Tag Archives: Geetika Pathania Jain

Watch Chadha’s Film Tackle White Supremacy Before You Vote!

What to watch before the election, in light of Trump’s troubling stance on white supremacists? Gurinder Chadha’s film Blinded by the Light (2019) is a treat for Bruce Springstein fans, and also a searing critique of white supremacy.

“We have seen difficult times before,” starts Chadha.

During the interview, I wanted to tell Gurinder Chadha that she is to me what Springsteen is to Javed in her film Blinded by the Light. Larger than life. Awe-inspiring. Authentic. Raw. That her 1993 film Bhaji on the Beach was seared in my memory!

But when my icon spoke, I merely managed to squeak out a “such an honor, Gurinder.” No need to gush like a star-struck fan, I thought. And when I asked Gurinder Chadha questions, her replies were honest and amazing, just like her.

Gurinder Chadha’s film Blinded by the Light is a message of hope and the power of music to uplift and inspire. It simultaneously tackles neo-Nazi white supremacy.

“We struggle, but we also celebrate.”

GPJ: Your film comes at a particularly difficult and divisive time in the USA. The image of the Pakistani family scrubbing “Go Back” graffiti from their walls (and worse) in your film comes to mind. Recently, Donald Trump, the President of the United States, started a “go back to your country” and “send her back” chant for duly elected US Senator Omar Ilhan. Comments?

GC: Yes, it’s a difficult time and we’ve been through it before. The film is set in 1987 in England when we were really struggling with Margaret Thatcher and the rise of the National Front. In that time, people were quite intimidated by the rise of racism. I made the film to show how dark those times were and that we don’t want to go back there.

Coming to America

GPJ: A scene from the film about a National Front rally seems hauntingly like Charlottesville, where neo-Nazis and white supremacists were emboldened to march. The protagonist, Javed, has white allies — his friend, the teacher, or the principal, or the newspaper colleague at The Herald. He also has white adversaries — the National Front, the skinheads, Margaret Thatcher… How can we strengthen our allies for multiculturalism and simultaneously resist nationalistic and white supremacist adversaries?

GC: Well, you’ll have to talk to a politician about that, but I’m pleased that my film has been warmly received so far. It’s good that people are interested in Bruce’s America represented on the screen — the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen are what Javed listens to.

GPJ: Agreed — he’s given hope through his brilliant lyrics to many listeners. I understand you’ve been a Springsteen fan for a long time?

GC: Yes, I certainly value and appreciate his words and his music.

GPJ:  You have been unafraid to discuss issues within the South Asian community — in Bhaji on the Beach, for instance, you dealt with domestic violence and our own racism towards blacks. When Javed writes about the mosque in The Herald, his father criticizes his actions and tells him to keep his head down. Any comments on the pressure for ethnic artists and writers to show our community in a positive light?

Viveik Kalra with Gurinder Chadha

GC: Well, I think all writers should write what they like. What I like to do is to show that we struggle, but we also celebrate. We’re not defined by struggle or racism — we have three-dimensional lives which have a lot of love and happiness in them, and people often forget that. When I make a movie, it’s important for me to have a different social perspective that reflects that and celebrates us.

GPJ: I appreciate that your voice is heard in the world film scene. Your films are so unique. I recently saw Yesterday by Danny Boyle, for example, and the treatment felt so one-dimensional. Whereas there is a wholeness of the story in “Blinded… “ — you don’t shy away from depicting prejudice and racism against people with skin color that clearly identifies them as the Other. I’m grateful for your voice, and confident that you will speak for a diasporic Indian in a way that is real and authentic.

GC: Thank you! It’s really important that you get the word out. Unless people support it, it’s going to be harder and harder to make films like that.


Geetika Pathania Jain, Ph.D. is working on a book called “50 Voices From South Asia.”

Photo credits for film stills: Nick Wall

This article was originally published in August 2019.

Bombay Rose and Kashmir Guns

I am not ashamed to admit that I sometimes cry in darkened theaters. It happened during the Jallianwala Bagh massacre scene in Gandhi, Naatak’s powerful play that tugged so expertly at my heartstrings. And my lachrymal glands were at it during Vrindavan, another superb Naatak play also by Sujit Saraf. Vrindavan was about the plight of widows cast off by society, that included a powerful performance by Ranjita Chakravarty. When I complained to Sujit Saraf that his plays kept ruining my eye makeup, he grinned happily and said, “Aur ro lo, aur ro lo,” (Go ahead and cry some more).

Salim and Kamala in Bombay Rose.

I took this advice and confess to weeping discreetly in the theater while watching Bombay Rose last week at the 2019 Third i festival in the storied Castro theater in SF, a movie palace from a bygone era. The film was like the delicious pain of a loose milk tooth. The refrain of the song about Reva, flowing like a river to the ocean, was sorrowful, like a replay of Stevie Wonder’s My Cherie Amour in Silver Linings Playbook. Like nostalgia for a glorious era of Bollywood that has slipped into history. Like doomed love of the small and powerless for whom pain has already occurred and will occur again. Like regret for a lost paradise where Shammi Kapoor serenaded Sharmila Tagore in Kashmir ki Kali (1964) but now has more guns than roses.

Tareef karoon kya uski, jisne tujhe banaya. (What praise can I offer your creator?) (Kashmir ki Kali, 1964)

Kashmir ki kali (the flowerbud of Kashmir) Source: Wikipedia

Bombay Rose had a melancholy undercurrent that I thought of for days afterwards. The main characters in the film labor in the “informal economy” of Bombay’s mean streets. There is a Hindu girl and a Muslim boy, a dastardly villain, romance, deception and heartbreak. So, is the Bombay Rose a homage to Bollywood? When the film begins, Salim, who has sought refuge in Bombay as violence engulfs his home in Kashmir, is one of the audience members in a movie theater. He is enthralled by the swagger of a six-packed, swashbuckling larger-than-life Raja Khan, a sendup of Bollywood’s grandiosity. Salim’s own existence as a traffic light flower-seller is more meager, but his view includes the lovely garland-maker Kamala across the street, and love blooms.

