Aila Malik just turned 40. Instead of a traditional party to usher in the new decade, she decided to do something different. She threw a Community Kindness virtual party. She “invited” her guests to complete an act of kindness (big or small) and post it on social media.
Aila was overwhelmed by the response. The participation and impact from this one party resulted in nearly $10,000 (and growing) raised towards non-profits and families in need. The acts of kindness include neighborly help for stalled vehicles or injured cyclists, and sharing joy anonymously by secretly paying in advance for people’s coffee or dinner, among other good deeds.
Anybody who knows Aila Malik will smile because this is who she is – a Bay Area native and nonprofit leader who views the beauty of sharing kind acts as “an excuse for people to spread kindness and inspire others on social media, while allowing me to ‘see’ and honor our relationship in an authentic way,” Malik comments.
Aila, her husband and three children just returned from an incredible, year-long trip around the world, that was over a decade in the planning. They immersed themselves in every community they visited and learned about the human crises of the planet – climate change, trash, water, poverty, political conflict, and blight. You can read about their experiences at https://www.franklinstreetglobetrotters.org/.
The Silicon Valley may be the envy of the world with its staggering wealth and economic growth, but income inequality affects many here as well, as residents struggle to find and afford housing, childcare, transportation, health care and education.
Aila is convinced that “the only way to reverse these tragedies is to create a culture of connection and kindness” here at home and around the world.
As 2019 draws to a close and we take stock of our personal lives, Aila Malik’s ‘acts of kindness’ should inspire us to increase both our random and conscious good deeds in the world around us. As we buy gifts for our loved ones and dress up for fun parties, lets also add deliberate connections to the wider community to our list. Find creative ways to redefine gift giving by donating time and money generously in the New Year!
Aila says “From whatever lens you look at our current world – climate, politics, homelessness, suicide, etc, our world is in great despair. We need to use opportunities to build human-kindness and connection with one another so that we can create and restore cultures of group-think, and group-action.”
Here is a list of non-profits and community organizations that many in our community support and you can too. We should give back because it teaches us to find compassion within ourselves while making a difference in the lives of others. Ultimately, it makes us happier and healthier too.
Please reach out to us and tell us about your favorite organization that you support. Let’s keep this Community Kindness Party going all year.
Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Bay Area resident with experience in educational non-profits, community building, networking and content development and was Community Director for an online platform. She is interested in how to strengthen communities by building connections to politics, science & technology, gender equality and public education.
This article was edited by contributing editor Meera Kymal.
image credits: Aila Malik lead image: With a Sudanese refugee at the the Baqa’a refugee camp north of Amman, Jordan, home to around 100,000 Palestinian refugees.
Back in ancient China, people once held that their magnificent culture was a gift from the heavens. Art was a way to explore this connection between humankind and higher realms. Today, Shen Yun is reviving this tradition. Through the universal language of dance and music, Shen Yun weaves a wondrous tapestry of celestial paradises, ancient legends, and modern heroic tales, taking you on a journey through 5,000 years of authentic Chinese culture.
Shen Yun combines ancient legends with technological innovations, historically authentic costumes with breathtaking animated backdrops and classical Chinese dance with expressive storytelling, to share with you beautifully diverse ethnic and folk traditions. Filled with an enchanting orchestral sound, this is a mesmerizing experience you won’t find anywhere else.
Shen Yun cannot be seen in China today, where traditional culture has been devastated under decades of communist rule. Yet Shen Yun, a nonprofit based in New York, is now bringing the wonders of this ancient civilization to millions of people across the globe. The stunning beauty and tremendous energy of the performance are leaving audiences uplifted and deeply inspired.
See for yourself why Shen Yun is leaving millions around the world in awe, and why they return again and again.
“I’ve reviewed over 3,000 shows. None can compare to what I saw tonight. Five stars, mind blowing!” – Richard Connema, renowned Broadway critic
“My heart was open and I started to cry. The spirit of hope, beauty, and blessing…It’s a fabulous gift to us.” – Sine McKenna, award-winning Celtic singer
“This is the finest thing, the finest event I’ve ever been to in my life! I was in tears, because of the human spirit, the dignity, the power, the love, coming out of those people was astounding!” – Jim Crill, producer
Buy tickets HERE or check ShenYun.com/CA for more information.
The San Francisco Press Club held its 42nd annual journalism awards dinner at the Hilton San Francisco Airport Bayfront Hotel in Burlingame on November 7, 2019. More than 100 journalists were recognized for their work in digital media, blogs, newspaper, magazine/trade publications and radio. Entries were judged by the journalism clubs in Milwaukee, New Orleans, San Diego and Cleveland.
