Tag Archives: Art

My mother's Rajasthani painting (Image provided by Author)

My Mother Shines Through Her Paintings

The most valuable painting in my art collection is one of my mother’s masterpieces.

My mother, Kaushal Kapur, was born in Sikar district of Rajasthan. The city was studded with large airy havelis with white-washed walls decorated with colorful Rajasthani folk murals. My mother loved decorating her parents’ courtyard with colorful rangolis or painting henna tattoos on friends’ and sisters’ palms. Once at the School of Art in Jaipur, she saw an artist engrossed in painting a miniature.

Miniature art was introduced to India in the sixteenth century by the Mughal ruler, Humayun. He brought with him Persian artists who specialized in the fine art of painting. Humayun’s descendent Emperor Akbar built an art gallery and many schools of painting. Akbar era paintings were aristocratic and strong in portraiture. Elaborate court scenes and hunting expeditions were favored.

The word miniature comes from ‘minium’ which is red lead paint used in illuminated manuscripts. These paintings are very intricate and rendered in minute detail. Strong line drawings were rendered on paper, ivory, wood, leather, marble, and cloth. Colored with vegetable and mineral dyes in complementary colors: pale greens, reds, blues, and yellows. Embellished with real silver and gold they sparkle like multifaceted gemstones. Preparing colors and mixing is a complex process. It takes several weeks to get the desired results. The fine brushes were made from the hair of squirrels, and were highly valued. Today many artists replicate the originals in poster colors for affordable merchandising.

My mother was mesmerized by the king in light blue skin as Krishna with his beloved as Radha. She requested the master to teach her how to paint. The art teacher was reluctant, thinking that it was a passing fancy for her. He tried to dissuade her. But the pursuit of creativity takes courage and persistence. My mother visited the art school daily and did not give up. Her resolve was apparent at a tender age. One day, the teacher asked her to draw straight lines on blank paper. Before he could say Radhe Krishna, little Kaushalya had drawn hundred straight lines on the paper. Impressed by her steady hand, the artist enrolled her in his class. 

Mother painted several gouache watercolors under his tutelage. I grew up with her paintings in our home. They are exceptional works of art in delicate harmonious colors. I adored her paintings as a child but over time I have grown to appreciate her style even more. There is unique clarity of form and apparent ease of composition. My eyes linger for hours on fine uninterrupted lines, and exaggerated features in the frames. Long necks, large almond-shaped eyes, long fingers, and elegant toes.

My mother’s full-length painting of a maiden in her hut. (Image provided by Author)

My mother’s art is imprinted on my mind. Perhaps that explains elaborate doodles in my workbooks. My classmates would line up at my desk to request their doodles. School chalkboards were also covered in my art in all free periods.  My teachers can vouch for that.  After coming to America, my mother visited me and we both made a Bani Thani style painting together. I can clearly visualize her able hands patiently mixing the watercolors for me. This painting is my anchor. It portrays the universal twin souls Radha and Krishna engrossed in mutual adoration. I have the painting on my mantle. In the grandeur of this rendering, I can visualize my mother’s being in the Bani Thani. I also have her painting of Ahalya, the most beautiful woman petrified in stone kneeling in front of a handsome Lord Rama. Another one of a lovely young maiden on a tuft of lotus leaves with a serene expression which I think is a self-portrait. 

I never feel alone when I paint because my mother’s hand guides me from across the oceans.  But my piece de resistance is her prize-winning painting of a maiden in a hut waiting for her beloved. It is a 9 by 11 monochromatic watercolor painting in shades of green and aqua. She has created a wonderful rustic atmosphere and depth with a limited palette. Color blending is flawless. I can enter the living space, hear the rustle of her skirt. Touch her long fingers, admire her delicate lashes as she engages in small talk with her parrot.

As a child, I often wondered what she was cooking on the earthenware stove. The solitary lamp in the alcove and four flickering flames are so poetic. But more than anything else, I love her beautiful feet strongly planted on terra firma despite the faraway look in her eyes. The painting embodies the body, heart, and soul of my mother. She is an angel and the salt of the Earth. And she is mine. 


Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India, and works as a pathologist in Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home, and art. She has written two books: My Light Reflections and Flow through my Heart. She is a regular contributor to NPR’s Sundial Writers Corner.


 

Musician, Raja Kumari (Image provided by Raja Kumari)

‘I Was Told to Tone Down My Ethnicity to be Successful in America’ Notes Raja Kumari

Indian-American rapper, songwriter, and singer Raja Kumari is a force of nature. Hailing from Claremont, California, she is best known for her collaboration with notable artists including Gwen Stefani, Fifth Harmony, Knife Party, and Fall Out Boy. A fearless, charismatic personality and natural-born storyteller, her mission is to create art that blends her Indian roots with her American upbringing.

In this exclusive interview, she talks among other things about the challenges she had to face as an American of Indian origin, her latest tracks ‘I Am A Rebel’ and ‘Hello World’ which released on Women’s Day, and philanthropic activities that she participates in through her music.

Musician, Raja Kumari (Image provided by Raja Kumari)
Musician, Raja Kumari (Image provided by Raja Kumari)

Being of Indian American origin, tell us more about the challenges you had to face and the uniqueness you bring to your music. 