Is the rose flower Hindu or Muslim? Gulab Singh or Gulab Khan? The film raises this question in a voiceover.

There are flights of imagination to Mughal miniature paintings where our beleaguered couple can escape the indignities and cruelties of their crushed-under-the-heel-of-poverty existence. (The paintings were reminiscent of Nina Paley’s 2008 Sita Sings the Blues). This animated film might not get the highest points for technical excellence, but Anjali Rao has put together a memorable film that holds its bleak characters lovingly, like something fragile. A newly-hatched chick placed in one’s hands might elicit a similar response.

Or a bruised Kashmir ki kali.

Bombay Rose. 2019. Director: Gitanjali Rao. Writers: Asad Hussain, Gitanjali Rao. Actors: Anurag Kashyap, Shishir Sharma, Makrand Deshpande.

Geetika Pathania Jain is the Culture and Media Editor at India Currents. She sometimes finds catharsis for geopolitical sorrows in the dark, cocoon-like insides of theaters.

The Visual Artists in the #SALA 2019 Festival

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:

Rekha Roddwittiya

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.  

Deepti Naval

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: 

Vikram Chandra

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, Shanthi Sekaran, Nayomi Munaweera, Raghu Karnad, Athena Kashya and Tanuja Wakefield 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 titled The Subcontinent’s Children. 

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Montalvo Arts Center and 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.

Free shuttle buses are available from West Valley College to aid festival goers.

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.

India Currents is a media partner for SALA 2019.

Exclusive Interview! Gurinder Chadha Dazzles in ‘Blinded by the Light’

I wanted to tell Gurinder Chadha that she is to me what Springsteen is to Javed in her film Blinded by the Light (2019). Larger than life. Awe-inspiring. Authentic. Raw. That her 1993 film Bhaji on the Beach was seared in my memory!

But when my icon spoke (interview below), I merely managed to squeak out a “such an honor, Gurinder.” No need to gush like a star-struck fan, I thought. And when I asked Gurinder Chadha questions, her replies were honest and amazing, just like her.

Gurinder Chadha’s film is a message of hope and the power of music to uplift and inspire. It is simultaneously a searing critique of neo-Nazi white supremacy.

“We have seen difficult times before.”

GPJ: Our magazine India Currents is for diasporic Indians and Asian Indians and for about thirty years we’ve been trying to get voices from our community out, so this is really exciting for me. Anything you want to say to our readers before the formal interview?

GC: Just go and see my film. And check out Beecham House on PBS, coming soon.

GPJ: Your film comes at a particularly difficult and divisive time in the USA. The image of the Pakistani family scrubbing “Go Back” graffiti from their walls (and worse) in your film comes to mind. Recently, Donald Trump, the President of the United States, started a “go back to your country’ and ‘send her back’ chant for a duly elected US Senator called Omar Ilhan. Comments?

GC: Yes, it’s a difficult time and we’ve been through it before. The film is set in 1987 in England, when we were really struggling with Margaret Thatcher and the rise of the National Front. In that time, people were quite intimidated by the rise of racism. I made the film to show how dark those times were and that we don’t want to go back there.

GPJ: A scene from the film about a National Front rally seems hauntingly like Charlottesville, where neo-Nazis and white supremacists were emboldened to march. The protagonist, Javed, has white allies — his friend, the teacher, or the principal, or the newspaper colleague at The Herald… and the white adversaries — the National Front, the skinheads, Margaret Thatcher… How can we strengthen our allies for multiculturalism and simultaneously resist nationalistic and white supremacist adversaries?

GC: Well, you’ll have to talk to a politician about that, but I’m pleased that my film has been warmly received so far. It’s good that people are interested in Bruce’s America represented on the screen– the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen are what Javed listens to.

GPJ: Agreed — he’s given hope through his brilliant lyrics to many listeners. I understand you’ve been a Springsteen fan for a long time?

GC: Yes, I certainly value and appreciate his words and his music.

GPJ:  You have been unafraid to discuss issues within the South Asian community — in Bhaji on the Beach, for instance, you dealt with domestic violence and our own racism towards blacks. When Javed writes about the mosque in The Herald, his father criticizes his actions and tells him to keep his head down. Any comments on the pressure for ethnic artists and writers to show our community in a positive light?

GC: Well, I think all writers should write what they like. What I like to do is to show that we struggle, but we also celebrate. We’re not defined by struggle or racism — we have three dimensional lives which have a lot of love and happiness in them, and people often forget that. When I make a movie, it’s important for me to have a different social perspective that reflects that and celebrates us.

GPJ: I appreciate that your voice is heard in the world film scene. Your films are so unique. I recently saw Yesterday by Danny Boyle, for example, and the treatment felt so one-dimensional. Whereas there is a wholeness of the story in “Blinded… “ — you don’t shy away from depicting prejudice and racism against people with skin color that clearly identifies them as the Other. I’m grateful for your voice, and confident that you will speak for a diasporic Indian in a way which is real and authentic.

GC: Thank you! It’s really important that you get the word out in your publication and on social media. Unless people support it, it’s going to be harder and harder to make films like that.

 

Geetika Pathania Jain is Culture and Media Editor at India Currents.

 

Photo credits for film stills: Nick Wall

Two Sitas, Two Deepikas, and One Cross-Dresser

“Is it true there was cross-dressing in early Indian cinema?”

The question came from a young Texan undergrad, and there was some muffled laughter in the audience. I paused for the room to be quiet.

Raja Harishchandra (1913), India’s first feature film.

It was up to me to provide some cultural context. I had received some photocopied pages for the reading on Indian cinema, and I glanced at them for specific details. 

“Yes, it’s true that Dadasaheb Phalke’s earliest films had men dressed as women. In 1913, Annasaheb Saluke played the role of the queen, Rani Chandramani, in India’s first feature film, Raja Harishchandra.”

Annasaheb Salunke played female roles in Dadasahab Phalke’s films

I elaborated on how Dadasaheb Phalke had been unable to find female actors in the traditional Pune society of 1913. How acting was a morally suspect profession, and chaste Indian women could have nothing to do with it. How Annasaheb Saluke, a Mumbai restaurant worker, played the role not only of Ram but also Sita in Lanka Dahan in 1917.

