dream Works is Rakshak: A Hero Among Us. The book’s titular character, Captain Aditya Shergill is a character who takes up a superhero identity to mete out justice as his city is infested with crime and government corruption. Shergill’s origin story involves a heinous crime that leads to the death of his sister and brother-in-law. To protect his orphaned niece, Shergill takes on the secret identity of Rakshak. Not gifted with superpowers, the vigilante depends on his brute strength, marine commando training, and firearms to dispense justice. More than taking a moral stand on vigilantism, author Shamik Dasgupta’s four-part story compels readers to think about how the world would react to a vigilante taking the law into his own hands.

Working on the film adaptation is acclaimed director Sanjay Gupta. Gupta is an excellent fit for the gritty, action-filled story, having directed action thrillers in the past like Zinda, Kaante, and Shootout at Lokhandwala. While the film was supposed to be released in 2021, the production has been delayed with the current global pandemic. In a recent interview, Gupta voiced his excitement for India’s first graphic novel to be made into a feature film saying, “Rakshak is an Aladdin’s cave of riches. Open a page, any page, and there’s such a wealth of visual material telling a gripping story.”  

Given Yali Dream Works’ mission statement to bring Indian heroes to the forefront, Rakshak was an obvious choice to receive a cinematic adaptation. The success of Marvel and DC films in India along with high viewership of comic-book shows proves that the Indian market is hungry for more superhero stories and would also diversify the market by introducing the wonders of India’s culture to a worldwide market.

Comic, The Village

Comic, The Village

Rakshak is not the only title currently being developed. The Village is an acclaimed graphic novel that is also being adapted for a feature film. It is set in a village in Tamil Nadu during a dystopian future where the nation has made great strides such as space exploration but archaic evils like a social caste system persist. The graphic novel has been optioned by a major streaming service platform. The overall intent of Yali Dream Works is to help develop Indian interest in local homegrown comics while influencing popular culture in India and throughout the world. 

Look out for Rakshak at a screening near you!


Asvin Srivatsangam lives in San Jose, California with his lovely wife and adorable daughter, and works as a visual designer for a startup. Asvin has been passionate about the comic book medium from his childhood, and he finally started his own comic book publishing house, Yali Dream Creations, in 2013. 

Step Into the New…You

Step Into the New…You

Renewal: You and The World Around You

As I tuned into this topic, I became aware of the internal environment that is created because of the people in our lives and how we perceive ourselves in relation to them. Often keeping others comfortable becomes our comfort zone. Stepping out of it rocks the boat. As we step into this New Year, I invite you to step into the New You.

It is too long that you stayed in a shell to keep others comfortable.

There are some around you who have always loved you, with whom you are amazing and it is easy. You feel safe being yourself.

Then why walk on eggshells with everyone else? Why numb the goodness and brightness in you? 

Nobody realizes that you are simply trying to fit in. You value them too much, even more than yourself.  You are getting comfortable with that. In your mind, you are being nice to them. And yet often feel miserable. They are also getting used to that. Stop…just stop!

Look at those who really ‘see’ you. You seem to do everything right by them. Break the shell and crack it open. Do what it takes! It’s worth it!

They will find others who feed their comfort. Yes, give them a shock.

They will have to step up to understand you and cheer you in your growth. They will have to know your pain.

You in your truthfulness will mourn your perceived loss of some of them because you truly cared about them. That’s why you kept them comfortable while you suffered.

Yes, I know you also wronged some people. Those too will reach out to you or you to them, in your growth. Just know that you are not accountable to all of them this very minute, so don’t judge yourself too hard.

Go ahead take that step, a small change, break open, fly. The ones ready for growth will grow with you. Some will fall away, as you both cannot see eye to eye now.

Forgive yourself, forgive them, love yourself, love them, allow yourself to Be, allow them to Be. Trust me, it’s worth it. When you feel stuck and choose to wiggle out, it hurts, it’s worth it.