RK: One of the main issues I faced trying to get started in America was racism. I was always told to tone down my ethnicity, that I was “too Indian” to be successful in America. I struggled to find someone to look up to as a South Asian kid in America. I remember, on weekends I would travel for classical dancing and wouldn’t necessarily share that with my friends. I would come to school with the Alta (painting the palms and feet with a red dye) fading on my hands and they’d ask me, “What is that? Do you have a hand disease?” 

Things are evolving in the US now. I like to call it the ‘brown renaissance’ Indians are more relevant in so many fields, especially entertainment. On the other hand, some people in India called me a ‘culture vulture’. How can I be a ‘culture vulture’ in my own culture just because I’m born in America? I’m not just another South Asian. I still have put in my time to be Indian enough to talk about India without being an appropriator of culture. My family did a really great job of preserving the culture for us. We don’t fake it. We wear sarees for pujas, my mom does Vijayadashami and Navratri, I have studied Indian music and dance. As a result, my style is just a balance between the East and the West. 

I think learning to navigate both worlds with authenticity has helped me become the artist I am today. I have carved a place for myself in the male-dominated music circuit by staying authentic and rooted in my culture. I think there a lot of women in the industry who say a lot of things from the female perspective about relationships, broken hearts, love lost, pain, sadness, happiness, or sexiness; there are so many of those voices. I felt like we were missing my perspective. Of course, I could sing soft and beautiful songs but there are many people to do that.

You are also a trained dancer in Kuchipudi, Odissi, and Bharatanatyam. Tell us more about this passion of yours. 

RK: My passion for Indian dance started at a very young age. My mother had always wanted to be a classical dancer and it wasn’t feasible for her to pursue it growing up, so it was always in her heart to have a daughter who was a dancer so I came out dancing. My attachment to classical Indian dancing really gave me so much of my personality, so much the way I dress and the way I perceive the world, and also the stories that I relate to. Some kids grew up to Batman, Superman and I was really obsessed with the Mahabharata and the Ramayana and the stories of Hanuman. Those were my superheroes, and so I think classical dance really made that a part of my life. 

Tell us more about philanthropic activities you have participated in in the past through your performances. 

RK: I always believed art should be used for the greater good. Since I was a child, my parents always involved me in a lot of charity work and I was able to help build the meditational hall in Hyderabad and donate a wing for a hospital in Bengaluru. I consistently performed for so many temples to raise funds for building certain temples in Southern California. I think now I definitely use my art to open doors for others to create an opportunity to inspire. There are many philanthropic activities I am a part of but I mostly like to support the charities that support the girl child because I believe in India, we need more attention and more support to encourage young girls to be in art and not just sciences or leaving school as we usher in an era of more creative artists. I think we have enough of everything else and I would hate to lose our artistry as a culture with the idea of modernizing ourselves and lose everything we are, so anything that will help support the art, I am there.

Who are some of your inspirations? 

RK: Madhuri Dixit, Lauryn Hill, Kamala Harris, Missy Elliot, and Beyonce.

Tell our readers more about your latest tracks ‘I Am A Rebel’ (featuring Kiara Advani and Bani J in lead roles) as well as ‘Hello World’ (with Hollywood actor Rita Wilson and Brazilian singer Claudia Leitte), both of which released on Women’s Day. 

RK: Both these tracks were created from the inkling to motivate and inspire young girls. Teaming up with Rita Wilson and Claudia Leitte on ‘Hello World’ was amazing, as these are two women I have so much respect for and it was really cool to see how our styles complemented one another. When boAt approached me to write ‘I Am A Rebel’, I was so excited to collaborate with my longtime friend DJ SA on the music. I’ve always considered myself a rebel in my music choice, my career, and my unapologetic nature! I loved crafting the lyrics to depict that energy and I’m so happy to have been joined by so many strong women like Bani J and Kiara on the campaign.


Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world. 


 

Bay Area Poet Relives Oral Traditions

Divine Blossoms is the kind of book I might have never discovered if I was not the founder and host of a poetry group called the Poetry of Diaspora in Silicon Valley. I am so glad that I agreed to review it and have had it on my bedside table for easy access for the past several weeks.

The poet, Anuradha Gajaraj-Lopez brings wholesomeness to the ordinary life as a householder. As a former journalist, she has a facility with words, using them to reach everyone, regardless of where they might come from. The 134-page book is more than a poetry book. It offers poems that are also prayer, a wide range of ways of worship, and several ancient stories from epics of Hindu mythology, as spiritual fables with lessons for young and old. These are all wrapped and delivered as short poems, with the cadence and essence of a bhajan, a devotional song, in simple English, that makes it accessible to everyone.

The book has two parts: the first called Murmurs from Beyond and the second called Whispers from India. The poems in the first part deal with faith in God and the metaphor of divine love. The latter part has poems in six sessions, on topics of devotees, folklore, epics of Ramayan and Mahabharta, gods Shiva and Krishna, Christ and Yogananda, women in India, and on death. The poems are rich in detail with the pathos of lived life in human form combined with a yearning for the inspiration from the deep faith in the divine, through the references that evoke not just the main characters that are highlighted in the index, but also the poetic traditions, with Kabir, Ramakrishna, Chaitnya Prabhu and others who were seekers in the same vein.  

