Tag Archives: diversity

Film, 'If I Go, Where Do I Go?' at BAMPFA.

Berkeley’s Film Archive Diversifies History With Films by Amit Dutta

“Cinema becomes a way of searching and learning through culture, history, music, beauty and eventually truth.” — Amit Dutta, Many Questions to Myself

UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) is UC Berkeley’s resource for artistic resources and serves the broader Bay Area population. Their mission is to create dialogue and community engagement through art mediums on local and global topics.

In pursuit of diversity in history, BAMPFA is showcasing Indian filmmaker and writer Amit Dutta. Dutta is known for his distinctive cinema through deep explorations of India’s artistic, literary, and cultural traditions, both contemporary and historical.

His recent shorts and features, including the premiere of If I Go, Where Do I Go?, on his five visits with Hindi experimental writer Krishna Baldev Vaid, are now available for viewing on BAMFA’s website.

Dutta’s landmark film Nainsukh, on the eighteenth-century painter, is also a part of the series. The 2010 film first took Dutta back to the Kangra Valley near his childhood home, a land from which he has since drawn much of his inspiration. Dutta, who characterizes his films as research- and process-based, notes: “I became very interested in indigenous knowledge systems and the workings of tribal/folk and classical modes. How could these systems produce such stunning works? What was the source?”

Shambhavi Kaul describes his varied films as “travers[ing] genres, moving effortlessly from crafted scenario to spontaneous encounter, from mindful self-reflexivity to ghostly magic.”

Whether in sensuous tracking shots of past paintings on gallery walls or ancient sculptures in their original setting; animations of artworks that reveal their underlying effects; moments of improvised acting; or expeditions and visits with unanticipated results, Dutta’s evocative films find new and beautiful expression in dialogue with their subjects.

This isn’t the first time Dutta has been featured by BAMPFA. In 2017, BAMPFA presented several of Dutta’s films on Indian art in conjunction with the exhibition Divine Visions, Earthly Pleasures: Five Hundred Years of Indian Painting. View artworks from the BAMPFA collection in the exhibition brochure, written by guest curator Robert Del Bontà.


Srishti Prabha is the Managing Editor at India Currents and has worked in low-income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.


 

‘Don’t Turn Your Back on Immigrant Essential Workers’ Says Sen. Alex Padilla

When Sen. Alex Padilla took the California Senate seat left by V.P. Kamala Harris, the American immigrant story achieved two remarkable milestones.

Harris’ election to the vice presidency marked the unprecedented ascendancy of the first woman, Black and Asian, to a top political office, while Padilla became the first ever Latino to represent California in the United States senate.  After twenty seven years of fighting for immigrant rights, Alex Padilla is finally in a position to achieve the immigration reforms he has long pursued.

Senator Alex Padilla, CA

Padilla now chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Immigration Subcommittee and will have jurisdiction over key immigration issues.

In his new role Padilla has promised to restore humanity, dignity and respect to the immigration process, a commitment reflected in the new title he’s given to the immigration subcommittee. It will now be known as the Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship and Border Safety.

At an ethnic media briefing on April 16th, Padilla was proud to announce ‘The Citizenship for Essential Workers Act‘ – the first bill he has introduced as a United States Senator to honor “immigrant essential workers with action”.

Padilla’s focus on immigration reform begins with a proposal to deliver a pathway to citizenship to frontline workers – a ‘long-overdue recognition’ that ‘they have earned, and they deserve.’

He described the Bill as legislation that “urges a fair, secure, and accessible pathway to U.S. citizenship for over 5 million immigrant essential workers in critical infrastructure sectors such as health care, agriculture, construction, food, energy, emergency response, and care-giving.”

Padilla explained that during the COVID19 pandemic, frontline workers have been critical to keeping the country running and saving American lives, despite the risk of COVID19 to their health and that of their families. “They continue to show up to work every day.”

Essential workers put food on our tables, take care of our loved ones, clean the hospitals, restaurants, and offices. They ensure “that communities stay healthy, and that the economy continue to move,” added Padilla.

To him, COVID Relief not only means addressing the health impact of the pandemic. It also means rebuilding and stimulating an economic recovery that is “much more inclusive.”

Padilla’s home state of California has the highest concentration of immigrants (11 million) of any state in the US, but Padilla sees CA’s diversity “as a tremendous strength” and, that “the entire nation stands to benefit from thoughtful immigration reform.”

Immigration reform had stalled for decades, until the Trump administration declared war on immigrants with a slew of restrictive policies – setting limits on legal immigration and family-based immigration, building border walls, and enforcing child separation. Now immigration reform is also tasked with overturning the anti-immigration directives from the Trump era.

Padilla believes the Citizenship for Essential Workers Act will mark a ‘rather pivotal moment in the nation’s history’ when it’s in the best interest of the country to rebuild from the economic impact of the pandemic.

He reiterated his commitment to “bringing the urgency to immigration reform that this moment demands and millions of hard working immigrants have earned. I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to restore dignity and humanity to our immigration policies and to respectfully uphold America’s legacy as a nation of immigrants.”

“The Bill will help boost our economic recovery and will benefit communities across the country.”

The vast majority of current and future workforce growth will be met by immigrants and the children of immigrants, said Padilla. He referred to a 2016 study by the Center for American Progress which found that undocumented workers contribute $4.7 trillion to the United States GDP, while undocumented immigrants contribute $11.7 billion in state and local taxes, and $12 billion in social security revenue every year.