It was a small footnote of cinema history, but it made me think. Women had been entirely missing in the first Indian film, and when they were allowed in, there were specific roles that they were afforded: of mothers, maidens and mistresses, each with strictly enforced codes.

Perhaps early Indian cinema did continue to exert an influence on the films being made today. Take devotionals and the two Deepikas, for instance.

DEVOTIONALS

The story of how the father of Indian films, Dadasaheb Phalke, was inspired to make devotional films about Hindu religious mythologies such as Raja Harishchandra (1913), Mohini Bhasmasur (1913), and Lanka Dahan (1917) is an interesting one.

In April 1911, Phalke visited the America India Picture Palace, in Girgaon, Mumbai with his family to see a film. As it was Easter, the theatre screened a film about Jesus, The Life of Christ (1906) by the French director Alice Guy-Blaché. While watching Jesus on the screen, Phalke envisioned Hindu deities Rama and Krishna instead and decided to start in the business of “moving pictures.” (Watwe)

The devotional genre was continued by films such as Sant Tukaram (1936) and Jai Santoshi Ma (1975), Shirdi Ke Sai Baba (1977) and then, on a smaller TV screen, Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan (1986) where actress Deepika Chikhalia woodenly played a pious Sita. Devotional films have been immensely popular and more importantly, revered. “People would keep their shoes outside the cinemas before going in to watch Nanak Naam Jahaz Hai (1969) recalled veteran trade analyst Vinod Mirani. 

Film historian Sumita Chakravarty (1993) has suggested that women in Indian cinema have been cast as good wives, good mothers, or conversely, as bad women: vamps and courtesans. In Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan (1986), actress Deepika Chikhalia played the role of Mother Sita, and was subsequently criticized for any roles thereafter where she had to wear revealing clothes or where she was not an ideal wife or mother.

THE TWO DEEPIKAS

Source: IMDb

Seven decades separated Annasaheb Saluk playing Mother Sita to Deepika Chikhalia playing Mother Sita, but how much had really changed?

Fast forward to contemporary events. For Deepika Padukone, the role of Padmavati came under a similar category of an ideal woman. (In present day India, Hindu Rajput women continue to worship sati mata, the goddess to whom the sacrifice of one’s body is made by widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands.)

Taking the role of a mother created an expectation that high standards of morality would be displayed by the Deepikas.

To fully appreciate the Padma(a)vat(i) controversy in 2017, one needs to understand history certainly, but more specifically, South Asian cinema history. The history of devotionals, of audiences throwing coins at the stage as good vanquished evil on-screen. We are to understand the consternation caused at the unseemly sight of Mother Padmavati dancing the ghoomar with her midriff exposed. It was the government, and its censor board, that was tasked with the job of gently covering Mother’s midriff. Bhansali’s film was delayed, and then released, after a name change to Padmaavat, and the Censor Board required edits where Deepika’s offending midriff was covered.

Padmaavat

But for the government to cover a woman’s midriff digitally! That will be in the film history books. Students in the year 2099 might ask — is it true?

And someone, I hope, will provide some cultural context.

 

Geetika Pathania Jain, Ph.D., is Culture and Media Editor at India Currents.

Photo credits (unless otherwise noted): Wikipedia

The Peacock Keys

They hung in a noisy jangle a few inches to the left of Padma’s well padded belly button, tucked snugly into her sari’s waistband. Keys of iron and brass, jostling each other around a communal ring meant for expensive Harrison locks and cheap padlocks. The center of power in the house.

Every morning, the cooking lady, Neela, shuffled in, her children trailing her blankly, their eyes solemn and adult, cowed by the intimidating presence of Padma. The keys were waiting, ready to officiously dispense the morning’s rations, and then to return to their privileged station.

The Verma household was run in the manner of a siege – the contents of the kitchen pantry were under constant threat from thieving servants. Tins full of lentils, rice, and flour, and smaller jars of jaggery, turmeric, chili and spices, guarded zealously by Padma and her keys.

The surveillance of household servants took up much of Padma’s time. There was the cook to watch, of course, but also her three children, aged two to seven, and a myriad of part-time workers. Sometimes, in a voice weary with the responsibility of overseeing such a well-stocked pantry, she cautioned the younger women in the neighborhood about how servants could not be trusted.

“The more temptation you present them with, the harder it becomes for them to resist. I lock everything – that way I know I keep them honest.” The younger women would listen and nod, taking in all this household wisdom on servant management.

The keys ensured Padma’s status as a guardian of a wealthy household. The key holder had elaborate decorations, a peacock’s tail that fanned out over the underlying hook. Padma had received the peacock keyholder as part of her marriage dowry. Made of solid silver, with blue and green meena work, it had been a family heirloom, passed down from mother to daughter for generations.

Little bells on the peacock tail announced Padma’s imminent arrival into a room, the delicate tinkling sound jarring incongruously with the bulk of her body when she appeared. The keys were quiet when Padma snoozed in the afternoon. If there was no electricity, a child fanned her sleeping frame to keep the flies away. Padma would awaken sometimes with a start, then relax when her hand touched the cold metal of the keys to ensure their continued presence.

During the day, the weight of the keyholder was a familiar tug on the left side of her waist. So one day, when it felt heavier than usual, she was surprised to see the lock still attached to the brass Harrison key. Flustered, she wondered how long the stores had been left open to possible plunder.

Her eyes narrowed at the half-empty jar of lentils in the store. Surely it had been almost three-fourths full the day before? She cursed herself silently for her carelessness in leaving the store-room open. She was employing a gang of petty thieves, apparently. Self-righteousness welled within her. She would have to redouble her vigilance.

She secured the room hastily, and wondered whether to inform her husband, Vermaji, of this security lapse. She decided against it, her lips tightening slightly. The sequence of events did not present Padma in a good light. And anyway, Vermaji was prone to half-listen to her domestic tales, his eyes invariably straying to the newspaper as she talked.