Anuradha invites the reader into her world with an authentic and heartfelt outpouring of the essence of all that she cherishes. The Indian mythological stories have a living oral tradition such that retelling these timeless stories allows for making them relevant in contemporary times. Anuradha’s rendering does that. If you are not familiar with Hindu mythology, she helpfully provides a short introduction before the poem, to make the story be set in the context, and for them to be rendered in a poetic form. The poems are crystalized into the essence of the story, almost like a bhajan, an Indian devotional poetic form.

I will not be surprised if someone reading them decided to set them to music and create a musical or chant form for these in the future. As many of the stories were familiar to me, parts of the book took me on a journey to my childhood when I had first heard these. The poems leave a fragrance, and it makes sense that she called the book Divine Blossoms. While the poems are light reading, they offer comfort, surprise, hope, and the adventure of a story. The moral lessons are conveyed gently like what the poet believes, and not a lecture on morality. Her voice brings the easy access of an Amar Chitra Katha comic book version along with the message with the clarity of her spiritual guru, Yogananda. The deep convictions of the poet are what make this poetry transparent and luminescent. These are conveyed in an easy manner that makes it clear that the poet practices these effortlessly and speaks her mind genuinely, wearing her faith as easily as a well-loved garment, and releasing the poems with trust that they will find their own readers. 

The book is self-published and shows care in how symbols and images have been added to enhance the presentation. It will feel different from a professionally edited book since it has its own unique layout. This makes me wish that it will inspire others who are carrying their poems and stories within them to also be willing to create their own books. The creativity and fire of the work are best experienced, rather than described by me, so I have selected one of my favorite poems, reproduced with her permission.    

The Stone on the Temple Floor

It is so unfair

I am trodden on by hundreds

Who rush by without a thoughtless care

To seek a glimpse of your form

And yet,

I was hewn on the same old rock as thee

 

Here I lie on the temple floor

While you are daily worship

With honey, milk, curd and

Precious gems galore!

 

“Ha” laughed the divine statue

Standing erect and tall

And gently said,

“Brother, don’t you remember at all?”

 

The days when we lay on

The stone mason’s yard

With hardly a few blows you were

All set, and proudly carted afar

While, I cried each time,

The choice and hammer

Moved relentlessly on

On every inch of this form

You now see and envy from afar

 

And so, the Divine sculptor

Deals the hardest blows on those

He holds very close

Not to be discarded on an old temple floor

But to merge with Him and

Reach the coveted destiny that is His alone!


Dr. Jyoti Bachani is on a mission to humanize management using the arts, specifically poetry and improv, as a founding member of the Poetry of Diaspora of Silicon Valley, a co-founder of the US chapter of the International Humanistic Management Association, and an associate professor of business at Saint Mary’s College of California.

‘I Want My Work to Encourage People to Stop & Think’ Says Michelle Poonawalla

(Featured Image: Michelle Poonwalla and Circle of Life Artwork)

Artist, businesswoman, philanthropist, and socialite Michelle Poonawalla recently showcased a series of her new artworks at the Tao Art Gallery’s exhibition The Tangible Imaginative for the Mumbai Gallery Weekend. Michelle’s four oil on canvas works—Blue Wave, Desert Rose, Forest Flutter and Flutter Fly—come from the artist’s Butterfly Series, and feature three-dimensional, sculptural elements affixed to the canvas. Painted in bold colors, the works feature gold-effect butterflies.

Futter Fly

Poonawalla lives and works between London and Pune. Her practice combines cutting-edge technology and traditional artistic mediums, often utilizing sound, video mapping, projection, motion sensors, and other techniques. She has previously exhibited her work at the Saatchi Gallery, London; Alserkal Avenue, Dubai; and as a collateral project at the Kochi Biennale, India. More recently, Poonawalla has also begun exploring work with shorter digital format films.

In this exclusive interview, she spoke to us among other things about her earliest artistic influences, nature as inspiration, her favorite art medium, and the butterfly symbol in her works.

Tell us a little about your oil-on-canvas works at the Tao Art Gallery’s exhibition The Tangible Imaginative for the Mumbai Gallery Weekend.

MP: The four works come from my Butterfly Series which evolves beyond traditional 2D painting, incorporating sculptural elements that bring the artworks off the canvas and into the viewer’s space. A lot of my work features the butterfly symbol which for me represents both beauty and freedom–an ephemeral creature that is the result of a metamorphosis.

What was the idea, inspiration behind them?

MP: The works all have different inspirations and stories behind them. For example, Blue Wave is inspired by Mumbai and references the city through its free-flowing language and color. Desert Rose, which also features butterflies, represents the inherent beauty in nature’s patterns as I allowed the butterfly sculptures to fall naturally on the work before affixing each one where they landed.

A theme often addressed in my work is the strength and beauty of nature and the importance of preserving it. This is perhaps most obvious in Forrest Flutter. Painted in dark earthy hues and greens, the work celebrates the forest. 

You are the granddaughter of the iconic south Mumbai architect Jehangir Vazifdar. Tell us about some of your earliest artistic influences.

MP: From an early age, I was taken to some of the greatest museums and galleries in the world. I have always loved art and painted throughout my life and studied Interior Design at university. I was perhaps most inspired by my grandfather, Jehangir Vazifdar, a renowned painter and architect. My grandfather had a very special technique in oil painting with a ruler which he shared only with me, and it is important for me to carry on his legacy.

