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Bias and Prejudice on Display
This is in response to Kalpana Mohan’s article describing her difficulties with a first-time immigrant neighbor whose ideas about yard maintenance differ from hers. (On the Fence, July 2017). We are informed that in Ms. Mohan’s India, civic sense outside one’s home matters less than cleanliness inside. “Anna” the implied Caucasian whose yard is the last word in botanical beauty is “increasingly anxious about how to deal with new neighbors who bring different values.” Now wait for this gem: “But even in India, I rarely saw such an unkempt home.” Even in India?

When I returned to the Bay Area recently after a two-year sojourn in India, I left a place where “no plastic” actually meant no plastic, not the “no free plastic, but you can buy a bag for 10 cents,” variety, a place where vermi-composting had become mandatory for communities larger than 20 homes, a place where rainwater-harvesting is compulsory, a place where neighbors plant lemongrass to naturally keep away mosquitoes, a place where everyone is talking terrace-gardening, a place where nearly every home has either a jasmine, plumeria, basil, or hibiscus bush (all native, low-maintenance, and low-irrigation plants). Ms.Mohan, on the fence you’re definitely not, you’re squarely on the side of bias and prejudice.
Gayathri Chakravarthy, Cupertino

No Clear Purpose
I have never written to an editor but the sheer irrelevance and pathetic writing by Kalpana Mohan has compelled me to write. (On the Fence, July 2017).
What is the point of this article? Who is she fooling by saying—“lets call them the Chens,” and the person who takes care of the yard “Anna.” She draws a comparison between her husband taking care of the yard while she needs to be in India for her ailing father and the Chens neglecting theirs while they take care of an ailing parent. Really? The article has no clear message or purpose unless it is to diss the Chinese and suck up to the whites.
F Lastameur, email

Where Dark Skin is Praised
I have been a reader of your magazine for decades and I read the cover story by Pavani Kaushik, (The Fair and the Unfair, July 2017), and found it to be well begun, but half done. Yes, the points she makes about Ravi Varma paintings and Amar Chitra Kathas are true—I wrote a letter as a young girl to ACK on this very issue as I knew from shlokas that Parvati is dark-skinned not light, while Shiva is light skinned not dark. The very cover image of that ACK (Shiva Parvati) is misleading as is the rest of the comic.

That said, the other part of how Indian literature, shlokas and other art glorify dark skin is totally missing from the article—the “un fair” part is missing. I hope we are enlightened enough to stop perpetrating stereotypes and bring out the other aspect where dark skin is praised. Case in point— Shyamala Dandakam by Kalidasa, one of the most beautiful shlokas to the “dark skinned” one (Shyamala) describing Devi’s skin as maragatha shyama (emerald-like darkness). Finally, as much as I was exposed to ACK and Ravi Varma art in our puja room, I was also introduced to exquisite mural paintings made by anonymous artists in the caves of Ajantha and on the inside of the Thanjavur big temple’s gopuram as a child. Here, the traditional art clearly shows women with all tones of skin color. I was thrilled to find my skin tone in their milieu. This extends to Kalamkari art where darker browns are as common as lighter tones.

How do I know all of this?—Both my sister and I are dark skinned and when we had to face our share of racial sidelining (she, overlooked from playing an angel in a Christmas play and I, from being a “flower girl” for the visit of M.G. Ramachandran to our school’s annual day function) based on our skin tone, our mother was our avenging angel who took up the matter with the teacher and the principal and she was ready to pull us out of school! Not only did our roles get “upgraded” roles after her call, we were taught about the beautiful women in Indian literature and made to feel proud of being hued like the goddess. I think, having a wise mother makes up for how a girl’s or boy’s idea of self is established from a young age.

Finally, in my tenth grade Biology textbook, skin color was demystified when we learned about quantitative (polygenic) inheritance and I was thrilled to know that I had more “genes” that made melanin than my “weaker” brother (as siblings go, I absolutely had to find every way to beat him!) who had inherited fewer of those dominant genes making him lighter-skinned.
Meenakshi Srinivasan, San Jose

Chromolithographs, Not Lithographs
Raja Ravi Varma never created any lithographs. His paintings were reproduced resulting in reproductions, not lithographs. The use of the term lithographs is being used, with or without intent to mask what was nothing more than reproductions.

Chromolithography became the most successful of several methods of color printing developed by the 19th century. The initial technique involved the use of multiple lithographic stones, one for each color, and was still extremely expensive when done for the best quality results. Depending on the number of colors present, a chromolithograph could take months to produce when done by skilled workers. However much cheaper prints could be produced by simplifying both the number of colors used, and the refinement of the detail in the image. Cheaper images relied heavily on an initial black print (not always a lithograph), on which colors were then overprinted. To make an expensive reproduction print as what was once referred to as a “chromo,” a lithographer, with a finished painting in front of him, gradually created and corrected the many stones using proofs to look as much as possible like the painting in front of him, sometimes using dozens of layers. In other words, those “very skilled workers” are chromists (someone who copies another’s work) who reproduced with their fingers Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings resulting in chromist-made reproductions, not lithographs.
Gary Arseneau, creator of original lithographs, Florida

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