No, she would not tell Vermaji. Her husband would probably chastise her anyway. He would say that she was too hard on the servants. That was, if he could even tear his eyes away from the newspaper to listen to her. Her lips tightened further at this thought and settled on a thin line of discontent. Though she prayed for serenity and chanted ‘shanti shanti shanti’ every morning, the overwhelming desire of Padma’s inner lioness was to devour in entirety her goat-like husband. It was Vermaji who found his tea over-sugared and his dal over-salted on the days that his grunts of feigned participation missed the syntax of the conversational flow. In her imagination, she felt her lioness claws retract as she prepared to lunge at the piteously bleating goat bearing Vermaji’s visage.

Only when Amit called from America did Vermaji give any conversation his undivided attention. How she missed Amit, and the calming effect of her son’s presence on her ferocious psyche.

Vermaji was an administrator, and spent his days in the office, processing files full of mind-numbing legalese. All day long, he received visitors, hopeful members of the public who wanted their files to be extricated from the waist-high stacks of government files in the store room. Over glasses of milky tea, the visitors explained the special circumstances that merited such exceptions, and furnished letters of introduction from colleagues and relatives. Vermaji tolerated such interruptions to his work as part of his day. Life had been kind. His son had shown an aptitude for his studies, and had been rewarded with spectacular American success. Vermaji’s face shone with pride at the thought of Amit.

Image by Christian Schnettelker

That was before the phone call and its dreadful news.

Padma had been in mid-sentence when the phone rang.

“Chai bana. Hello?” She completed her instruction to the servant before turning her attention to the caller.

It was with disbelief that Padma heard the phone call. Surely her gem of a son could not be headed to an American jail. Why, the whole family name would be dragged through the mud. Her headaches started that day, becoming longer and more insistent in time, and all three of the servant children would patiently rub Tiger balm into her forehead with their little fingers. Only when Padma waved them away would they leave the darkened room.

No one must know of this ignominy, was the constant refrain in Padma’s mind. Vermaji was still in service, and she could not bear for their misfortune to become gossipy chatter among his colleagues and their wives. And how Vermaji suffered. His son’s life had been carefully planned and supervised by him, and Amit’s career ascendance was a source of private satisfaction. And now, they had become mired in this disgrace. Had he not coached his son to avoid controversy and potentially sticky ethical situations? Vermaji enjoyed a stellar reputation as an honest bureaucrat, and it was an embarrassment to him that his son had inherited none of his high-minded aversion to graft.

It was all too much. Padma’s interest in her domestic empire waned. How could she continue as if petty pilfering of dal and rice mattered when her son had allegedly dipped his spoon so brazenly in the pot of honey that belonged to other Americans? The household keys were left still attached to the lock of the store-room. This was a new Padma, forgetful and uncaring. Vermaji had taken a leave of absence from work and flown to America, and he returned shrunken and withdrawn.

Funds were needed to launch a legal defence. Vermaji liquidated his retirement savings and sent international money orders to USA. Mealtimes, low on conversation at the best of times, were especially punctuated by silences. A heaviness of heart had descended upon them. That their son was a crook was unthinkable. They hoped that it was just a matter of time before his name would be cleared, but the court case dragged on. How had this happened? They had raised a successful business executive, not a white collar criminal.

As Padma’s decline continued, accompanied with introspection, issues of innocence and guilt began to weigh on her. She was absorbed, in an interior courthouse of her mind, by issues of culpability, and forgiveness. Would the jury have a large heart? Or, like hers, had hearts become many sizes too small? It was unclear whether her son would be exonerated for his crimes, but Padma had made a small, seemingly unrelated decision on her own.

So, one day, the unthinkable happened. Instead of personally supervising the exodus of lentils and rice for the day’s meal, she left the storage room unlocked. “Take out what you need for today and make sure that you close the lids tight.”

It was time to retire the peacock keys.

 

Geetika Pathania Jain is Culture and Media Editor at India Currents.

This is a fictional story. Any resemblance to real people is entirely coincidental. 

Summer Meditations on Delusion

Summer is when time slows and there are comings and goings, family reunions and outings. It seems that the days are longer, and there is more time, to read, and to just be.

This might be a delusion, but for one, I was able to make some headway in my summer reading: Why Buddhism is True, (WBIT) (2017) by Robert Wright. And I was able to watch a hindi play by Naatak called Rashomon, based on Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s “In the Grove.” And listen to a lecture by Joshua Pollock at the Commonwealth Club called The Heartfulness Way: Heart-Based Meditations for Spiritual Transformation. The connections between these surprised me.

Rashomon, the 1950 Akira Kurosawa classic film, had been about multiple, contradictory and self-serving perspectives of a single event. This film had been a bit difficult to watch, with Toshiro Mifune as a bandit who raped a woman and murdered her husband. The adaptation of the Japanese play by theater group Naatak, directed by Savitha Samu, was similarly disturbing in its unflinching depiction of sexual violence. The wife, played by Ekta Brahmakshatriya in the play, was given a far more assertive persona than the simpering Machiko Kyo, the filmic counterpart of 70 years ago. The salience of this story over more than half a century is interesting, and not just from the perspective of the contemporary moment of #metoo.

 

Rashomon: a play by Naatak.

And that brings me to Robert Wright, and his book WBIT. This exceedingly well researched and thoughtful book is full of references from Buddhist texts, evolutionary psychology, neuroscience research as well as the personal meditative experiences of the author. Our capacity for self-delusion, or at least the inaccuracy of our senses seems to provide a rational within Buddhism for the Rashomon effect.

Wright’s book was very helpful in understanding common Buddhist concepts such as of ‘emptiness’ and ‘not-self,’ of identifying the difference between Buddhist and Hindu conceptions of the self, as well as the variants within Buddhism such as Theravada Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism. The book can help you understand the hedonic treadmill, the nature of dukka (sorrow), and the irresistible allure of a powdered donut. The antidote?

We’ve heard it before. Meditate. Repeat. 

Wright argues that Western Buddhism, as the author refers to the more secular version practiced by many Americans, has been sanitized of the more supernatural and disgusting aspects. Rarely, Wright points out, are we encouraged to meditate on the blood, pus, and feces as traditional Buddhism suggests. “What is presented today as a ancient meditative tradition is actually a selective rendering… in some cases carefully manicured.” Wright points out that not all those who identify as Western Buddhists accept reincarnation, for instance. Yet, this secular or science-based perspective comes at a cost, he claims. “Science brought about the disenchantment of the world, draining it of magic.”