Your work is known to explore universal, socially engaged topics. Tell our readers about some of these themes.

MP: Art is a universal language with a powerful voice, and I’m conscious my work is used to spread a positive message. For example, I have recently produced a series of video works that explore environmental change and other issues around us today. I want my work to encourage people to stop, think, and introspect. Be it climate change, water scarcity, or violence in our world, people should always stop and think.

Desert Rose

Which is your favorite art medium? Do you feel that digital art is the future of art?

MP: I enjoy acrylic and work in acrylic for my butterfly paintings. However, I wouldn’t say I have one favorite medium. I’ve worked in oils a lot and I am looking forward to exhibiting some drawings at the 079 Stories gallery in Ahmedabad soon.

Digital art is certainly something we are seeing more of but I think physical painting will always have a place – it is important to be able to physically engage with artwork in person. I’ve always been interested in combining cutting-edge technology and traditional art forms, and digital art has allowed me to create huge immersive installations where the viewer is completely emerged in the visual image. Technology gives an artist the freedom to explore endless possibilities; it allows a greater feeling. I also think digital art speaks the language of the younger generation, and it keeps their interest in art growing.  

What are you working on next?

MP: I’ve got several projects coming up, including showing work in a drawings exhibition at the beautiful 079 Stories in Ahmedabad in February. Later in the year, I will also be showing work in a group exhibition in Delhi. Alongside this, I am exhibiting work online with several platforms including digital work with SeditionArt.com and several new works I have just produced for House of Culture. Hopefully, there are a few international projects on the cards which I will be able to announce later in the year. 


Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer and editor based in New Delhi. She is the author of ‘Wanderlust for the Soul’ and ‘Bombay Memory Box’.

Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam: From Trinidad to America

Being newly retired, memories of my childhood bubbled up, as I finally had time to daydream. My father’s grandmother, Gangee Maharaj, arrived in Trinidad from Raipur, India in 1900. Many Indians came to Trinidad as indentured laborers eventually earning plots of land from the British. Thus, my great-grandparents received their own land, passing it on to my grandparents, on whose farm I grew up. I remember vividly our two beloved cows, Rani and Raja. We were often blessed with fresh and nutritious milk.

To become an eligible bride, one requirement was to be able to skillfully puff a paratha! Achieving the perfect architecture and weight of the delicious and well-known flatbread takes practice. Only then could you have your handprint painted on Grandma’s kitchen wall. This meant that you were allowed to enter her kitchen and prepare a meal under her supervision. My first painting had to be of this kitchen!

I also remembered the wonderful folklore of Trinidad infused by the many African immigrants. We heard many stories of mythical creatures. Moko Jumbie was invoked to protect the people during the long and arduous slave boat journeys from Africa. The Soucouyant is a vampire, popular in many Caribbean countries. I remember being very scared hearing some of these stories as a young girl!

My paintings are of memories from my childhood, which was steeped with traditional Hindu ceremonies, African folklore, the natural beauty of the islands, and the array of cultures of the diverse population.

The world is a family 

One is a relative, the other stranger, 

say the small minded. 

The entire world is a family, 

live the magnanimous. 

Be detached, 

be magnanimous, 

lift up your mind, enjoy 

the fruit of Brahmanic freedom. 

—Maha Upanishad 6.71–75 

The Yamas and Niyamas of Healing Patterns and Colors is the title of my newest painting collection.

Imagine that these ethical principles, the yamas and niyamas of the ancient Upanishads are embedded in all my paintings. The sage, Patanjali expounds on them in his Yoga Sutras. Sutra means “thread” in Sanskrit, which you can see represented by the many-colored line segments in this painting collection. 

Indra Persad-Milowe’s Art Piece, The Yamas and Niyamas of Healing Patterns and Colors.

YAMAS: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras lists five yamas, or moral restraints, which apply specifically to how you behave outwardly toward other beings.

1) Ahimsa – Non-violence in thought, word and deed 

2) Satya – Truthfulness 

3) Asteya – Non-Stealing

4) Brahmacharya – putting the “path to the Divine” first and foremost in life 

5) Aparigraha – Non-hoarding, freedom from grasping 

NIYAMAS: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra lists five niyamas, or observances, which apply specifically to how you conduct yourself on a more personal level. 

1) Saucha – Cleanliness 

2) Santosha – Contentment 

3) Tapas – Self Discipline 

4) Svadhyaya – Self Study 

5) Isvara-pranidhana – Surrender: offering yourself completely as a vehicle of the Divine will 

My ten-piece paintings capture religious and cultural life in so many patterns and colors, just like our world is full of varieties of patterns and colors. They reflect many disciplines and ideals of life: faith, fortitude, sacrifice, respect, and love. Love and respect for all patterns (ways of life) and colors (global cultures) are a very important Hindu worldview – “VASUDHAIVA KUTUMBAKAM” (The world is a family).


Indra Persad Milowe is a visual artist living and working in Salem, Massachusetts. She is currently working on an extensive series of paintings, drawing upon childhood memories of growing up in Trinidad during the 1950s.