The San Francisco Press Club’s Greater Bay Area Journalism Awards ceremony and dinner honors the outstanding work of Bay Area print, TV, radio and digital media journalists, graphic designers and photographers, as well as the work of documentary filmmakers and PR materials from nonprofits and corporations.
This year the team at India Currents won 8 awards! The winning entries are here:
First Place: Nirupama Vaidhyanathan, Jaya Padmanabhan, “What Does Our Society Need?” India Currents
NBC Bay Area Senior Investigative Reporter Stephen Stock was the keynote speaker and spoke about the news media’s role in bringing important information to light. Kathi Duffel, a journalism teacher at Bear Creek High School in Stockton, and her student Bailey Kirkeby were presented a First Amendment Award for their bravery and commitment to the core principles of journalism. The Bill Workman News Writer Award was presented to Michael Barba of the San Francisco Examiner, making this his second time to be honored with the Workman award.
In 2016, KQED reported that 350,000 Asian Indians have moved to California over the last fifteen years based on data from AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders). It is well-known that the trend followed the dot-com boom in the late 1990s when software and computer engineering professionals from India moved to Silicon Valley and the South Bay in record numbers. Affluent cities in areas such as Cupertino, Palo Alto, Fremont, and Milpitas experienced what The Mercury News reported as a diversification in the Asian community owing to the rise in the Asian Indian population. One constant story left untold amidst this demographic transformation is the impact of the growing Asian Indian or ‘Desi’ population on the region. The Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) Library at San Jose State University is creating an oral history project to record first-hand stories of ‘Desis’ in Silicon Valley. An oral history is a field of study in which audio and /or video recordings of first-hand interviews are collected, preserved, and interpreted to understand periods of history or events through the lived experiences of the interviewees or participants.
For the purpose of this study, the use of ‘Desi’ refers specifically to the Indian diaspora in Silicon Valley and the South Bay. What social and cultural changes have occurred in the past thirty years as a result of the growing ‘Desi’ population? How has the ‘Desi’ identity been transformed by Silicon Valley? Why and how is Silicon Valley ‘home’ for so many Desis?
A tenure-track faculty member at the MLK library has received a university grant to build the first phase of the oral history project. She has started conducting interviews with Desis from various backgrounds – magazine founders, radio station founders, IT professionals, boutique owners. She invites members of the Indian community to participate in the oral history project in order to record and preserve the stories of our community. She will scale the project in 2020 and the next few years. Email email@example.com if you are interested in participating.
This season of Navaratri brings with it garba, dandiya, music, masti, and hordes of Indian Americans ready to celebrate! Traditionally, garba/dandiya is associated with the region of Gujarat, however, all over America, this practice has been adopted by all. Uttar Pradesh Mandal of America (UPMA) is one such local Bay Area organization that has used the love of garba and dandiya for a good cause. On Friday, October 18th, at the San Jose Convention Center, UPMA held a benefit garba, Festival of Life “Dandiya Dhoom”, with world renowned singer, Falguni Pathak. UPMA has used the money they have raised over the past year from such events to build 10 daycare centers in Chitrakoot and helped 15,000 underprivileged women become empowered and get married. I was lucky to attend such an event on Friday October 18th; it was a night of synchronization, music, energy made unforgettable by Falguni Pathak’s infectious energy.
“Every penny earned [by UPMA] is sent back to India.”
UPMA’s light and energy is sourced from founder, former President, and current Chairperson, Nilu Gupta. Nilu Gupta and Prakash Agrawal co-founded the organization in 2006 when they saw a gap in knowledge and retention of UP culture in the Bay Area.
As a Hindi professor at De Anza Community College, Nilu Ji also runs one of the few college credit Hindi courses in California; she is trying to inspire the next generation of Indian Americans to grasp their native language and keep it alive.
UPMA is not without a team of volunteers and the current president, Ritesh Tandon, is working tirelessly to keep the organization vibrant. Attending events like Festival of Life shows support for Indian culture in the Bay Area and allows us to be civically engaged transcontinentally. To learn more about UPMA, to volunteer, or to find out about upcoming events check out their website http://upmaglobal.org/.
The advent of winter brings with it the annual 3rd i Film Festival, a visual smorgasbord of fresh perspectives and brave new voices by independent filmmakers from South Asia and the South Asian Diaspora, including stories from India, Sri Lanka, UK, Italy, and the USA. 3rd i’s 17th Annual San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival: Bollywood and Beyond (SFISAFF) launches at the New People and Castro Theaters in San Francisco from November 7-10, moving to Palo Alto on November 16. Some of the movies are unafraid to explore issues that are uncomfortable, give voice to the oppressed and shed light on matters often overlooked or ignored.