Given their financial contributions,  “We can no longer ignore the 11 million plus people who have been living…’in the shadows’ in this country but working and paying taxes and contributing,” added Padilla.

They have earned their right to citizenship through their service and sacrifice, said Padilla, who together with Congressman Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Congressman Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), sent a letter to President Biden, urging the inclusion of the Bill in next infrastructure package.

Padilla was optimistic about helping President Biden move forward with a comprehensive immigration reform package to congress and ‘making significant progress.”

“It is personal for me,” he said, drawing parallels between his immigrant parents and the service of essential workers. “These workers – they remind me of my own parents who worked jobs considered ‘essential today.”

A ‘proud son of immigrants,’ Padilla grew up in the northeast San Fernando Valley, where his parents raised three children in whom they instilled strong values of service to others, in their pursuit of the American dream.

Padilla came to public service following the example of his Mexican immigrant parents.

“It was through their activism and community organizing that in many ways led me to public service”, he remarked, describing how his family worked with neighbors to curb violence in heir neighborhood.

Padilla paid tribute to his parents – for 40 years  his father worked as a short order cook and his mother cleaned houses. Their inspiring ‘journey and life experience’ is the backstory to Padilla’s fight for immigration rights from his time on Los Angeles City Council through to the California Senate and his  2015election  as secretary of state

“I firmly believe that we can’t simply rely on hardworking people to keep our nation afloat and keep our communities safe in times of  crisis and then turn our backs on them as soon as the pandemic is over. That would just be wrong.”

“I believe its time need to honor them and their work and their service with more than just our words”


Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents

Photo by Arron Choi on Unsplash

Bay-Area Based Filmmaker Alka Raghuram Documents Muslim Women Boxers’ Fight for Liberation

How far would you go for freedom? A choice between survival and social acceptance.

For girls of Kiddirpur, a small Muslim neighborhood in West Bengal, the path they chose was something no one even dreamt of; a path less trodden. To be women boxers, carving out a space of their own in a male-dominated sport, that too in a patriarchal society. Burqa Boxers, an internationally acclaimed documentary portrays the incredible life story of these Muslim women boxers, how they shatter the preconceived notions incredulously and stand up for their fight for survival. 

Written and Directed by California-based Indian American Alka Raghuram, the documentary is currently premiered on Cinemapreneur – an OTT platform for independent filmmakers, and has already received rave reviews from across the world.

“When I heard about this unusual story of girls from a traditional community stepping out of their comfort zone to do something unique, it just inspired me right away. One of my photographer friends had shot these women in action and seeing those photographs gave me a massive adrenaline rush, and then and there, I decided that I want to tell this incredible story to the world,” said Alka Raghuram, who is also the producer of the film along with Deann Borshay Liem, 24 Images from France and Premlatha Durham.

With three women boxers belonging to different age groups as main protagonists, trained under Razia Shabnam, one of the first Indian women to become a boxing coach and an international referee, the documentary sheds light on their life trajectory amidst societal acceptance, financial conditions, aspirations, and dreams. Smitten by poverty, for these girls, boxing is not just their passion, but a path to attain financial independence. Being an earning member of the family empowers them to take their own decisions. The only way to break free, or else they are married off.

“Kolkata has a long history of boxing with many public boxing rings around and these girls have seen their brother or father in the field and that gave them the exposure. Coming from underprivileged communities and boxing being a cheap sport compared to others, they saw this practical opportunity and grabbed it right away. Boxing gives them financial independence and also the confidence to defend and stay strong when needed,” adds Alka, who spent nearly a year for research, building relations with the conservative community, and understanding the intricacies of complicated dynamics of the society. 

The movie explores the emotions of not just the three boxers but people around who influence them and how boxing acts as a catalyst in life-changing decisions. For Ajmira Khatoon, an aspiring boxer from the neighborhood, boxing is her future and leaves no stone unturned to attain the goal, even if it means regular beatings from father and family fights. To be financially independent is boxer Parveen Sajda’s dream, who is already a state champion but still struggles to get a job amidst societal marital pressure. And for Taslima Khatoon, who resides at a hostel for kids of impoverished communities like sex workers, run by New Light NGO, boxing has opened up new avenues to flourish. 

Apart from these main protagonists, the documentary also brings to fore many alarming issues like the rise in the number of rape cases in India, an upsurge in fear, and how girls discover the need to rise, fight, and conquer their fears. Through the eyes of coach Razia Shabnam and her son, it also delves into prejudiced notions of society that perpetuate unknowingly and engulfs even the educated minds. 

Funded by Independent Television Service (ITVS), Diversity Development Fund, Centre national du cinema et de l’image animee (CNC France), and Visions Sud Est, Burqa Boxers has already many accolades to its credit. Screened at the Locarno Film Festival co-production market, it received the top honor and the team also exhibited a compilation of photo, video and art installation based on the project at the venue.  

California Filmmaker, Alka Raghuram

“Even though the setting of the movie is a poor neighborhood in West Bengal, people from across the world could resonate and relate to it during the screenings, which I consider as most rewarding. To be able to convey a story crossing all cultural boundaries was fulfilling as a visual storyteller. I would love to take Burqa Boxers further ahead to many more public platforms where it reaches a wider audience, especially educational screenings that initiate a conversation on women empowerment and the need for change. We need more stories like these for people to step out of their comfort zone and discover their dreams,” states Alka, who is all set to embark on a new project – fiction feature film ‘Ayna’ starring acclaimed actress Mithila Palkar, a psychological thriller with cinematography by Gurgaon fame director Shanker Raman

Alka also collaborates with other artists for different projects and is currently working on five short films based on choreography by Charlotte Moraga, artistic director at Chitresh Das Institute that encompasses the theme of five elements of life. She is also working on advocacy videos profiling mothers of kids with serious mental illness. 