The Mask: Art Therapy Can Ease Anxiety About COVID

In a perspective published in the journal Science, a group of scientists reiterates that masks are not only helpful but necessary to combat the spread of the virus from people without symptoms.

The top reasons why Masks will continue to play a critical role are:

  1. No vaccine is 100% effective.
  2. Vaccines do not provide immediate protection.
  3. Covid vaccines may not prevent one from spreading the virus.
  4. Kids are last in the line to get a vaccine as the clinical trials are still in process.

Because a vaccine is out, that does not mean that people should stop social distancing or wearing a mask. It is still very important to wear a mask and social distance. While doing this, you not only protect yourself but also the people around you, including those with compromised immune systems, senior citizens, friends, family.

Coloring has the ability to relax the fear center of your brain, the amygdala.

“Art therapy is being prescribed a lot more to support the mental health of young kids, especially those with social and emotional deficiencies,” Phaire

It induces the same state as meditating by reducing the thoughts of a restless mind. In these difficult times, this is a small initiative to help people around the world cope with COVID-19. 

  • Creating an hour of activity.
  • Spreading and educating the importance of Masks to younger kids.
  • Teaching the basics of Masks.

I have authored the coloring book  “The mask” to educate young children about the importance of a mask, especially during this time. It gives children something to do other than watch tv. During this time, there are not a lot of things that people can do and it is much harder for the younger children. My hope with this is to give them an activity or something fun to do while educating them. You can download the book here. It is also available on amazon 

With the intention to educate the younger generation, I  have reached out to a dozen non-profit organizations, and with their help, I am in the process of distributing 500 “The Mask” coloring books to kids in shelters in the San Francisco Bay area and Seattle. The primary intention being:

  •  To raise awareness about masks and the importance of wearing it
  •  More importantly to support the mental health of young kids using art. 

Thanks to the No Birthday Left Behind and Lavanya Reddy, Washington Helping Hands for helping in this great cause.

As per NY times, for a teenager living in California, the stats for getting the vaccine are:

  • Based on your risk profile, we believe the teenager is in line behind 185.6 million people across the United States.
  • When it comes to California, teenagers are behind 20.7 million others who are at higher risk in your state.

Masks are our saviors, so the quest to educate kids on masks and their importance is critical, as they are last in line to get the vaccine once one become available. Please continue to wear the masks and educate about the importance of Masks. 

Stay Safe! 


Pranav Medida is a freshman at BISV in San Jose. His love of reading, which started at a young age, soon grew into a love of writing. He loves educating kids by authoring books and distributing them to the needy. ‘The Mask’ is his third book to raise awareness. 

Educational Challenge For Kids – Win Cash Prizes!

Towards the end of the year 2016, I started searching for things that looked like the symbol in nature and in manmade structures. As you may already know,, which is pronounced “Om”, is a very sacred symbol for Hindus.

Initially, I did not find anything natural or manmade that looked like , but my search trained my eyes to recognize other patterns that looked like art. As I walked on paved surfaces, I started noticing art-like patterns in areas that looked a bit dirty, the kind of areas that people normally walk around or unintentionally step on and keep walking. Using the camera in my smartphone, I started taking pictures of these art-like patterns and started showing the images to people I knew.

The collection of photos that I called “Art That People Step On”, because people tend to step on these art-like patterns while walking, started to grow and I was able to exhibit some of the photos in four solo exhibitions. My photos have also been displayed in some juried group exhibitions so far. 

 In the month of February, on a particular day, many people in the United States give and receive greeting cards to express their affection to others who are close to them, such as good friends, relatives, and their teachers.

Do you know what that day is called? Valentine’s Day is the perfect day to show appreciation to those you love. 

In case you are interested, I found the featured image in the photograph on a walkway. To me, it looks like the wear and tear of the paved surface created the image. Does the image look like a heart?

I have a challenge for you:

  1. Find an image in your environment or online that reminds you of the people you love. 
  2. Using crayons or paint and brush, add to and make changes to the image and create a greeting card with your own message. 
  3. Your greeting card can be one-sided or two-sided and can be as small or as big as you want it to be.
  4. If you have the necessary software, you can also create the greeting card on your computer.
  5. Take a picture of the greeting card that you created. Take pictures of both sides if your greeting card is two-sided.
  6. Submit the picture(s) to the challenge via email to editor@indiacurrents.com
  7. The deadline for submission is Sunday, February 28, 2021.
  8. After you submit the picture of your greeting card to the challenge, give it to the person or persons that you like.   

There is no entry fee! Cash prizes will be awarded to winning entries: 

First Prize: US $50 

Second Prize: US $30 

Third Prize: US $20

India Currents Magazine will feature all prize-winning entries and a few other selected entries. Adult supervision is strongly recommended when using scissors or other sharp objects. Have fun, and be creative!


Dr. Mandayam Osuri Thirunarayanan was born in Madras, India. He became a citizen of the United States and currently lives in Miami, Florida.

I Found Ethically Sourced Sarees: Tapestries of Resilience

The other day, while airing out and refolding my sarees, I realized I hadn’t bought a saree in many years! A few days before Deepawali and my birthday, I knew I had nowhere to go but that was no excuse –  after almost a year into the pandemic, I wanted to look and feel good. 