A highlight for this year coming straight out of TIFF and Venice Critics’ Week is Gitanjali Rao’s animated feature Bombay Rose. In the rich, colorful and layered hand-painted animation there is an ethereal brightness to the chaotic Mumbai streetscapes where Bollywood cinema is both satirized and romanticized, and small town folks in the big city can be crushed by its mean streets, or redeemed by love. The film moves seamlessly between a documentary feeling of present-day struggles in Mumbai, to the lusciously designed dream sequences set in ancient India and inspired by Mughal folk art. Yoav Rosenthal’s original score merges swooning ballads with traditional Bollywood music and a haunting Latin love tribute.
This year’s special focus is on Young Voices, with a host of films that feature stories with strong youth characters. Dar Gai’s Namdev Bhau: In Search of Silence is a witty, off-beat take on the road movie, set against the breathtaking landscapes of Ladakh. The film features an inter-generational storyline about the relationship between a young boy and an elderly man, as they head for the peace and tranquility of the Silent Valley, leaving the hustle and bustle of the city behind. Filmmaker Gai, a philosopher by training and originally from Ukraine, has made India her filmmaking home and is touted as an exciting new voice in Indian cinema.
Also part of this youth focus is Rima Das’ Bulbul Can Sing. The film takes us back to the timeless beauty of the northeast in this bittersweet narrative that draws inspiration from her own experiences of growing up in the Assamese countryside. This is no simple rural idyll however; in Das’ deft hands, the film transforms into a deeply compelling exploration of love, loss, and adolescence.
Safdar Rahman’s heartwarming story of young Chippa features Sunny Pawar (award-winning child star of LION). Chippa sets out into night-time Calcutta looking for a father he has never seen, finding a city of migrants who speak in a curious mix of languages. Chippa is not oblivious to the grim reality and communal suspicion surrounding him, but chooses to encounter this world with a mixture of bravado, curiosity and humor.
Another film in the youth category is The MisEducation of Bindu screening in Palo Alto, which premiered at Mill Valley Film Festival, and follows a day in the life of formerly homeschooled Bindu as she endures an American high school and tries to graduate early. Her mother does her best to keep Bindu on track while maintaining her South Asian heritage, and her clueless stepfather tries to give Bindu advice on boys and high school life in America. Paying homage to Bollywood rock with one fantastical Bollywood dance number, Bindu dreams about escaping and longs for her home in India. Director Prarthana Mohan will be present for a Q&A session after.
Rounding out the youth films in Palo Alto is romantic comedy Bangla, with Phaim. An awkwardly charming 22-year-old Italian-Bengali panics when he falls in love with an impulsive and spirited Italian girl. The attraction between them is immediate, and Phaim will have to figure out how to reconcile his love with his life full of rules. This whimsical lens on the clash of cultures is based on the director’s own life, who plays the lead fictionalized version of himself.
Another stellar narrative in Palo Alto is Rohena Gera’s Sir, which premiered at Cannes Film Festival. A nuanced and sensual film, it explores the forbidden attraction between Ratna, a maid, and her employer Ashwin, a wealthy Mumbai bachelor, with each character quietly yearning to break free from the narrow bounds of their class and gender-based expectations. Gera achieves a particular delicacy in her directing, combining an appealing, understated sweetness with an edge, and thwarting all expectations and stereotypes of a typical Indian love story.
The festival features stories of addiction, which includes acclaimed black and white photographer Ronny Sen’s indie Cat Sticks. A gritty and haunting narrative, the film follows the stories of several addicts looking for the high of halogen, a synthetic brand of heroin that created havoc in India at the turn of the millennium.
The other film in this focus is Bhaskar Hazarika’s quietly shocking The Ravening (Aamis), which opened to great acclaim at the Tribeca Film Festival. An unforgettable meditation on taboo and transgression, the film blends gentle romance and body horror into a unique cinematic experience. Hazarika masterfully concocts a tale of love and addiction that builds slowly – from a lilting rhythm to a pounding finale.
While this year’s program predominantly showcases narrative features, documentaries are also part of the lineup. Equal parts comedy and self-discovery, Laura Asherman’s intimate doc American Hasiis a portrait of Indian-American comedian, Tushar Singh. In an attempt to accelerate his career, Singh maps out a 35-day tour in India (with his mom in tow), taking part in India’s flourishing stand-up scene.
Comedy also features prominently in this year’s edition of Coast to Coast, 3rd i’s signature shorts program which brings California filmmakers into conversation with filmmakers from South Asia and the Diaspora. The program includes Varun Chounal’s Gabroo about a young Sikh boy’s complicated relationship with his hair, Mahesh Pailoor’s portrait of Pakistani-American comedienne, Mona Shaikh, and Andrew Sturm’s political satire on the border wall, 31 Foot Ladders, along with a variety of short docs, narratives, and music videos.