The ones who care for you and the ones you care for will have to accept you as you are today. Let them know you are one of them but be stronger on your own path.


Pragalbha Doshi lives with her husband and 2 teenage boys in San Jose, CA. As a yoga teacher, she facilitates therapy & change for people who struggle with chronic symptoms of stress, physical & emotional, and who want a productive & fulfilling life. 

The contents of this article first appeared on my personal blog Infinite Living on Jan 5, 2017. Find more inspiration in poetry and prose at the link.

Indian Audio Books For the Global Child

Indian Audio Books For the Global Child

In a virtual world, parents are striving to strike a balance between the need for a personal connection and the prerequisite to learn. While school learning comes with its own set of rules, extracurricular learning is an area where parents can get creative and let their own imagination and that of the child guide them in creating new and exciting means to learn.

There is no better way to learn than through stories. Many schools of education would agree with this thought. Especially Indian parents would agree because oral storytelling is such a big part of our culture. Remember your Nani’s soft hands stroking your hair, while she told you native folklore? And where are those stories now? They are in the collective memories of all who might have heard them. Author Sue Monk Kidd said, “Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.” So, as parents, it is our moral obligation to pass these stories on. And as Indians with a rich and complex culture to share, stories can be the creative building blocks to share this treasure of information.

In a search to limit screen time and yet not disclude the benefits of technology, I hunted for the best audio stories on the internet that share the riches of Indian culture. They are reminiscent of the soft voice of our childhoods: reading or narrating a story, very personal and very human. 

Here’s my list:

Ancient Indian Wisdom

BaalGatha

Baalgatha literally means Children’s stories. This podcast brings to you hundreds of stories with morals, ranging from Panchatantra, Jataka, and Hitopadesha stories to many more. These are stories that are not only entertaining but definitely have an educational value. 

Baalgatha is available in English, Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Telugu, and Kannada languages. The stories are short and can hold the attention of younger kids. A perfect start to texts like Panchtantra and to introduction to Indian languages.

Audible India: The Jungle Book

Audible India has several children’s stories including Panchtantra, Akbar Birbal and many classical Indian tales. I was elated to find the Jungle Book on Audible India, this production is the Winner of the 2016 Audie Award for Best Audio Drama and the 2016 Audie Award for Excellence in Production. Magically narrated and completely transportive, while this production is more suitable for older kids, it will be a delight for parents as well. 

New Original Audio stories

Little Stories for Tiny People

Rhea Pechter’s podcast is an internet phenomenon. Little Stories for Tiny People is downloaded over 130,000 times per month and has been featured in School Library Journal, Mashable, Time Out New York, Common Sense Media, and Parents.com. While her stories are for older children, they are innovative, fun and full of animal adventure that is set in America. Divided by themes like bedtime, family, life changes, this podcast is into its ninth season! Based on the response Rhea recently published her book Little Fox Can’t Wait to Dream.

Lori 

Lori is a five-story collection by first time writer Ratna Goradia. What stands out about these stories is their simple originality, and their ability to transport listeners into the innocent times back in India. Set in India, these stories revolve around the theme of friendship and follow Hari and Shyam, two friends and their newly found friend: an adorable dog named Pintu, about their school lives. Softly read, and easily grasped even by toddlers, these stories will give kids a glimpse into the life of growing up in India. Parents will enjoy them for nostalgia’s sake! Also featured on India based Chimes Radio, we hope Lori will offer more installments. 

Classical and Original Stories

Story Weaver by Pratham Books

Story Weaver is by far the most diverse and exciting platform for children’s stories. It is a great resource for animated picture books and audio stories based on subjects, ages, genres, and lengths. Like me, you might get lost in stories from African folklore or stories about empathy and honesty, classical stories and original stories. Under their Indian stories, you will find stories of ancient wisdom and new and original stories. This is a treasure house with hundreds of stories for all ages.


Preeti Hay is a freelance writer whose writings have appeared in publications including The Times of India, Khabar Magazine, India Currents, Yoga International, and anthologies of fiction and poetry.

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