I am a bit wary when it comes to buying sarees. An experience I had a few years ago changed how I shopped for sarees. A smart and savvy salesperson at a store was pressuring me into buying a saree. Through casual conversation, she told me weavers spend 12-14 hours each day weaving the saree and dyeing it. Each saree, she said, takes 20-25 days to complete and many times weavers forgo their meals just to fulfill the suppliers’ demand, and they get paid Rs 100-150 ($1.50-2.00) a day depending on the type and design of the saree. The silk saree I had selected was priced at Rs 5,600 ($80) but the weavers had only gotten paid about Rs 2,000 ($30) for all the hard grueling work they put in. I walked out of the store feeling terribly sad for the weavers. I decided then, if ever I bought a saree from a store or online, it would be from someone who valued the hard work of the weavers and compensated them rightfully. 

Many of these weavers and artisans are daily wage workers who work in extremely poor conditions and are not treated well. Their hands and body take a beating because of the long hours they put in. Added to this are the corrupt middlemen who stand to make a profit by paying these workers just a measly amount. If this is their plight in ordinary days, one cannot begin to imagine what they must be going through during these times when Covid has literally snatched their livelihood away. Also, weavers don’t get their jobs back until the existing stocks are all sold. With business affected, weddings, and festive gatherings postponed, these artisans are literally left to fend for themselves! With nowhere to turn they are forced to look for an alternate livelihood. Though tremendously skilled in their art many of them lack the technological skills to sell their weaves directly and hence are exploited by the middlemen.

Sarees are a symbol of our culture and heritage, and they are associated not only with our stories and sentiments but every saree also has the weaver’s emotions, identity, and voice woven into it. We simply cannot let their looms go silent and their voices die. 

Hence, while shopping for sarees online, I look for organizations and vendors who work directly with the weavers and give them their rightful dues. That was when I stumbled upon Shobitam (meaning Grace in Sanskrit) started by two enterprising sisters Ambika and Aparna, right here in the US. What drew me to them was not just their beautiful, unique, and aesthetic sarees but their generous philanthropic work. 

The sisters are not just your regular entrepreneurs on a mission “to help women look good, feel good, and do good” but also believe in giving back to their weavers and artisans. They consider the weavers their backbone “and it is their work behind the beautiful sarees.”

Shobitam “wants to be evangelists for them and give back, their goal is to make a difference and popularise lesser-known weavers.” Seldom do we come across a small business that has incorporated this philosophy in its infancy. 

Shobitam launched a program Shobitam Cares at the onset of the Covid-19 lockdown in India. More than 50% of the proceeds from summer were used to provide grains and other edible essentials to 800+ families across our weaving communities in India. Shobitam Cares also empowers rural women, encourages kids in these families to go to school, and adopts ethical and sustainable environmental best practices. After the lockdown restrictions were eased, “we continued our efforts to give back to the community with our initiative called Shobitam GIVE”, which helps non-profit community organizations in the USA who are doing good work and helps with food and education for children.  

Shobitam’s other mission is to popularize lesser-known weaves, art, and educate customers about handlooms and the work that happens behind the scenes. They have been promoting Madurai Sungudi cotton sarees making customers and weavers happy. Similarly, due to the penetration of synthetics and unnatural methods of production, oftentimes, customers are unaware of what goes into the making of Handloom silk or a Kalamkari art or a Vegan silk saree, so Shobitam has taken upon this to give these artisans a much-deserved boost.

Ambika and Aparna are not only making women of the Indian subcontinent look and feel good but are also crusaders to the weavers and their families they work with. And yes, I ended up buying more than one saree from them! 


Anita R Mohan is a poet and a freelance contributor who loves to write on various themes. She mainly writes about women, India, Indian life, and culture. 

The Magnes Collection Documents Jewish Art & Life From India

(Featured Image: Amulet for the protection of pregnant women and newborn children. Collected in Kochi, Kerala, India. Hebrew, Aramaic and Judeo-Spanish, Hebrew square script)
Hanukkah, celebrated by the Jewish community, resonates very closely with Diwali, the Festival of Lights celebrated by Indics around the world. Triumph over darkness & pursuit of knowledge over ignorance. Hanukkah observance is starting today, December 10th, and will continue for 9 nights. 
At India Currents, we celebrate diversity and inclusion, we’re marking the occasion with a piece on Jewish history from India. Jewish people in India and how their objects traveled around the world chronicle a sense of solidarity between India and Israel. We see it manifesting in friendship between the diaspora in California! We’ve come a long way. Scroll to the bottom to see the video of the Commonwealth SF event on this topic moderated by IC Ambassador, Somanjana Chatterjee.

Since becoming part of the University of California, Berkeley, in 2010, The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life has embarked in a multi-year project aimed at unveiling its extensive holdings that document the history of the Jewish community in Kerala, South India, one of the oldest in the world. The collection includes over 1500 items, which are being catalogued, digitally photographed, and displayed in rotating exhibitions.  

Thanks to a dynamic collecting campaign initiated in 1967 by the late Seymour Fromer (1922-2009), in conjunction with Rabbi Bernard Kimmel (1922-1991) and scores of volunteers, The Magnes became one of the world’s most extensive repositories of materials about the Jews of Southern India, taking on an important role in the preservation of their culture alongside the historic Jewish sites in the State of Kerala, as well as national and private collections in Israel, where most of the Kerala Jews settled after the founding of the State in 1948. 