Dreaming high with her best-laid projects ahead, Alka contemplates the proclaimed theme of Burqa Boxers, women need to step out of their comfort zone to discover their true self. Raised in a small town of Indore, Madhya Pradesh, filmmaking was never her childhood dream but it was her hidden passion that she unraveled while living in the US, returning to school after having kids. “We must always continue to explore ourselves. Nobody comes on the world stage with everything in hand. The only thing required is to be able to ask questions without any hesitation. You just have to ask, to learn, to empower, and to discover yourselves!” concludes Alka. 


Suchithra Pillai comes with over 15 years of experience in the field of journalism, exploring and writing about people, issues, and community stories for many leading media publications in India and the United States.


 

Mosaic Silicon Valley’s ‘Femina’: Find the Divine in India, Cambodia, & China

Making The Mosaic – A column that dips into the disparate, diverse palette of our communities to paint inclusively on the vast canvas of the Bay Area by utilizing Heritage Arts. 

Nine different (sub) cultural histories and traditions from around the world were co-presented by Mosaic Silicon Valley and Guru Shradha, in a program called Femina. It was a call for the world to step out of their cultural silos and experience the vibrancy of the Bay Area, the dynamism of the feminine, and the unifying power of the Arts to build a gender-balanced world.

As the program director, it was fascinating for me to delve into the compositions and choreographies and see the astounding common threads emerge, golden and self-evident. We’ll explore these findings through the first act of the program called Divine | Awaken featuring Indian, Cambodian, and Chinese art forms. Femina’s Divine | Awaken was an ode to the celestial and mythological – It was a call for all of us to find our divine and enlightened selves.

Guru Shradha’s Niharika Mohanty urged us to make room for, submit, and surrender to the divine feminine energies of Durga. Along with her Odissi students, Mohanty beautifully re-incarnated the superb sculptures from Indian temples, the forms manifesting god-like in the blue-light of the stage. One journeyed back in time – and saw the sculptors drawing upon their spiritual energies to carve the goddesses in stone. Art is a journey, one realizes, to an inner destination – familiar or invented, real, unreal, or fantastical. One cannot connect to the outside world without having connected within and art accelerates these connections.

Cambodian Classical Dancer, Charya Burt, emulates Cambodian Gods.

The Goddess was visited again by master choreographer and dancer, Charya Burt in the Cambodian Robam Chun Por or The Wishing Dance. It is typically in an opening ceremony, Devada Srey, that is used to convey blessings to the audience through flower petals. I was fascinated by the obvious Indian influences – Deva in Sanskrit is God, for starters. The Cambodian temple, Angkor Wat, is dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu; indeed, there exists a version of Ramayana in Cambodia. Contrastingly though, while Indian classical dance uses movement, percussion, and melody to impress the divine upon us on Earth, Cambodian dance is designed to transport us to the heavens; the movements are soft and un-creature-like – Burt seemed to glide, buffeted by centuries of mysticism.

A dancer of the Hai Yan Jackson Compnay recreates art from the Dunhuang Caves.

The Chinese arts reclaimed history, thus solidifying the connection between the Divine and the Human. The Hai Yan Jackson Company presented “Flying Apsaras from Dunhuang.” This dance and its costumes were inspired by the discoveries at Dunhuang Caves which were believed to have been walled up in the 11th century and contain some of the finest examples of Buddhist art. Dunhuang was established as a frontier garrison outpost by the Han Dynasty and became an important gateway to the West, a center of commerce along the Silk Road, as well as a meeting place of various people and religions such as Buddhism. My “Indian” radar picked up on the Silk Route and Buddhism. I could feel the palimpsest of time and geography reveal itself in layers. The age-old apsaras appeared before us and the choreography was faithful to the celestial aura.

In Femina, the Mosaic team was able to create a feminine continuum between realms, time, spaces, cultures, and generations, through beautiful art. Happy Women’s History Month to all of you, dear readers! 

The wonderful thing about programming for Mosaic is that it blurs the lines. The narrative may begin as Art imitating Life but then one quickly discovers that it is Life imitating Art. Stories of life – its past, current, and future – are presented on the canvas of culture of, by, for the people in a specific place. Join us and learn more about the Mosaic movement as we catalyze Inclusion and cultivate Belonging in America! 


Priya Das is a writer, dancer, and co-founder of Mosaic Silicon Valley. She is fascinated by the intersections between history, culture, convention, traditions, and time.

Nose In Books, Feet In Socks: On Dr. Seuss

Growing up in the misty mountain valleys of South India, I relished every moment spent with my nose in books and my feet in socks.  Nestled in the range of Nilgiri hills, in a place too small to merit a dot on the map, is a place I was lucky enough to call home when I was growing up. The rainy climes and lack of digital entertainment options meant that we read as many books as we could, and used our imagination to come up with innovative games and entertainment options.