A good story needs a villain. In traditional Buddhism, there are hungry ghosts, and the dastardly Mara, the nemesis of the Buddha, perpetually trying to tempt the Buddha by sending beautiful maidens to disturb his meditation. Wright settles on natural selection as the villain; why we have such trouble resisting tribal thinking or a powdered donut. Our intense emotions that have been hardwired into us by evolution, are, in fact, delusions.

“These feelings — anxiety, despair, hatred, greed — … have elements of delusion, elements you’d be better off without. And if you think you would be better off, imagine how the whole world would be. After all, feelings like despair and hatred and greed can foster wars and atrocities. So if what I’m saying is true — if the basic sources of human suffering and human cruelty are indeed in large part the product of delusion — there is value in exposing this delusion to the light.”

Besides a delightful analysis of why the Matrix (1999) is the ultimate Dharma film, Wright raises some provocative questions. Does meditation make you happier? Inasmuch as you realize that your feelings are unreliable guides to your wellbeing, and are fueled by (that enemy!) natural selection, and because meditation affords clarity of vision, the answer is yes. Can meditation cause you to love your children less? Perhaps meditators can love them with less attachment, and love orphans and other people’s children more, he offers. Are all meditators good people? Apparently not. When meditation is twinned with dharma, a number of moral and ethical precepts, a clarity of vision allows for more moral outcomes. But meditators are fallible, and bad behavior can coexist with meditation, as recent accusations of misconduct at Shambhala International attest. (#metoo).

While Wright refers to an Insight (or Vipasana) Meditation retreat, Joshua Pollock follows the path of Raja Yoga, as laid down by Swami Vivekananda. In his talk, he refers to mindfulness meditation as being not about controlling the thoughts, but gently observing them. His discussion of pranahuti, yogic transmission during meditation and reference to direct experience rather than knowledge were especially interesting. You can hear Joshua Pollock’s lecture online.

Wright makes a compelling argument that the world is moving towards a single brain, and that tribalism, with its variants of identification with religion, nation or ideology, is the threat that could eradicate sentient beings from this planet. The entire world would be better served if people would meditate, see our interconnectedness more clearly, and save ourselves from our delusions such as our individual specialness. Oh, and let go of the notion that fulfilling our desires will make us happy.

Feeling rebellious? Go against natural selection.

“Buddhism’s diagnosis of the human predicament is fundamentally correct, and… its prescription is deeply valid and urgently important,” claims Wright. 

Meditate on that.

Geetika Pathania Jain is the Culture and Media Editor at India Currents. (Or at least she is under that delusion.)

The Tongawallah’s Wife

The doctor stepped off from the tonga (horse-carriage) at Jalalpur Jattan Railway station, in Pakistan, the horse whinnying as he did so.

“We will meet again soon, I hope,” he said to the tongawallah (horse-carriage driver).

The younger man nodded. “Inshallah.”

***

INDIA, 1947 PARTITION

Was it an exaggeration to say that the Partition was the death of humanity? A partition not just of the nation. A partition of emotions, of bodies, of souls, of families, of friendship and of property.

Like a harried parent giving in to the endless tantrums of a difficult child, the British gave in to Jinnah Sahib’s intransigence. The great nation of India was to be divided into two. Initially, on both sides of the border, there was hope: so what if the nation is divided, surely the people will endure. Down the ages, Hindus and Muslims had coexisted, and surely things would go on like before. Governments would change, but relationships would endure.

But this did not transpire. Overnight, everything changed.

Before they turned on each other with ferocious bloodlust, they had been friends, neighbors, well-wishers. And just like that, they became mortal enemies, swords thirsting for each other’s blood. Mothers and sisters were defiled, little children had their heads severed, dead bodies piled up on top of each other, houses burned to the ground, eerily silent trains pulled into train stations with their ghastly cargo. This happened on both sides of the border. This was the blood, this was the murder of humanity. Of morals. Of values. Of relationships. Of friendship. Of hearts. Of piety.

This is the story of the family that owned Jeewan Hospital in Jalalpur Jattan. Perhaps these physicians understood the human body as being only superficially divided by religion or caste. At any rate, being Hindu, they took an unusually sanguine view to treating blind Muslim eyes, or delivering low-caste babies, concerning themselves only with the preservation of life at Jeewan Hospital. In the office, under the framed medical diplomas from England, hung a phrase from the Maha Upanishad: Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam: All humanity is one family.

Despite the transistor radio and its troubling news of massacres, the four brothers of Jeewan Hospital strove to continue their lives as before. Then one day, Jeewan Hospital found itself in the newly formed nation of Pakistan. The nation had been partitioned. And before long, friendships became partitioned. Families became partitioned. Love itself, it seemed, had become partitioned.

It was painful to witness that several of the patients under the care of the doctors now turned on them. Bade doctor sahib, the senior-most, could not be dissuaded from embarking on his rounds to patients’ bedsides every evening. Until one evening, when a warning arrived that the most recent call for help was a ploy to take his life. That evening, Dr. Bodh Raj did not insist on going for his rounds. Instead, visibly shaken, he declared his support for the family to leave Pakistan and move to India. A cousin in the Army offered to bring a truck to relocate the family. And so there came a time when those who provided refuge from medical misfortunes became refugees themselves.

The youngest brother, Dr. Mahendarnath had become the father of a baby girl a few weeks ago. The baby fussed all night and the parents woke hollow-eyed and irritable. As the infant’s thin wails turned to shrieks of frustration, it became clear that the mother’s milk had dried up. In the turmoil of those chaotic days, there was no baby formula to be had. The doctor himself had made the dangerous journey to the shuttered and abandoned shops that day. No formula milk, no breast milk and no milk of human kindness. The long journey to India loomed ahead.