This year for the first time in the festival’s history, 3rd i will offer a free Master Class in filmmaking from the talented documentary filmmaker Nishtha Jain (City of Photos, Lakshmiand Me, At My Doorstep, Gulabi Gang). Jain returns to SFISAFF to talk about her filmmaking process, to present excerpts from past work and the present, and to talk about the different social and political movements in India and its alignment with her work. Jain’s work holds up a mirror to some of the most pressing concerns in India today, including India’s #metoo women’s movement.
Women’s issues are at the forefront of several other films in the lineup. Vasanth S. Sai’s Sivaranjani and Two Other Women pays a cinematic homage to the “everyday” woman and is a deeply moving work that focuses a critical lens on patriarchy, with outstanding performances by each of the lead actresses. The film captures the micro awakenings of identity and self-worth when family dynamics, early marriage, and pregnancy threaten to usurp the individuality of three women, unfolding across three different time periods.
The festival brings back Sri Lankan director Prasanna Vithanage with a screening of the historical epic feature Children of the Sun (Gaadi) about a Sinhalese Buddhist woman in the 1814 Kandyan Kingdom of Sri Lanka, stripped from nobility, who subverts the destiny forced upon her. His searing masterpiece is a period drama that takes on caste conflict and British colonial influences in Sri Lanka in the early 1800s. Director Vithanage will join a panel discussion following the film.
Among the voices to amplify, LGBTQ+ themes feature prominently in Poonam Brah’s Home Girl about a British lesbian woman’s coming out story while navigating her mother’s death in Coast to Coast, 3rd i’s shorts program, as well as Ronny Sen’s Cat Sticks illuminating the life and trials of a transgender sex worker, and Rima Das’ engaging youthful exploration Bulbul Can Sing.
Castro Passes ($35) are only available online until Nov 5. Tickets to individual films are $11/online and $13/at the door. More information about the festival, including expanded program, guest and ticketing information, please visit www.thirdi.org
Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter, Facebook for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor, her experience spans television, cable news and magazines.
Cover photo credit: 3rd i Films.
This article was edited by Culture and Media editor Geetika Pathania Jain.
Lucky S.F. Bay area denizens of the high-brow variety, you have yet another event to look forward to that is sure to amplify your festive Dussera season this year. If you are scurrying off to the many poojas, family gatherings and Golus (display of dolls), be sure to add this event to your calendar!
Starting Sunday, October 6th from 12pm – 5pm, the beautiful environs of Villa Montalvo is home to the South Asian Literature & Arts Festival – SALA 2019. This event, the first of its kind in the US, runs from October 6th – 13th, showcasing a grand variety of visual arts, performing arts, poetry, book readings and panel discussions.
Visual Arts @ SALA 2019:
Visual arts enthusiasts have special treats that thrill and educate. This event presents a great opportunity to meet with award-winning luminaries like India’s leading contemporary artist Rekha Rodwittiya whose work with distinctly feminist narratives has received critical acclaim. In a discussion titled Rekha @ 60: Transient Worlds of Belonging, Dr. Prajit Dutta of Aicon Gallery, NY will be speaking with Ms. Rodwittiya.
Priyanka Mathew, Principal Partner of Sunderlande New York – an art advisory with a focus on South Asian art, presents an exemplary exhibition titled ‘Revelations: The Evolution of Modern and Contemporary Indian Art’. The show highlights works by Jamini Roy, Sanjay Bhattacharya, Krishen Khanna, Anjolie Ela Menon, Shobha Broota and G.R Iranna to name a few.
Also featured is a conversation with Dipti Mathur, a local bay area philanthropist and well known collector of modern and contemporary South Asian art. She has served on the board of trustees of several museums and is a founding member of the Asian Contemporary Art Consortium, SF.
One of the highlights of the program is well known actor, painter and poet, Deepti Naval. U.C Berkeley professor Harsha Ram, will moderate a program titled “An Elaborate Encounter with Deepti Naval”, as part of the Confluences – Cinema, Poetry and Art segment.
Cinema @ SALA 2019:
Indian cinema has a great representation at SALA 2019! The festival offers up a chance to interact with the men behind the popular Netflix original series ‘Sacred Games’, in two separate programs.
The trio of Varun Grover, Vikramaditya Motwane and Vikram Chandra will be interviewed by Tipu Purkayastha on Oct 6th as part of the opening day of the festival in a program titled ‘From the Sacred to the Profane’.
A special event on Friday, Oct 18th tilted ‘From Text to Screen’ will feature Tipu Purkayastha. In conversation with him is noted director, writer, and producer, Anurag Kashyap. This program offers us an interesting perspective into their creative minds!