Enid Blyton lifted all of us children into clouds above The Magic Faraway Tree or whisked us away on the Wishing Chair. Tinkle comics & Champak took us for a spin (I am trying to remember some of the characters without the aid of the Internet – a cheap thrill in the current times – Kalia the crow, Chamataka the fox, Doob-Doob the crocodile, Tantri the Mantri, Suppandi, Naseeruddin Hodja, Vikram & Betaal and of course, that vague huntsman who should be the mascot for gun control laws, Shikari Shambu).  

As we grew older though, we moved away from Children’s comics and fantasy books. As more serious fare gradually replaced this wonderful array, I never expected to revisit that wondrous feeling of picking up a children’s book where you know not what magical world opens up to you, and when. But that is exactly what happened when I had children here, and we journeyed into these marvelous worlds together. I had never read the Thomas Train series or the Curious George series or the Berenstain Bear series or any of the books by Dr. Seuss as a child and I got to experience all of this with them for the first time. Oh! The simple pleasures of reading a book like any of these for the first time are gift enough, but to be blessed to be able to read it for the first time as an adult is surreal. It was like growing up all over again. To that, I am eternally grateful.

One morning, the old body was off to a slow start, and I was yawning sleepily in the car. The elementary school-going son looked at me, shook his head with pity and said, “I know what will wake you up! Let’s listen to Horton Hatches The Egg” and we did. The son & I were soon cracking up with loud laughter in the car – sleep had flown, and the nonsensical plot had truly woken me up surer than caffeine could. It is a marvelous book and takes one through the hilarious plot of an elephant hatching an egg. 

I don’t think the little fellow knew about Dr Seuss’s quote on nonsense waking up the brain cells, but it worked like a charm:

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living. It’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, And that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.”

Today, some of Dr. Seuss’s books are being pulled back to have a more inclusive perspective. We know the world changes, but the underlying sentiment he sought to share with the world is one of inclusivity, as he knew first-hand what it was to be ostracized. He knew what it meant to not feel welcomed, and most of his books encouraged us to open our minds and embrace the world. 

March 4, 2021 Article in the NYT.

The current news about the books makes for a great conversation starter on racism with children – for some of his books such as Sneetches examine racism, and how we are more alike than different in spite of our physical differences. I remember being shocked to learn Enid Blyton’s books came under similar criticism. When I was a child reading these books, all they did was transport me to a magical place. I was a brown-skinned girl growing up in South India, but that did not stop me from imagining the 90-ft Eucalyptus tree at the end of our street poked its topmost branches into the revolving worlds in the clouds. But when I re-read them now, I see the point: I must confess that this has led to many interesting discussions with the children.

As the world evolves, and we continue to grow as individuals, it also gives us an opportunity to look for places in the writing that were reflective of the times. For instance, what we identify as unacceptable today was considered acceptable 20-30 years ago. This, in my mind, is a hugely positive aspect of human-beings. Isn’t being able to stop, evaluate ourselves and become better versions of ourselves one of the greatest accomplishments of being human? 

I read Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel, by Judith & Neil Morgan, a biography of the beloved author, Dr. Seuss

Ted Geisel was born on March 2, 1904, in a well-off family. His father, after running the successful family business for several years, later worked for the public parks system with access to a zoo. He puts many of his influences down to the natural loafing around in the countryside with access to animals as a child. His mother had a knack for reading things in verse to him in a way that stuck in his brain. Over his brilliant career, he would combine both these influences in a charming manner to enable an entire generation to love reading.

Ted was a school-going child in Springtown, Massachusetts, when the First World War started. The Geisels were first-generation German Americans and though they were citizens at the time of war, the world around them did not treat them kindly. It is disheartening to read that young Ted Geisel was persecuted for his lineage. This boy went on to write books that are loved and adored by children of all races, religions, nationalities, and backgrounds. His books only ask for an open mind whether it was imagining an elephant gingerly climbing up a tree to hatch an egg or eating green eggs and ham. 

His college sweetheart, and later, wife, Helen Palmer, was the first person to suggest to Ted that he may be better off drawing and writing than pursuing an academic career at Cambridge. He says this was around the time he realized that writing and drawing were like the Yin and Yang to his work. 

Excerpt from the book:

One day she watched Ted undertake to illustrate Milton’s Paradise Lost; he drew the angel Uriel sliding down a sunbeam, oiling the beam as he went from a can that resembled a tuba.

“You’re crazy to be a professor. What you really want to do is draw.” she blurted out. She glanced at a cow he had drawn and said, “That is a beautiful cow!”

Praise from the one you love is truly lovely, and it set him on the course of his career.

I am truly grateful for Dr. Seuss’s books. He and so many authors gave me the gift of finding wonder and magic in an immigrant’s journey.  Read Across America Week was started during Dr. Seuss’s birthday week, and continues to enthrall children. In my son’s school, this year was the multicultural reading week. He told me about some excellent books they read in school this week:  Under the Hijab, The Roots of Rap, My Papi has a Motorcycle, etc, and I am looking forward to reading these myself.


Saumya Balasubramanian writes regularly at nourishncherish.wordpress.com. Some of her articles have been published in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Hindu, and India Currents. She lives with her family in the Bay Area where she lilts along savoring the ability to find humor in everyday life and finding joy in the little things.

The First Indian Cinematic Comic Book Universe

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

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

Comic, The Caravan
Comic, The Caravan

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comic, The Village
Comic, The Village

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

Look out for Rakshak at a screening near you!