And then, news that the cook’s wife had also delivered a baby around the same time. A plea was made, a baby suckled, and there was quiet relief. But worry soon returned to the mother’s face. “We leave tomorrow for India. This baby cannot survive the journey without milk.” Her voice shook: “We should leave the baby with her wet nurse. It is her only hope for survival.”

Something shifted in Dr. Mahendarnath’s face. “Sudarshana, what are you saying?”

“We can come back and get her. There will be peace soon. It will just be for a little while.”

“And what if it’s not just for a little while? What if my daughter is married to a mussallman tongawallah (Muslim horse-carriage driver) when I return?”

She understood that recent events had twisted into him, and that his words were a wound.

“She will live. That’s all that matters. There are no good choices here.”

It was a hurried farewell, and the baby cooed and gurgled as a tearful Sudarshana handed her to the woman who could keep her child alive. The army trucks created large clouds of dust as the convoy drove east, a haze obscuring the hospital that had been their home.

***

Today, twenty five years later, Dr Mahendarnath has come to Jalalpur Jattan, Pakistan to look for his daughter. Why so long? Because peace did not arrive, but wars between India and Pakistan made frequent visits, creating fresh waves of widows and orphans. Because the doctor had joined the Indian army and Pakistan, the land where he had played as a boy, was an enemy nation.

Jeewan Hospital, he had heard, was now in a cantonment. The doctor hailed down a colorful horse-carriage outside the railway station.

The eyes of the tongawallah were curious but not unfriendly. “Sahib, where to?”

He was uncertain how to respond. “I wish I knew.”

The tongawallah looked surprised. “Surely you have some idea? Here to visit a relative?”

Doctor: “A relative so dear! My own daughter. My missing daughter.”

Tongawallah: “What, is your daughter lost? Where is she? Did she go missing around here?”

Doctor: “We had to leave her here.”

Tongawallah: “When? Why?”

Doctor: “Many years ago. When the nation was partitioned, we left a piece of our heart here. To save her life, we left her with her nurse. She was just an infant.”

Tongawallah: “And you don’t know how she fared all these years?”

Doctor: “All I know is how my wife has been tormented all these years. She has never forgiven herself.”

Tongawallah: “To the Cantonment, then?”

The horse began as the tongawallah clicked his tongue and flicked the whip. Before long, he pulled the reins. He stopped in front of a house and rapped the heavy iron ring on the door. A young woman opened the door. A head scarf covered her head.

The doctor gasped as he saw his wife in those features. Tears flowed down his cheeks.

Tongawallah: “An adaab for your abbu, Salma. He has come.”

Salma stared at the strange man, and then sobs arose as she covered her face with her hands. Her husband, the tongawallah, comforted her.

Salma composed herself, and then brought out a clean bedspread and carefully spread it on the charpoy, where the men sat. She filled steel glasses with water from the earthenware pot in the corner. The doctor looked at the simple living quarters, noting the lack of modern conveniences like a refrigerator. There was a strange bittersweet quality to the silence that ensued.

The doctor was first to speak: “ Are you well, my child?”

Salma: “Jee, yes.”

Doctor: “Children?”

Salma: “Yes, I have a daughter. She is at school. And there’s two from his first wife.”

Doctor: “Will you come and visit me in India? Your mother would like to meet you.”

Salma: “My life is here. How can I leave my husband and children?”

Doctor: “You can all come and visit. We can try and get passports made.”

Salma glanced at her husband: “I don’t know anything about these matters.”

Doctor: “I will talk to your husband.” He stood up to go. “I have to leave now. Be happy.”

Salma: “So soon? What about lunch?”

Doctor: “Your mother will be waiting for news. She will be worried.”

Salma: “Allah be with you.”

As his daughter’s husband took him back to the train station, he saw the changes in the city where he had grown up. He was an old man now, and his life had been buffeted by forces larger than him. “The Partition,” he thought with bitterness, “has defined my generation.”

A new thought occurred. He would tell Sudarshana of Salma, how she looked like her mother. They had hoped for more grandchildren. How happy Sudarshana would be to hear her daughter had survived and that he had found her. How she would begin planning a party for everyone to meet Salma’s family. There would be some disapproving whispers, he knew. The 1971 war had just ended, and anti-Pakistan sentiment was high. His creased forehead cleared and then a smile twitched on his lips. Any relatives who looked askance at Sudarshana’s Muslim daughter would have to deal with Durga herself. His wife was as fiercely protective as she was loving. He imagined her, how her eyes would flash as she hugged her daughter close and said: Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam: All humanity is one family.

The whinnying of the horse brought him back from his reverie.

“We will meet again soon, I hope,” he said to the tongawallah.

The younger man nodded. “Inshallah.

The writer, Vinod Rihan Pathania, a Partition survivor, remembers her teeth chattering with fear at the time of the Partition. As a child in 1947, she was transported from Jammu to Pathankot concealed in mail bags to avoid Partition violence. She studied at the University of Jammu and Kashmir and was a recipient of a gold medal for the best female student for her Bachelor’s degree. In independent India, she was a teacher and a principal of schools and colleges all over India. She has written many radio plays broadcasted by Radio Kashmir Jammu Station of All India Radio. Most of her plays/stories are related to her experience of the plight of women in India and she works for the empowerment of women. She is married to Group Captain P. S. Pathania, an officer in the Indian Air Force (now retired) and lives in Punjab, India.

Translated from Hindi by Geetika Pathania Jain, Culture and Media Editor at India Currents:

“My mother, Vinod Rihan Pathania, was a young girl of ten when Partition happened. The above story is a fictionalised account based on true events in the life of her maternal uncle, Dr. Mahendarnath. This conversation between the doctor and his wife happened, but a different decision was made. The infant girl survived the journey, grew up in Delhi, and became Dr. Praveena, a physician just like her parents. Many other families had far worse outcomes.

This story is dedicated to the lives lost during the violence of the Partition.”

India Currents Wins Big at SF Press Club Awards!

The San Francisco Press Club’s 40th annual Greater Bay Area Journalism Awards were held at the Hilton SFO Airport Hotel on November 16.

India Currents magazine won a total of nine awards under various categories. Here are the winning entries:

Overall Excellence:Third Place: India Currents 

Commentary: First Place: Nirupama Vaidhyanathan, “Why I will listen to Rush Limbaugh.” 