These efforts are by no means the only connection between Kerala and Berkeley. David Mandelbaum (1911-1987), Professor of Anthropology at UC Berkeley (1946-1978), visited Kerala in 1937 and published a seminal scholarly article about its Jewish community two years later. Walter Fischel (1902-1973), Professor of Semitic Languages and Literature at UC Berkeley (1945-1970) and an authority on the history and culture of the Jewish communities in India, was the only North American scholar invited by the State of Kerala to take part in the celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the Paradesi synagogue in 1968. 

Torah Ark of the Tekkumbhagam synagogue (Mattancherry)
Kochi, Kerala, India, 17th-18th centuries

The complete collection housed at The Magnes includes hundreds of ritual objects, textiles, photographs, archival documents, books, manuscripts, liturgical texts, illustrated ketubbot (Jewish marriage contracts), and amulets in Hebrew, Aramaic, Malayalam, Judeo-Spanish, and English. These materials constitute an invaluable source of information on the Kerala Jewish community and its deep connections with India’s society and cultures while also reflecting the global Jewish Diaspora across India, the Middle East, and Europe. Among its most notable items are the Torah Ark from the Tekkumbhagam synagogue in Mattancherry, Kochi, an extremely rare amulet on parchment designed to protect newborn children as well as women in childbirth, and the diaries of Abraham Barak Salem (1882–1967), a lawyer and politician active in the causes of Indian independence and Zionism, and one of the most prominent Cochin Jews of the twentieth century, which provide a vivid account of Jewish life in Kochi throughout the 20th century. 

This project builds on years of curatorial work devoted to assessing and documenting the holdings of The Magnes, in collaboration with experts in Israel and the US. Its aim is to place these important holdings of The Magnes on the global map that historically connects Kerala, Israel, and Berkeley, inaugurating new season of research engagement with the scholarly community at UC Berkeley and beyond, and highlighting an important intersection between Jewish and Asian Studies.


Dr. Francesco Spagnolo is an Associate Adjunct Professor at UC Berkeley and the Curator, of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life.

Harris Makes History

“And one day, like a miracle, he’ll be gone.”

This was my favorite yard sign during the months leading up to the 2020 presidential election. During the darkest days marked by mounting COVID-19 deaths, and dog whistles to white supremacists from the White House, it seemed that day would never come.

Votes were cast before or on November 3, and for one, then two, then three days after, an anxious nation awaited the results, dispensing with sleep and most forms of healthy nourishment. We are dealing with the shock that half the nation actually voted to keep Donald Trump in office.

Four years later, this is another wake-up call for Democrats. Who are these people? Who is being left so far behind that they believe Donald Trump is their savior? There have been some analyses, talk of a shrinking middle class, traditionally the Democratic base. Some speculate that perhaps a shift of the population to the edges, those with either very low or very high incomes, have enabled Trump, The voting demographics will be revealing.

A few hours into the morning of Saturday, November 7, after hours of vote-counting, the Associated Press called the state of Nevada and Pennsylvania for Joe Biden. The news flashed across the television networks and Twitter in seconds, and a tidal wave of jubilation took over. My immediate reaction was visceral: I was in tears at what has been achieved with Harris’s victory.

My favorite headline, “Biden wins, Harris makes history” said it all. First woman VP. (Really, America? How shameful that it has taken this long.) First Black person. First Asian American, specifically, the first person of Indian descent.

Shyamala Gopalan came to the US at the age of 19, as I did, to pursue an education. We know the story, of how she got involved soon after in the civil rights movement, where she met Donald Harris who became her husband. How later, as a single mother, with a strong moral compass, she raised her daughters as Black girls and taught them that they could be anything, do anything. On November 7, Kamala’s sister, Maya Harris, tweeted this: 

Kamala Harris’s ascent to the most powerful position any woman has ever held in America is a striking reminder of “possibilities” – the single word Joe Biden chose to describe America in his acceptance speech. With a full heart, I told my daughter, “You can be President! You are like Kamala. Born in America to an Indian mother.” Never mind that she replied, with teen wisdom combined with sarcasm, “Why would I want to be President?!” In 2016, my daughter, then 11, and I watched in horror as state after state was called in favor of Donald Trump. That night, I went to bed at 9 PM, knowing where things were headed, and unable to bear it. I woke up to the horror. I remember the shock on my daughter’s face when I told her the results. To express my anger, frustration, and despair, I wrote this soon after that. And in 2020, a year of unending horrors, the smile on her face as she came out of her room, sleepy-eyed, smiling broadly, having seen the news on social media, made it seem that things would be all right again. We shared a joyous hug. Some captivating art has been making the rounds, inspired by this trail-blazing, accomplished, beautiful, formidable, competent leader.
Artist Bria Goeller worked with T-shirt company Good Trubble to create this image.
This is the one I like the best, by San Francisco artist Bria Goeller. Here, Madam Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris walks purposefully, and her shadow is the silhouette of 6-year-old Ruby Bridges when she became the first Black student to integrate an all-white school in newly-desegregated New Orleans, Louisiana in 1960.
The Problem We All Live With by Norman Rockwell
The Problem We All Live With by Norman Rockwell
Here is the original painting by Norman Rockwell of her walking escorted by four deputy US marshals. Notice the slur on the wall, the hurled fruit smashed on the ground. And in the midst of it, the little girl with her notebook and ruler. In the words of Martin Luther King, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
The relief many of us feel is palpable. Finally, there is hope. A burden has lifted.
 