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

America Runs on Diversity: GUAA Winner

Being the child of immigrants colors your experience in the Land of the Free. From navigating between different cultures to confronting whitewashing and racism, teenagers used the ‘Growing Up Asian in America‘ contest to pay tribute to their cultural roots. Read fourth grader Ella Dattamajumdar’s essay, America Runs On Diversity, where she discusses the inextricable relationship between America and its immigrant communities. This essay has been paired with, artwork contest winner, America Is Not Complete Without Us, created by sixth-grader An Ly. 

America runs on Dunkin’ is the punchline of one of my favorite foods, but I say that America runs on Diversity. It takes all sorts to make this world, whether it’s doughnuts, dal, dumplings or daikon! Cuisines of the world bring us together. Not just cuisines but diverse perspectives too. I believe that everybody should have a voice because one word can change the world. Everyone has their own opinion or unique perspective, if famous people didn’t speak up they would have never achieved great things and become who they are today.

For example, if Asian American, Jerry Yang did not put his ideas to action we would never have Yahoo. For my essay I am using Google and Microsoft Word which are headed by Sundar Pichai and Satya Nadella. I admire Senator Kamala Harris who was raised by an Indian American mother. They are so many successful Asian Americans who have made America proud. I find Nina Davuluri who is the first Asian American woman to win Miss America very inspiring. At the Miss America contest talent round she performed a Bollywood dance. A lot of people were upset and said hurtful comments when she won Miss America as she looked different compared to the past winners.

I feel that being American is a state of mind, it is based on a common set of values and beliefs and not based on how we look, the color of our skin, what we eat, how we speak or where our grandparents come from. Just look around the Silicon Valley — every time I drive around with my family we are always debating what to eat — Biryani, Pho Soup, Sushi, Pad Thai, Tacos, or Steak. We need all kinds of nutrients to nourish our brains whether it is food or diverse perspectives. I dream of being an Asian American leader who is proud of her heritage and can make America proud because America truly runs on diversity.


Image: The artwork, entitled, America Is Not Complete Without Us, was created by sixth-grader An Ly. 

Essay: American Runs on Diversity was written by fourth-grader Ella Dattamajumdar

One Nation Under God

We’ve been witnessing some amazing resilience in the time of the Corona crisis. The governments around the world, doctors, entrepreneurs, educators, community members stepped up in unprecedented ways to support the system, support one another. It’s fascinating to see the kids transitioning to a brand-new lifestyle with great dexterity. 

But what’s going on within us, if each of us is considered a nation?

The ancient scriptures of the Sanatana Dharma talk about “self-reflection” in all 4 of the Vedas and the corresponding Upanishads. Although we, as humanity, are fascinated by these questions – who we are, where did we come from, where are we heading to – in recent times most of us been busy running around the clock to contemplate on our elemental existential purposes. 

I was a bit scattered at the beginning of the lockdown but I found myself in this ecosystem of learning. Discussions about ancient wisdom, talks about public policies, exchange of lifestyle-related notes among friends .. everything surfaced at my fingertips, in the comfort of my home. 

I chanced upon a physicist turned philosopher, life-coach Dr. Prasad Kaipa, who shared an in-depth analysis of self-reflection in reference to the scriptures. Right from the Rig Veda (the oldest written Veda) to Sama Veda, Yajur & Atharva: our ancestors gave us step-by-step subject matter guidelines.  Relevant to our current situation as the Corona-crisis demanded this contemplation, asking us to look into our very core, our relationship with nature and nurture. 

Photo credit: British Library, photo by Jeffrey Boswall, a natural history broadcaster, film-maker, and producer.

The process starts with the concept of “Prajnanam Brahma” – Introduced in the Rig Veda and concluded in the corresponding Aitareya Upanishad. It talks about the nature of our true perspective. The BIG picture perceived by our unique sense – the consciousness. According to this, by fishing out irrelevance, Neti Neti in Sanskrit (not this, not this), we land on our true nature. 

Next, “Tat Tvam Asi” – Introduced in the Sama Veda and the conclusion drawn in Chandogya Upanishad. What is it that’s not been seen but becomes visible, within us, around us? Never heard, but becomes audible? Unknown becomes known…

By merely asking these questions, we get in touch with our humility. Everything is not known to us, yet. Hence, the scope of pursuit. It gives us eligibility. Takes us to the path of inquiry on how an incredibly small seed can give rise to a tree, how the consciousness of the living beings (Jeeva Atman) is part of universal consciousness (Param Atman). We relate to it by experiences. 

Ahm Brahma Asmi” – In Yajur Veda, concludes in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. After thinking and experiencing, we meditate on the concept. Through astute practice, we feel oneness with the Supreme Divine. It’s possible to attain bliss by connecting our consciousness with divinity. 

I’d like to mention here, after probing this, I couldn’t stop thinking about the enormity of fall-out in “interpretation” at the very conceptual level, as shown in the popular TV series on Netflix: Sacred Games. Amazing depiction – horrors of human ignorance. Through the journey of the protagonist, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, we see the tale of reflection, rejection, retribution, redemption, and finally .. hopefully, renewal. Beautiful! 

And, then? 

The culmination of self-reflection comes with the realization of “Ayam Atman Brahman” – Conceptual introduction in Atharva Veda with conclusive notes in Māṇḍūkya Upanishad. It’s not about humans manifested in social hierarchy. It’s about preservation and sustenance through our thoughts, actions, practice, and pursuit, in perpetuation, day after day, year after year, age after age, with grace and gratitude for all that we have, all that we don’t. And, all that we wonder about, aspire to become. We are in this together. 