Features: Second Place:  A Community’s Concerns: From portrayals, representations to youth struggles by the following authors:

Geetika Pathania Jain, Erasing the Accent, 

Vamsee Juluri – Does History Matter?

Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan – How Much Is Too Much? The Price of Pushing Kids to Attain Elite Status

Political:  Third Place: Questions of Affiliation and Electoral Choices by the following authors: 

Jaya Padmanabhan – It’s the Race Card, People!

Nirupama Vaidhyanathan – The Clear Choice and Vote!

Feature Story / Light Nature: Second Place: Ranjani Iyer Mohanty, No Country for Gray People.”

At the awards ceremony, San Francisco Press Club President Antonia Ehlers said, “We are here to celebrate the exceptional work you do throughout the year. You do your best every day to tell your stories with honesty and integrity. This year, we had more entries for this contest than ever before. Your entries were judged by the press clubs of Milwaukee, San Diego, Orange County and Cleveland, and the judges certainly were impressed with your work!”

The crowd welcomed event emcee Tara Moriarty from KTVU news, 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient David Louie from ABC 7, and San Francisco Press Club Service Award recipient, radio legend Peter Cleveland.

The Bill Workman News Writer Award for the best daily news story was given to Michael Barba from The San Francisco Examiner. Workman’s wife, Marla Lowenthal, was also at the event.

 

 

The Bad Mother

WHAT LIES BETWEEN US. By Nayomi Munaweera. St. Martin’s Press, 2016. 320 pages. $18.11 Hardcover.

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It was with pleasure and anticipation that I learned that Nayomi Munaweera has written a second book. Reading her first book Island of a Thousand Mirrors in 2014, I had reveled in her sharp and intense political voice.

Munaweera’s new book What Lies Between Us, is less about communal betrayals and more about interpersonal betrayals. As in the first book, there are references to lush Sri Lankan gardens, and a journey to the “new and bright and shiny” place that is America. In What Lies Between Us, Munaweera’s description of this journey from Kandy to Fremont, California is lyrical. In the protagonist Ganga’s words, “we trace a path between the tempest-tossed ocean and the canopy of stars and are carried into a new world.”

She remembers the “fresh off the boat” feeling of being a new immigrant. There is the novelty of the unfamiliar land where the misunderstandings of a young girl can be excused.

On seeing dog owners picking up after their pets, for instance, she is puzzled. “How impossible to imagine, in this richest country of all, that people are saving dog turds? For what possible purpose? My imagination boggles …” There are misunderstandings and assumptions about Sri Lanka. Ganga is irritated at being constantly mistaken for an Indian, and the need to dispel “visions of samosas, chai, and women in bindis” as the default—“It’s a separate island nation. It has nothing to do with India.” The ensuing eyeroll is easy to imagine.

We follow the trajectory of Ganga’s life as she is accepted into college, studies to be a nurse, falls in love and becomes a mother.

But is “happily ever after” in store for her?

Will the marriage go well, or will it unravel?

Will she be ecstatic or will she experience growing despair and rage?

I would tell you, but should you believe everything I tell you? What if I was an unreliable narrator? Or my memory was faulty?

All I can say is that these life-changes are described in glowing prose and with a critical stance that is fresh and insightful. The writing is lush and tropical, and succeeds in capturing details and nuance with consummate skill. Descriptions of recognizable Bay Area locations such as Fremont, or Dolores Park in San Francisco can bring a spritz of pleasure.

Ganga has a secret that she does not tell her husband. So the title What Lies Between Us then can refer to their sleeping arrangement, or to deceptions in their relationship.

Munaweera casts Ganga not in the role of the archetypal good mother, but one who is ambivalent about the seemingly never-ending demands to be omnipresent, eternally vigilant, non-smoking, cheerful and slim. She is a bad mother. Ganga rails against the ignominy of being confused for the nanny, the dark-skinned woman who takes care of her child.

“I love my child, but not motherhood,” she admits.

She teeters between giving too little and giving too much.

This decision to interrogate the maternal instinct, that purest and most hallowed of human instincts, provides a tension in the novel. Ganga has anxiety dreams where a selfless mother would let King Solomon give the baby to another mother rather than see the baby harmed.

A book about an unmaternal mother is bound to be a risky decision, but the brilliant writing makes it worth it.

Just don’t believe everything. Not all narrators are trustworthy.

Geetika Pathania Jain is a frequent contributor to India Currents magazine. When she is not writing reviews or grading student papers, Geetika can be found enjoying the great outdoors.

Meditate. Repeat.

Mallika Chopra (MC)—mom, entrepreneur, speaker and author of Living with Intent: my Somewhat Messy Journey to Purpose, Peace and Joy—talks to Geetika Pathania Jain (GPJ) about life-work balance and the influence of her famous last name.

GPJ: Which Indian woman do you admire the most and why? Sorry, but you can’t say your mom.

MC: I can’t say my mom? That’s too bad, because I do say my mom and I’ll tell you why. I do admire my mother because I come from a family where my dad, Deepak Chopra, is obviously in the limelight and has made a huge impression on the world with his work, but my mom is the anchor of everything in our family, for me as well as our extended family and my dad’s community.

As someone who’s a mom and an entrepreneur, trying to figure out balance, and often feeling guilty about not being somewhere, or not doing something, the thing that I love about my mother is that she is so confident and proud about being a mother and a nurturing figure.

GPJ: You mention balance. Does your book try to address the competing claims that our families and our work have on us? What do you think about desi women balancing work and family and Sheryl Sandburg’s book Lean In?

MC: My big takeaway from Lean In was for us to nurture our voices and to speak up more. I have been extremely fortunate to have a spouse who helps me out. I credit his mother, Neelam Mandal, who is a feminist in many ways, for raising a son who helps out at home. He is involved with his children, with his homelife and he has a flexible schedule. Not everyone is that fortunate. So many of my friends are divorced and are managing their children alone, and I am talking about Indians as well as non-Indians.

GPJ: Do you remember ever seeing your dad, Deepak Chopra, doing the dishes?