Literature @ SALA 2019:
The literary world boasts of several names from the South Asian diaspora who decorate the local, national and international stage. SALA 2019 proudly presents writers and poets like Vikram Chandra, Minal Hajratwala, ShanthiSekaran, NayomiMunaweera, RaghuKarnad, AthenaKashya and TanujaWakefield to name a few, who will share their work in readings and discussions.
Also being represented at the festival is the emerging Children and Young Adult genre of writers. Curated by Kitaab World, Mitali Perkins and Naheed Senzai in a program titledThe Subcontinent’s Children.
Montalvo Arts Centerand Art Forum SF, in collaboration with UC Berkeley Institute of South Asian Studies are jointly bringing to us one of the largest collections of contemporary South Asian writers, artists, poets, and personalities from theater and cinema.
The opening day features various programs like art exhibits, panel discussions with internationally renowned writers and filmmakers, hands-on art activities, henna artists and dance performances. There are food stations offering up the many flavors of South Asia. This family-friendly event includes book readings, storytelling and hands on crafts for children. Visitors can also avail themselves of an art and literature marketplace displaying Bay Area artists and Books Inc. book sellers.
The festival, the largest of its kind in the US is brought to us by Art Forum SF, a non profit that strives to promote emerging visual, literary and performing art forms from South Asia.
Montalvo Art Center is well known for its mission in advancing cultural and cross-cultural perspectives, nurturing artists by helping them explore their artistic pursuits on their historic premises.
Pavani Kaushik is a visual artist who loves a great book almost as much as planning her next painting. She received a BFA from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco. Her new avatar requires creative juggling with the pen and the brush.
This article was edited by Culture and Media Editor Geetika Pathania Jain, Ph.D.
Sankara Eye Foundation has a message for you: SEF Dandia is here! SEF’s mission to eradicate curable blindness is funded by various fundraisers organized throughout the year. One of those, the flagship SEF Dandia event, is a multicultural extravaganza celebrating the start of the Indian festive season every fall, and one of the most successful fundraisers for the organization. A sold-out super successful event for the last fifteen years, we have been able to strike a balance between fun and frolic and working for a cause. Thousands fill the Santa Clara convention center to dance the night away. Patrons show their best Garba moves followed by Dandia. Then there is the synchronized performance breaking in the heat of it all. The excitement at these Dandia events speaks to the enormous support that SEF has garnered from the community.
Our next events are coming up, on Sep 28th, Oct 5th and Oct 12th at the Santa Clara Convention Center. Do not miss out on the fun. Your support will help someone see a miracle they hoped for. Join the movement.
Visit http://www.giftofvision.org to buy tickets to this event and lend your support.
Established in the Bay Area, SEF is a non-profit organization that has been working for the past twenty years for the cause of eradicating curable blindness in India. Driven by the truly inspirational cause, SEF has currently established 9 community hospitals and soon embarking on three new hospital projects. By far the most unique and remarkable characteristic of SEF is that they provide free eye care for those unable to afford it, those members of the rural poor, and this accounts for 80 percent—which is approximately 200,000 people per year—of the surgeries performed at their hospitals. The tireless efforts by the SEF team since inception, has enabled more than 1.94 million eyes (as of July 2019) to receive the gift of vision, utterly free of cost. Also, it has maintained the top rating from Charity Navigator for sound fiscal management for seven years SEF will focus its fundraising activities for 3 new projects, Focus Mumbai, Focus Hyderabad and Focus Indore. Become a Founding Donor and leave a legacy – get your name on the Wall of Founders. Double the impact of your gift with company matching. Join our cause, volunteer and share in the joy of bringing light to someone’s eyes. Please visit our website at www.giftofvision.org for more details.
Hum Ne Dekhi Hai In Aankhon
Ki Mehakti Khushboo
Haath Se Chhuke Ise
Rishton Ka Ilzaam Na Do
Tere bina zindagi se koi, shikwa, to nahi
Tere bina zindagi bhi lekin, zindagi, to nahi
Voh yaar hai jo khushboo ki tarah
Voh jiski zubaan urdu ki tarah
Meri shaam raat, meri kaayanat
Voh yaar mera saiyya saiyya
Bay Area audiences are in for a magic evening of poetry, ghazal and music with legendary lyricist Sampooran Singh Kalra aka Gulzar. His films, poetry and songs continue to cut across generations, holding universal appeal and enthralling audiences with his timeless and meaningful songs.
Especially appealing to those who thrive in the golden era of Indian cinema, his appeal to the new generation also remains firm with Bollywood item numbers like Kajrare and Beedi jalai le. This multi-faceted genius sets benchmarks of excellence in his wake–winner of several prestigious film awards, including India’s highest film honor the Dada Saheb Phalke Award, five-time winner of the National Award and the Oscar for the Best Original Score for Jai Ho from Slumdog Millionaire (with AR Rahman and Sukhwinder Singh.)