Soma Chatterjee is the Diversity Ambassador for India Currents and a Board Member for Silicon Valley Interreligious Council representing Hinduism on behalf of HAF

Inputs from Dr. Prasad Kaipa. Co-author of From Smart to Wise, You Can, and Discontinuous Learning


Featured image and license.

Entrepreneurial Mother Unlocks Kulture

Who else can know a child’s needs better than a mom. And it takes a strong woman to go beyond and fulfill the gaps, irrespective of the circumstances.

Putting aside the pandemic we are facing, it is still International Women’s Month! India Currents would like to tell the story of one such strong Indian American mother, Akruti Babaria, who recognized the importance of conveying Indian traditions and culture to her child and she knew she had to be the one to start a venture to accomplish the feat.

Kulture Khazana is an online portal that unlocks Indian cultural treasures for children using different interactive mediums. From online content, workshops, newsletters, seminars to children’s books – the portal is a one stop destination for every Indian mother who seeks to impart her culture to her kids.

Established in February 2018, the journey was not a cakewalk for the mom-entrepreneur, who had to travel halfway across the globe to find the right sources for her endeavour.

“It was when I started to speak to my 3 year old son about Indian culture, did I realize the lack of resources around us in the US. I wanted him to learn about our values and traditions and could not find any authentic source here. I had to travel all the way to India to purchase nearly 400 books, back then for the purpose. The journey and the realization paved the way to curate something that can be beneficial not just for my son but for every kid in the US,” said Akruti Babaria, who left her full-time job to pursue this venture.

Right after its establishment, the portal was well received by all Indian American parents who were eagerly in search for a repository that offers them the right resources, especially books that do not highlight any violence but convey the needed context in an appropriate way based on the aptitude of a kid. Surprisingly, even the local libraries welcomed the cultural materials and were more than happy to display the collection. 

Akruti storytelling at her local library

Though the initial acceptance helped Akruti to establish her endeavor across the community, finding feasible partners for the business was a challenging task.

“It required lots of research, meetings and effort to find genuine partners to do business with. We needed people who share the same passion for children’s literature. Though at first I used to work with distributors, now over the years I have been able to establish direct contacts with publishers and authors, which has helped the process to be more smooth and effective.” 

Not just limiting the scope to online content, Akruti understood the need to be innovative and went on to explore new avenues to spread awareness on Indian culture. A unique approach of mixing storytelling with activities and movements, she was able to find new ways to engage the kids in learning about their culture.

“I wanted to do something which is not monotonous and kids should find it interesting rather than preachy. The interactive workshops and seminars gives an all-rounded experience for kids with lots of activities and fun learning exercises. It’s been well received and many schools and organizations like children’s museums, libraries, literary communities, temples, and grocery chain stores have come forward to organize such events. Surprisingly, even the non-Indian communities have shown interest and attend these workshops in large numbers to learn more about Indian culture and global diversity,” 

Akruti using different mediums to teach culture

Currently, she has also been approached by the school district of Texas to create a cultural kit as part of the curriculum for 2020 with special focus on spreading awareness about culture and diversity for students and on how teachers should plan to include the framework within the curriculum.

Akruti also conducts professional development seminars for educators on how to interpret culture in a classroom. She feels that if the kids are knowledgeable about diversity and inclusion at such a young age, then they grow up to become open-minded individuals. Most of the organizations have workshops on inclusion as part of team building exercises and Akruti asserts that if these cultural values are taught to them right from childhood then there is no need to retrain them in future. 

The dancer cum MBA graduate is all set to enter a new phase as she plans to author a book for kids about spices. Writing poems and collating learning exercises for the weekly newsletters of her portal, she is already on the move creating new experiences for children through a mother’s lens. 

Akruti call outs to the wonderful women out there for International Women’s month, “Come what may, always follow your passion. Regain your confidence and find your girl gang, who is always there to give an hi-five, to support, advise and even criticize. You just have to step out and you will realize that there is a whole community of women out there who are always ready to support each other.”

Suchithra Pillai comes with over a decade’s experience in the field of journalism, exploring and writing about people, issues, and community stories for many leading publications in India and the United States. In her spare time, you would either find her scribbling down some thoughts in the paper trying to find a rhyme or story out of small things or expressing her love for dance on stage.

Edited by Assistant Editor, Srishti Prabha.

Mahesh’s Life in the Balance


Alameda, CA –  Mahesh, a 68-year-old man, is a loving husband and father of two. In May 2019, he was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (a type of blood cancer), the day after celebrating his son’s marriage. A stem cell transplant is Mahesh’s only chance of beating this disease. Before a transplant takes place, a matching stem cell donor must be found.

Mahesh has spent four months in the hospital and his need for a match is urgent. Initially, five matches were found on the registry in India. But, these donors declined to move forward or were ineligible to donate their stem cells. No donor has been found on the Be The Match® national registry.

Matching is based on your human leukocyte antigen (HLA) tissue type. Your HLA is part of what makes you ‘you’ – your individual genetic characteristics. So, HLA matches are closely based upon a patient’s ethnicity.

Mahesh is South Asian/Indian. So, his perfect stem cell match will most likely be someone who is Indian or someone with Indian ancestry. You have a 30 percent chance of being a match with a sibling. But, Mahesh’s siblings are not the best match for him.