MC: No. My dad didn’t. My father worked 24/7, seven days a week, first as a doctor and then as a writer and speaker. He was constantly on the road. I still feel that my parents had an equal relationship, though. Equality is not defined by who does the dishes. My parents figured out their balance. In healthy relationships, you do figure out your balance, and it’s not about getting stuck on a task list of who’s doing what.

GPJ: There’s a lot of pressure on our kids to be successful. What advice do you have for parents who are trying to bring up balanced and somewhat normal kids who do well in life but don’t necessarily have to be poster children?

MC: I do believe that first we have to define what success means for each of us. Is success going to a certain college or working for a certain tech company? Or is success having meaningful relationships, having a healthy lifestyle, having a connection to spirit, however you might define that.

Some questions that my father asked my brother and I when were children: Who am I? What do I want? How can I serve? And what am I grateful for? I think asking these questions and really thinking deeply about the answers could help us have more purpose.

As parents, we lead by example, not just words. Our kids are constantly watching us and if we want them to have more balance, and a greater sense of purpose, then we need to have that in our own lives as well.

GPJ: Some people have been a little concerned about how yoga and meditation are taken out of the context of a spiritual practice and commercialized and packaged as products which are bought and sold like any other commodity. Any response to that and to your family’s role in that?

MC: I believe that if you can provide people with tools that can improve their lives, that’s a fantastic thing. I’m thrilled that meditation has become so in vogue these days. I know so many people are meditating—they might do it on an app, they might go on a retreat to the Himalayas. Or they might just look for something local in their community.

What I respect about what my father has done is that he has maintained the history and wisdom of these traditions and adapted them for modern times.

GPJ: Yoga is being taught in some California schools and there are people both of the Christian right as well as the Hindu right who believe that that is inappropriate for very different reasons. Any thoughts?

MC: We don’t need to get stuck on where these traditions are from, or a certain way of doing it, but ask the question: are these helping? Are they helping our children? Are they helping us? And if so, trying to adapt them to the current culture.

Geetika Pathania Jain is a frequent contributor to India Currents. She teaches hatha yoga at Worlds Yoga Saratoga, www.worldsyoga.com and is grateful for Deepak Chopra’s books and movies.

It’s Not About Identity

Brahmin Bulls, (#BrahminBulls) an award winning film directed by Mahesh Pailoor, tells the story of an Indian American young man and his estranged father, reconnecting amid the architecture of Los Angeles. It is a heart-warming story showcasing a diverse cast that The Village Voice called “an accomplished first feature.”

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Having played to sold out audiences at film festivals and in theaters, Brahmin Bulls stars Roshan Seth (Gandhi and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom), Oscar-winner Mary Steenburgen (The Help, Last Vegas), Sendhil Ramamurthy (Heroes, Covert Affairs), and Justin Bartha (The Hangover, National Treasure).

Geetika Pathania Jain (GPJ) interviewed Mahesh Pailoor (MP) for this magazine.
GPJ: Can you tell me a little bit about your motivation in making a film where you keep the cultural context in the background?

MP: While the film is not completely biographical, it is a relationship that is fairly close to home. I grew up in a small town in Maine, and there weren’t a lot of Indians around when I was growing up. I didn’t see them on television, I didn’t see them in movies, so when I wanted to become a film-maker, part of the motivation was to create stories that I could relate to.

GPJ: The strained relationship between the son and the father reminded me ofThe Death of a Salesman, where there is an infidelity issue that breaks up the family. Your film similarly focuses on issues of familial differences rather than on cultural differences. Any comments?

MP: Although the lead characters are Indian American, their heritage adds a specificity to their respective characters, but it doesn’t define the central conflict.The Dad did have an arranged marriage, and ended up having an affair, and those are the things that are very specific to being Indian. When I was growing up, a lot of films were about being confused about identity. It’s changing, so you see Aziz Ansari’s Master of None, a Netflix TV show or Mindy Kaling and this movie is probably part of this conversation.

GPJ: There is a cat in the film that disappears and then reappears. I was reminded of the 1989 film War of the Roses, where the character played by Michael Douglas kills the cat of his estranged wife. I’m wondering if cats are especially imperiled when people divorce.

MP: Oh my goodness. Yes, the cat. We don’t own a cat, but we have a cat in the neighborhood, who hangs out at our house. But that was the story, it was how we knew we had a movie, because in the beginning he dumps the cat, the cat comes back, and then in the end, he gives the cat to his soon-to-be-ex-wife. And that little idea became the structure for the movie.

GPJ: It was a powerful opening scene, the cat being dropped off on the side of the highway, and the screeching of tires as the car takes off. What was the rationale behind the very provocative title?

MP: It’s sort of a play on words. A Brahmin as a character who is aloof. And the bulls refers to the father and son being at odds with each other.

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GPJ: Any surprises?

MP: Anu and I met Roshan in India, and we convinced him to do the movie. Roshan’s best friend in the movie, Michael Lerner, was a friend from drama school, whom he hadn’t met in thirty or forty years. Roshan didn’t know that we were casting Michael Lerner, so that was a nice surprise. Roshan showed up on set and realized that his friend was there.

GPJ: Did your parents prefer that you not become a film-maker and go for a “safe profession?”

MP: I was lucky. My parents never forced me to do something I didn’t want to. I think we’re changing as a group. A lot of kids are going to film school, and making movies.

GPJ: Mahesh, you are from NYU’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts. What was your thesis film?

MP: I’ve done a lot of film school. I went to NYU and then I also went to film school here in LA, at American Film Institute (AFI), for graduate work. The film that I made there, my thesis film, it’s called Little India, and it starred Senthil. I’ve known him for a number of years, and we were always trying to work together. Brahmin Bulls was written with Senthil in mind.

GPJ: Who are your influences?  MP: Peter Weir is on. Not a lot of people know his name, but they know his movies. Everyone has seen Dead Poets Society, orThe Truman Show. There’s Ang Lee who is a bit of a chameleon, and there’s Spike Lee.

Geetika Pathania Jain lives in the bay area. She is a regular contributor to India Currents. She was the managing editor of this magazine from March to June 2015.