Gulzar’s familiarity with Bengali literature helped him draw heavily from that source, and his films stood out for their meticulously sketched characters, powerful scripts and dialogues. Legendary films come to mind: Aandhi, Koshish, Namkeen, Parichay, Angoor and Mausam, where his love for literature and poetry and the cinematic medium were on raw display.
His greatest gift lies in poetry, and by extension, lyrics, and to an entire generation of cine-goers, Gulzar spells life, romance, poetry, love. In this, his first North American tour, the legendary lyricist will be in conversation with author and poet Dr. Rakshanda Jalil and accompanied by singers and musicians from Mumbai.
Bay Area Drama Company (BAD) begins their season with a tribute to the late Girish Karnad with a play Boiled Beans on Toast that is an ode to his city – Bangalore. The comedy traces the interwoven lives of half-a-dozen people who have opted to live in Bangalore. They are very different from each other, belong to widely divergent social strata, and come from different geographical areas. Starting under a single roof, these lives branch out in various directions, get entangled in the swirl of life outside where they lose track of themselves, they separate or unexpectedly collide and careen off each other.
The city is Bangalore but anyone familiar with life in a modern Indian megalopolis will instantly respond to this portrayal of urban aspirations, conflict, blind groping and violence. An upper crust housewife who bemoans the felling of a favorite tree to widen a road; a wide-eyed small town dweller who seeks his fortune in the city’s outsourcing industry and a clever, resourceful maidservant with a tenuous relationship with morality. What we have is modern city life in its many shadow-shapes, funny, tender, moving, relentless in its pursuit of success, buffeted by ceaseless emotional flux.
Boiled Beans on Toast is directed by Sindu Singh who shines a spotlight on Karnad’s signature wit, sarcasm and searing humor, as the play examines urbanization, modernization and the ensuing impact on average city folk across social classes
Opening night Sep. 6, 8 p.m.Sep. 6 to 14. Six shows.
Lohman Theater, Foothill College, Los Altos Hills.TICKETS: $26 to $46. www.bayareadrama.company. (408) 458-9375
Sitting adjacent to Summitpointe Golf Course on Country Club Drive, this new 5291 square foot home in the exclusive Country Club Estates Neighborhood of 6 parcels with 15 acres of shared open space. Completion of construction is projected for middle of December, 2019. There is still the opportunity to select materials and colors to suit your preference.
The views from this home on 1 acre are of the San Francisco Bay, city lights, and surrounding hillsides. Just 3 minutes to Highway 680, and 20 minutes to downtown San Jose and the airport. Design includes highest quality materials, an open floor plan with all living space on a single level and includes a large loft. Excellent Milpitas Schools .
Countryside Court only has one other additional home site sharing access through Country Club Estates. Close to Fremont, Milpitas Sports Complex, numerous Universities, and Silicon Valley.
Some things are hardwired into our DNA no matter where we might travel across the globe. Language and vocabulary feature right at the top of the list. The words ‘Karnataka’ and ‘handcrafted puppetry’ jumped out at me from my email inbox one morning. I was intrigued and soon found myself driving up winding California hillsides to a home in Los Altos hills for a lecture demonstration on traditional wood puppetry of Karnataka. Hosted by Bay Area art & cultural organization SACHI, the event featured Anupama Hoskere, a familiar name I had heard during my visits to India.
Together with her husband Vidyashankar Hoskere, Anupama founded “Dhaatu” an organization dedicated to all things puppetry related – the first of its kind, in Bengaluru. In Sanskrit the word ‘Dhaatu’ means the root, the soul, the essence of everything. The Hoskeres established this non-profit organization with the aim of imparting traditional wisdoms that today’s world can benefit from. Annually, Dhaatu is also the venue of the famous Navratra Mahotsava – the pageant of dolls – depicting upwards of 5000 dolls displaying various scenes from Hindu mythology! It was one of those ‘must see’ items on my list that had slipped through the cracks over the years, and now here Anupama was in my backyard! Serendipity or what?!
On a small stage in an intimate home theater, a single chair sat occupied by a brightly clad puppet. She was outfitted in elaborately fashioned jewelry and draped in a beautiful sari, her large kajal-laden eyes taking in the gathered audience, as we sat eagerly awaiting the evening’s program. Even in stillness she seemed to fill the space with her presence. It made you wonder what she might be like when animated.
Walking onto the stage Anupama’s presence was just as magnetic, the passion for her life’s work, evident in every word she uttered. Over the next hour we were initiated into the elements of puppetry, mythology, and a behind-the-scenes peek into this fascinating world! Currently on a 20 city tour of the U.S, Anupama and her Dhaatu team is raising funds for the ‘Support a Child’ program. They are showcasing a novel concept with their production of “Malavikagnimitram” – a romance set in the second century BCE, which plays out in the court of King Agnimitra of the Shunga dynasty. The lecture concluded with the enactment of a scene from the production featuring the puppet on stage, who was joined by Anupama’s daughter Divya Hoskere – an established Bharatanatyam dancer.