Mahesh family is from Central/Eastern India. His parents hail from Orissa. Today South Asians make up one percent of the bone marrow registry.

“My father’s health is rapidly declining and he needs a stem cell match right away,” says Amrut, Mahesh’s son. “If you are South Asian/Indian then signing up might save our Dad’s life or, if you are not a match for him, you might also save the life of another South Asian looking for a match. We need your help!”

More about Mahesh

Mahesh is a father, a husband, and a friend. He is also a leukemia patient. His heritage, Indian American, is preventing him from finding a matching donor because there aren’t enough Indians registered as potential donors.

Mahesh with his family

“I am completely dependent upon the registry to find a match, as my leukemia is aggressive,” Mahesh says. “There are zero matches for me. Being of Indian-American heritage, the population is severely under-represented as donors. If you have just five minutes, I ask you to register.”

Join the registry by texting MAHESH to 61474

What’s the Solution?

People of color are more likely to die of leukemia and other blood cancers because there is a shortage of diverse HLA types on the Be The Match® national registry. It is vital to build a more diverse registry so everyone has an equal opportunity to survive blood cancers.

Encouraging more people of ethnically diverse backgrounds and those of mixed heritage to be committed and join the Registry, potentially saving a life.  Each of us can “Be The One to Save a Life!”

The Asian American Donor Program (AADP, www.aadp.org) is a 30-year-old community based nonprofit 501 (c) 3 organization, based in Alameda, CA, that works to educate community members about marrow donation and the importance of joining the Be The Match® national registry. It is the oldest nonprofit of its kind in the country. AADP staff is dedicated to increasing the availability of potential stem cell donors for patients with life threatening diseases curable by a blood stem cell or marrow transplant. AADP is an official recruitment center for Be The Match®.

“For thousands of severely ill blood cancer patients, there is a cure,” says Carol Gillespie, AADP executive director. “You could be the cure. Those whose marrow/stem cells are not a match for a patient in need now may be a match for someone else down the road, anywhere in the world. I encourage all individuals to commit to registering. It is simple to register – just a swab of the inside of your cheek.”

When a marrow match is not readily available, patients have to wait longer than is ideal to find a match. Once a match has been found, their disease may have progressed to the point that they are no longer eligible for a transplant.

Importance of Diversifying the Registry

In 2019, an estimated combined total of 176,200 people in the US were expected to be diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma. New cases of leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma were expected to account for 10 percent of the estimated 1,762,450 new cancer cases diagnosed in the US in 2019. (From: https://www.lls.org/facts-and-statistics/facts-and-statistics-overview/facts-and-statistics

The Be The Match® registry recruits hundreds of thousands of donors each year through an extensive network of about 100 local and regional Community Engagement Representatives and organizations. You only need to join the Be The Match® registry once.

Marrow/stem cell matches are very different than blood type matches.  Just as we inherit our eyes, hair, and skin color, we inherit our marrow and stem cell tissue type.

How You Can Commit to Help

Or, text MAHESH to 61474

  • You must be 18 to 44 years old and meet general health requirements.
  • Complete the online consent form and a swab kit will be mailed to you.
  • Be committed. Be ready to donate to any patient in need.
  • Other ways to help – call AADP at 1-800-593-6667 or visit our website http://www.aadp.org

Please take a few minutes of your time to learn more about how you can help save a life and register as a marrow donor.

Eastern Dreams on Western Shores: Aditya Patwardhan

From Indian engineer to international filmmaker, Aditya Patwardhan is making a mark in Hollywood and we need to keep an eye out for him. Aditya is rare – his filmmaking combines aspects of engineering, music, cinematography, and multilingualism. 

Relocating from India to LA to pursue his passion, Patwardhan has worked on a multitude of projects, from documentaries to series pilots and shorts; some of his works included Kiski Kahani (music director), Red House by the Crossroads (director), Red Souls (director) and are in international markets including in the US, India, Baltic and Eastern European countries, and South America. 

Though it may seem that the skills between the two careers are non transferable, the Indian diaspora might disagree. Indian culture is entrenched in the arts and it can be traced back to one of the first comprehensive books on performing arts, Natya Shastra (NS), written in 200 BCE by Bharat Muni. Far beyond the theatrics, the NS is ingrained in almost every aspect of Indian society. It has influenced Indian sculpture, architecture, painting, poetry, day-to-day normal conversation, forming the connection between Indian mathematics and music. So when Aditya felt drawn towards filmmaking, it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. 

Aditya confesses that switching from engineering to films was borne out of a natural subconscious process. It was during his time as an undergraduate in engineering college that he created a few ‘zero-budget’ musical videos, with his friend and music composer, Hiren Pandya. 

He took a bite into filmmaking and liked the taste. 

Graduating from engineering college, Aditya knew his calling but the path wasn’t linear. 

Aditya got a big break in 2013 during the Vidhan Sabha (state legislature) elections in the Indian state of Rajasthan. He worked in the IT and social media department of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). His group ran a very successful social media campaign and the BJP won in a landslide. From IT to social media, Aditya began deviating from the standard.