And one day, like a miracle, he will be gone. Can’t wait.


Raji Pillai lives in the SF Bay Area, and writes at www.rajiwrites.com where this article was originally published. 

At 52 Hz, My Throat is Parched

The 2020 US elections were not just about differing political views. People’s lives were impacted on the basis of their skin color, their gender, their sexuality, or their religion.

It bred uncertainty and fear in people who had been targeted for years.

Human beings should be respected for just that, being human. There is no other clause or addition to that. 

Here is a poem dedicated to those that felt weak. Rather than offer a solution of light in the darkness, I offer a hand to hold in it. 

Oil painting by Swati Ramaswamy (crashed waves/clouds dissolving) 
Oil painting by Author, Swati Ramaswamy (crashed waves/clouds dissolving)

6th November 10:11 pm

I felt it in waves, that dissolve in the sand

Blue and red neon signs holding each hand

“Am I human enough?” 

My skin dipped chocolate and my heart of rainbows

I can’t seem to hide, in the hours that count down— 

I can’t seem to stop.

Maybe if my eyes could close, maybe if my mind switched off—

Maybe if red and blue-dyed into a plethora of purple, 

losing in color and gaining the “other”.

 

“In a world with its eyes closed, a person with their’s open

Isn’t it strange how now they are made blind?” 

Is that victory? 

Effortless rounds that never escape a cycle,

Drugged on more and living less.

If it never starts, it never ends.

People become collateral, waves become loose sand.

A gripping fist, shows an empty hand. 

My throat is parched, lungs need a break—

But I haven’t slept yet:

 

Waking up in this state. 

7th November 5:50 am


Swati Ramaswamy is a recent graduate from UC Davis and is an aspiring creative writer who loathes speaking in the third person. 

Our Land Remains Green in Our Souls

Poetry as Sanctuary – A column where we explore poetry as a means of expression for voices of the South Asian Diaspora.

Like everyone else who loves poetry, I too see it as an art. An art of saying everything without saying much. A means of conveying the felt, without needing to justify the said. A formation of words which read like a garland, or convey the fragrance of a delicate rose, or sometimes the anguish of the pain caused by its thorns.

 But I am no poet, for I lack that art.  

 I seek a voice

which is free

from the burdens

of the identity

of the face,

 

a voice 

that can reach you deep,

irrespective of the distances

we seem to have created

based on 

unfounded

ungrounded

unwarranted

egoistical states,

 

hear me 

from where I hide,

and you’ll see me 

with a knowing clarity

far beyond

the simplistic visions,

mechanically reflected

by your 

curious eyes.

For me, my writings remain a liberating one-way communication.  A release, a vent, an outpouring emanating from the palette of emotions that simmer within. Sometimes for identifiable reasons, and often, just out of a longing for an elusive, imagined, or wishful state of being. 

Sunrise image, taken by the Author.

Divinity enters life
in many ways,

 

not all can be seen
or held in tangible forms,

 

to feel the invisible deeply
is often an insane job,

 

and I’ve never felt any remorse
for letting my sanity go.

Words help me find myself and sometimes lead me to discover and identify parts of others which over the years have become an intrinsic part of me. Till it lasts it is a fun game of hide-n-seek, in which thankfully, there are never any losers. 

A fellow blogger friend invited me to join a poetry group, the Poetry of Diaspora in Silicon Valley, which instead of their routine physical meet-ups had started connecting virtually due to the COVID restrictions. And I found myself virtually amongst a group of strangers,  strangers who slowly began to seem more my own than them that I often see around. 

Was I diaspora where I sat, or were they it? Them who carry their roots with them even when far away from a land which still remains green in their souls. 

It is a thought which renders me somewhat eligible to be a valid part of this group, for in those hours once a week that we meet online, I too am ‘diaspora’ connecting with my own. 

Personally, this space has been a journey of discovering my words in my own voice (a first for me). Listening to the many other voices which can write, recite, and even sing poetry in different languages. A sharing of worded sentiments emanating from different cultures, regions, poets, writers, and time periods. An interaction which invariably touches and tingles various chords of emotions within. I remain grateful to each one of them for this very unique experience and for giving me an opportunity to share some of my own.

Gentle souls,
past
their own
painful
transformations,

 

flit around
like angelic
butterflies,
uplifting
falling spirits,

 

by their
thoughtful,
cheerful
presences
alone,

 

and in those
moments
of soulful
gratitude
within,

 

I bridge
the distance,
between
earth
and sky.


Vidur Sahdev is a 50-year-old guy who lives in Delhi, India, and writes on his blog titled VerseInEmotion. In its essence, his blog is a collection of some thoughts, some words, some memories, some moments, some dreams, some fiction… inspired by the elements of nature, the people who came and those that went away, some remembered, none forgotten, a few bits of his journey over the lived years. The rest ‘about him’ keeps changing faster than he has ever been able to pen it down.