Anupama graciously consented to an interview with India Currents in the midst of hopping across timezones on their hectic 20 city tour.
P.K:Thank you for speaking with me Anupama! The lecture demonstration was a wonderful experience. We would love to know more about the cause you are supporting with your tour of the U.S.
A.H:At Dhaatu, we like to involve ourselves with causes like“Support a Child USA” – an organization doing creditable work that needs our help and support. They came to us with the idea of sponsoring a puppetry production on a tour of the U.S, and the idea was both challenging and exciting! It also enabled Dhaatu to make a creative contribution to an already valuable cause. No questions asked when such an offer comes our way!
P .K: Indian mythology offers a plethora of subject matter. Why choose this particular story for your production?
A.H:Malavikagnimitram is a romantic comedy; an elaborate, many-layered story. It was originally a Sanskrit play written by the famous Kalidasa. It lends itself beautifully to a sophisticated production. And it also makes for great entertainment! It lets us showcase the exciting advancements in the field of puppetry that is being practiced today. Set in the 2nd century BCE, in Vidisha, in the court of King Agnimitra, the plot details the highly evolved artistic and cultural scene of the time period. The Indo-Greek war is mentioned – the war with the ‘Yavanas’! Details like a ‘Dolotsava’ ceremonial procession in a temple is depicted in great depth. It is a richly vivid portrayal of so many aspects of life of that period in history. Great material for a production!
P.K:Our life path takes us to interesting places. Yours has been more than just ‘interesting’ in every sense of the word! How do you go from a Masters degree in Engineering, a job and life in the U.S, to a totally divergent life hand crafting puppets?
A.H:Passion! That is the one ingredient that makes such a shift possible! I was on what was widely accepted as the ‘path of success’ in a competitive world. And I was doing very well. But I didn’t really know quite how I got there! A day came when I realized that the enrichment I received in my childhood, had ultimately led to my being where I was. Then the question I was faced with was, “how can I give back what I received to the next generation”? This was what helped make my choice to return to what I loved most.
P.K:And what was the enrichment in your childhood like? We would love to know more about it.
A.H:I was blessed to have grown up with my grandmother who told wonderful stories! Not just stories like Panchatantra etc that was common, but she also narrated scenes from Kalidasa’s Sanskrit plays. She was very well read, and passionate about sharing her knowledge. Nowadays children have many more options if they want to familiarize themselves with mythological stories. Our choices were limited. That’s why my grandmother’s oral storytelling was precious to me! We also had traditional Yakshagana troupes perform near where we lived. Watching those plays, we saw old storylines being depicted in new ways all the time! Creativity was boundless. That sort of learning and enrichment is priceless!
P.K:Your audience is often comprised of children. How do you see their involvement in your shows?
A.H:The impact of real time entertainment in puppetry is very different from virtual entertainment and engagement. And children especially, they get involved in a very deep way! Puppets become more real to them than the people around them! Communication happens in a beautiful manner. Their minds open up differently and it creates a huge potential for self exploration with something they might go on to create by themselves. It is like opening a door to lifelong exploration!
P.K:What is their reaction when they connect with the characters?
A.H:Different age groups express in different ways. But all of them engage 100%! It is fun to watch them get into the scene and characters! When we staged Bhakta Prahlada, after the final scene, the puppet Prahlada was garlanded! No one else was given this honor! It just goes to show that if the right setting is provided for a puppet show, audience – no matter their age – can engage in a wonderful way!
P.K:Each of your puppets is created with such attention to detail! Where do you draw your resources for costuming, era appropriate jewelry etc?
A.H:All our puppets are handcrafted to the tiniest detail! We design them and use a lighter wood to allow better handling. There are various resources to research and collect information. Ajanta-Ellora paintings, research by scholars on various dynasties, the staff at the Mysore palace for example. And there is the internet of course. But because historical authenticity is very important to us at Dhaatu, we take extra care and go in search of verified information. Many of the Puranas and epic poems have historical details and visual imagery given in great detail. You just have to know where to find it. But it is available. And it is a treasure trove for us when we start creating our own puppets.
P.K:You have been involved with puppetry on the global scene. How do you see the art form showcased in Czech Republic or Indonesia? How does it compare to the way it is received in India?