It was during his time working in Social Media Management that Aditya came into contact with a musician and composer, Gaurav Bhatt. Gaurav, a Jaipur-based musician who had trained in the famous Bhatt Gharan, had composed a few Hindi songs and was looking for someone to help popularize them on YouTube. The two collaborated and created a music video. Grainy images shifting through a dreamlike narrative, overlaid with the poignant Indian classical fusion melody of Garauv Bhatt created magic; it received considerable attention and was featured in local newspapers and TV, including The Rajasthan Patrika and The Times of India

 “The success I received in these low-cost music videos gave me the confidence to enter into filmmaking professionally,” Aditya fondly recounts.

Newfound success and a heavy dose of determination brought Aditya to Hollywood. Eager to learn the tricks of the trade, he enrolled in the Masters in Film and Media Production program in the Los Angeles branch of the New York Film Academy. His thesis – ‘Red House by the Crossroads’ – a film about a Jewish family in 1970s Poland who were facing the backlash of the Nazi era occupation – culminated in a showcase at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival.  

Aditya hasn’t looked back since.

He is versatile and diverse, much like the background he comes from. His documentary ‘Eastern Shores of the Western World’ explores “cultural, linguistic, and genetic similarities between India and Eastern Europe.” And in the same breath, he has made films with social and environmental causes. In his soon to be released ‘Rivers: The Upstream Story’, he takes on the issue of river-water depletion through a civilizational lens. 

Filmmakers, like Patwardhan, with a voice and cultural competence are filling the gaps in global cinema. Aditya Patwardhan is slowly becoming a household name, as he continues his journey of Eastern dreams on Western shores. 

Afters spending several years in IT, Avatans Kumar now works as a Columnist and PR professional.  Avatans frequently writes on the topics of Indic Knowledge Tradition, Language, Culture, and Current Affairs in several media outlets.

Edited by Assistant Editor, Srishti Prabha.

Kamala Harris takes on Trump

The ten contenders who faced off in the third Democratic Presidential debate hosted by ABC on August 12 sent a powerful message to voters – it was time to get rid of Donald Trump and each of them was ready and equipped to do it.

Senator Kamala Harris, looking directly into the camera in her opening statement, attacked first, “I have some words for Donald Trump, who we all know is watching.”

The president, said Harris, spent his first term sowing “hate and division among us”  and used fear, intimidation and over twelve thousand lies “to distract from failed policies and broken promises.” She argued that the only reason Trump escaped indictment is because a sitting President cannot be charged with a crime.

The crowd roared with approval when Harris suggested the President “go back to watching Fox News.”

The final ten candidates who qualified for the third round of debates met fundraising and polling requirements set by the DNC (at least 2% support in at least four polls and donations from at least 130,000 unique donors), presented a remarkably diverse group across the spectrum of age, gender and ethnicity. Harris is the only woman of color to make the cut.

As the first front runner of dual Indian-American and African-American heritage, Harris is uniquely positioned to represent both groups in her presidential campaign, so her platform and policies have come under close scrutiny from both communities.

So how did she do?

What the American people know, said Harris, is that “the vast majority have so much more in common than what separates us, regardless of race, where we live, or the party with which we are registered to vote.”

Her plan is to stay focused on “our common issues, common hopes and desires and in that way, unifying our country, winning this election and turning the page for America.”

During the three-hour long debate, Harris came under fire for her record on crime, compared Trump on trade policy to the ‘little guy’ in the Wizard of Oz, and laughingly offered V P Biden an awkward “Hey Joe, let’s just say we can,” when he queried her proposed executive order to ban assault weapons.

And yet, the debate on mass shootings allowed Harris to dig deep into her experience on handling gun violence, “I’ve seen more autopsy photos than I care to tell you,” she said, protesting the  trauma of young children forced to practice gun drills in primary school. It also gave her one of the best lines of the night when commenting on the El Paso’s mass shooting that claimed 29 lives, ‘Trump did not pull the trigger, but he’s certainly been tweeting out the ammunition.”

ABC moderator Linsey Davis confronted Harris with some tough questions on her prosecutorial record, calling her newly released plan for criminal justice reform contradictory to her prior positions. “When you had power why didn’t you try to affect change then?”

Harris disputed the challenge as distortions of her record which did not reflect reforms she had initiated, that required law enforcement to wear cameras and racial bias training for police officers. Her message about changing the system from the inside outlined future plans to end mass incarceration and solitary confinement, shut down for-profit prisons, and hold law enforcement, including prosecutors, accountable –  a plan that she said, activists called ‘bold’.

Harris also swung the healthcare discussion away from her opponents’ well-intentioned proposals for every American to have healthcare coverage, to focus instead on Donald Trump and the end goal. “Let’s talk about the fact that Donald Trump came into office….and spent almost the entire first year of his term trying to get rid of the Affordable Care Act.”

She drew applause from an appreciative audience with a reminder about the late Senator John McCain’s surprise 2 am vote, against a GOP-sponsored limited repeal of Obamacare. Harris’ cue to her sparring opponents who basically agree on healthcare coverage, was to frame the real threat to millions of Americans and the ACA, “Lets focus on the end goal. If we don’t get Donald Trump out of office, he’s going to get rid of all of it.”

Topher Spiro, from the Center for American Progress said, “Kamala Harris won the opening statement and the health care debate. Just sayin!”

Currently, Kamala Harris ranks among the top five candidates in a YouGov/FairVote of national Democratic voters. Will she be the one to stop Trump from taking away healthcare from 300 million Americans?  And will Democratic voters think Kamala Harris is the one who can get on stage in a debate with Donald Trump and take him down?