A.H:I went to Europe as part of a scholarship. Then I realized that there is a division between art for children and adults. That is how it is perceived. Puppetry was mainly developed as an entertainment for children. There was a rebel movement which also developed alongside mainstream practices. Both thrived. Tourism is key to the survival of such artforms in Europe and Indonesia. In North India puppeteers had access to western and Japanese styles of the artform. So their styles became more contemporary. In South India we were untouched by such western influences and retained traditional styles. But with time, urbanization took away patronage for this artform. Without patronage puppetry cannot survive! Our numbers started dwindling. Today there is a new revival, a new energy on the puppetry scene. More traditional practices are being showcased and accepted once more.
P.K:Under lining your comment from the lecture demonstration, I would like you to address the reasoning behind your choice of basing a majority of your productions on mythology as opposed to current social issues.
A.H:It is my conviction that mythology is always a best seller! No matter what the storyline, and however repetitive, the manner in which you treat it will set you apart. South India’s Yakshagana is a great example of this! Yakshagana artistes depict so many subtle layers of the Puranas. Knowledge is important. And since mythology involves the use of all this knowledge, investing in this particular dimension of mythology stimulates the storyline.
Socially relevant subject matter needs financing and patronage. Also there is a limited timeline in terms of relevancy for many such topics. The Government of India has used puppeteers to implement their political agendas. If the government changes, their policies become irrelevant. And the patronage disappears! Puppeteers who invest considerable time and resources in the creation of specific puppets have no protection to weather such situations! It is a short-lived blip that leaves us high and dry! Mythology on the other hand, always endures and comes out on top!
P.K:With your current production Malavikagnimitram, you have an interesting concept of combining live actors and dancers with puppets. Highly engaging, as we saw from the scene enacted during the lecture. Challenging as well I am sure?
A.H:Oh sure! It is like putting the puppets to a litmus test when a live dancer/actor shares the stage with them. My main concern was whether the audience would ‘see’ the puppet at all?! Or would the actor/dancer upstage the puppets? The current concept was built up slowly over two or three productions. We are still working on polishing it further, that process never ends. But in the end we realized that the puppets could hold their own! The interaction between a live dancer and a puppet is magical! A great example of this type of interaction can be seen in our production “Vijayanagara Vybhava”. You will see what I mean by puppets managing to shine on their own merit! Yes, there are challenges, of course. Stage design is the obvious challenge. The Proscenium theater design means there is limited space for dancers when sharing it with puppets. So we had to redesign the stage and the placement of characters over several iterations to make sure we could create this magic!
P.K:Does India have guilds or cooperatives of puppeteers? And how difficult is it to procure funding for productions?
A.H:No, there is no such thing as a guild for puppeteers as yet. State level academies and a Government entity – Sangeet Natak Academy, do exist. And yes, it is a challenge to get funding. Private patronage what we have at the moment.
P.K:What types of workshops does Dhaatu offer?
A.H:Dhaatu offers workshops for all ages – starting at age 3 to adults! Puppetry and puppet making teaches aesthetics in a way that lego & robotics etc do not. They certainly have their positive points. But puppetry is multi faceted. Besides aesthetics, it also involves aspects of engineering and requires fine motor skills both in making and handling puppets. There is the aspect of movement with puppetry that needs to be mastered. When you are able to control a puppets subtle movements, it is a thrilling experience!
P.K:Your personal journey with puppetry started with a ‘leap of faith’. And you just found out you are the recipient of a prestigious award!
A.H:Yes! My phone was inundated with congratulatory messages since early this morning and that is how I discovered I had been awarded the prestigious Sangeet Natak Academi award! It is a great feeling of satisfaction that a Nation has accepted this artform! My Bharatanatyam guru, the late Smt. Narmada received this award from the hands of the late President Abdul Kalam in 2007. For me to receive the same award is a great honor! I am overwhelmed! All the growing pains and potholes that I have experienced with Dhaatu’s journey is validated by this acknowledgement and ultimate reward! It inspires us to do more and reach greater heights – in making magic with our puppets for the generations to come.
P.K:What are your plans upon your return to Bengaluru?
A.H:Maybe one day of rest and then it is back to work again! The festival season will start soon. During Dussera, Dhaatu opens it doors to showcase our incredible collection of dolls with ‘Dhaatu Navaratra Mahotsava’. We will have over 5000 dolls on display, depicting scenes from mythology. It is an annual event and we have been doing this for a decade now. There’s no resting until that is done!
Anupama’s enthusiasm gives new meaning to the term ‘pulling strings’! Her passion and that of her team at Dhaatu is definitely award worthy. Dhaatu’s workshops and productions bear the hallmark of true creativity while contributing a treasure trove of traditional & cultural knowledge to children and adults alike.
India Currents congratulates Anupama on the prestigious Sangeet Natak Academi award!
Pavani Kaushik is a visual artist who loves a great book almost as much as planning her next painting. She received a BFA from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco. Her new avatar requires creative juggling with the pen and the brush.